You’ve been convinced - after all, all the top guys are at it.
You head to the gym with the intention of working on your fitness to improve your game, you sign-up, pay your membership fee, and head to the changing room. Quickly you change and stuff your clothes into a locker, eager to get out onto the gym floor.
Once out there it hit’s you - "what am I actually going to do here?"
Looking around and thinking back to your PE days you know you need to warm-up, increase blood flow - yarda, yarda, yarda - so you hop onto the treadmill.
After a few minutes you decide cardio is important to golf (see this article for why that’s a mistake) so you stay on the treadmill or maybe change to the bike.
Next you decide to hit some static stretches because flexibility is important right.
Then you start to strength train - a few bench presses, head over to some of those fancy looking cable machines, hit some core work and maybe a few squats to finish.
Now all that stuff is great, and it might be entirely appropriate to you and your goals but it’s all fairly random. And random isn’t as efficient and effective as it could be, nor does it have a plan for long term progress towards your goals!
Training has recipe
Just like cooking, training has a recipe.
Like all the best the recipes, that training recipe can look complicated, but is actually pretty simple:
1. Improve alignment - use breathing drills and reverse posturing to re-set your posture and alignment.
2. Add proximal stability to allow distal stability - activate the pillar.
3. Movement pattern practice - prep central nervous system and practice the patterns you are going to do today.
4. Improve power - every workout, for everyone, should have some form of power (senior especially). Placed before strength work.
5. Get stronger - utilise basic movements and progressive overload
6. Ensure balance - utilise assistance exercises that target weak areas ensuring balanced strength/ power development
Sure the recipe can be tweaked - the amounts will vary depending on your needs and goals, the exercises will vary depending on your capabilities, etc, just like varying ingredients to get the flavour you want - but the broad recipe stays the same.
No. 1 - Improve alignment and breathing mechanics
For me addressing alignment is one of the most important parts of a training session, and the most overlooked.
There is much debate in training circles as to whether we should work on mobility or stability first. These debates completely miss a key point and I agree wholeheartedly with people like Mike Reinold and Tony Gentilcore who have stated the answer to this age old question is neither.
In order to fix any movement issue, using either a mobility or stability intervention, you first need to create proper alignment.
“If we are not first correcting pelvis position we should not be stretching hamstrings
The above is one of my favourites quotes from the guys over at the postural restoration institute (PRI) and it eludes to important follow up point - we should address alignment issues before we move onto any stretching or other corrective interventions designed to improve mobility.
Note: Research is probably starting to show proper alignment is probably more of a range than a fixed position and will vary from person to person. For example if someone exhibits an anterior pelvic tilt but also displays full mobility within the pelvis and movement patterns that require pelvic motion as a result and have no issues with pain then this anterior pelvic tilt can probably be considered normal/ optimal alignment for the individual.
There are many interventions and methods to go about improving posture and alignment, by far my far my favourite is reverse posturing.
This is a concept I got from Mike Reinold, although I’m not sure if he came up with it originally, in which you seek to spend sometime in positions that are the opposite to what you typically do in your daily life.
For example if, like many of us, you are stuck in an extended or s-posture, a hook-lying or 90-90 breathing drill with hip lift will bias some posterior tilt of the pelvis, turn on the abs and create some extension at the thoracic spine.
Additionally, if you sit all day a crocodile breathing drill, progressing into a DNS prone 3 month or sphinx pose breathing drill will put you in the exact opposite of that ankles dorsi-flexed, hips flexed, overly kyphotic upper back, forward head position you typically sit in.
Video credit: Bill Hartman
Restoring proper diaphragmatic breathing will also reduce tone in the prime mover muscles such as the lats, pecs, lavator scap, upper trap and scalenes that often get recruited to aid breathing. This alone often has a substantial effect on restoring alignment and mobility.
No. 2 - Pillar activation
The joint-by-joint approach states that the body’s joints are stacked on top of each other and that each joint typically requires mobility or stability in an alternating fashion. The ankle typically requires mobility, for example, whilst the knee requires stability and so on up the chain. To summarise with all the finesse of a mad man with a chain saw, we therefore, look to mobilise the gleno-humeral (shoulder) joint, thoracic spine, hips and ankles and activate the abs, glutes, scapular and deep neck flexors.
Notice how the muscles listed to activate here basically form a central rod running up our bodies from our pelvis to our neck.
This illustrates the point that we must have a stable centre, or pillar, to express mobility at our limbs.
Some of my go-to drills here include:
- Leg lower/ ASLR drills
- T-spine rotation drills in side-lying, quadruped, half-kneeling or ‘V' stance depending on athlete
- Cook hip lift/ bridging drills
- Quadruped rotary stability drills
Video credit: Mike Robertson
Video credit: Movement As Medicine
No. 3 - Movement pattern practice
If you've read my previous articles (here and here to start) you'll know that I am a huge proponent of movement quality and competency in the basic movement patterns as the foundation of performance and injury resilience.
Movement is a skill like any other, just as if you don’t practice your short game for a while you get rusty, your movement gets rusty if you don’t practice it.
In short, use it or lose it.
As such in every workout we want to go through some basic movement patterns:
- Rotation/ twist
Sure these are the patterns that form the basis of sound exercise selection and we seek to load during our training.
However, the warm-up also presents a great opportunity to rehearse these patterns in a quick and time efficient manner before loading up the ones we are choosing to work on in that particular session - thereby ensuring we do all these patterns at lease once every session and at least doubling the amount we practice these essential skills.
For the sake of brevity and efficiency (always worthwhile goals when it comes to training program design) these don’t necessarily have to done by a separate exercise - for example if you have the prerequisites to execute a good Turkish get-up, that is pretty effective way to cover most, if not all, of these.
