The Golf Fit Blog

5 Exercises to Golf Forever: Setting The Stage For 2019 & Beyond

If you’re struggling to put the club in the positions you want due to a lack of mobility or often find yourself limiting practice/ playing time due to niggling injuries you put down to 'playing too much golf’, this time of year is your best opportunity to fix it.

The golf swing is an asymmetrical, high velocity, high load movement - indeed the eccentric load required to decelerate the club is particularly high - the equivalent of an NFL linebacker tackling you at some joints! Golf is also a high skill game requiring many repetitions, in practice and play, to get and stay good.

As a golfer, then, you’ve likely spent much of the past 6-8 months engaging in this movement for 1000’s upon 1000’s of reps. All that one sided motion and exposure to load leads to imbalances in the muscles of the body, reductions in range of motion and even injury.

There is even a scientific formula to explain this concept:

The I stands for insult to tissues, but for our purposes we can get away with substituting this for injury. N is number of repetitions, F is force, A is amplitude or range of motion and R is relaxation or rest between repetitions.

Simply stated, the higher the NxF value and the lower the AxR value, the higher the risk of 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 reducing the force of the golf swing relative to our maximal force output and lowering the F value relatively speaking.
  3. Increase range of motion at relevant joints, thereby lowering the amplitude of the swing relative to the available range of motion and reducing the A value relatively speaking.
  4. Increase the rest time between repetitions - this can’t really be practically applied in golf play or practice however so we’re hamstrung here and need to focus on the other factors we can control.

In-season, we do our best to manage the variables in this equation. However, the fact that the force behind the negative changes we are trying to change (i.e. the golf swing) is still being performed, and is in actual fact the priority (meaning we can’t control many of the variables), makes improving or making real change to mobility or tissue resilience difficult.

Myth: The idea that you need to just play the play is wrong. You need a sensible plan for technical, physical and mental skill development that takes into account long-term athlete development and keeps you resilient/ healthy. After all nothing will put a stop to progress or skill development quicker than not being able to play because you’re injured.

Even if you are a competitive golfer with the opportunity to go to sunnier climes for winter practice/ play or lucky enough to live somewhere you can play year round it is wise to take a short break from playing or at least radically reduce your volume of swings at some point during the year.

As one of my online coaching clients stated to me recently, "I didn’t realise how much toll the golf swing takes on your body over time, taking a few months off over the off-season has me feeling better than I ever have".

If you read my previous article you’ll know that my golfers are in an anatomical adaptation phase right now. You’ll also know that in my opinion all exercise should be viewed on a continuum from Health to Performance.

The weather or lack of competitive schedule is putting pay to performance most likely anyway, so now is the time to take a step back and focus on health, particularly for those that play the game for a living.  

As such, during this training phase we are capitalising on the reduction in the volume of practice/ play that typically happens at the start of the off-season to also affect those other variables in the equation and increase the insult your tissues can bear before you encounter a problem.

Put simply, we are increasing the bodies resilience to injuries/ pain, as a result of the golf swing.

Our aims in this phase are therefore to:

  1. Allow the body time to recover
  2. Take advantage of reduced swing volume to deal with any injuries present
  3. Improve range of motion/ mobility at joints and in patterns relative to the golf swing
  4. Re-establish strength and control in general movement patterns (particular focus at this time is paid to eccentric strength)

It is important to note these goals are in order of priority - injury prevention and mobility is more important than strength development at this time in order to both allow some recovery from the season just gone and as preparation for the more intense training to come.

Now you have a grasp of what you should be working on in the gym at this time and why, let’s get to the fun stuff and take a look at how.

The bit to skip to anyway if you don’t care about the why and just want to know what to do...

The ability to hip hinge, good core strength, good glute function, adequate t-spine mobility, adequate hip and shoulder mobility, will go along way to making sure you’re moving well in the golf swing and therefore not placing undue stress on the joints.

Additionally, in this training phase we are looking at exercises that promote health and function over fitness. Indeed the first few weeks to month of our off-season program will typically feature a reduced volume of training or may even just include some low level mobility and movement work rather than resistance training in order to allow recovery (this will be very individual based on the goals of the athlete, training history, age, recovery abilities, time available until the start of next season, etc).

