In the first part of this 'improving golf fitness' series I explained why golfers are left spinning there wheels, doing programs that leave them seeing little to no carryover to the golf course, due to not training properly for the needs of the sport.
Based on the needs analysis from the previous article we know we need to focus, not on endurance, but on strength, speed, co-ordination and flexibility to improve for golf performance.
However, this information alone isn't enough to ensure that we are training as efficiently and effectively as possible. In order to do that we must ascertain which of these qualities should be prioritised (i.e. which are most important to performance), to what extent do should they be prioritised, is there a point of diminishing returns for these qualities and to what extend do you as an individual already possess (or not!) these qualities.
Knowing the answers to these questions allows us to determine your individual needs and plan your training program more appropriately. To answer these questions, what we need is a system of buckets and standards (bear with me and all will become clear...)
I recently had the pleasure of watching strength coach Brendan Rearick giving a lecture on filling buckets and absolutely loved the concept.
Like all the best ideas, it’s simple:
Those physical qualities we identify as important to our goal activity are our buckets, the more important the quality the bigger the bucket and we want to fill the buckets.
As we touched on earlier, our remaining buckets (i.e. physical qualities that are important to golf performance) are strength, speed, co-ordination and mobility.
Note: To me co-ordination is the ability that allows you to tie active joint range of motion (mobility) together into co-ordinated movements and movement patterns, such as the golf swing, so I group co-ordination and mobility into one bucket - the movement bucket.
Determining the size of the buckets
Golf is patently a highly skill based game and your skill will always prove to be your limiting factor however if you look at Grey Cook's model of performance (pictured below) you can see that sports-specific skill is built on a wide foundation of movement and physical qualities. Indeed research has shown that the major predictors of your golfing ability are the age you took up the sport, the other sports you played growing up (for more on why your kid shouldn't just focus on golf at an early age, check out this great article Chris Finn wrote for me) and finally your current level of physical conditioning.
Adapted from Cook, G (2011) Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies, On Target Publications
You'll also notice that movement is the base of the pyramid. Just by looking you can see that golf requires a fairly large amplitude of movement and therefore a good amount range of motion at various joints. It's pretty easy to see why then I think that movement is probably our biggest bucket in terms of golf performance.
Note: Good movement is also a linchpin quality in terms of recovery and injury prevention as well as performance so there are another two awesome reasons - weather you're a tour pro or weekend player with a day day job - to prioritise it.
As I said in the previous article golf has a lot in common with weightlifting, jumping, throwing and sprinting sports from an energy systems point of you. If you look at the diagram below you'll see that each of these sports require a pretty good blend of strength and speed.
Adapted from Bompa T, Buzzichelli C (2015) Periodization training for sports, Human kinetics
So, with those points in mind our buckets, as pertain to golf performance, might look something like this:
With movement being the biggest, a pretty even split between strength and power, and endurance being the smallest.
Fill the bucket, don't overflow it
The next step is we want the those buckets to be full - this where assessment of the individual comes into play and this discuss starts to help us focus more on what you as the individual needs.
It should also be noted, that we want the bucket to be full - but not overflowing. An overflowing bucket is probably dipping into our recovery ability, introducing fatigue or just not the best use of our time, and limiting performance as a result.
To quote Brendan quoting Mike Boyle:
“Fill the empty buckets, don’t overflow full buckets. If the strength bucket is empty, fill it. If the conditioning bucket is full leave it alone"
Filling the movement bucket
“If a door is not physically unlocked, it is impossible for a player to technically unlock it
Assessing movement is by it’s nature fairly subjective and difficult to quantify for the purposes of an article. The FMS is a popular method that has attempted to quantify movement and has established a score of 16 or above and no asymmetries present, on it’s screen, as a baseline for good movement (read more on the FMS here). Another option would be to assess your technical proficiency in basic movement patterns as part of your training session/ warm-up such as the hinge, squat, overhead reaching/ pushing, toe touching, twisting, pulling - a few exercises I use regularly with my small group trainees for the purpose of warm-up and assessment are a quadruped t-spine rotation, active straight leg raise, 'naked' Turkish get-up and dowel hip hinge.
When it comes to assessing sports-specific movement the TPI screen is obviously a useful tool in showing the player (and technical coach) the ability the player has to create stretch between body segments and identifying any physical limitations that may influence swing mechanics as well as possible power leaks in the swing.
