The weather has finally broken, you can get back on the golf course and the season has started in earnest - as much as you love it, your life just got even busier!
You need to find time to get in the practice and play as well as balance work and family commitments. One of the things that typically gets left behind then is your strength training.
Alternatively as we head into golf season many will deliberately stop training, believing they have done that work over winter and it is now no longer necessary, or for fear of getting sore (SPOILER ALERT: more on this later but there are plenty of ways to reduce this to a virtual non-issue).
This is a mistake.
The golf season can be a long one and strength is a skill that needs to be practiced and maintained like any other - not training over that time will lead to decreases in strength that will ultimately negatively impact your health and performance. Indeed, I’ve had so many golfers both in-person and online come to me over the past few years who have either got injured a few weeks or months into the season, after a sudden large increase in the volume of swings they make, or who seem to get progressively more overuse injuries as the season progresses, that for financial reasons I’m not to sure how wise it is for me to publish this article!
Typically this injury rate is either due to a low strength level to begin with and/ or by not maintaining that strength level in-season. In fact research has shown overuse to be the number one cause of injury to both amateur and professional golfers, and that appropriate strength training can reduce the instances of overuse injuries by half.
The golf swing put’s a high amount of eccentric stress (stress placed on the muscle whilst it is lengthening) on the body. Eccentric stress leads to a relative increase in muscle damage, the muscle soreness golfers often fear so much and potentially a decrease in range of motion at the specify joints acted upon (particularly the shoulders and hips in the golf swing). This loss of range of motion can further exacerbate the build up of asymmetries already caused by the asymmetrical nature of the golf swing.
To gain a greater understanding of the of the accumulation of stress through repeated motions such as the golf swing it is useful to look at the law of repetitive motion stated below:
The I stands for insult to tissues, but for our purposes we can get away with substituting this for injury. Simply stated then, the higher the NxF value and the lower the AxR value, the higher the risk of repetitive motion injury. Minimising the NxF value and maximising the AxR value will reduce the risk of repetitive motion injury.
This can be accomplished in a number of ways:
1. Reduce the number of repetitions performed
2. Increase maximal strength, thereby lowering the F value.
3. Increase the amplitude of each repetition.
4. Increase the rest time between repetitions.
As the amplitude of the golf swing and the rest periods are probably not too changeable - particularly during the course of a round - we are interested in the NxF side of the equation.
Regards number of repetitions this lead to an interesting conversation about the importance of managing the volume of golf swings throughout the season and the annual plan - indeed research suggests the more often a golfer swings the club or when a golfer under goes a a big spike in number of golf swings (for example when moving from off-season to in-season) the greater the injury risk. A full discussion on this point is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this article so for now take a look at this great article by golf coach Adam Young.
That said, as a strength coach there are some things I can do in the gym to affect this number by reducing the volume of reps we do, particularly in areas of high stress for the golf swing - for this reason you won't find many rotational movements in-season for the golfer playing a lot of golf.
Additionally I can help you raise the F number. In essence, the stronger you are the lower force output the golf swing represents as a percentage of your max strength, the more injury resilient you probably are and the more swings you can probably make without increasing your risk of overuse injury. As in-season typically represents the time an increase in repetitions occurs, being as strong as possible and maintaining that strength throughout the season has huge implications for being able to practice/ play more, and therefore hone your skills, and missing less time on the course due to injury.
In short, it is important to still lift weights in-season.
However, due to schedule demands, it probably isn’t possible to maintain the same workout schedule.
Additionally due to the increased demands on your body and the want/ need to perform on the golf course you probably wouldn’t want too. Training must therefore be time efficient, mitigate/ manage the risks of an increased volume of swings and allow performance to optimised and maintained throughout the season. To paraphrase MLB strength coach Eric Cressey - providing adequate stability, mobility, recruitment patterns, and tissue quality with the appropriate training loads and recovery measures ensures that we stay below that injury (I) threshold.
1. Adequate recovery between practice, play and training.
As I said, due to the increased demands on your body and the want/ need to perform on the golf course it probably isn’t a wise strategy to continue training as you do in the off-season.
We likely must reduce or reorganise training intensity, volume and frequency, so as not to dip too far into our recovery reserves and to allow adequate recovery time to allow for optimal performance.
However, it is worth noting that this represents a sort of balancing act. On one hand we want to ensure adequate recovery to create the best opportunity for performance on the course today, tomorrow or this weekend - a.k.a. the short term - and on the other you want to maintain strength as much as possible, or even improve it, for greater longer term performance. As such we can’t just completely reduce training to going through the motions once per week at about 50% effort.
The more advanced the athlete (in terms of training experience and strength not golfing ability) the less often we will be able to push them and get away with it - as their strength level is high and they can therefore dramatically impact on their CNS function and readiness levels with jut a few heavy sets - but a good in-season program will still need to balance recovery with well timed periods of pushing harder to be effective. Conversely, if you are a complete beginner you don’t have the strength levels to really tap into your recovery reserves yet so you probably don’t need to worry too much about this and can continue to train as you were.
