The best players in the world are all crediting fitness with helping them to improve their golf games. As a result, more and more club golfers are hitting the gym with the aim of obtaining those same benefits that the pros are getting. However, many of these self-directed fitness programmes fall short in improving golf performance and in some cases, may be hurting your golf game! Below, I outline some of my thoughts on why this happens and mistakes I see.
“The more I work out, the better my body feels, the better I feel. Butch Harmon is all for it, especially if there is something in my swing that I can help in the gym. Now teachers and trainers are working together to form plans to help the golf game, whether it’s to help your body or your swing.” - Dustin Johnson, current world number 1 and 2016 US Open Champion
No initial assessment
Right from the outset almost every self-directed fitness programme gets off to a bad start. Even as a strength and conditioning coach, it’s hard to perform an assessment on yourself without lots of time and video and even then, it’s hard to be truly honest with yourself on the results. Every client I train goes through an initial assessment that is comprised of elements from the world leading TPI and FMS screenings amongst other strength, power and speed assessments. These movement screenings don’t tell us everything but in terms of a movement baseline they provide valuable information. Think about it, without an initial assessment, how do you know where you at and where you need to improve?
Building strength on top of dysfunction
This second issue leads on from the first one. Make no mistake, being strong is beneficial for golfers of any age/ability, despite what you might here on the golf commentary on TV. Research has shown strong correlations between performance in exercises such as squats and club head speed and so the notion golfers shouldn’t lift heavy is simply wrong and outdated. However, most people have mobility, stability and movement pattern issues that need improving before loading with weight. Without an initial assessment, it’s hard to pick up on these problems and so many people keep adding weight to dysfunctional and potentially dangerous movement patterns. You won’t be able to use all that new strength in your golf game if its built on top of dysfunction and you may also be setting yourself up for injury. A proper assessment followed by some corrective strategies to improve weak areas and patterns allows for strength to be built on top of solid foundations. In fact, many golfers that I train improve swing mechanics and see some speed improvements from just moving better. These numbers really get kicked up though when you start adding strength and power on top!
Performing your favourite exercises all the time
With just you to hold yourself accountable it’s very easy to slip into the pattern of only training what you like to train and neglecting what you don’t like to train. Unfortunately, the exercises you like tend to be the ones you are already good at and the ones you dislike are where you are weak. This is human nature but if continued can lead to muscle imbalances that can potentially affect performance and increase injury risk. Every golfer I train has their weaknesses identified in the initial assessment and then worked on through a balanced and structured programme. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link!
Only working in the sagittal plane
Most gym exercises (squats, deadlift, bench, lunges, rows) work in what we call the sagittal plane or put simply, working in straight lines. However, during the golf swing various parts of the body work in all 3 planes of motion. It is very rare to find a self-directed workout programme that includes exercises in the tranverse plane (rotational), frontal plane (side to side) or a mixture of them all, but for golfers in particular, it is vital to do so.
Rushing to the “cool” stuff
Many tour players post video clips online or on social media of their workouts and people rush to copy these exercises. I see people’s logic, if the best players in the world are doing an exercise, it must be good for your golf, right? It’s not quite that simple. Many of these clips are of advanced plyometric or ballistic exercises, that are probably way beyond most people who have just started their golf fitness journey. What people don’t see is the work that has gone on to get to that stage. The tour player would have gone through the assessment and corrective exercise stage with mobility and stability still being a constant in their programmes. They have effectively “earnt the right” to perform that “cool” looking box jump. That doesn’t mean it’s the right exercise for you! Rushing to the “cool” stuff isn’t advantageous and is potentially dangerous. Just like the tour player, you need to “earn the right” to perform those moves.
Mimicking the golf swing with weights
An exercise doesn’t have to look “golfish” to benefit your golf game. Using weight and cable machines to mimic parts of your golf swing isn’t going to get you stronger and hit the ball further and in many cases, these exercises serve little purpose. In fact, these exercises can actually hurt your golf game by messing with swing mechanics. As my clients will testify, most of the exercises I recommended look nothing like a golf swing but all have their reasoning behind them either in terms of golf or general movement improvement.
Training for aesthetics not performance
Most online programmes or fitness magazine articles are geared towards aesthetics. Traditional bodybuilder splits of training chest one day, back the next isn’t going to cut it for improving golf performance. My aim is to improve movement, reduce injury risk and get you stronger, faster and more powerful in multiple movement planes to improve your golf performance. The fact your aesthetics will dramatically improve at the same time whilst training for performance is just a bonus.
“If you want to be the best, there's no way you can get away without being an athlete. You have to be working out in the gym. Otherwise someone else is and someone else has a whole set of advantages you simply don't have.” Justin Rose, 2013 US Open Champion and 2016 Olympic Gold Medallist
That’s some of my thoughts on why self-directed programmes don’t work for improving golf performance. If you are thinking about utilizing fitness to help your golf game please don’t hesitate to get in contact, I would be delighted to help you. Thanks for reading.