The golf swing itself is an incredibly valuable, and oft forgotten tool, in building this picture of sports-specific movement competence. If you as the player player and your swing coach are happy with swing technique sports-specifc movement (strictly from a golf performance point of view bear in mind) probably isn’t too much of a priority. If there are technical issues in the swing that player and coach are working on it is pertinent to revisit the TPI screen and check for any physical limitations that could prevent the movement being executed as desired.
However you choose to assess movement an experienced coach is vital in helping to quantify the subjective nature of movement.
It should also be noted that general pattern proficiency should take precedence over specific patterns (i.e. fill the bucket with general patterns first). Indeed, in my opinion, sports-specific patterns probably shouldn’t be addressed until after all other buckets (i.e. strength and power) have been filled too.
If you are attempting to fill the movement bucket through sport-specifc movement this should only be done for a specific reason and with a fitness coach and swing coach working together. In other words, when in doubt stick to general patterns.
“Don’t mix the weight room and the playing field, and if you do you had better be damn sure you know what you’re doing
- Dan John
It is also worth reiterating that if the general patterns are good (FMS score of 16 or above, if that is your chosen method) and technical proficiency is good (swing technique and/or TPI screen) then the movement bucket is full - maintain it with as little cost as possible and move on to filling the other buckets.
Lastly, and most importantly, with regards movement if pain is present in a movement the bucket is instantly empty, think of it as having a whole in it, and therefore nothing you do will fill that bucket until you fix the hole - find a qualified professional to fix the painful pattern and fix the hole in the bucket.
Filling the strength bucket
Research has shown that both body mass strength (bar dips and vertical sit-ups) as well as 1RM strength (squat and grip strength) is significantly correlated to clubhead speed. Indeed, any time an increase strength has been seen a subsequent increase in ball speed has been observed. Any strength exercise can therefore be seen as a screen for both strength levels and increasing strength.
TPI uses a 50% bodyweight split-squat, personally I prefer the goblet split-squat for technical reasons, namely that the goblet loading tends to automatically 'put' people in a better lumbo-pelvic position as well as requiring a greater contribution from the core. I would also say that the TPI numbers are a good few years old and in my experience are a little on the low side these days - such is the athletic development happening right now in golf.
The standards I use day in day out with my athletes are therefore:
Trap bar deadlift = 1.2-1.5 x BW
Goblet split-squat = 50% BW x 8-10
Chin-up = 5 reps
Push-ups = 15 reps
In my experience this works well for my typical clientele - male, single-digit handicappers of 35-60, looking to get to the next level and/ or reduce those niggling injuries from 'playing too much golf'.
Obviously some variation will also occur in these based on the individual and their goals. Anyone with aspirations of joining the play for pay set on The PGA or European tours will probably need a little more in the way of physical capabilities to compete, as well the extra physical resiliency greater strength provides, to allow them their bodies to survive that amount of practice, play and poor postures whilst travelling. For me, these standards look something like this:
Trap bar deadlift = 2 x BW
Rear foot elevated split-squat (2 DB's held at sides) = 1.2-1.5 BW x 5
Chin-up (BW + external resistance) = 1.2-1.5 BW
Bench press = 1.2-1.5 BW
For example, these standards need to be adjusted for female golfers - currently though I don't feel I have enough data to give a fully informed opinion on this and I'm not willing to put potentially sub standard information out there to all those female golfers (perhaps those with more data in a female population can help me out and weight in in the future?).
Additionally, for a senior we will revise these standards downwards a bit - I am currently working on a formula to produce revised standards for those over 60 based on activity level and age (something like a standard percentage reduction based on every decade over 60 with an addition for regularly taking part in certain activities) although again I'm a little way off in feeling confident enough in actually publishing them.
It should also be noted for those carrying a little more weight than ideal I will use lean body mass + 10% or a 'healthy' weight based on the BMI chart to calculate the bodyweight percentages and add band assistance/ reduce reps accordingly for chin-ups and push-ups.
Some research concluded that strength test results should be presented in absolute values (kg), not as relative strength (although the research also points out body mass should still be considered in vertical jumps, sprints, and body mass strength tests, but not in 1RM strength tests with external resistance). If we were to go down this route I would posit that all adult male golfers should be able to deadlift at least 100kg, goblet split-squat 35kg for 10 reps, do 15 perfect push-ups and 5 pull-ups. Again for those looking to play for a living I would like to see a deadlift of 140Kg and seniors would see this reduced somewhat.
