The question of whether it's best to increase flexibility (I prefer the term mobility), muscle mass (synonymous with strength for many) or work on fast twitch muscle fibre development (power development) to improve clubhead speed was put to me recently by one of the respondents to our welcome survey and I thought the answer might prove valuable to all.
Like most questions in the strength and conditioning world the best answer is usually it depends…It depends on your needs as an individual, your experience and capability (both on the course and in the gym), the time of year in relation to your competitive schedule (assuming you are a competitive golfer), etc. This article attempts to cover some of these points and provide you with the information you need to tell you where to focus you efforts when it comes to increasing your clubhead speed.
Gaining clubhead speed is ultimately a matter of your ability to generate force in the golf swing. This has a few facets; technical improvements to your swing, increasing a range of motion (which may come down to the muscle tissue elasticity, the mobility of the joint or motor control), the amount of force you can generate (strength) and generating that force quickly enough to use in the golf swing (speed/power).
Strength or power to increase clubhead speed?
Below is in a diagram taken from a video presentation I did recently (if you haven’t already, click here to subscribe to our mailing list and get access to the video), which helps explain my decision making process when looking at what training needs to be done to increase force production in the golf swing for the particular athlete.
The continuum demonstrates where various force production qualities sit in regards to their specificity to golf, with max strength (i.e. a 1 rep max deadlift) being the most general and absolute speed (high speed, short duration movements with low external resistance i.e. sprinting, pitching a baseball or swinging a golf club) fairly obviously being the most specific.
However, optimal performance is not found by being at the specific end of the continuum, but with being good across the whole thing.
I love the analogy of max strength being a glass. If you have a bigger glass (i.e. more strength), you have the potential to be faster or more explosive. In other words it’s hard to produce a large amount of force quickly if you can’t produce a large amount of force at all. That said, the heaviest squatters in the world are not at the olympics as elite sprinters or jumpers as they don't have the ability to produce the large amounts of force they undoubtedly posses quickly enough to use it in that activity.
Typically, golfers spend all of their time swinging a light implement at max velocity without building their general base and therefore lack maximal strength. Increasing maximal strength therefore represents the most effective way for them to improve their ability to generate force in the golf swing. This is a generalisation though. The answer to what exercises you should be doing to improve your swing speed is dependant on where you as an individual sit on this continuum. To ascertain this a little more accurately we are going to need some guidelines or standards to compare you to.
The table below displays our strength and power testing protocol we use currently with our in-person athletes (we will be rolling out a version of it to our online coaching clients shortly with any luck).
Testing yourself in these exercises can give you valuable information on which areas are weakness for you (simply compare yourself to the norms listed). We can then use this information to individualise training for force production in the golf swing. For example, a fairly typical weak teenager with good technique and high clubhead speed relative to his absolute strength will be best served improving absolute strength to increase his potential power output and therefore clubhead speed. Conversely a guy who played college football a few years ago, will probably have a high reserve of absolute strength but will need to train more towards the absolute speed end of the continuum to convert that strength potential into clubhead speed.
Note: There isn't a great deal of data available on norms in strength and power tests with golfers currently, these protocols are therefore a combination of my own experience working with players, TPI data from tour pro's and data taken from SPARQ and combine testing in baseball and American football respectively.
This data also opens up the conversation on the technique element of gaining clubhead speed, as some golfers may perform at a fairly equal level in strength, power and speed/acceleration tests but exhibit lower than expected clubhead speed. Technique is undoubtedly a large part of the puzzle for most, particularly amateur golfers. Technical advice is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article as; this is not what I do on a daily basis and I’ve never seen you swing a golf club. There are better-qualified people than me you need to see for this advice.
Is mobility something I should work on?
However, as a fitness professional I can have a role to play in helping your swing technique. Put simply, if your body can’t physically get into the position you are asking it to, you sure as heck won’t get into that position in a dynamic full speed golf swing, no matter how hard you try. This where mobility and mobility limitations come into play, and where you need to ask yourself if any of the faults in your swing are down to physical limitations?
Ideally you would get a physical screening done to answer this question, this can be done with myself via Skype or by searching TPI's find an expert page. A corrective exercise program to address the physical limitations affecting your swing can then be drawn up.
Note: regardless of physical limitations affecting the swing or not, I will have almost all my golfers (especially the guys and those advanced in years) do some sort of mobility work health and injury prevention purposes. The areas this will typically focus on are the thoracic spine, shoulder (rotation and flexion), hip and ankle as well as core positioning and stability.
In conclusion, to properly know where to focus your efforts on increasing swing speed, I suggest you do two things:
1) Get a physical screening (as well as consulting with a PGA pro) to identify any issues in the swing that are causing a lose of clubhead speed and any mobility restrictions that are causing them.
2) Put yourself through the strength, power and speed testing protocol above.
Arm yourself with the right information and go get that swing speed up in time for next season!