When a golfer begins speed training, progress is easy. In the first 4-8 weeks there is often rapid progress. Enthusiasm is very high and forecasting of potential speeds that one may be able to reach are being dreamed about. Gaining speed is easy!
In the proceeding weeks progress starts to slow down, but slow and incremental progress is still seen. In this initial 3-6 month period it is not uncommon for golfers to see 5-10mph increase with driver club head speed. Just from practicing swinging faster. This is game changing for many golfers and should be milked for all it’s worth. Each mph is potentially worth about 2.5 yards of distance.
After this period many golfers report a plateau, and it seems like further progress cannot be made even though they remain consistent with their training. This generally occurs somewhere approximately 6 months into training, in my experience. Advancing past this plateau is where things really get interesting in terms of training.
In an effort to help you climb past your plateau I am going to introduce four principles of training that must be considered. Thank you to Chris Beardsley of Strength and Conditioning Research for sharing his thoughts on these.
Getting the most out of your speed training requires intuition. We all have different lifestyles, training backgrounds, goals, etc. As a result of this and many genetic factors we cannot enhance we will all react to training differently. We are all still human however and abide by physiological principles. Training programs for world Long Drive Champ Kyle Berkshire and the super senior at your local club with no training experience are trying to accomplish the same thing. We are trying to apply a stress that leads to a physiological response.
The exact details in the training program for these two people will of course have to be very different, but the basic underlying philosophy of training is the same. These examples are two extreme ends of the spectrum. Most of us lie somewhere between the two.
To make the most out of your training you will need to learn how to become your own best coach. Later in the article I will share some advice on this.
Stress is a broad term. To ensure the time and energy we spend training is well spent, we need to ensure the stress we apply is very specific. This is because different types of stress lead to different adaptations. For example maximum effort med ball throws and long duration jogging are both “stress”, but will change the body in very different ways.
This is a huge consideration when designing elements of a golfers training program that does not involve swinging as fast as possible. This article is just going to focus on direct swing speed training, during which you are swinging at max speed. This is the most specific type of stimulus we can get for the goal of increased club head speed.
It is important to note that for swing training to count as true speed training, you must obey the following criteria.
- Have the intent to swing very very fast
- Have a device for speed feedback
- Insert breaks during sessions so that “getting gassed out” isn’t negatively impacting your speed.
During speed training we want to minimize waste product build up in the muscles and keep the focus on maximal outputs. If you hit too many balls in quick succession you will notice your body tiring prematurely, which must be avoided.
There will come a point in a speed training session that you fatigue and speed starts to drop due to muscular and nervous system fatigue. We want to delay the onset of this as much as possible so we can hit as many balls as possible at or near our maximum threshold. How much rest you need will be very individual, but something like a 1-2 minute break between every 5-8 balls might be a good place to start
3) Progressive Overload
In order to continue progressing we need to find ways to apply more specific stress. Our bodies adapt to the demands we place on it. Once we have become comfortable with a certain level of stress, there is no stimulus to trigger further adaptation. This is one of the main reasons why people hit plateaus in their speed training. At the beginning a lot of the rapid gains discussed earlier come from increases in coordination and other nervous system improvements in efficiency. For people unaccustomed to training, with huge room for improvement, these improvements can often be derived with quite a low volume of speed training.
For example, 10 swings at maximum speed 2 times a week might be enough of a stimulus for a beginner to see improvements in speed. For someone with a lot of training experience under their belt, this amount of stress will likely not be a big enough stimulus to trigger further improvement.
They have already adapted to this amount of stress and need more. For example, someone 6 months into speed training may need 30-50 swings at maximum speed two or three times a week to see improvement. Long Drive competitors with very long backgrounds in speed training are known to sometimes hit hundreds of balls in a single speed session.
(Do not do this, it requires years of conditioning)
It is a good idea to start on the conservative side in terms of weekly volume. I recommend doing as little as required while still seeing progress. This volume can then be gradually increased over time as necessary. Injuries tend to pop up when we quickly ramp up the amount of an activity we do, before the body has had a chance to adapt. We really want to avoid anytime out due to an injury, so a sensible entry point and build up of volume is very important.
