During the competitive season, a golfer pretty much has one primary goal:
To win tournaments - and maybe if you’re an amateur to cut your handicap (but one should take care of the other; if you’re reducing your handicap you’re probably winning tournaments, and vice versa)
Sounds simple, right?
However, think about how much planning, preparation and work goes into that one simple goal.
First and foremost, you have the technical and tactical work that the swing coach administers.
Then, you have the physical preparation - injury prevention, strength, power, and a host of other physical qualities.
Finally, we have to bear in mind that golfers (even tour pros) have competing demands; by that I mean practice, training and tournaments are just one piece of their life, along with kids, family, work commitments, etc.
As I see it my job with the in-season athlete therefore is less of coach and more of a manager, managing all the competing demands on their time and most importantly their recovery capacity to allow them to perform optimally, when they need too.
Allowing them to perform optimally is all about managing fatigue so the athlete is fresh to tee it up next week and maintaining the strength and other physical qualities they need to perform, that we’ve built during the off-season.
To borrow an analogy from strength coach extraordinaire Mike Robertson max strength is like a glass. The bigger glass (i.e. more strength), you have the more potential to be fast and explosive you have.
This analogy works great in the off-season, however in-season we tweak it slightly:
You still have your glass, but it has a small hole in the bottom and water is leaking out. This is representative of you losing strength over the course of a competitive season.
If you did the right things in the off-season and got stronger, you have a bigger glass. So even if you have a hole and you’re losing some strength, you’ve got a bigger strength reserve that you can lose. And taking that a step further, if you continue strength training in-season, it’s like doing your best to plug the hole in your glass.
You may lose some of your gains, but you’ll do so at a much slower pace.
“You have to strength train year round – Not only will you have a bigger strength reserve to start with, but you will also maintain that strength for as long as possible”
The key to in-season strength training isn’t to demonstrate maximal strength, but rather to maintain strength. We may push some decent weights, but we don’t need to be working up to true 3 or 5RM’s
Even if you only get in one decent training session per week and lift for 2 or 3 sets of 3 at 70-80% of 3RM or 7 or 8 on an RPE scale (I’ll explain RPE a little later in this article), this is going to go a long way to mitigating any losses in strength over the course of the competitive season.
As much as strength coaches like me can sometimes be guilty of forgetting this, golf is a highly skill based game and a no point is your deadlift strength asked in your attempt to win a tournament! In short, No one cares how strong you are in the gym if it doesn’t help you get the ball in the hole in less shots.
Whilst keeping the golfer strong is key to success in-season if it comes at the cost of fatigue that affects their performance on the golf course at important tournaments it isn’t worth it – end of story!
As I said earlier, in-season I see myself much more as a manager than a coach. And the primary thing I’m trying to manage is fatigue - I have to make sure that my golfer is fresh and prepared to play on “X” day.
All stress is stress; physical, emotional, mental, money, spouse, whatever. Once the stress bucket is full, there’s not much you can do other than take a break to fix the problem. If the golf season sees a significant increase in the amount of golf swings you are making, walking you are doing, emotional stress (we’ve all been there!), etc we had better be able factor that in.
This is why our in-season programs typically limit lifting to one or two proper lifting sessions a week, reducing volume, reducing or eliminating the eccentric portion of lift as much as possible (more demanding on the CNS therefore more difficult to recover from) and reducing exercise variety (new movement seem to create greater levels of soreness).
Additionally, as soon as that tournament is done, it’s a race to get them recovered and feeling fresh as quickly as possible (particularly in the busy competitive season like you get on the PGA and European tours these days!). Doing so allows for improved performance in both practice and competition.
Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality affects your health and your body’s ability to deal with stress.
As well as a focus on restorative activities such as swimming or sled pushing/ pulling, foam rolling, static stretching and breathing drills. Indeed recovery is all-important in-season and this article is all ready long enough so check out this article for more information on recovery strategies.
Taking this a step further, you also need to bear in mind, the fact that, the season is a long one and not all tournaments or rounds are of equal importance. You therefore have to pick and choose which are the most important and plan accordingly.
This means at times we’ll have to knowingly increase fatigue, or train an athlete when they’re not as fresh as we’d like.
In practice, managing fatigue involves having a periodised plan that fluctuates training volume and intensity at certain times in line with key events you wish to peak for. At times we’ll have to knowingly increase fatigue, or train an athlete when they’re not as fresh as we’d like, in order to maintain performance over the course of the season and/or peak for an important event.
However, to further complicate matters we have to bear in mind that the athlete functional capacity will vary day to day based on the athlete’s physiological state, i.e. if they are emotionally stressed, tired, etc, this will affect their performance. This means the actual weight or volume they can handle may be slightly to the pre-planned percentages you see above.
With our on-season clients, both in-person and online, we use a variety of methods to track recovery and enable us to adjust workouts on the fly according to the athletes physiological state, whilst still being cognisant of the season long training schedule, these include:
Heart rate variability monitoring
CNS function (dot test)
Appetite and nutrition
Generally asking the player how they are feeling, how long it is taking them to feel recovered, etc (hugely underrated in my opinion!)
If any of these are out of whack from the previous few days, week, month, etc, or show a general downward trend, or aren’t where expected based on the periodised plan, we know we are probably compromising performance as the athlete’s recovery level isn’t where we want it to be.
RPE’s and velocity based training
Using RPE’s and velocity based training is also incredibly useful in-season as these methods allow some auto-regulation in the periodised program and account for fluctuations in the athlete’s performance capacity.
For those not familiar with RPE it stands for rate of perceived exertion and it is exactly that…a rating of one’s perception of effort. The RPE scale measures feelings of effort, strain discomfort, and/or fatigue experienced during resistance training. In other words RPE is a subjective measure of how hard you feel like you’re working during a set or exercise.
The version of RPE I use looks something like this:
RPE of 10 – Max effort/limit lift. No more reps could be completed.
RPE of 9 – Heavy lift, last repetition is extremely difficult.
RPE of 8 – Bar speed noticeably decreases as set goes on, but two more reps could have been completed once set has ended.
RPE of 7 – Moderate weight, moves quickly when maximal force applied. Multiple reps left in the tank once set has ended.
RPE of less than 6 – Weight moves quickly with moderate force. Note really used for much other than warm-up sets and active recovery.
An RPE is prescribed to each exercise depending on the requirements of the workout (i.e. a 6 or 7 for a recovery workout, and 8 or 9 for a strength workout). This means the athlete works up to a weight appropriate for them that day and not a pre-prescribed percentage, as such if they are under recovered/ more fatigued they will lift a lighter weight than on a day they feel fresh.
Velocity based training uses a velocimeter, such as PUSH band or a Tendo unit, to measure the speed the weight or athlete is moving. The heavier the weight relative to the athletes capacity, the slower the bar speed will typically be so we can use this as a basis to measure intensity of the exercise and rate of fatigue. By assigning a minimum bar speed we can fluctuate volume as well as intensity more easily, as the athlete will work up to a set that hits the minimum bar speed then continue for multiple sets until they dip below minimum bar speed.
Ultimately, keeping the golfer feeling as fresh and prepared as possible, as often as possible, whilst maintaining the physical qualities they need to perform, will give him or her the best possible chance for success during the season. This is where a well-planned and properly managed in-season training program is invaluable.