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The Biggest Mistake In “Golf Fitness”


The biggest mistake in golf fitness might be using the term “golf fitness”. The problem with this term is that it suggests there is a special type of fitness or training that is unique to golf. There isn’t.

The goal of physical training is to enhance our physical capabilities or different elements of “fitness”. When training for a particular sport, our goal is to improve the physical capabilities that are most relevant to that sport.

Well understood fitness qualities include, range of motion which is often referred to as flexibility or mobility, strength, speed, aerobic endurance, balance etc. None of these things are unique to golf.

The term “golf fitness” has become very common, and has lead to masses of golfers looking for “golf specific” training programs. When someone tells me they want a golf specific training program, I don’t really know exactly what they expect. I understand they want to get in better physical condition in an effort to improve their golf game, but I don’t know exactly what they mean by “golf specific”.

Oftentimes when the term “golf specific” is used, people are referring to exercises that resemble the golf swing, or will improve some “swing fault” the golfer has been diagnosed with.

This is when it’s really important to put on the critical thinking cap, and consider what we really want to achieve with our training time and effort. For the vast majority of golfers reading this, I am confident they want to improve their strength, mobility, general health and body composition, and be able to make a better, more powerful golf swing.

There is nothing inherently wrong with including exercises in your training program that resemble the golf swing or get you comfortable with “swing feels”, but there are some criteria that I believe are very important to consider.

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For any training exercise to improve a physical quality, it needs to meet a certain threshold of “difficulty”. We need to be exposed to a stimulus that triggers the adaptation process. This difficulty may be striving for a little more range of motion on a mobility exercise, being able to produce more muscular force in a strength exercise, being able to swing a club / training implement faster, or keeping our balance better in a balance exercise.

In my opinion, we should use our training time to improve the general physical qualities that have the strongest likelihood of transferring to our golf swing in a meaningful way.
I believe these are mobility and strength. While balance and coordination are definitely valuable for golfers, I think these are trained very well by golf practice and play. Balance and coordination are qualities that are also much more context dependent. Having good balance and coordination at one thing doesn’t mean you will be well balanced and coordinated at other things.

The benefits that increased muscle strength have for golf aren’t stimulated by golf practice or play. It is a very general quality, which relies heavily on the amount of muscle mass we have,and can be trained completely out of context to the sport of golf, yet still have excellent transfer to golf.

Most people make very similar swings each time, meaning their range of motion is not challenged. To enhance it, we need to strive for increased range of motion when swinging, or target it directly with mobility exercises. A little known fact is that mobility can also be greatly enhanced with strength training through your full range of motion at whatever joint(s) are being trained.

When I consider structuring a program that will transfer to the golf swing, I think of the joints that are required to go through demanding ranges of motion, and the muscles we rely on to produce the force necessary to move the club fast.

Most of you reading this will be comfortable understanding that the golf swing is a full body movement, and a lot of our major muscles contribute to force production in the swing.

Quads, glutes, abdominals, back, lats, shoulders, chest, forearms, wrists, etc are all very important. Being stronger in these muscles is very valuable. Do we need to train these muscles in a “golf specific” manner? No. We already do that with our golf practice (and speed training – practicing swinging as fast as we can, ideally with some heavier and lighter implements like
The Stack).

If we try to only use exercises that resemble the golf swing to strengthen these muscles under the guise of “golf specific”, how could we adequately challenge these muscles to make them stronger? What would these exercises look like?

Most people think of rotational cable pulley type exercises that have some resemblance to the golf swing. I use some of these exercises as part of my programs and they are very effective for strengthening the abdominal muscles, but after that they are quite limited. They aren’t adequate for putting the necessary stress on the legs and upper body muscles.

What the vast majority of people don’t realise about exercises that are labeled “golf specific” is that they really aren’t very specific at all. For an exercise to truly be specific, it needs to match (or be very close to) the movement speed, timing, coordination, range of motion, etc of the movement you are trying to enhance. Almost nothing we do in workouts fits this criteria list, with the exception of actual swinging.

So what do we do? We choose exercises that afford us the ability to strengthen the muscles we want to strengthen, regardless of whether they resemble the golf swing or not. Focus on the loading on the muscle fibers themselves, not what the exercise looks like. I am not at all concerned with an exercise resembling the golf swing so that it can be labeled as “golf specific”. I am concerned with training in a way that will TRANSFER to the golf swing.