Most amateur golfers I train are what I call 'weekend warriors’ - that is they play at the weekend and have an office job on weekdays. For these golfers simply re-arranging there training week to place most of volume/ intensity/ eccentric load to be arranged at start of week has proved a very effective strategy in-season.
2. Better exercise selection
The key to good exercise selection in-season is to minimise eccentric stress - thereby preventing overload on the system and reducing soreness - whilst still allowing you to lift heavy and maintain strength.
The eccentric portion of the lift is the lowering part of the lift so we want to use exercise that minimise (in terms of time or load) this portion or the load during this part of the exercise. Sled pushes/ pulls, for example, are great because the eccentric portion of the lift (taking a step forward)occurs unloaded and only during the concentric (driving the load forward by pushing the foot into the ground and extending the hip and knee) are you under load. Additionally step-ups may be better options than RDLs and walking lunges, as they reduce the time under tension in that eccentric. Push-up variations instead of dumbbell pressing, single-arm lat pulldowns instead of pull-ups, or split squats instead of rear foot elevated split squats all achieve a similar effect.
Another effective strategy here is to reduce rotational movements and focus on 'anti' rotation in-season (in fact, this is probably good advice year round for most golfers). If you remember we talked about repetitions being a risk to overuse injury - it therefore doesn't make much sense to add to that load at a time when it is already at it's highest by training those patterns. Additionally the rotational work we do is going to put the athlete in a position where the must execute with perfect technique or maintain the mobility needed for perfect technique, so as to redistribute that stress through better technique.
Additionally, that soreness or DOMS that golfers dread playing with so much, is often the result of a novel training stimulus. As such keeping the exercise variety as low as possible in-season is a good strategy to reduce soreness.
3. Soft tissue work and mobility drills
The noted baseball physical therapist Mike Reinold has this great saying, he uses with his players, that goes “every time you step onto the mound I want you to look like you” by this he means whilst you may not move perfectly, whilst you may have asymmetries as a result of your sport and life he doesn’t want them to be getting too much worst over the course of the season - he still wants you to move like you even well into a long season.
I love this concept for golfers too, so we can adapt it to "I want you to look like you every time you tee it up”.
The hips and shoulders can get pretty chewed up in the golf swing as a result of eccentric stress and the asymmetric nature of the swing. Regular targeted soft tissue work and mobility drills can help to round out your movement portfolio - i.e. the movement you do regularly - at a time when this typically decreases, thereby maintaining symmetry and movement quality and much as possible. They also reduce many of the physiological effect of eccentric stress and improve recovery.
4. Manage volume and intensity
For most players playing and/or practicing regularly (250 swings a week seems to be an arbitrary but somewhat useful mark here) or adding a large number of swings in comparison to off-season (particularly those golfers living in colder climbs) volume needs to be cut drastically start of season, then gradually increased back again over time.
This can be achieved by cutting the frequency of sessions (i.e. lifting once or twice per week as opposed to three) or cutting the duration of the session (i.e. 30-45 minute sessions instead of an hour) to reduce the number of sets and reps done over week.
A popular adjustment to make in-season is to reduce training intensity i.e. forgo the heavy lifts, bump up the reps and use lighter weights - this is a mistake.
First, let me be clear, I’m not talking about intensity as a measure of effort or how hard you are training. Intensity in training has a very specific meaning, it means the percentage of your 1 rep max you are working at.
Research has consistently shown lifting at a high percentage of your 1RM is the fastest way to develop strength and the most effective way to maintain it. As such you have a much better chance of maintaining or even increasing strength in-season with lifting at a high percent of your 1RM. Now, I’m not suggesting all out effort or trying to set a new PR on deadlift in-season here what I’m saying is you still want to lift heavy (heavy being relative to the individual and you should never sacrifice technical proficiency) - taking a weight you can lift 5 times and doing 2 or 3 sets of 3 reps is a fairly typical recommendation you’ll see in one of my programs.
Stick to reducing volume not intensity - this will prevent fatigue whilst still allowing you to preserve strength.
In sum, in-season training for most amateurs doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated:
- Front load the training week - put your heavy work early in the week
- Reduce eccentric stress through exercise selection
- Keep intensity (defined as % of 1RM) high
- Reduce volume - frequency/ sets/ reps as appropriate
- Reduce exercise variety
- Recover well - sleep, eat, do some soft tissue and mobility work
By doing these things I’m confident you’ll play better, and if your missing time due to injuries, you’ll play more often as a result.
If you’re interested in having a personalised in-season program designed for you then please
check out our proven, battle tested and guaranteed online coaching program that has already helped 100’s of golfers improve performance, stay healthy and enjoy the game more.