No. 4 - Power training
One of the many wonderful things about the game of golf is that it can be enjoyed by everyone. However, research has shown us that one of the first things we lose as a result of ageing is our ability to generate power. In fact research has shown those over 65 lose power at twice the rate they lose strength. Fortunately this age related affect can be staved off and even reversed with regular training.
It isn’t just for those older folks, to start, the higher your power levels to start with the more likely you are to maintain them so it’s worth starting to develop them early. Second, as I’ve said before I still think many people miss the boat on the fact that golf is a power sport (find out more about that here). If you truly want to be training in a golf specific manner your training needs to be specific to the force production requirements and time constraints of the golf swing, as such you need to training power.
Grey Cook is fond of saying “don’t add speed to dysfunction”, I couldn’t agree more with that statement.
The form your power training takes will therefore vary significantly depending on your physical capabilities. If you possess good movement and the prerequisite eccentric strength in a particular pattern, then we can by all means go ahead and add speed to that pattern. Below are some examples in a rotational and hinge/ jump pattern respectively:
However, some may not posses the prerequisites, so power work may be something like ladder drills, jumping jacks or skipping drills (these can even be done wall supported to reduce the load) that builds co-ordination and good landing mechanics in preparation for more advanced plyometric drills once sufficient movement quality and strength has been established.
It should also be noted that your power training should occur after your warm-up but before your strength training. Due to the energy systems involved power training will have a much less detrimental effect on strength training performance than strength training will have on power training.
No. 5 - Progressive overload
The biggest failing in most golfers programs, as I see it, is the lack of progressive overload.
Training is great and something is certainly better than nothing, but all to often people head to the gym with no real plan and just fall back on doing the same things over and over - the same amount of time on the treadmill at round about the same pace, bench pressing the same weight as you did last session and for the last 6 months before that, etc, etc.
This leads to a lack of results and boredom. Ultimately this is the number 1 reason why your gym program has become a drag and something you just have to do but don’t look forward too, or worst your frustration boiling over and you quitting all together!
Progressive overload simply means doing more over time. For the purposes of golf performance our primary form of progressive overload is adding intensity or load to the bar.
Adding 2 pounds to the bar each workout may not sound much but repeated for a few months and you are a hell of a lot stronger than you were! However, you can only add weight to the bar continuously for so long - if it were this easy we’d all be walking around with 500lbs bench presses. You need more options, and smart use of these options, to be able to continually exploit progressive overload - especially as you get stronger.
Some of these options include (but are not limited too):
- Increase volume by adding rep or two each time you workout
- Increase volume by adding sets
- Increase range of motion
- Decrease reps so you can increase load further
- Reduce base of support/ Increase stability requirements of the exercise
- Increase complexity of exercise (increase number of joints that have to work either as prime movers of stabilisers)
- Increase time under tension (extend the eccentric/ lowering portion of the exercise)
- Add velocity (i.e. increase speed of the exercise/ bar)
- Increasing frequency by lifting the same load and volume more often throughout the week
- Increasing training density by doing the same work in less time
It is also important to note that progressive overload is very difficult to achieve with overly-specific exercises, mimicking the golf swing using cables or bands for example, whilst the basic human movement patterns of squat, hinge, push, pull and carry can really be progressively overloaded indefinitely - this is one of the many reasons why these exercises should form the backbone and vast majority of your training.
No. 6 - Balance
Balanced strength development in the foundational movement patterns is key to injury prevention and effective performance. In order to ensure this balanced strength development we need to apply some standards.
You can check out the previous article for complete standards here, but for the purposes of this article we are bothered about a few of those standards in particular in relation to one another. With this in mind, I'm a big fan of Mike Boyle's idea that the loads used in rear foot elevated split-squat, bench press, chin-up (bodyweight plus resistance) and hang power clean should be even.
It is commonplace for most (particularly men) to have a push strength that way outstrips their pull strength. Additionally, today’s sedentary lifestyles tend to mean we are anterior chain (the front of our body) dominant, this means the functionality and strength of the glutes/ hamstrings is typically lacking and the internal rotators of the shoulder overpower the external rotators.
It is sometimes necessary then for us to create unbalanced programs to create balanced athletes. In these instances we will program 2:1 pull to push ratio to balance out the push strength, we will bias hip hinge and bridging variations that work the posterior chain rather than more anterior dominant exercises and we will institute a 2:1 horizontal to vertical pulling ratio to create balance between those internal and external shoulder rotators.
When talking balance it is also worth mentioning that most people live very sagittal (i.e. straight up and down) dominant lives, whilst most sports, particularly golf, take place in the frontal (lateral) or transverse (rotational) planes. In order to create a balanced golf athlete then we must consider the need to train both laterally and rotationally.
Utilising the ideas and techniques listed above in your golf fitness program will ensure you are improving posture and movement quality, developing power that not only transfers to improved club head speed but is also as close as you will get to the fountain of youth for your golf game and indeed life in general, as well as developing strength in a safe and effective manner that prevents the build up of asymmetries rather than unintentionally reinforcing them.
I have also provided the opportunity to download the exact templates I use to create programs for my clients with this article for free.
These templates will help you better understand practically how the above points all fit together into a workout. However, feel free to just plug in appropriate exercise choices to create a great workout program!
Click here to download the templates.
Boyle, M (2003) New Functional Training For Sports, Human Kinetics
Metter EJ, Conwit R, Tobin J, Fozard JL. (1997) Age-associated loss of power and strength in the upper extremities in women and men. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 52A:B267–76.