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Complex Training For Power Development In Golfers

Physical Training & Preparation For All Levels of Golfer

Complex Training For Power Development In Golfers

Complex Training For Power Development In Golfers

  1. The Relevance Of Training To Increase Power.
  2. Complex Training – A Simple Method To Increase Strength & Power In Golfers.
  3. Sample Workouts – Complex Training Exercise Combinations For Golfers.
  4. Important Considerations For Implementing Complex Training.
  5. Summary.

1. The Relevance Of Training To Increase Power:

The physical demands for a powerful golf swing are often misunderstood. The golf swing for the “long game”, especially when shot distance is one of the key elements, is reliant on an extremely high velocity, high force, “explosive” movement. This means we need to be able to produce a lot of force in a short period of time, similar to jumping, throwing and hitting athletes. A growing percentage of golfers can achieve 120mph club head speed. To go from a stationary position to moving the golf club at this speed requires a lot of force, and will likely require appropriate and progressive long term physical training, unless you are very lucky genetically. With the changes in modern equipment, and as more explosive athletes have started to play the game, 120mph club head speeds which used be considered the “holy grail” of club head speed, are now becoming more common, and 130mph is the new benchmark. Thank you, Cameron Champ.

Researching this article I thought it would be interesting to track the trend of how many players have averaged over 120mph clubhead speed in a season on the PGA Tour. If you don’t know your club head speed, I recommend getting it measured. It’s an important metric for everyone to know and track, as it dictates your distance potential.

Year # Of Players Averaging Over 120mph On PGA Tour
2019 17 (at time of writing)
2018 17
2017 18
2016 14
2015 13
2014 11
2013 15
2012 11
2011 6
2010 7
2009 7
2008 10
2007 9

As can be seen from the table, there is a definite trend towards 120mph becoming more commonplace, and it will be interesting to see how it changes over the next few years. I could not find these statistics for the Web.com tour, or top college players, but it would make for interesting comparison.

The table above illustrates what we already know about professional golf. Distance pays, especially in the professional ranks where everyone is already highly skilled. You may not have any aspirations of a 120mph club head speed, but for the amateur golfer, improving club head speed is very useful for lowering scores, and making / keeping the game enjoyable. I’ve spoken to many golfers who have lost some enjoyment from the game due to a decline in physical condition, and a subsequent loss in distance. When you can’t reach holes in regulation that you once could, it can be a long day on the course, and it makes scoring well extremely difficult. We know distance is important, and we know club head speed is a critical element, and the limiting factor for distance, so let’s now delve into a very practical method of training designed to target some of the physical qualities necessary to improve yours.

2. Complex Training – A Simple Method To Increase Strength & Power For Golfers:

Complex training (CT), sometimes referred to as Contrast Training is a training method which combines a high load strength exercise, and a lower load velocity or power based exercise, of similar movement patterns into an “exercise pairing”. “High load” is relative to the individuals strength level, but usually refers to something greater than 85% of the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) in that exercise (1RM = the most weight you can successfully lift for one repetition in a particular exercise). This means you would be using a resistance that you can only lift for 1-5 repetitions before failure.

A simple example of a CT exercise pairing for lower body power, in this case vertical force would be:

  • Squat with 85-95% of 1RM x 1-3 reps (if you do not know 1RM, this would be a load that is very challenging for 1-3 reps).
  • Rest approx 3 minutes (I will go into more detail on rest periods later)
  • Vertical Jump for maximum height x 3 reps
  • Rest 30-60 seconds
  • Go back to squat, and repeat for prescribed number of sets, generally 3-5 sets.

How Does Complex Training Work?

Why should you consider “pairing up” your strength & power exercises, as opposed to doing them in separate workouts, or during different parts of the workout?

