Strength Development Fundamentals for Golfers
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
There’s a very eloquent formula for determining success in any sporting endeavor:
Productivity = Potential — Losses Due to Faulty Process
As an athlete, there’s nothing you can do about your genetic inheritance, but there’s always room for improvement when it comes to your training methods. Particularly, it’s important to identify and correct the most significant error you’re making, because resolving this error has the most potential to improve your athletic performance.
Golfers are a strength coach’s dream, because few of them utilize resistance training. In such cases, a carefully supervised 8-10 week strength training program frequently results in well over a 100 percent strength increase. This increase creates a strength “reserve,” which quickly improves both power, accuracy, and endurance.
During a golf swing, it takes a certain amount of muscular strength to overcome the external resistance of the golf club (this strength is provided primarily by the legs, hips, and rotator muscles of the torso). The stronger you are, the more strength that is left in reserve, and the more you’ll be able to accelerate the club, swing after swing, without exhausting yourself over 18 holes.
For novice golfers, skill practice sessions are sufficient for developing sportspecific strength. But as technical ability improves, the need for supplementary strength training increases accordingly. One interesting phenomenon in golf is that younger players ignore the conditioning element of their preparation, but it often takes years, even decades to develop technical proficiency. So, a golfer may be well over 40 years old by the time he or she has developed a high level of technical expertise, but by this time, physical conditioning has become an issue.
Resistance Training Technology on a Scale of “Good, Better, Best”
While health clubs and equipment manufacturers will tell you otherwise, resistance training machines are not the “best” form of strength training technology, especially for golfers. While they definitely have their place, machines tend to restrict movement to a single plane, which means that the strength developed will not transfer well to an activity like golf, which is multiplanar. Machines also use “variable resistance” technology, so that the machine supposedly matches the muscle’s force curve. But most credible research casts doubts on the effectiveness of this concept. Finally, machines normally restrict the movement to a single joint for the purpose of “isolating” the muscle being worked, but golf is not an activity which requires isolated movements! The object of strength training for golf is to train movement, not muscles.
While “constant resistance” devices such as barbells and dumbbells are superior to machines, they nonetheless have their disadvantages as well. Let's use the bench press as an example: you lower the bar to your chest, and then ram it to arms length. You assume you’re moving explosively, but as your arms reach extension, the antagonists (latissimus, biceps, rhomboids, and medial trapezious) begin to contract in an effort to decelerate the bar before it leaves your hands. It's simply a protective mechanism.
Contrast this with your objective, which is to accelerate the bar, and you begin to see the problem. There are ways to address this inherent disadvantage of constant and variable resistance training, however.
Strengthening the Stabilizers
Stabilizers are muscles which anchor or immobilize one part of the body, allowing another part (usually the limbs) to exert force. The most significant stabilizers are those of the trunk— the abdominals and trunk extensors. If the motor cortex detects that it can't stabilize the force provided by the prime movers, it simply won't allow the prime movers to contract with full force. Stabilizers are best strengthened through exercises conducted in an unstable environment, such as on a “physio-ball” (those heavy-duty “beach balls” you might have noticed in your local health club), or movements performed with medicine balls.
If you’ve never seriously considered adopting a serious strength training program to improve your golf game, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Don’t let stereotypical notions of strength training prevent you from taking advantage of this important conditioning element!
SIDEBAR: Strength Training Suggestions for Golfers
1) Seek professional guidance from a sports conditioning professional. Certified personal trainers who have significant experience working with athletes may also be a good option.
2) Initially, expect a slight decline in your game as your body begins to adapt to the additional training loads. After a handful of weeks, your game should climb back up to, and surpass previous levels. For this reason, don’t start a strength training program for the first time if you have important tournaments pending.
3) Expect to spend between 1 and 3 hours a week on your strength training program. The emphasis should be on leg and abdominal musculature.