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.
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.
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.
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.