The short answer is because it might lead to better training results, especially in terms of increasing performance in the power based exercise, which is done after the heavy strength exercise (the vertical jump in the example above). This is an important point to note – the primary reason most people use complex training is to try and have better results in the power exercise, compared to if they hadn’t done the heavy strength exercise a few minutes before. This is obviously beneficial for short term expression of force in the light / power based exercise, but can also lead to greater adaptations long term if it continually enables us to train with higher power outputs. You might be thinking, “Won’t my legs just be tired from the heavy squats, making me jump lower?”. Not necessarily, due to a phenomenon known as “Post Activation Potentiation”

The Power of “PAP”

PAP stands for Post Activation Potentiation. For the purpose of this article we can think of PAP as an improved ability to produce force in unweighted or light/moderately weighted exercises, after performing an exercise of maximal or near maximal intensity (very high weight / force relative to the person’s current strength level). Think back to the heavy squat and vertical jump example above. By inducing “PAP” with the heavy squats, it’s possible to improve your performance in the vertical jumps that follow, compared to if the heavy squats had not been performed. This is due to a number of proposed mechanisms. The most widely suggested theory is that it arises from:

  • An increase in ability to recruit “high threshold motor units”. Everybody has heard of fast twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch muscle fibers are present only in high threshold motor units. A motor unit is comprised of a nerve, and all of the muscle fibers it innervates. These high threshold motor units & fast twitch fibers are only activated and used when we apply maximal intent to move an object as explosively as possible. The actual weight or speed of the movement is less important than the intent to move with as much force as possible. It is suggested that because maximum force production is necessary to complete the heavy squat preceding the vertical jumps they can “ramp up” the nervous system and make it more effective at recruiting these fast twitch muscle fibers, enabling us to produce more power in in the following vertical jumps, resulting in a higher jump.
  • Other factors include a change in “pennation angle”, which is to do with how the muscle fibers can interact with the tendon, and an increase in “rate coding”, which improves the strength of signal being sent from the brain to the muscle, through the nervous system.

It’s less important to fully understand the mechanisms underlying PAP, compared to figuring out practical ways in which we can achieve it, and benefit from it in our training.

3. Sample Workouts – Complex Training Exercise Combinations For Golfers:

Below, I have outlined some practical ways golfer’s can incorporate CT in their training programs, and exploit the benefits of PAP. I have provided two different CT workouts. These are labelled “Workout A” & “Workout B”. Each workout provides a heavy / light exercise “pairing” emphasising the lower body, trunk, and upper body. These workouts should be separated by approximately 48-72 hours.

Workout A

Pair 1: Lower body – Ground Force:

1A) Squat: 1-3 reps @85%+ 1RM (For those who cannot squat, a leg press is a useful alternative)

Rest approx 3 minutes

1B) Vertical Jump: 3-5 reps for maximum height

Rest approx 1 minute.

Repeat sequence for 3-5 sets.

Pair 2: Trunk – Rotational Force:

2A) Cable Rotation: 3-5 reps each side (it’s not practical to get a 1RM for this exercise, so go “by feel”. Go as heavy as possible while being able to keep the desired technique)

Rest approx 3 minutes

2B) Rotational Medicine Ball Throw: 3-5 reps each side (I generally advise 4-10lb med balls)

Rest approx 1 minute.

Repeat sequence for 3-5 sets.

Pair 3: Upper Body – Push

3A) Single Arm Angled Bar Press: 3-5 reps each side @85%+ 1RM (Dumbbell Bench Press, Or Cable Press are suitable alternatives)

Rest approx 3 minutes

3B) Single Arm Med Ball Chest Throw w/Rotation: 3-5 reps each side

Rest approx 1 minute.

Repeat sequence for 3-5 sets.

Workout B

Pair 1: Lower body – Ground Force:

1A) Hip Hinge: 1-3 reps @85%+ 1RM

Rest approx 3 minutes

1B) Standing Broad Jump: 3-5 reps for maximum distance

Rest approx 1 minute.

Repeat sequence for 3-5 sets.

Pair 2: Trunk – Rotational Force:

2A) Kneeling Cable Rotation: 3-5 reps each side (it’s not practical to get a 1RM for this exercise, so do it “by feel”. Go as heavy as possible while being able to keep the desired technique)

Rest approx 3 minutes

2B) Kneeling Rotational Medicine Ball Throw: 3-5 reps each side (I generally recommend 4-10lb med balls)

Rest approx 1 minute.

Repeat sequence for 3-5 sets.