If speed is increasing and you are avoiding aches and pains you are in a great spot! If you are feeling aches and pains pop up, monitor your volume and recovery time. You may need to slightly reduce the number of balls per session, increase the recovery time between sessions, or both.
A well designed strength training program can be very valuable in reducing the likelihood of injury from high volumes of fast swings. Thousands of golfers of all ability levels use the Fit For Golf App to help them improve their club head speed and reduce injury likelihood.
The more we do an activity the more our body becomes accustomed to it. This is a problem for triggering adaptation. If the stress is a non significant event for our body, it will stay the same. Incrementally adding more volume of the same stress is one way to try and bypass this resistance to further adaptation. There are issues that arise as a result of this strategy however. These include boredom, training sessions taking progressively longer, and the risk of overuse injury increasing. This is especially true if we increase our volume too quickly or don’t take enough recovery time between sessions.
The key to implementing variety successfully is making very subtle changes. It is essential that the stress applied from the variation in training is still extremely specific to the goal.
Small changes in how we train can lead to a novel stimulus that is slightly different to the one we are used to. If the stimulus being applied is one we aren’t familiar with, there is a greater chance our body will be triggered into adaptation. Again, it is essential the stress is specific, because we don’t want to waste time adapting to something that is not helpful.
Some ways that we can introduce variety are by altering the frequency of speed training sessions, the volume of swings in each session, subtle changes to swing technique with various drills or “feels”, and changing the implement we are swinging. If you train more frequently you may need to reduce the number of swings per session. If you train less frequently you can experiment with increasing the number of swings per session.
Popular speed training tools like The Stack System can both be very useful in enabling progressive overload and variety whilst still being very specific to the stress we need to impose to trigger adaptations that will enhance club head speed. The Stack System also allows for some individualisation. It brings you through a testing protocol before you begin and technology in the app analyses your performance in each session and guides your programming going forward.
Plateau Busting Speed Training
The first section of this article was an overview of some very important concepts to understand in training. I touched on how beginners and advanced trainees may need very different training volumes, and why beginners should start with a low training volume.
The rest of this article is going to be more geared towards people with a decent amount of speed training under their belt, and have experienced a plateau.
How many balls one should hit per session, per week, and per month for maximizing results is a fascinating question. With too few swings there won’t be enough of a stimulus to maximise adaptation.
There is also the possibility of not reaching the maximum speed that was available on that given day. This reduces the stress our body is exposed to and has implications for motivation. Seeing higher speeds has massive psychological effects. We don’t want to cut a session off if there is a chance we have yet to hit our peak for that session.
On the other hand, benefits from a single session will hit a point of no further returns, and the more balls we hit past this point the longer it will take to recover. This means more time before you are fully recovered for your next session, and the more we are flirting with injury due to the cumulative stress every swing adds.
With the help of a radar and diligent tracking I have an approach that I think you may find useful.
The Training Session
Step 1 – Warm-Up
We can’t perform at our highest outputs without an appropriate warm-up. Track sprinters spend quite a bit of time getting warmed up and “revving the engine” before flying 100m down the track in under 10 seconds. If you are serious about your training this element cannot be skimped.
I do the warm-up routine as part of the Winter Strength Program on the Fit For Golf App before every range session. It takes about 8 minutes and has the added bonus of improving mobility over time.
If you have time, you can then gradually work your way down through the bag and hit some wedges, irons, and finally driver. When you get to the driver, don’t go 100% on swing 1. Ramp your speed up over the course of about 5-10 balls to make sure everything is feeling good and you are ready for a high speed on swing 1 of your actual speed session.
There are a number of good options for getting warmed up. You don’t have to hit go down through the bag for a speed session. Basically make sure you go from moving slow to moving fast, and that you are FULLY ready for max speed.
I know you are probably caught for time, but skimping the warm-up is not where to shave time off. If you get injured due to not warming up thoroughly you are also looking at missing multiple sessions.