Here are my 5 key exercises to get the job done. These form the backbone of my programs at this stage of the year for most.

Exercise #1 - Hip hinge

When people think hip hinge they typically think deadlift. And in turn they think of heavy loads, strength development and that old back problem they developed from they’re sh**ty form (as Dan John, once said deadlifts don’t hurt your back, what your doing hurts your back)

However, whilst all deadlifts are hip hinges, not all hip hinges are deadlifts and by taking a step back and re-patterning the movement so you execute it well, you’ll be able to handle heavier loads more safely and thus train more effectively when it comes time to really focus on strength and power development. Not only that - and possibly more importantly considering the title of this article - you’ll bulletproof your lower back from injury, improve your golf posture and your ability to dissociate the hips from the upper body.

One of my favourite drills to teach or re-teach the hip hinge is the sternum hip hinge - I’ll often program this in warm-ups whilst loading up eccentric hip bridge variations in the main workouts to develop some tissue resilience.

Exercise #2 - Quadruped rib grab rotation

The ability to rotate the thorax/ thoracic spine has been linked to reducing back pain and good health across all populations and a lack of thoracic motion in a rotational sporting movement like the golf swing often leads to compensatory movement at the lower back. Indeed, research shows that a golfer who’s shoulder turn in the backswing exceeds their ability to rotate their thoracic spine i.e. they are compensating/ gaining more range of motion by rotating the lower back are more likely to suffer back pain.

Work by Dr. Greg Rose at TPI has shown that the general population should have about 60 degrees of rotation in the exercise shown below, whilst golfers and rotational athletes should strive for nearer 90. Give it and go and see how you stack up. If you’re short of the 90 degree mark - and especially if your short of that 60 degree mark - include the drill in your warm-ups and daily movement work.

Exercise #3 - Dead-bug pos. KB screwdriver

The shoulders go through a large range of motion with each and every golf swing we make and as such a strong and stable shoulder is a must if we are to stay healthy.

Further we can’t underestimate the effect of our more sedentary lifestyles on shoulder health - recently a study cited the shoulder has overtaken the lower back as the most common area for a person to experience pain or injury.

Most shoulder pain is the result of the humeral head (ball of the shoulder joint) travelling anteriorly and superiorly (forward and upward) in the shoulder socket, and pinching on nervous etc as it runs into to other structures, and a scapular that is either positioned in posterior (downward) tilt or doesn’t protract, anteriorly (upwardly) tilt and upwardly rotate to bias/ allow this . Shoulder health, in short then, is all about keeping the ball in the socket.

Kettlebell screwdriver drills are a great way to activate the serratus anterior and lower trap muscles that are so often underactive, and therefore improve scapular position/ function, as well as teaching the athlete to create stability and centration of that ball in the socket. The addition of the dead-bug position up the activation of the core musculature and creates even more stability.

Exercise #4 - Push-up

The push-up is a much underrated exercise giving many of the same benefits to shoulder health as mentioned for the screwdriver above - it’s a great serratus activation exercise is you really push through your hands and reach the upper back to the ceiling at the top of the movement. Done properly, focusing on squeezing everything from head to toe to create tension and pulling the belt buckle o the belly button, it also challenges core strength and the ability to maintain proper pelvis position.

If you think push-ups are too easy progess by elevating the feet, then add a plate for added resistance and a bosu ball for an unstable surface to press from and even more shoulder stability.

Exercise #5 - Goblet split-squat

Thanks to Newton’s third law power in the golf swing comes from the ground up. Lower body strength is therefore vital for a powerful golf swing. When talking about longevity in golf, this is made doubly important by the fact that strength and power decline as we age, in process called sarcopenia.

In short, if you want to play your best golf for as long as you can you need to be actively doing something to maintain strength

The split-squat position also reduces load on the lumbar vertebrae, potentially useful for lower back health and also challenges hip mobility, pelvic control and core strength.

The exercises presented here form the backbone of most of my programs for golfers at this time of year and I have tried to select exercises for this list that can be combined to form a pretty reasonable work out for most - just do a warm-up including some foam rolling, mobility work, etc and add a pull or row variation and you’re doing pretty well.

