The popularity of golf for all fitness types is here to stay. It is no longer a sport just for retirees and business types trying to strike a deal with their clients. Golfers range from weekend warriors to seasoned professionals. Still today, many golfers—assume that they have a low risk of injury compared to other sports, and do not properly prepare their bodies for golf’s rigors. Splurging on the newest club or on professional lessons to improve their game is “par for the course,” but golfers rarely take advantage of physical conditioning for golf to enhance their performance and prevent injury.
Golf is more physically demanding than many people are aware of. It requires not only flexibility and strength but also good muscle balance and postural stability. A typical day on the golf course can include swinging more than 100 times (for both practice and the actual game), leaning over 30–40 putts and bending 40–50 times to pick up balls (Roberts 2005).
As a fitness professional, I am in a position to provide a golf conditioning program that includes both physical preparation and, perhaps more important, education to promote a lifetime of injury-free golfing. I am not a “swing doctor” who can provide stroke-reducing changes to your swing or approach. But, I know which muscles are primarily involved in different aspects of the swing. I can help you develop a very effective golf conditioning program that will increase your strength, endurance and enhance motor control in the particularly vulnerable areas of golfer's body.
To develop a golf conditioning program, it’s vital to understand the basic bio-mechanics of a golfer’s motion. The golf swing has five phases:
1. Initiation—getting into position for starting the golf swing
2. The Back-swing—moving the club head from the address position to the top of the arc
3. The Downswing—moving the club head from the top of the arc toward impact with the ball
5. Follow-through—moving the club past impact to the follow-through position
Roberts (2005) lists the primary muscle groups used in each phase:
- isometric contraction (gripping) of the forearms, wrists and hands (forearm extensor and flexor muscles)
- stabilization of the trunk/core and hip/pelvis areas, using the core muscles and major lower-extremity muscles to maintain position (hip adductors, abductors and extensors; quadriceps; hamstrings; calves; deep abdominals; quadratus lumborum)
- stabilization of the shoulder joint (rotator cuff—supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis)
- trunk rotation (obliques, lumbar extensors)
- hip internal rotation of the back leg and hip external rotation of the front leg (hip abductors, gluteus maximus, obturatorius internus, superior and inferior gemellus, quadratus femoris)
- control of the club position (wrist and hand musculature)
Downswing and Impact
- stabilization of the trunk core and hip/pelvis musculature to control movement to the target (hip abductors and adductors, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis)
- stabilization of the shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) from acceleration to impact (rotator cuff, serratus anterior, middle and lower trapezius, other midback muscles)
- downward movement of the arms (pectoral muscles)
- weight transfer from the back leg to the front leg (all leg muscles)
- support of body weight on the front leg as the swing is finishing (hip and trunk muscles)
- deceleration of the golf club (rotator cuff )
Physical Limitations of Most Golfers
Even with such a basic introduction to the muscle activity of a golf swing, it is easy to see that golf is not a “leisure” sport; in fact, it requires strength, endurance and correct firing sequencing in a variety of muscle groups, as well as stabilization of the trunk and hip musculature. Knowing that proper sequencing of those these muscle groups with the correct timing will certainly not be perfect, especially golfers that still for the most part, do little to no strength and conditioning outside of practicing golfing techniques. With this in mind, the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI), have evaluated some of the most common swing limitations amateur golfers have and include the following:
- Loss of Posture (64.3%) - any significant alteration from the body’s original set up angles during the golf swing
- Flat Shoulder Plane (45.2%) - when the shoulders turn on a more horizontal plane than the axis of the original spine angle
- Early Extension (64.3%) - when the hips and spine start to go into extension or straighten up too early on the downswing
- Casting/Early Release/Scooping (55.9%) - any premature release of the wrist angles during the downswing and through impact
- Over-the-Top (43.5%) - when the club is thrown outside of the intended swing plane with the club head approaching the ball in an out-to-in motion
Golf swing technique can easily contribute to these statistics, but some physical reasons may also play a part. These include:
- Inability to separate the upper and lower body
- Inadequate core stability
- Lack of shoulder and hip flexibility, mobility, and/or stability
- Lack of thoracic spine mobility
- Lack of glute and/or abdominal strength
- Wrist flexibility
- Limited overhead deep squat
With the above limitations in mind, golfers can benefit from building strength and endurance in these specific areas:
- hip and gluteal muscles
- trunk/core muscles
- pectoral muscles
- shoulders—specifically the rotator cuff
- forearm flexors and extensors
Assessing a Golfer's Needs
It is essential to assess a golfer or any athlete before starting any training program. Screening can act as a guide to prevent injury and also track improvement. A golfer evaluation (pro or amateur) consists of complete array of tests and screens to check dynamic movement, flexibility, stability, and mobility as it relates to their golf swing and body.
These screens are designed to assess a total picture of the body, the swing, and their relation to one another. Based on these results, a custom program is integrated into an existing golfer's professional instruction and golf plan to optimize the golfer’s performance.
Assessment and Screening
To complete the assessment, provide yes/no answers to the following questions:
- Pelvic Tilt Test: Is there clear ability to do both motions?
- Toe Touch Test: Can the hands touch the feet?
- Bridge with Leg Extension: Can the test be performed for ten seconds on each side with no change in posture?
- Lying Shoulder Mobility: Do both of your thumbs touch the ground?
- Trunk Rotation: Is the rotation 45-degrees equal on both rotations?
- Single Leg Balance Test: Can balance be maintained on both sides for 25 seconds?
Before you begin the workouts, complete this inventory to get some baseline fitness markers.
- Elbows have to be at ninety degrees
- Maximum repetitions until form breaks down
- Minimum 25 repetitions with two-second pause at the bottom position
- Heels flat and thighs have to hit at least parallel to the ground
- Males 5, Females 30-second bar hang
Aerobic (choose one):
- 1 mile run
- 1.5-mile bike
- 500 meter row
- Jump Rope Test - 1 minute maximum reps
Establishing baselines allows us to revisit them as each cycle begins as way to gauge the golfer’s fitness progress, and also how his or her golf game has (hopefully) improved. This also can give the golfer’s team some feedback.
In closing, I hope that gives you guys a good idea of the type of work I do and how I approach training golf athletes in. If you're a parent that has an athlete that you want to help take to the next level or if you're athlete yourself, and you're looking for the extra edge on your training, please contact DMP Fitness today.
Also if you're interested in Golf skills training, please contact my good friend and business associate Alan Hoode at Axis Golf Academy and Fitting Center by clicking on the highlighted link.
note: images in the article are stock images.
Until next time - ENVISION, BELIEVE, EXECUTE and SUCCEED
To your health!
Your Goals + Our Design = Get You Fit