Pair 3: Upper Body – Pull

3A) Chin-up / Pull Up: 3-5 reps (A overhand or neutral grip is also perfectly acceptable) Most people cannot do a single rep with their bodyweight, so a 1RM can be hard to establish. Use enough assistance or resistance (depending on strength level) that makes 3-5 reps difficult.

Rest approx 3 minutes

3B) Overhead Medicine Ball Slam: 3-5 reps each side

Rest approx 1 minute.

Repeat sequence for 3-5 sets.

I suggest getting your club head speed measured, then experiment with alternating between Workout A and Workout B every 48-72 hours for 4-6 weeks, before re-testing your club head speed. As always ensure you perform a thorough dynamic warm up before starting the workouts.

4. Important Considerations For Implementing Complex Training:

Potentiation VS Fatigue: Taking enough recovery time between exercises is absolutely essential. I cannot stress this enough. The objective of CT is to develop top end strength and power, NOT to “get in shape” or develop endurance. You cannot do CT effectively in a fatigued state. Rushing through the exercises will lead to a dramatic decrease in force production, and negatively affect the benefits of this type of training. Many novice trainees struggle with this element of strength and power training, but it’s a fact you must accept. You will spend the majority of your time during “true” strength and power sessions resting, waiting for full recovery between exercises. There is no way to “hack” this. It has to be done, otherwise force production suffers, and the desired training stimulus is lost. Experienced trainees become very familiar with this, and it’s something you must accept if you want to truly work on maximising force production. When training to raise the ceiling of our force production capabilities, which is necessary for continued improvements in club head speed, we need to be producing maximal (or very close to it) force in the particular movement pattern. Fatigue build up from too many reps, or too short a recovery period between exercises destroys this.

Training Experience & Current Conditioning Level: CT is more appropriate and effective with intermediate to advanced trainees. If you are a beginner or novice in regards to strength and power training, you can certainly experiment with CT, but you should be able to progress quite steadily with performing more basic strength and power training. You can do this by performing your power work before your strength work in the same workout, or in a separate workout altogether.

Beginner trainees do not need to work with loads that are 80%+ 1RM to increase maximum force production, and it’s also advisable to become familiar and proficient with exercises before loading them to this intensity. As you become more advanced however, loading must increase above this threshold to continue realising strength gains. A lack of loading in excess of 80%-90%+ 1RM in basic fundamental movements like squats, deadlifts, upper body presses, and pulls/rows, is a major gap I see in the physical training of golfers in general. Both from a performance and injury prevention standpoint.

What many people classify as strength and power training is not really strength and power training. Common examples of this are when fatigue, or instability, rather than force production are the limiting factors in the exercise. This is why training on unstable surfaces like swiss and bosu balls, and exercises where a lot of stability and balance are required are poor choices, if increased strength and power are the objective. For optimal strength and power training, athletes should be performing exercises on stable surfaces, in a non fatigued state, where the primary focus & limiting factor is the production of force.

Monitoring & Feedback: Depending on the technology available to you, tracking some measurements for objective feedback is a great idea for both motivation, and monitoring training results. Vertical & broad jumps can be measured quite easily with a tape measure and chalk. Medicine ball throw and bar velocity on lifts require some more technology, but are getting more accessible. Most important is that you track how your training is affecting club head speed.

Confusion About 1RM’s & Loading: Some of you reading this may have no idea what your 1RM is in a particular lift, or don’t feel comfortable moving weights so close to your strength limits. Inexperience, lack of equipment and / or spotters, lack of technical proficiency, and injury history are all viable reasons that may make 1RM testing problematic and inappropriate for you. I urge you to not let this hurdle put you off completely. For the strength exercises simply working up to a weight that is reasonably difficult for 3-5 reps will suffice, and you can always increase it as you become more comfortable. The main thing is that you move whatever resistance you are using as fast as possible, whilst maintaining control of course. Regardless of the actual load being used, it is the intent to move as quickly as possible which is absolutely critical for recruiting the fast twitch muscle fibers, and benefitting from PAP. The same goes for the light / moderate load power exercise which comes afterwards. Whether it’s a jump, throw, swing etc, make sure you’re moving with your full effort and maximum speed.

Remember: Force = Mass x Acceleration.

Is This Golf Specific?