However, obviously this is no substitute for having your individual needs assessed/ identified and a program written specifically for those needs.

If you want to know more about your particular needs and how specialised mobility work, exercise progressions and regressions, etc can be added to the bones of this workout, you can join our online coaching program to undergo an assessment process and get an individualised program from just £29/ month.

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The Biggest Reason Most Off-Season Golf Fitness Programs Fail

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Simply put, the biggest reason most off-season golf fitness programs fail is that they lack the systematic application of stress.

When speaking about how to get better over the off-season coach Oli Morton (@ChangeTheGame54) had this to say:

"This time of year provides a great opportunity to reflect on past performance and recognise the habits and practices, both beneficial and detrimental, you've formed that influence performance"

This is great advice that doesn't just apply to technical or tactical parameters, but your entire lifestyle and whether or not that supports improved golf performance.

This time of year is also one where golfers typically look to fitness work as a method of game improvement as they typically can't get on the course or compete as much, this is of course great news! However, the majority of these golfers fail to apply this message to their workouts and consequently don't seriously analyse if their workouts are actually contributing to their performance or not.

Unfortunately the vast majority of golfers apply a pretty random approach to their workouts. Knowing they should hit the gym, they do so, but fail to ask the pertinant question - 'is this activity actually going to improve my golf?'

The result is typcially a random and unfocused workout that either doesn't develop the physical qualities needed on the course or doesn't apply the neccessary stresses to cause adaptation. This results in the golfer spinning their wheels, frustrated at both the lack of progress in the gym and the lack of carryover to the course.

In short, randomness simply isn't the habit of elite performers.

For example, when you run a business, you set a goal for annual profit and devise a systematic plan to make that a reality. You work out how that annual goal breaks down monthly and create a set of tasks that build upon the last to hit those monthly signposts.

This is the exact same approach you need to take in reaching your golf performance goals.  

Elite performers understand that the consistant, structured and systemtatic application of stress is what improves performance and plan ways to make that happen.

Armed with the knowledge of some basic scientific principles, and a well-structured workout regime, you too can adopt this strategy and be standing on the first tee of your first competition hurting less, hitting it longer and with that feeling of confidence that only comes from knowing you’ve done everything to prepare the right way over the off-season.

The theory of general adaptation syndrome (GAS) states that the body will elicit specific adaptations to imposed demands.

Not enough stress and you won’t force any change, whilst a random, unstructured or reckless application of stress may lead to undesirable changes or changes irrelevant to performance of goal task and may even lead to issues such as fatigue as a result of overtraining that substantially limit performance in the goal task. More importantly, apply the wrong stressor and you're results won't carryover to improving the goal activity.

“Any workout can make you tired but only a good workout will make you better”

The fact that performance enhancement can only be obtained through appropriate and highly concentrated stress (training loads), carries with it 3 important considerations:

1) You must ensure a high level of stress to improve one specific physical quality, only a minimal number of those qualities can be developed at any one time, without compromising performance enhancement or overtraining.

2) Due to the fact that golf requires the development of multiple physical abilities (speed, strength, power, mobility, etc) training needs to be organised in a way that ensures that an athlete can develop and retain numerous training parameters.

3) Stress must be systematically increased in order to continue to drive adaptation (a.k.a. progressive overload)

Only a minimal number of physical abilities can be developed at any one time

If multiple training targets are worked during the training phase, no one stressor is signaling clearly for adaptation, this means the athete has no choice but to elicit conflicting responses (i.e. the body doesn't know which one to adapt to). This neurological/ adaptive confusion limits performance gains and/or can result in overtraining.

Even in crossfit, that bastion of developing all fitness qualities in an effort to be prepared for the ‘unknown and unknowable’, the best in the world don’t train randomly, rather in concentrated blocks that allow them to develop all the required fitness qualities one at a time to a very high level.

As GolfFit trainer, Alex Woods, says your training should be divided into developing and maintaining – spend a few months focused on developing one or two physical qualities related to improved performance, and maintain the rest. Then switch your focus, develop something else and maintain those you just developed.

Another way I like to conceptualise these training phases is of being similar to the Chinese principle of yin and yang.

