|We are really excited about our HEALTHY MAY project. Over the next few weeks some of the top players from the LET will share their exercise secrets, talk about their routines and tell us why they train. But before they do, I thought it might be interesting to summarise what the science is saying about exercise and golf, particularly with respect to how exercise can help improve golf performance.
For those of you who only like the highlights...exercise has been shown to:
- Increase club head speed
- Increase ball velocity, carry distance and driving distance
- Improve balance
- Change swing mechanics
- Improve specific physical/fitness characteristics
For those of you who like the details, read on!
Exercise can increase club head speed
Research has shown that exercise can improve club head speed from anywhere between 1.5% and 9.5%.1 This is great news for all of us who would like to hit the ball a little longer! While we all know there is more to successful golf performance than high club head speeds, this variable is easy for researchers to measure in a controlled manner so is often used in golf research.
Your next question is, “But what exercises do I have to do and for how long?”
Well, according to research, progressive resistance exercises, flexibility exercises or a combination of both can all result in improvements in club head speed and these improvements can occur over very short periods of time. For example, Andrea Fradkin and colleagues2 showed that in amateur golfers, club head speeds increased by between 3-6 metres/second simply by performing a 5 minute warm up routine prior to hitting shots! The warm-up routine consisted of dynamic movements, static stretches and warm-up shots. After performing the same routine 4-5 times a week for 5 weeks, golfers increased their club head speed by 7-10 metres/second which was an overall improvement of 24%! An increase in club head speed of this magnitude was previously shown to equate to a decrease in handicap of about 7 shots! 3 Sounds good to me!
Exercise can increase ball velocity, carry distance and driving distance
Several studies have examined the impact of exercise programs on golf ball launch conditions. For example, Scott Lephart and colleagues4 found that performing stretches, exercises with resistance bands and balance exercises 3-4 times a week for 8 weeks improved club velocity, ball velocity, carry distance and total distance in a group of recreational golfers. An earlier study of more skilled golfers (average handicap 5.5 strokes), demonstrated that an 8 week program incorporating free weight and plyometric exercises can improve carry distance.5 Interestingly, while both of these studies included resistance exercises, the specific exercises were quite different which highlights the fact that there is more than one way to train to achieve your goals.
|Melissa Reid playing football in Portugal
Exercise can improve balance
While a couple of studies have shown that exercise can improve balance, how this improvement in balance relates to improvements in swing performance is still a little unclear. Nevertheless, resistance exercises4 and exercises that aim to improve proprioception5 (or awareness in space) have been shown to improve a golfer’s balance during single leg activities, which are considered to represent a golfer’s ability to transfer their weight during the swing.
Exercise can change your swing mechanics
Whenever I am presenting to golfers and trying to persuade them that exercise can improve their swing mechanics, I am always confronted with the ‘exception question’. It goes like this: “You say that exercise can improve my swing but I know that when Mr X (insert famous golfer’s name here) took up exercise, he couldn’t hit it any more so he gave up exercising and went on to win the next tournament”. My response is always, yep there is always an exception. There is always that one person in the class that doesn’t study and passes the exam or that great aunt who smoked until she was 90 years old and got hit by a bus crossing the road... but these are the EXCEPTIONS. My follow up response is, and then what happened to him? Did he go on to win the next four tournaments? And what happened to him the year after? Is he still playing? Does he play in pain? You can see where I am going. In the absolute majority of cases, golfers who exercise will hit the ball better, more consistently, for longer without injury.
So there is evidence that exercising can increase how fast your torso is rotating during the downswing and exercise can change how you move your torso and pelvis during the swing.4 There is also evidence that fatigue can have negative consequences for your swing i.e. fatigue can reduce how fast your torso and pelvis are moving during the swing which can results in reduced club head speeds and driving distance.6
Exercise can improve specific physical/fitness characteristics
This is the most obvious benefit of exercise – if you train a specific component of fitness and do it well and regularly, you should see improvements in that specific variable. Several studies have examined whether specific programs can change specific fitness parameters in golfers and sure enough, if golfers follow a strengthening exercise program for selected muscles, the strength of those specific muscles improves. If they follow a specific flexibility program, the flexibility of the joints/muscles they are targeting improves. The point I want to make here is that different exercise programs will have different effects – it all comes down to what the specific goals of the program are, which obviously have to relate to what your specific goals are. And this is where good communication between you, your coach and your physiotherapist or strength and conditioning trainer is very important.
The above summary is by no means exhaustive!!! There are many many MANY different ways of exercising; many different fantastic methods of training I have not even touched on. I am really looking forward to hearing from our players and I know many of you will have your own favourite method of exercising whether it be Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi, TRX, fitballs, kettle bells, swimming etc etc etc. When I am prescribing exercises for my golfing clients, it really comes down to three key points:
- Enjoyment. The golfer has to enjoy the type of exercise I am prescribing. For example, there is no point prescribing gym-based exercises if the person absolutely hates going to gyms. So I will always ask what they enjoy doing or what they are open to trying.
- Simplicity. The golfer has to actually be able to perform the exercises so I am always mindful of access to equipment, time constraints, duration of the program, physical capabilities etc.
- Individualised. All golfers are created differently! This means that every golfer I see has a different physical make-up, different swing mechanics, different goals, different mind set/beliefs, different backgrounds, different attitudes to training etc etc. When we are designing programs for golfers, we have to consider all of these factors which means, very rarely are two programs exactly the same!
While there is still much research to be done, all I really wanted to do in this article was to remind you that there is good evidence that exercising can improve your golf performance and I also wanted to remind you that there is “100 ways to skin a cat”! You need to find the exercise program that works for you and, ideally, this would be done in conjunction with your coach and a qualified health professional.
For a great summary on strength and conditioning programs for golfers see:
- Smith, C. J., Callister, R., & Lubans, D. R. (2011). A systematic review of strength and conditioning programmes designed to improve fitness characteristics in golfers. J Sports Sci, 29(9), 933-943.
All other references:
- Fradkin, A. J., Sherman, C. A., & Finch, C. F. (2004b). Improving golf performance with a warm up conditioning programme. Br J Sports Med, 38(6), 762-765.
- Fradkin, A. J., Sherman, C. A., & Finch, C. F. (2004a). How well does club head speed correlate with golf handicaps? J Sci Med Sport, 7(4), 465-472.
- Lephart, S. M., Smoliga, J. M., Myers, J. B., Sell, T. C., & Tsai, Y. S. (2007). An eight-week golf-specific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance in recreational golfers. J Strength Cond Res, 21(3), 860-869.
- Latella, F. S., Yungchien, C., Young-Shen, T., Sell, T. C., & Lephart, S. M. (2008). A method of golf specific proprioception to address physical limitations of the golf swing. Paper presented at the Science and Golf V: Proceedings of the World Scientific Congress of Golf, Mesa, AZ.
- Evans, K., Refshauge, K. M., Adams, R. D., & Barrett, R. (2008). Swing kinematics in skilled male golfers following putting practice. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 38(7), 425-433.