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.
We’ve added a new post in our Internal Program Review series. This time, we’ve published the post with our partners at Swimming Science. This program review focuses on a single training day within one of our high school swimmer’s program.
You can also find other Internal Program Reviews here, on RuthlessPerformance.com.
With the vast expanse that is the winter swim season raipidly approaching, I wanted to take the time to yet again detail one of our swimming programs. In this particular case, we’re going to explain the Ruthless Performance methods that made this program so effective.
To provide context for this case study, we will be talking about a male swimmer, approaching the end of his high school career, who specailizes in short to mid-distance freestyle and butterfly…
We’ll be looking at ‘Day 2’ of his 3-day program, and what we’re doing to get him in-shape for the upcoming swim season.
1. Emphasising Both Activation & Mobility as Needed
Like most other programs we run our athletes through, this workout begins with a comprehenisve warm-up. Athletes are compartmentalized into a warm-up by age, ability, past injuries and training history. From there, we specialize and individualize the workout starting at our ‘A’ Exercises which are very rarely similar from one athlete to the next.
Landmine-based exercises have recently become a frequent addition to our programs because of the unusual loading parameters we see with this exercise variation. As opposed to a traditional barbell exercise, landmine exercises get lighter as the angle of the bar approaches 90 degrees; this has a wide array of benefits, but here we are using this to maximally loading the shoulder at the bottom of the press, while ensuring a greater ROM (range of motion) as we near the top of the exercise. Beyond just encouraging more ROM, this also assists in activation of the Serratus Anterior — a troublesome area for many athletes, which in the case of swimmers can be career ending.
In addition to creating muscle activation in the shoulder, we’re trying to use this ‘A’ circuit to enhance hip mobility. In our A1, the Half-Kneeling Overhead Landmine Press assists in creating hip mobility via Rectus Femoris Stretch caused by the Half-Kneeling position. Though this is a secondary component to the A1, hip mobility is the primary element of the A2 –the weighted cossack squat…
Because this swimmer is primarily a freestyler and butterflier, the hip is exposed to a relatively small ROM. By expanding this capacity in a structured and controlled training environment, we can help minimize injury (while maximizing power output) via enhanced ability of the hips to absorb and generate force outside of the saggital plane.
2. Creating a Neutral Spine Where and When Possible
In a previous article, I explained the differences between flexion and extension intolerant back pain, this particular athlete sits closer to the extension-intolerent end of the spectrum. To mitigate this, we’ve added Band Pull Aparts and 180 Degree Back Extensions as part of his ‘B’ exercise circuit.
Band Pull Aparts are one of the most common exercises within any of the Ruthless Performance programs, regardless of sport; but in the case of swimming, these provide countless benefits. Beyond the primary benefits to swimmers, like scapular control and improved stroke efficiency, we’ve added this as a means of minimizing kyphosis. Like many high school athletes who sit behind a desk for 6+ hours / day, this athlete demonstrates an internally rotated and kyphotic posture. The solution to these problems almost universally starts with a very high volume of band pull aparts.
Though the ‘B2’ is listed as 180 Back Extension, it is talked about and referred to internally as a 180 Hip Extension. Though this may seem semantic it is not. I won’t go into detail here again, though you can find more in our first installment of our Internal Program Review, where we go over this difference in detail.
The video below from our instagram also explains this to some extent with yet another one of our swimmers performing this exercise.
3. Enhance Cardiovascular Capacity, But do so Efficiently
The primary purpose of the off-season program should be to build up strength and other various capacities that are often neglected during the regular swim season. Going into the season, however, should at least provide some basic framework for sport-specific work capacity.
Another one of my frequent rants is that about the purpose and function of the rotator cuff… 4 anatomically independent muscles grouped together because of their function (physiology) with regards to the shoulder, which is simply to maintain the position of the humerus. With this in mind, any time we spend engaging and maintaining a stable shoulder, we are inherently training the rotator cuff. Here, we’re doing so concurrently with a few other goals in mind, enhancing cardiovascular capacity (as mentioned), but also encouraging overhead ROM with the slam ball, generating force outside of the saggital plane, and developing abdonimal activation/ trunk stability during both the C1 and C2 exercises.
Though these aren’t traditionally exercises performed for energy system training, we can manipulate the variables to ellicit this desired response. Rather than simply adding in more sets or extending the length of time to complete the exercises, we’ve focused in on the density component, which is simply the ability to do more work in the same period of time. A 5-minute time cap ensures that from weeks 1-4, the athlete is developing his work capacity, in a manner condusive to short to mid distance swimming events. As opposed to conventional wisdom, maintaining a high level of force output and muscular endurance over this relatively short period of time is all that we need for this particular workout going into more sport-specific pre-season swim training.
The strength and conditioning community is far too fractioned; proprietary training programs and secrecy hide the inner workings of many sports performance coaching theories and facilities. At Ruthless Performance, we find this idea entirely backwards—this mentality is a sign of some fragile egos and insecurity within the industry. To do our part in mitigating this, we’re going to start a new on-going series where we’ll deconstruct some aspect of a selected program from one of our Ruthless Performers. Hopefully this will help coaches and athletes get a better idea of programming and the science of sports performance, regardless of their affiliation with Ruthless Performance.