The anatomical adaptation phase (detailed below) broadly equates to doing the work we need to do to stay healthy on the course and the strength and speed/power phases (also detailed below) is the work we need to do to perform better.

Health then is our yin and performance our yang – i.e. when we are working on health we still do a little performance work to maintain these qualities and when we are working on performance we still do a little work to maintain the health qualities. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water just because you might be chasing a different physical quality but at the same time your focus does need to shift.

Consecutive development of training parameters

Performance, in golf, requires the use of several physical abilities to excel.

Knowing that each block must entail high levels of stress and the result of those high levels being that only one parameter can be effectively trained at a time, it is clear that developing these physical qualities concurrently (i.e. all at the same time) is difficult for most.

Training blocks, should therefore, be laid out in a specific order to ensure these abilities must be developed consecutively, with each building upon the last, and ordered in such a way that we are able to maintain other qualities and reach peak performance at the appropriate time.

For example, strength is the most basic physical quality and more strength means more endurance, more speed, more power, all other things being equal. For that reason it usually makes sense to build a foundation of strength before moving to a quality more specific to performance as building strength first will help drive gains in the other quality whilst training the other quality followed by strength won’t aid strength development to the same extent. Similarly training should always move from developing general to the specific qualities needed for the sport in order to peak performance at the appropriate time (in this case the start of the season).

Finally, you must consider that all fitness qualities have different residual training effects. Put simply, a residual training effect is the length of time the adaptation is maintained by the body’s neural or physiological system after you stop training that quality. By understanding the residual effects of different training modalities we can organise training blocks appropriately to ensure the peaking of all performance qualities at the appropriate time to maximize performance.

“When learning how to cook, an inexperienced chef understands primarily the types of and quantity of the ingredients in a dish. A master chef, on the other hand, understands the way and sequence of their addition to the dish to maximize taste.” - Dr. Verkhoshansky

Simply put, when planned appropriately, each phase will build opon the last. As Golf Fit trainer Craig Tumblety points out "the quality of the work done in the previous phase will therefore dictate the progress in the next phase"

In short, the sequencing of the training blocks is extremely important - you can't randomly choose a block if you hope to achieve peak performance.

Stress must be systematically increased

One of the key principles behind workout design and increasing fitness is the principle of progressive overload.

Simplistically, if you goblet squat 20kg for 3 sets of 10 on Monday then your body has adapted to that stimulus. In order to continue to drive adaptation then you need to impose more stress. This can be done in a number of ways depending on your goal.

Simply squatting the same weight, at the same tempo, for the same number of sets and reps, though, will not cause adaptation.

Even if it is within a solid program that looks to develop different qualities over different training blocks, if you don’t endeavor to increase the work done towards the development of that parameter within the block you won’t progress optimally.

Putting it all together

In order to effectively manage stress then we must chunk our training into blocks or phases working on specific physical qualities, we must ensure an increase in training stress throughout that training block and order those blocks in such a way that the physical qualities developed build upon each other and allow us to peak for a specific time.

The way I do this is to use something called a block periodization meso-cycle and either an undulating or linear micro-cycle. I know, dry right!

Let’s try to make it more entertaining with a sexy infographic:

If Instagram has taught me anything it’s that infographics are sexy!?

If you read from left to right you can see what qualities we are trying to develop in each phase as we move through off-season training. As you move from top to bottom you start to gain an appreciation of how these blocks are arranged to build to maintain and build upon the qualities developed in the previous phase.

Anatomical Adaptation Phase:

The aim of this phase is ‘re-set’ the losses in mobility, variability and movement quality that often occur as a result of the golf swings high eccentric load and asymmetrical nature.

In other words, the athlete has likely spent the past 6-8 months as a highly specific ‘golfer’ - moving a light implement at high velocity – rather than a general human. This high degree of specificity has been shown to increase the likelihood of injury (just take a look at the injury rates in athletes that specialized in a single sport at a young age – a.k.a. early specialization – for proof of this) and as such is pertinent for both injury prevention and to set the stage for later more intense work to spend some time with a focus on regeneration and building the human.

