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Barbells Or Foam Rolling For Golf Training?


In this article, I explore the perception and reality of strength training vs. foam rolling for golf.

I love asking my followers on Twitter questions. It gives me great insight into the level of education and knowledge they have about particular topics. This allows me to create informational content with an appropriate level of detail and complexity.

I asked the exact same question in March 2017, and November 2019.

Foam rolling vs barbell for golf training Is foam rolling better than strength training for golf?

Unfortunately in the 2017 poll, only 76 people voted, while in 2019, 613 people voted. The bigger the sample size, the better view I get as to what the “average person/golfer” believes.

The questions were……..

Q. If you had to make a choice between a barbell with plates or foam rolling for golf (the rest of your playing/training career), which would you choose?

In my opinion, the answer to this question should be an easy one for anybody with a small level of training knowledge. I must remember, however, that while some questions and concepts seem simple to me / some of my followers, there are others who aren’t quite so sure. Hopefully I can produce content that gives you an understanding of important training principles, and how you can apply them to improve your training and fitness for golf and overall life.  As always, my goal will be to try and convey the information in a way that is easy to understand and provide some takeaways you can use immediately.

The results of the poll from 2017 were very disappointing, but I am glad the barbell was chosen 71% of the time. Now to tackle the other 29% :).

Barbell Over Foam Rolling For Golf Training

Cutting to the chase, the correct answer is the barbell. I have been referring to my “5 Pillars of Golf Strength and Conditioning“ that underpin being “Fit for Golf” a lot recently. If we take a look at the impact each implement can have on the 5 Pillars we see a clear picture of why the barbell is the winner.

Strength training for golf provides many more benefits than a foam roller

In the table above I give foam rolling for golf credit for being able to improve one of the five pillar’s, mobility. On the contrary, I argue that a barbell can be used quite successfully to achieve a training effect in all 5 categories. This is obviously down to how each implement is applied, but even so, the barbell is much more versatile.

Foam rolling for golf is not as beneficial as perceived.
This takes up less than 5% (and often 0%) of my clients training time.

While my opinion may be based on education and experience, it is still an opinion. Luckily Chris Beardsley at Strength & Conditioning Research (SCR) do an excellent job of pooling together actual scientific research to give us objective information.

Looking at the body of research on foam rolling we can see it improves flexibility acutely, i.e if you do it before a workout, you will  have greater range of motion when you begin the workout. It also improves flexibility chronically, i.e do it for a few weeks and your flexibility is improved in general, not just immediately after you foam roll. The mechanism by which it works is unclear, but according to review by SCR it has to do with muscle activity patterns, and it is not the same as how stretching works.

It’s time to end the myth that weight lifting is:

1. Dangerous 

2. Reduces Flexibility

Mike has great mobility despite years of strength training for golf.
12 years later and regular heavy strength training doesn’t seem to have negatively affected my mobility.

Strength Training And Its Many Benefits

Strength training on the other hand is well known for and has been shown to improve strength, power, flexibility, muscular endurance, and muscle mass.  All good news for increasing club head speed and reducing likelihood if injury. Strength training is also absolutely critical in rehabbing from a injury, and way more useful than foam rolling. There is a misconception that strength training leads to a loss in flexibility or mobility. This is simply not true, and the research is there to prove it. I think people feel that as soon as they start lifting weights they will turn into the steroid fulled body builder they see on TV or in the magazines. It’s important to remember there is a very important distinction between training for improved golf performance, and building muscles that are as big as possible. This is not what strength training for golf is about.

When the scientific evidence, and the practical experience of strength & conditioning coaches is pooled together there is only one winner in the debate, and that is the barbell. Far more important than the barbell is what it represents however, which is strength training, i.e training your muscles to produce more force over time. If we do this strength training with a selection of intelligent exercises, through a full, safe range of motion, and with attention to detail in regards the technique it is a wonderful training modality for everyone. The abundance of benefits derived from appropriate, intelligent, strength training cannot be replaced, and should be enjoyed by all golfers, and people in general.

Strength Training Has Many Options

Hex bars, dumbbells, cables, bands, etc are all great. This is absolutely not to bash foam rollers or soft tissue work in general, they are excellent tools for working on mobility. It’s just that when compared to the very diverse barbell & strength training, they can’t compete.

I think there are two main reasons why so many people voted for the foam roller. One is that strength training is perceived as dangerous because of the absolute nonsense that is talked by TV commentators. The other is that strength training is hard, and because of that many people shy away from it. It takes time to learn how to properly control your body under a heavy load, and it requires effort to actually do the work. It’s tiring, it reminds you how out of shape you are. The weight doesn’t lie, and always provides an objective measure of your strength. Foam rolling on the other hand is fairly easy. Maybe some slight discomfort but nothing compared to the feeling of pushing out the last rep of a split squat or bracing every muscle you can to keep your posture during a heavy deadlift.

If you’re interested in a golf specific training program you can follow from your phone or desktop which will work on your:

  • Mobility & Flexibility
  • Stability & Balance
  • Strength (safely)
  • Speed & Power
  • Increase Muscle Mass & Decrease Fat
  • Make You Fitter & Healthier Overall

Then you should check out THE FIT FOR GOLF APP.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

Mike Carroll