Our inaugural installment of our Internal Program Review begins with a look at Day 1 of a male, college swimmer’s dryland training program. First, we’ll provide some context…
This swimmer is in between the freshman and sophomore season of his collegiate swimming career. Currently, we’re training him 5x per week. Most workouts have their own day of the week, but occasionally he’ll do doubles if schedule conflicts are present.
As you can see in the figure, his programming is currently changing every 4 weeks and his workout week can most easily be broken down as follows, note that each day is not specifically ‘upper’ or ‘lower’ but rather these ideas denote the dominant exercises for that particular day:
Day 1 – Lower Body
Day 2 – Upper Body
Day 3 – Conditioning
Day 4 – Upper Body
Day 5 – Lower Body
For our Internal Program Review, we’ll examine day 1…
1. Box Squat
More than 80% of athletes that we see on a regular basis have some box squat variant somewhere in their training macrocycle, usually this is on a recurring basis as well. The box squat provides a variety of benefits, going into detail here would be too great for the scope of this article. If you’re interested in learning more about how to box squat as well as their benefits, I would recommend performing a quick search for Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell and the Box Squat.
In this case, we’re slowly reintegrating the squat into his program after having some time off following his long swim season. Here, we’ve added the box squat as a means to help assist in developing leg strength, posterior weight shift (integral to developing a proficient and technically sound squat) and building muscle to subsequently assist in force production coming off of the blocks and during turns.
2. Hanging Straight Leg Raises
A crucial component to any strength and conditioning program developed by Ruthless Performance is a substantial element of force transfer in various planes. In our A2, which is paired with the A1 (Box Squats), we’re emphasizing this force transfer, and we’re doing so specifically in the Sagittal Plane.
With the Hanging Straight Leg Raises (HSLR), we’re also building the anterior chain, specifically the abdominals. Though swimmers are no stranger to ‘core’ exercises, they can be unfamiliar with lower-repetition strength-dominant work in the abdominals like this. Whether its poolside after practice or at-home at the behest of their coaches, swimmers frequently train with high repetition crunches, sit-ups, or poorly performed planks.
Exercises like the HSLR are rarely given at Ruthless as these can place too much emphasis on the Rectus Femoris which already receives ample stimulation during regular swim practice. But unlike with Bent Leg Raises, the straight leg variation provides more stimuli to the abdominals, which can partially explain why it is much harder than bent leg variations (also worth searching, but beyond the scope of our review: passive insufficiency).
Something also worth noting with the HSLR is how we manipulate this to maximize efficacy. With most weighted exercises, this is done via an increase in resistance. With a bodyweight exercise like this, we are slightly more confined in our ability to progress this over a 4-week period. Therefore we’re slowly adding more repetitions to each set throughout the program.
3. 180 Hip Extension
If you’ve never trained with us, you’ve likely gotten familiar with this exercise being referred to as a ‘back extension’. This is partially a misnomer, specifically at Ruthless Performance as we actively coach a rounded upper back on this exercise to maximize glute input, while minimizing lower back activation.
The erector muscles already receive a great deal of stimulation any time the back/hips are being used as a fulcrum (which is close to any time you are doing a non-isolation/machine exercise). Additionally, the capillary network of the low back is rather poor, causing a slow recovery time. Doing low-back work in addition to all of this could be a decrement to performance rather than performance enhancing.
This can be progressed with weights or bands as needed, but a large emphasis should initially be placed on glute activation during this exercise rather than on a large range of motion (ROM). We typically encourage an external femoral rotation when possible, which further activates the glutes on this. When the glutes can’t contract any more on the hip extension, there is no reason to add more ROM.
4. Calf Raises
One of the benefits of working with an athlete with such frequency is that we can get into some details holding them back that would otherwise be unachievable on a 2x or 3x /wk program. With this athlete, poor calf hypertrophy is likely a weak link holding back lower body development. From a physics standpoint, mass can’t be added without a broad base of support. Consider the tyrannosaurus rex, with its massive legs serving as a point of contact and base of support, or in engineering the structure and shape of the world’s largest buildings.
Specifically, to build mass in the calves without taking too much time away from more pertinent programming, we focus on density. Through the course of the program, we’re trying to have this athlete perform more reps with the fewest amount of sets possible. It is very rare to manipulate the volume so drastically from weeks 1 to weeks 4, but this is precisely what is needed in this situation.
5. High Handle Sled Push
We rarely have our swimmers perform energy system training, but in this case, the athlete is out of season and will need to preserve some basic level of cardiovascular conditioning for when he returns to college in the fall. You can learn more about our theories and thoughts on energy system training for swimmers in our article aptly titled “Why Ruthless Performance Doesn’t Emphasize Energy System Training for Our Swimmers”.
The sled provides an opportunity to help generate greater ROM between the legs, build concentric strength, increase hip and ankle mobility, and is just a generally versatile conditioning tool. You’ll also notice that the distance is relatively short. He’s been performing these bouts between 6-10 seconds. This by no means will provide an amount of conditioning conducive to in-pool training and performance, but will help maintain and improve ATP usage at the end of a long workout, which transfers nicely into a strong finish in a mid-distance/distance event.
Have any questions about what you see or would you like further clarification? Send us your questions at info@RuthlessPerformance.com. Your question may even turn into inspiration for a blog or social media post.