Golf Fitness: A Guide to Needs Analysis and Program Design
Golf is changing. No doubt about it. Watch the coverage on television, look at the world rankings, listen to players interviews, or read what they say in the papers. Nothing gets more talk in golfing circles currently than distance. Top players are hitting the ball further, and courses are getting longer.
First Tiger Woods, and then Rory MCIlroy, now the majority of top players whether it be amateur or professional have altered their approach towards achieving optimum performance. The swing used for the long game in golf is a power activity. There is a reason why some players can swing the driver over 120 mph, and carry the ball over 300 yards consistently. This does not happen by fluke or accident.
Genetics absolutely play a part in power based activities. There are some people who with all the training in the world will never achieve this level of power. There are others who will achieve it with little training. The vast majority of people however lie somewhere in the middle. This is good news as it means that intelligent training can harvest huge results. This is where strength and conditioning or physical preparation comes into play.
Everybody who plays golf loves hitting a big drive, and everybody wants to hit it further more often. If you are a professional, hitting the ball further is a huge asset in terms of earning more money, or winning golf tournaments. For amateurs, you are looking at a lower handicap, and more enjoyment. Anybody who wants to argue this point, I highly recommend you check out Mark Broadie’s excellent book “Every Shot Counts”.
As a Sport Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach my job is very simple in theory. I examine a movement(s), sometimes quite complex, sometimes quite simple, and try to deconstruct what the body is doing, both internally to produce and externally to achieve this movement. Once this analysis is complete, one can then start to think about how the enhancement of this particular movement can be trained.
Factors of needs analysis:
There are two basic categories that all movements must be assessed from during a
- This deals with the joints, and muscles primarily used, and in what fashion.
- The plane of primary movement, and what direction force is being applied.
- How movements, and body segments are synchronised.
This examines with what is happening internally to produce energy and movement, important concepts to note include:
- What is the duration of the activity.
- How long a rest is there between bouts of this activity.
- What % of maximum force is the movement generally carried out at.
All these questions will give us an idea what the primary energy system being used is, and what particular types of muscle contraction are taking place.
This gives us a model we can base our program’s needs around. Then it is time to
factor in how each individual will have particular structural, movement, and potential
injury variances which will need to be taken into account. This is where screening
can be useful.
Now let’s look at this in slightly more detail.
Joints and muscles: If we take a quick scan from a biomechanical perspective and
consider the joints and muscles being used, very quickly we can ascertain that the
ankles, knees, hips, trunk, and shoulders are key areas involved in the set-up and
execution of the golf swing. As a result of this, the muscles that control movements of
these areas are going to be of huge importance.
Plane of movement: The plane of primary movement is in the transverse plane which is the plane that we move on to rotate, but there is also movement in the sagittal, and frontal planes which relate to vertical and lateral movements.
- Transverse Plane: Primarily rotation
- Frontal Plane: Primarily lateral movement
- Sagittal: Primarily forward and back, or up and down movements
N.B One of the main reasons general workouts aren’t as effective as programs tailored for golfers is that they concentrate almost exclusively on the sagittal plane. If you have been working out and not seeing transfer to your golf swing in terms of increased mobility, stability, and power this is likely a contributing factor.
If you have a fitness program that isn’t working, or want one that is designed specifically for golfers, check out the 12 Week Fit For Golf Online Training Program.
Type of movement: As explained in a previous article for TPI the golf swing uses a
phenomenon known as the stretch shortening cycle, as a means of power development. Muscles and tendons have an elastic component. In the back swing, muscles and tendons are rapidly stretched and tension is developed and stored. In the downswing this stored tension is released, similar to a slingshot effect. This rapid pre stretching, followed by contraction of the muscles and tendons allows a more powerful contraction than if the pre-stretch did not take place. To illustrate this, think of a swing where a player gets to the top of the backswing, pauses for 5 seconds and then starts the downswing, as opposed to a regular swing. The elastic energy is lost with the pause, as opposed to exploited with the regular swing. The efficiency of one’s stretch shortening cycle is highly trainable which is great news for golfers!
The golf swing is a very short duration, high power activity, with long rest periods in
between bouts. This makes the Alactic or ATP & Creatine Phosphate systems the
dominant energy system. As a result of this, part of a golfers training should include
similar explosive activities. This is crucial for getting athletes used to generating
speed and for recruiting and developing their fast twitch type 2B/2X muscle fibres.
Putting it all together – How I structure programs for my golfers:
Every coach needs a philosophy or a basic system in regards to program design. This
is a set of basic principles that govern what you ideally want your athletes to be able
to do or improve on as a result of their training. This is not to say that programs are
set in stone, there is just big rocks I like to care of in each program. The breakdown
below is currently the system I use as my preference.
1) Talk to swing coach (when possible) – Gathering information from the clients
swing coach in regards to what he/she is trying to accomplish with the client.
An example of information a swing instructor might provide me with is “I need
to get him/her turning in his backswing rather than swaying, but I don’t know
if the cause is a physical restriction or just habit”.
2) Talk to Client – Get the client to fill out a questionnaire which requests
information on any previous or current injuries, their sport and training
history, the time they are willing to make available to training, any
health/medication issues etc. Talk to client about any info that is relevant.
3) Perform TPI Screen – At this stage I bring the client through the TPI screen. I
pay particular attention to any tests that might have a close relationship with
some of the swing tendencies the swing instructor has informed me about. As
the screen is taking place I take notes about anything which stands out. If
necessary I will look at some tests outside of the standard screen to gather
4) Review – Once the screen is completed I take a couple of minutes to read
over any notes I have taken, and try to consider possible links between
movement habits I have seen during the screen and tendencies the coach has
informed me about.
5) Attack biggest issues – If the client had significant difficulty with some of the
screening protocols, particularly any related to tests/movements which might
be more closely related to physical issues underlying tendencies outlined by
the coach, we work on some exercises/drills to help clean these up.
A classic example of this is people who tend to sway in the back swing, and/or
finish the backswing with a reverse spine angle are regularly deficient in
internal hip rotation on one or both sides in the lower quarter rotation test.
6) Move into “main phase” of the program: Once any standout individual variances are accounted for and the client has a basic understanding and proficiency in the different movements needed I progress the client through my current training system based on the “5 Pillars Of Golf Strength & Conditioning” I wrote about in this article.
You can get in contact with me by e-mail to organise a TPI screen via Skype or Google Hangout, or check out the golf specific strength & conditioning program I created:
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Thanks for reading. Feel free to get in contact if you have any questions or feedback.