In this phase, we deal with any injuries or losses in mobility that our assessments reveal, focus on mobility and soft-tissue work and probably reduce the volume/ intensity of strength work, at least for a few weeks. We re-introduce or re-focus on the basic human movement patterns in such a way as to re-gain stability, movement variability and control in the sagittal plane in particular.

Strength Phase:

This is where we start to build the athlete.

We are getting strong and owning the sagittal plane - if you are thinking big basic movements such as squats and deadlifts done with increased volume and intensity you'd get a gold star. More advanced athletes may also utilise intensification methods such as cluster sets, contrast training, bands and chains, etc to bring the training stress up to the required level for them to generate adaptation.

As I have said above strength is the basic physical quality and also has the longest residual training effect (in other words your body doesn’t give it up easily) and as such it sets the stage for the next phase – as Mike Boyle puts it “Strength is the road to speed and power”

How long you spend here will depend on you as an individual, your training experience and where you are on the force-velocity curve. For example, if you are a beginner trainee with a strength deficit, you need more force in order to increase velocity and will be spending longer in the strength phase in order to develop that ability to produce force. Conversely if you are a more advanced trainee (with good recovery ability, no major injury history and without a lifetime of competitive sport under your belt) or someone with a good strength level and in need of speed you may well spend less time in this phase and move to more sport-specific training phases quicker.

Note: To ascertain an athlete’s position on the force-velocity curve, and therefore the optimal time in training phases, we will typically test strength and power with something like an IMTP test, a squat max test or a jump test battery (TPI strength and power tests, EXOS jump tests or the FCS for example) at the start of the off-season.

Speed & Power Phase:

This phase of training is where things start to become more sports specific. In other words, we’ve built the human; we’ve built the athlete, now it’s time to build the golfing machine!

With that in mind then we start to work with light weights but high force – moving as fast as possible, we also look to develop control in the frontal (side-to-side) and transverse (rotational) planes.

Again, how much time we spend here and how specific training actually becomes will depend on the training level, recovery ability, injury and playing history of the golfer to name a few factors.

For example, a beginner to training would have much change in their program here compared to the last phase – lifts would still be full range of motion, basic jumps and throws that were introduced at low volume in previous phases will be progressed slightly and depending on progress in owning the sagittal plane we may move to some frontal and transverse plane development in their warm-up/ movement workouts. A more advanced athlete by contrast will almost certainly be working in the frontal and transverse in their speed and power work as well as their movement based work. They will also be training high force – high speed exercises such as Olympic lift derivatives, as well as more progressions of those low force – high speed jumps and throws. They may also train reduced with ranges of motion, bands/ chains, and contrast sets to improve the power output, rate of force development and movement patterns that are more specific to the golf swing.

It is also worth noting here, the fathers of training for sports performance and sports-specific training, Dr. Tudor Bompa and Dr. Verkhoshansky, recommended 3 years of general training be completed by way of base building before the athlete can consider moving on to sports-specific work.

Another important consideration is that we want to get it done before they start to ramp up their practice volumes too much in anticipation of the season start – after all at that point they are going to start getting a lot of low load, high force work and rotational work and we probably don’t want to add to that increased workload by still doing that stuff in the gym.

Conclusion

Proper periodization allows for the application of high levels of stress within a framework that gives optimal recovery time between workouts. This ensures purposeful and continuous adaptation as well as allowing peak performance to be reached at an appropriate time.

As Golf Fit trainer Craig Tumblety notes "The phased approach above is much the same as how training for golf should be arranged year round but the off-season usually affords better opportunities to get the most out of each phase", thus it is vital we make the most of this period.

Not utilising an effective periodisation strategy in your off-season workout program, then, is a recipe for frustration and a missed opportunity to reduce the aches and pains associated with playing golf and play your best golf next season.

Want more?

If you're interested in a fully periodised program, individualized to your goals and needs, that guarantees results feel free to take a look at our online coaching options here or look at booking an in-person assessment at one of our centres.

Alternatively, please follow me on instagram, where I will shorlty be announcing an exciting new project that will provide you with even more off-season training infomation (including example programs) and accountability to help you with devloping those consistent habits that are the bedrock of perfromance.

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Swing Planes and Shoulders

Craig and Oli demonstrate how poor shoulder mobility can play havoc with path of your golf club.

 

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