If I can make my muscles stronger and capable of producing force more quickly (sometimes referred to as power or explosiveness), it will be beneficial. I can do this with any exercises that strengthen the muscles that I want to strengthen. The most appropriate exercises for this objective are often not in any way “golf specific”.

This is why you will see a lot of “general exercises” in my programs. Exercises that are very common to see in athletes trying to get stronger and more powerful in a wide range of other sports. Exercises like jumps, med ball throws, and slams, squats, split squats, deadlifts, RDL’s, rotational trunk exercises, upper body pushing and pulling, and some additional ones. I don’t even really mind if you prefer to use machines for your strengthening exercises, even though a lot of people (and trainers) may deem these as “not functional”. Nonsense. Stronger muscles are very functional.

Does this mean I think that golfers should train the exact same as athletes in other strength and power sports? Not exactly, but the strength and power work will be extremely similar in terms of exercise selection. Especially compared to athletes who are involved in rotational sports (hitters and throwers).

This is especially true for strength exercises because of how they need to be loaded to be effective. When it comes to mobility exercises, I actually think there is some utility in using exaggerated golf swings to challenge the exact range of motion required in the swing, but I also incorporate general joint mobility work. For speed work, I advocate getting extremely specific. My biggest speed training recommendations are swinging golf clubs / The Stack at maximum speed.

How can I transfer my strength from the gym to the golf swing? Good swing mechanics sometimes referred to as “good sequencing”, combined with some time devoted to practicing swinging as fast as you can is what allows you to maximally apply your muscle strength to your golf swing…regardless of whether you do “golf specific” exercises in the gym or not.

Get strong and flexible, the transfer comes from having a good golf swing.

But can I do “golf specific” exercises in the gym to improve my swing mechanics / sequencing? You can, there is nothing wrong with this, and it’s certainly better than not working on your technique at all. It’s important to differentiate these exercises / drills from true physical training though. Just because you are in the gym or holding a workout implement doesn’t mean the exercise you are doing is improving a physical quality.
I.e it’s not actually “fitness” enhancement, it’s swing technique practice with a gym implement.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it is almost always a poor use of time. It generally leads to golfers getting stuck in a grey area of spending time working on things that aren’t doing anything to improve their physical qualities (they’re not “getting a workout”) and it’s doing much less for their swing mechanics than they think.

To improve a physical quality we need to provide enough stimulus for our body to kick into adaptation mode, like straining hard against a challenging weight, which isn’t going to happen in exercises where the goal is to work on a “swing feel”.

In regards to improving our swing mechanics, this can be aided to some extent with “golf specific” exercises, but the effectiveness of these pale in comparison to actual direct technique work, where swing technique is 100% of the focus.

Our golf swings are deeply ingrained movement patterns closely linked to how we have learned to make contact with a golf ball. To make a dent in adjusting how we do this, it makes sense to tie in the act of holding and moving the club, and striking the golf ball as much as possible. Yes, there are benefits to working on swing mechanics / feels without a club and ball at times, but we need to transfer it to the real thing as much as possible. (I won’t delve too far into this, as it’s more the golf coach’s job, and there is already plenty of good information out there about how to work on swing changes). Definitely seek counsel from an expert swing coach if you want to improve your golf swing.

If you can improve your physical capabilities from your workouts, and swing technique through deliberate practice, you will make huge strides in your swing speed and ball striking.

In Summary:

Don’t get caught up into thinking you need “golf specific” workout exercises. Some exercises in your program may end up with some similarity to the golf swing, but these still aren’t “golf specific”. They will still be very different to the golf swing in a number of ways.

Use your training time to enhance your physical qualities. Actually train hard! This is extremely hard to do if we try to have all of our exercises resemble the golf swing.

Don’t expect to “eliminate swing faults” with your gym training. You may see some positive transfer, but it will be quite general. For example you may increase the amount you can rotate your hips and torso, or improve your weight shift, but if you want to improve the nitty gritty of ball striking, it requires a lot of focused practice, ideally with good feedback from a coach. Good ball striking is a very precise motor skill. It requires a lot of direct practice to be developed to high levels. Ask any professional or elite level amateur golfer!

Doing some swing speed training and continually refining your golf swing mechanics is what will enable you to use your muscle strength in the golf swing. Sequence is king. There is no such thing as strength or “fitness” that is unique to golf. There are just certain physical qualities that are more desirable, like mobility, strength, speed. We must develop our technique to harness them.

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