Even though this article is about performance and not injury prevention, it also worth noting that a very good body of evidence now shows strength to be of significant use in reducing the prevalence of overuse injuries
Filling the speed bucket
Countermovement jump height as well as rate of force production and positive impulse have been shown to be strongly related with clubhead speed. Med-ball seated throw distance has also been shown to have a correlation to clubhead speed. Additionally, the work of TPI, would suggest that sit-up and throw distance is correlated with increased
The test and standards I use with most of my amateur clients are based pretty heavily on the TPI power screens and look like this:
Vertical jump = 18-22 inch (alternatively standing long jump your height)
Sit and throw 4kg med-ball = 18-22ft
Seated chest throw 4kg med-ball =18-22ft
Again, I think the TPI data that produced those standards is fairly old now and is probably on the low side (such is the physical development on the pro tours theses days!). Those looking to play for a living therefore benefit from being held to a higher standard:
Vertical jump = 25 inch
Sit and throw 4kg med-ball = 22ft+
Seated chest throw 4kg med-ball = 22ft+
It should be noted that research points towards peak power being a slightly better measure than jump height, so if you have access to force plates etc this can maybe even should be used. Similarly, mean power over 10 and 20 metre sprints has been been shown to correlate with swing speed so could be used as a standard.
Order of priorities
The order of priorities regards filing those buckets is best summed up with two quotes:
1. “Don’t apply strength to disfunction” the same could also be said for velocity so in training we want to start to address - Grey Cook
2. “Strength is the road to speed and power” - Mike Boyle
If general movement patterns aren’t good or the movement bucket isn’t full we must start there (see pyramid earlier).
If it is full or once it’s full we move on to filling the strength or speed bucket as determined by the individuals assessment. However as Mike Boyle says ’strength is the road to speed and power’ and as such if both the strength and speed buckets need filling the strength bucket take precedence and we move to that next. Only if or once the movement and strength buckets are full do we prioritise power.
A note on the endurance bucket
As I said before the standards for a full endurance bucket are:
- Can walk 4 miles at a 1-mph pace - ultimately that is how taxing golf is on aerobic capacity!
- Resting HR below 60 beats per minute, upon waking, first thing in the morning - this is important to expedite recovery, improve sleep, etc.
If the client is unable to achieve either or both of these we will work to lower resting HR and may look at something like a modified 6 minute coopers test to see if there are any issues with a low aerobic threshold, etc.
My favourite time to deal with this issue, if it arises, is early in the off-season. Strength work isn't ramped up to challenging levels yet and the athlete probably isn't doing too much 'conditioning' in terms of walking the course - as such the increased training volume shouldn't interfere with anything else more important.
It is also worth noting that if we do see endurance issues it is probably with a high resting HR rather than aerobic capacity. In this case regeneration/ relaxation activities and lifestyle changes are probably my first go-to option when it comes to reducing resting HR in a healthy weight individual.
If we know what buckets are important to fill for golf and how full those buckets already are for you as an individual we have a much better understanding of what needs to be present and what needs to be prioritised in your golf fitness program.
In my previous articles I laid out my rationale behind what buckets I think are important for golfers, in this one I have presented the various standards and screens that can help you assess how full those buckets are for you. In the next article we'll get the fun stuff and explore how I go about filling those buckets up - there will even be some free goodies to download!
In the mean time if you want a done for you program, so you don't have to think about any of this but still get amazing results, why not take a look at my online coaching service.
Just for applying you'll get a free, no obligation, 30 minute Skype consultation with me in which I run you through a movement screen and needs analysis - using many of the same ideas and principles we have covered in these two articles.
To be honest I could probably charge for that call (in fact some trainers do charge 100's of $ for an online movement screen alone!) but, if you're willing to invest your time to read these articles and schedule a call, I'm willing to invest something too and give you something of real value up front.
Plus it shows how good value my online coaching service actually is!
Bompa T, Buzzichelli C (2015) Periodization training for sports, Human kinetics
Boyle, M (2012) Filling buckets: https://strengthcoachblog.com/2012/10/24/filling-buckets/
Cook, G (2011) Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies, On Target Publications
Ericsson, K. A., Charness, N (1994) Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition, American Psychologist, 49 (8), pp. 725-747
Hellstrom, J (2008) The Relation between Physical Tests, Measures, and Clubhead Speed in Elite Golfers, International journal of sports science and coaching, 3, (1), pp. 85-91: https://doi.org/10.1260/174795408785024207
Rose, G (2018) Determining When A Golfer Should Train For Strength And When To Train For Speed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8bWdjitTaw