Did you know that 1 in 2 golfers suffer with lower back pain? Did you know every level of golf player would like to hit the ball further? But more importantly every golfer would like to start and finish each 18 holes without the all-too-common aches and pains! If the answer to the above questions is “NO” then you seriously need to think about a good strength-training programme. Unfortunately few golfers consider it important to condition themselves physically. And if they ever do consider it, it’s a passing thought never to be acted on. AT SK-Life Fitness I help clients with golf strength training, I became more interested in how important is was for golfers to get golf fit as my Stepson Nick Taylor is a Golf Pro at Chigwell Golf Club. I began to ask Nick questions as to whether his clients trained specifically for the sport and wondered if many believed the old myth that all forms of strength training results in bulky, tight muscles with limited range of movement. This could not be further from the truth as only very specific types of weight training (plus diet) to bulk up can achieve this, and something that I stay well clear of as a PT. Physical make-up never relates to a person’s handicap. Golf is played by such a wide range of people… from 8 years old to 80, overweight, thin, tall, short, fit and unfit… and they all compete on a level playing field. Yet with the right conditioning programme every one of these players would improve their game. So I decided to blog about the importance of sport specific exercise for golfers and tell you below how golf strength training will help improve your golf game and keep you injury free. If you’re new to the game, following a golf strength training programme will give you a solid and well-balanced base on which to build the fundamentals of a good swing. If you’re a seasoned low-handicapper, strength conditioning can certainly give you a significant competitive edge and lower your handicap still further. If youth is still on your side – start a golf strength training programme now and you can build a healthy, balanced body that stays free of chronic back pain, frozen shoulders and golfers elbow. And for the more senior players – it’s never too late to redress the physical imbalances that have occurred through years of playing. Golf Strength Training Improves Shot Distance When you play golf, from back swing to finish position a golf swing takes between 1 and 2 seconds. In that time a golfer’s body generates some exceptional forces – potential energy that must be stored then released as efficiently as possible – and then you have to actually make contact with the ball! The key to lengthening your shots is to increase the amount of force you can generate, which in return, increases club head speed… Studies have been carried out to measure whether an 8-week conditioning programme could improve swing forces and club head speeds in golfers on all ages and abilities. The results showed that just 2 days per week of simple strength, power and flexibility exercises significantly increased club head speed and shot distance. And these studies are by no means unique. What is clear is that physical conditioning (and in particular a golf strength training programme) will increase your distance with every club… more so than spending hours on the practice tee trying to swing faster and harder. Golf Strength Training Reduces the Risk and Severity of Injury As a rule of thumb most injuries that occur in golf tend to be over-use injuries of the soft tissues. Even fair-weather players repeat the same movement pattern thousands of times each year – on the course, or at the driving range. Any similar explosive movement repeated over and over will train and condition some muscles whilst others are neglected… At the most obvious level, the golf swing is performed in the same direction every time. Unequal forces are placed on one side of the body compared to other. That’s why pros spend time swinging in the opposite direction – it’s not just to prepare for those tricky shots when the ball lies flush against a tree! And there are more subtle changes in posture and muscular balance that can occur over time… Muscles in the lower back might become overly strong compared to the abdominals for example. Larger muscle groups might develop at the expense of smaller, stabilizing muscles, which puts them under a disproportional amount of strain. It only takes a few weak muscles to cause postural changes over time, that weaken them further and so on in a downward spiral, until the result is chronic pain and over-use injury. While a golf strength training routine is by no means a cure-all, it is perhaps the best solution for tackling the underlying cause. And if you take some time off each year and focus on restoring an optimal balance, there’s no reason why you can’t play pain-free golf right into your later years. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are currently suffering from muscular pain or discomfort, strength training is NOT recommended. Conditioning is the long-term solution but in an acute or exasperated phase of an injury it can do more harm than good. You should seek the advice of a medical professional or qualified Physical Therapist before undertaking any form of exercise program – injured or not. The Foundations of a Golf Strength Training Program You don’t have to follow a time-consuming, highly regimented routine to benefit from strength training. But there are some important guidelines that set a golf strength programme aside from simply lifting weights at the gym… You need to ask yourself – what joints require mobility? What muscles are flexible? What muscles are strong? There are two phases in a golf fitness programme. Remember that golf requires a pelvic rotation of 40-45 degrees and an upper body rotation of 90-95 degrees. The axial rotation of the pelvis and the upper body loads the muscularature of the core and requires good mobility in the lumbar/pelvic/hip and thoracic spine. Because most golfers are new to strength training, it’s important they follow a period of functional training in phase 1. This serves 2 purposes – firstly it prepares muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue for more demanding exercises and secondly, it helps to target neglected, stabilizing muscles. This initial phase of golf strength-training programme emphasizes core stability, lower/upper back strengthening, balance and rotation, and increased stretch and flexibility exercises. Light weights and high repetitions are best used for strength and endurance. The ideal time to perform this 6-8 week phase would be during the off-season – those months were there are no club competitions and you can have a break from the game. The next logical second phase is to develop peak strength and power so that it coincides with the start of the competitive season. The intensity of exercise increases and more golf-specific movements are incorporated. In this phase we also have to… Make Strength Training Golf Specific. The end goal of a golf strength-training programme is to develop golf-specific power (to increase the speed of that club head). Increased strength does not necessarily translate into more power and faster club head speed. To take the idea of specificity a step further, a bench press or biceps curl does not match the mechanics of the golf swing, so beneficial exercises will include the whole body (in an upright position) and incorporate the core region. Exercises that cause rotation at the hips and core will be more useful than those that don’t. Of course in the early phase of the programme, when a functional strength base is being developed, less golf-specific exercises are useful but help to counterbalance the repetitive nature of golf. Incorporate Specialist Exercises for Hard to Target Muscle Groups. According to several studies the most commonly occurring injuries in amateur golfers after back pain is golfer’s or tennis elbow (caused by over-use and inflammation of the wrist flexors and extensors), wrist injuries and shoulder injuries (over-use and inflammation, or even partial tears of the rotator cuff muscles). Perhaps the best way to prevent these injuries is to strengthen the forearm and rotator cuff muscles. By adding in a few choice exercises to specifically strengthen these areas, they become more resistant to over-use, tearing and inflammation. Of course if you already have an injury or pain you should consult your physician who will advise you on the best course of treatment. Finally we must not Neglect Stretch and Flexibility. A muscle can only contract as forcefully as its opposing muscle can relax. Stretching promotes relaxation in the muscles. Of course there are other important reasons to stretch relating to injury prevention and improved swing mechanics. We need to be sure to stretch through the whole body and although individual muscle stretches are important, yoga style stretch exercises working through anatomy trains of the body will be most beneficial.