Sport specific strength and conditioning training is a hot topic. As with many things, many people who comment on it tend to fall on one of two extremes. There is the people who believe that every movement or exercise performed in the gym must look like a golf swing or it’s worthless for golfers. These people tend to do / prescribe a lot of exercises that attempt to mimic or simulate the movement patterns seen in golf swing. Common examples of this are pseudo golf swing swings with dumbbells, bands, cables, etc or sometimes include swinging a golf club attached to bands or while standing or kneeling on a bosu or swiss ball. The main objective is replicating the look of a golf swing. Without generalising too much, people with this philosophy tend to come from more of a golf background as opposed to being well educated in strength and conditioning and physiology principles. While these movements may look “golf specific” to the untrained eye, they are doing nothing to improve the physical qualities needed to increase power production in the golf swing. While they may be difficult to perform or look “impressive”, this does not mean they are effective, or worthwhile practicing. Furthermore, in relation to the specificity element, while these exercises may seem specific to golf in terms of how the movement looks, they are far from golf specific in terms of forces, velocities, and most importantly the adaptations we want to create in the neuromuscular system.

The complete opposite end of the spectrum to what I have outlined above is the person who believes there is no such thing as sport specific strength and conditioning training, and believes that everyone should focus on just getting bigger, stronger, and more powerful with “traditional” gym / weightlifting exercises, and to leave any movement resembling a golf swing for the range or course. Often times these people tend to come from a powerlifting, or bodybuilding background, and this view is also limited. People too heavily invested in this philosophy often get caught up solely with the improvement of weight lifted in bilateral sagittal plane exercises (double leg stance, straight up and down or backwards and forwards movements. The exclusion of unilateral (single limb), frontal (lateral) and transverse (rotational) plane exercises coupled with the exclusion of lighter more velocity focused exercises, leaves huge gaps in the program. The issues with both of the views outlined above is worthy of its own article so I won’t go on.

The ideal strength and conditioning program for a golfer draws inspiration from many different training styles and principles, whilst being tied to none. The easiest way to clear up this confusion is to stop thinking “golf specific” and instead think “transfer”. A simple question to ask yourself or your trainer is:

“How will improving at this exercise transfer to improving my golf swing / make it more powerful?”

If you or your trainer does not have a clear & concise answer, then reflection on why it is in the program is advised.

By focusing on transfer, rather than specificity or simulation, it’s much easier to get on the right track with your training.

5. Summary & Key Points:

CT is not a new idea, and has been used successfully in the physical preparation of other sports for a long time. It’s a training method which could prove very valuable for many golfers of all levels. True strength and power development, during which golfers are actually practicing and developing the ability to produce more force is under utilised from my observations, with the needle having moved too far in the direction of mobility and stability training. 

The key to implementing CT effectively is to remember it’s all about the quality and intent of each and every rep you perform. The objective is to produce as much force as possible on every rep, of every exercise, free from fatigue. If you’re out of breath as you start a set, or notice a big drop off in force output from one set to the next, you’re not resting enough or you’re too out of shape to benefit from CT. If this occurs you are no longer using CT as it was intended. I cannot stress enough the difference between this type of top end strength & power training versus cardiovascular or general fitness training. Very different physical qualities and energy systems are being targeted, and we must be aware of this in our approach to training them. Do not rush the recovery periods, and do not perform more than 5 reps per set. Remember, the golf swing is a highly explosive movement, where massive forces are applied in a time span of less than 2 seconds, before a recovery time of 5 mins or so while waiting to hit your next shot. If we wish to improve our ability to produce force in this context, our training must reflect it.

Please feel free to get in contact with any questions.

Regards,

Mike Carroll

If you are interested in following a 12 week online training program guaranteed to increase your club head speed, with detailed video instruction via the Fit For Golf App click HERE. There are currently nearly 400 golfers from around the world following these programs, and feedback has been great! You get a comprehensive golf strength & conditioning program, with detailed instruction for less than the price of a single in person session. All programs are currently reduced from $109 to $79.

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References:

Applied Principles Of Optimal Power Development (Max Schmarzo & Matt Van Dyke)

Lim & Barley (2016) Complex Training For Power Development: Practical Applications For Program Design. NSCA Strength & Conditioning Journal, Vol 38, No 6.

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