Step 2 – Work To Your Peak
Many people have reported their surprise at how many swings into a speed session it takes to reach their fastest speeds. This is probably due to a combination of getting fully warmed up, motivation from the immediate radar feedback, and our body figuring out ways to swing faster as we subconsciously and consciously experiment with slightly different movement strategies.
I think this is likely due to the fact that swinging a golf club isn’t particularly fatiguing (compared to other tasks) but it’s also very technically complex. There is an in session learning effect that we can take advantage of. To get the most out of speed sessions it is really important to reach this level.
You will probably experience a period in a session where you notice you “get in the groove” and speeds are higher than they were earlier in the session. I am of the opinion this part of the session is critical, and we need to take advantage of it.
Step 3 – Ride The Wave
When you reach your peak for the session I suggest to keep going with swings for as many repetitions as you can before hitting a drop off. (Remember to insert breaks as needed to delay this happening for as long as possible).
There are a few reasons why I suggest making as many swings as possible in this peak period. Many people reading this are using speed training with the hope of increasing their gamer or cruising speed on the course. This is in essence over speed training. You are swinging faster than you swing during your stock golf swing. I am of the opinion that the more swings you can make at a speed higher than your stock swing, the more chance there is of your body reprogramming to a higher default swing.
For example, let’s imagine we have two players whose stock swing on the course is 105mph and their next goal is 110mph. In speed training they both typically get 110-112mph at present. Both players do two speed sessions per week.
Player A hits a total of 15 balls in each speed session per week, for 30 total balls. Player B uses his radar to decide on the number of balls for each session. He realizes he can hit 30-40 balls at max speed before he starts to drop off, so ends up with 60-80 a week.
I think that it is fair more likely Player B will “hold onto” his/her speed better than Player A when making stock swings, because their body has gotten so much more practice at higher speed than their stock. It is also highly likely their speeds in training will rise much more than Player A in the long run.
The more swings we can do above a certain threshold % of our maximum speed, the stronger the stimulus for adaptation will be. Without a radar you will be completely guessing.
Step 4 – Calling It A Day
You will get to a point in your session when you see the speed dip and your quality of movement decline. When this occurs it is a good idea to stop the session, as it is unlikely there is anymore to be gained.
How Often Should You Speed Train?
In general 48-72 hours between the type of speed sessions outlined above is a good guide. If you notice that you can’t get up to the speeds you were capable of in previous sessions even after fully ramped up, it is a sign you may not have fully recovered from previous training sessions.This will be very individual however and you will need to experiment.
A common question is how to balance gym training and speed training? There is no doubt that a challenging strength training workout can blunt swing speed for 24-48 hours. Again, this will be dependent on a number of factors.
We want to do speed training sessions when fresh and achieve the highest speeds possible. I like for there to be at least 48 hours between “hard” gym workouts and speed training sessions.
Below are some scheduling options:
Speed training and gym training on the same day (speed training first). Take the next day (or two if needed) as easy recovery days.
Day 1: Speed training
Day 2: Gym training
Day 3: Easy recovery day
Day 1: Speed training
Day 2: Gym training
Day 3: Speed training
Day 4: Gym training
Day 5: Easy recovery day
There is no right or wrong to this. By tracking your weights in the gym, and your speed when speed training, you will have objective data about your progress. If you are feeling OK and things are moving in the right direction, then great.
If things are not going how you would like, audit your routine.
I hope you got something from this article. Please let me know your thoughts, and I would love to hear your speed training progress.
Please note: I did not touch on swing mechanics in this article. This is extremely important for both maximising your swing speed and quality of ball striking. Having the guidance of a coach who understands how speed is created in the golf swing is a massive advantage. I am very confident you will be able to gain a lot of speed following the ideas above, but gains will likely be even higher with an expert coach nudging you in the right direction.
Some online resources I have found extremely good for gaining a better understanding of the golf swing. They have online courses and you can also get personalised swing instruction via video recording.
(No affiliation in anyway to the below resources, I just think they are really good)
Steve Furlonger & Lee Cox More Info
Dana Dahlquist & Josh Koch More Info
Ryan Holley More Info
Photo credit golf.com