This article originates from a twitter interaction I had with Nick from StrongerGolf and Alex Ehlert (@GolfingAthlete1).
The conversation started with a tweet by Nick stating:
I couldn’t agree more with that statement!
Too many times have I heard coaches, trainers, PTs, etc saying something along the lines of ‘you can’t squat until you have x amount of hip mobility or you can’t deadlift until you can touch your toes.'
To be blunt this is false.
There are many variations of all the movements that an athlete performs in the gym. You can always find one that you can load the athlete with whilst improving any pain or mobility and stability limitations they may have.
For whatever reason, out of all the sports, golfers in particular are seen as fragile and told that they shouldn’t lift heavy weights or perform loaded squats or deadlifts. This blows my mind.
My background is in outpatient physical therapy and while I work with golfers I still treat part time in my outpatient clinic - If I can get my patients who are post op lumbar fusion or total joint replacement surgery to perform a loaded squat or deadlift, which I do with all of my lower extremity and spinal patients, then there is no reason a golfer can’t too.
The squat and deadlift are two of the most common movements I see golfers being told they should not perform, when in actual fact these are two of the best movements for building lower body strength and learning how to use the ground to generate force (editor’s note: this is a critical component of generating club speed by the way).
Take the squat, if you have an athlete that has limited hip mobility or pain you can have them squat to a box in order to control ROM. For those with stability issues or pain with loading the back and shoulders then the front squat, safety bar or goblet squat are great variations. It is amazing how having someone with stability or perceived mobility limitations goblet squat, cleans up their squat mechanics very quickly.
There are also some in the fitness industry who claim that if you can cannot touch your toes then
you cannot or should not deadlift. This may be true for a full range off the floor deadlift but again there are many variations that can still load the deadlift movement. Variations like sumo deadlifts, rack pulls or block pulls (essentially deadlifting from an elevated surface) helps control ROM while keeping proper mechanics. Other options such as KB deadlift or trap bar deadlifts are great ways to load the hinge pattern for people who have difficulty or pain with a full range conventional deadlift.
Basically, what we are talking about here is having safe and effective regressions from which to starting loading a golfer based on their current movement capabilities and then progressions to move onto as their movement quality begins to improve.
While you still want to address the limitations an athlete may have there are plenty ways to safely load them and get stronger while doing that.
Another argument I typically hear is that golfers shouldn’t lift heavy weights, either because it is dangerous or because it doesn’t benefit them.
These claims are NOT backed up by research. In reality, when appropriate strength training is performed with proper mechanics (this where a knowledgeable coach is worth their weight in gold) it is safe in comparison to most all other sports (2).
Not only is strength training safe when performed properly but that it can minimise the risk of injury, especially the repetitive use injuries, seen commonly in golf (3,4,5). Whilst all research has its limitations, I feel confident that there is enough out there (click here for a more thorough overview of the research around injuries in golf) along with the experience of the best coaches in the field to support a loaded strength training program when performed and programmed properly will help protect against injuries. Similarly, research has consistently demonstrated strength training improves clubhead speed and golf performance (6).
Dan John, who is in my opinion one of the best strength coach to have ever lived, has the following strength standards with his athletes of all sports (1):
Strength Standards for Men:
Expected = Bodyweight bench press
Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press for 15 reps
Expected = 5 pull-ups
Game-changer = 15 pull-ups
Expected = Bodyweight to 150% bodyweight deadlift
Game-changer = Double-bodyweight deadlift
Expected = Bodyweight squat
Game-changer = Bodyweight squat for 15 reps
Expected = Farmer walk with total bodyweight (half per hand)
Game-changer =Bodyweight per hand
One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water
Strength Standards for Women:
Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press
Game-changer = Three pull-ups
Game-changer = 275-pound deadlift
Game-changer = 135 for five in the back squat
Game-changer = 85 pounds per hand
One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water
While these numbers may not be the goal of every golfer that I work with, I think for elite level athletes these are reasonable numbers to get to.
I assure you though, that if certain people in the golf community saw numbers like double bodyweight deadlift or bodyweight squat they would freak out about how bad for your back they are and how that will lead to injury. Actually, I would argue that those loads are optimal for building the strength base needed for both the speed and power required to produce high clubhead velocity, as well as the resiliency needed to protect an athlete from overuse injuries due to the repetitive nature of the golf swing.
Lifting moderately heavy weights, with a view to progressively overload, is not only safe for golfers but in my opinion necessary for improved performance and longevity.
Loaded squatting and deadlifting are not only two of the best exercises for building strength and power in the golf swing but also very safe when performed and programmed properly. Next time someone tells you that because you are a golfer or because you have certain limitations that you shouldn’t be doing a certain movement or lifting certain weights remember you are not fragile and find a coach who is willing to build you up instead of telling you what you can’t or shouldn’t do.
As the adage goes - You can’t go wrong, getting strong.
2. Hamill, B. P. (1994). Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 8(1), 53-57.
3. Lauerson JB, Berteken DM, Anderson LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: A systematic review and meta-analysis of random controlled trials. Br J Sports Med, 2014; 48: 871-877.
4. Winett, R. A., & Carpinelli, R. N. (2001). Potential health-related benefits of resistance training. Preventive medicine, 33(5), 503-513
5. Gobbett TJ. The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? B Jr Sports Med. Published Online First: 12 Jan 2016. Doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788.
6. Meira, E. P., & Brumitt, J. (2010). Minimizing Injuries and Enhancing Performance in Golf Through Training Programs. Sports Health, 2(4), 337–344.
About the Author
John Paul Guidry DPT CSCS TPI is owner of Guidry Physical Therapy and Guidry Golf and Sport. He works with golfers of all ages and skill levels in helping them play golf pain free, get back on the course after injury or improve their performance and overall health and wellbeing. He also owns and runs Barbells and Birdies clothing and apparel for the fitness minded golfer.
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