Tiger Woods reportedly has a bench press 1RM of somewhere around 300 lbs. (up to 350 lbs. by some estimates) and evidently Rory McIlroy is a known gym rat. Regardless of these reports, the facts are in regarding the the efficacy of strength training in pursuit of a better golf game–strength training works.
Like most groups of athletes, golfers do however need to realize that their sport doesn’t require ‘sport-specific’ training in the weight room as much as it requires ‘individual specific’ training. This fact should be painfully obvious when you realize that both Tiger Woods and John Daly occupy nearly the same space. In all, golfers should aim for more dynamic thoracic spine arthrokinematics, enhanced power development at the hip, and increased power transfer through the trunk. These performance goals may seem self-evident, but are common amongst most athletic domains, not just golf.
Because of these commonalities with any other sporting domain, what we’re looking to do is enhance the overall athletic capacities of our golfer, while allowing sport-specific training to be done on the driving range, putting green, etc… The biggest differences in training won’t come from the fact that an individual is looking to pursue one sport, but from their individual training history, injury history, and assessment outcomes (including limb length, muscle imbalances, and spinal abnormalities).
Below are some segments from a Day 1 of a program I’ve designed for a collegiate golfer. Ultimately this is a great example of what we’re trying to do to maximize overall athleticism while working specifically on developing power, power transfer, and thoracic spine mobility. Even without having placed this athlete in front of a high-speed camera, I can guarantee we’ve improved the maximal output of this athlete’s drive in the short time he’s been working with us.
1. Overhead Pressing Facilitates A Better Golf Swing
This is a perfect example of something we pride ourselves on at Ruthless Performance, which is incorporating something that seems as though its has no bearing on the sport-specific demands of a particular sport/athlete, but is actually extraordinarily utilitarian.
In the case of our Day 1 with this athlete, our ‘A1’ is a Half-Kneeling Fat Gripz Dumbbell Overhead Press. This is a long name, but is only so because we have this athlete on a very specific overhead press. The active Half-Kneeling position is useful for inhibiting the rectus femoris. This facilitates more glute activation in later sets, separates the hips, and minimizes any kind of momentum.
In the case of a golfer one of our goals is indeed power transfer, but in the case of this, we’re trying to minimize momentum from the lower body as a means of fostering recruitment of the musculature of the upper back. By strengthening the upper back, we’re also enhancing the ability of the scapulae to move with more precision and force around the thoracic spine–this is step 1 of ensuring a better golf swing, from a kinesiological perspective.
2. Heavy Carries Promote Rotator Cuff Stability
Loaded carries should be a mainstay of most strength & conditioning programs. In this case we’ve chosen the classic farmer’s carry for a few reasons. Chiefly because of the athlete’s limited overhead range of motion.
Overhead ROM can be limited for a handful of reasons, in many cases it can be chronically tight lats and pecs. Here, however, the cause seems to stem from limitation to the thoracic spine. Since we already have the athlete completing an overhead exercise in his ‘A’ sets, I did not think it was wise to double down with overhead work on his primary AND secondary sets.
I chose to add the overhead work as his ‘A1’ because getting in this position more comfortably is one of our top priorities. The ‘B1’ actually helps us in this regard by causing some very serious cuff activation that we’ll utilize later in the workout. Even though the farmers carry can internally rotate the shoulders, we can mitigate this with cueing and frequent correction.
As it relates to golf, we’re focusing on the cuff because of its interplay with the spine. A weak rotator cuff is a potential site for energy loss in the swing and needs to be addressed accordingly.
3. Conditioning Can Reinforce Main Program Objectives
If there’s anywhere we come dangerously close to what would be traditionally viewed as ‘sport-specific’, it’s here. These two exercises were combined as a finisher for the general purpose of cardiorespiratory endurance (this is strength and conditioning, after all…). But these two exercises are pretty well suited for building a better golfer as the rotary component of the Rotational Overhead Med Ball Slam helps facilitate power transfer outside of the sagittal plane while the Low Handle Prowler Push yields glute development.
I’ll be using exercise pairing with more frequency moving forward. The Rotational Overhead Med Ball Slams provide movement at the shoulder with a semi-rigid trunk and unloaded hip hinge action. The prowler keeps those arms stationary while loading the legs in a range of motion where they are otherwise understimulated.
Many rightfully view balance in terms of anterior-posterior, but rarely do people realize that balance of stimulation within a joint’s potential range of motion is an important form of balance as well. The deep hip musculature in particular is rarely stimulated sufficiently at these end ranges. Part of the reason why the low-handle is so strenuous is why it is so effective; the low-handle more fully stimulates the hips. And in a sport like golf, maximizing action at the hips is of utmost importance.
Training for golf has some unusual demands as many of its participants are white-collar desk jockeys. This fact, mixed with the vast requirements of the spine, shoulders, and hips call for tremendous amounts of work in the gym that most of these athletes are not getting. Time in the gym for golfers should rely on enhancing thoracic spine mobility in the transverse plane, enhancing glute recruitment, and strengthening the shoulders.
Golfing more is obviously the best way to get better at golfing, but even practice has its limitations; once you’ve honed in on your swing, the only other means of getting better is adding more force.