Golfers are Athletes, So Treat Them Like Athletes
Okay, maybe not all golfers LOOK like athletes, but you can be sure that the successful ones are doing more than a few cable twists and 12 oz. curls at the 19th hole.
Before we start ripping weights off the floor, and throwing medicine balls around like the pros, we need to establish a strong base of proper range of motion, stability, and mobility; all in the right areas.
Serious golfers want one thing: to play more golf (better). They can’t be playing more golf if they are constantly dealing with injuries. The big three injuries seen in golfers are: low back pain, golfers elbow and general shoulder pain.
Low back pain is by far the most common, as the golf swing is a pretty complex and explosive movement. However, the lower back is rarely the cause of the pain. More times than not, lower back pain is from a lack of mobility in the hips, thoracic spine or shoulders. Because these areas cannot move as much as they should, the lumbar spine tends to inherit some of the mobility to pick up the slack – which shouldn’t be happening.
The pain could also be from a more serious issue, bulging disks, arthritis or even bone fracture – which would call for a referral out.
Golfers elbow (pain on the medial epicondyle, or the inside of the elbow) tends to be more of an overuse injury of inflammation and should be managed accordingly. Icing, resting, and avoiding a lot of heavy grip work should be advised while the elbow is inflamed. If the elbow is feeling good, incorporate some basic forearm/grip strength exercises to aid in increasing forearm strength.
Lastly, shoulder pain is most common in the lead shoulder (left shoulder of a right handed golfer) of the golfer. This is typically from the golfer lacking thoracic rotation range, or hip rotation range of motion, and thus bringing their lead arm too far across their body in an attempt to get a bigger backswing. General shoulder pain may also stem from a lack of scapular stability in both shoulders.
The bigger swing should come from increased hip mobility and t-spine rotation, not lumbar rotation or excessive horizontal adduction at the shoulder.
The following exercises are some of my favorites for increasing thoracic spine mobility, improving forearm strength, and improving scapular stability…
The first exercise is the t-spine open book/windmill/side lying thoracic rotation dynamic stretch/I’m sure there are 17 other names for this one. The key is to keep your legs stacked, lower back at neutral, and give a big birthday boy exhale as you open up your chest. Repeat for 6-10 reps on each side.
WINDMILL STRETCH (video) –
The second exercise I like is the kneeling thoracic extension dynamic stretch. This is a great one for golfers who set up with their shoulders rounded forward, or in C posture as we TPI-ers call it. When the thoracic spine is stuck in a flexed position, it makes it pretty hard to rotate.
Kneel on a pad while placing your elbows on a flat bench. While holding onto a dowel or even a golf club with a shoulder width palms up grip, sit the hips back while maintaining neutral lumbar spine. Exhale as you sink the hips back, and pull your hands back over the back of your head. Repeat for 4-6 reps.
TSPINE EXTENSION STRETCH
When working with golfers elbow, remember to base your exercises off of the current symptoms. If the elbow is currently aggravated, first ice and try getting some soft tissue work done. After this, try doing banded flexion and extension exercises, without closing the fist. I like starting with a light band, for 10-15 reps.
BANDED FLEXION/EXTENSION w/ OPEN HAND
If the elbow feels good, you can incorporate some more grip work, with a focus on building up the forearm muscles. Have your client try some basic forearm curls, hammer curls, or my personal favorite, farmer carries.
Speaking of farmer carries; these are a great way to incorporate grip work WITH scapular stability. The one aspect I like to change in the position of the dumbbell or kettle bell. Try moving one kettle bell up into a rack/waiter position and locking the scapula down and keeping the elbow directly under the weight.
Want to kick it up a notch? Have the client try the 1 arm – bottoms up kettle bell waiter carry (this can easily be regressed to a bottoms up carry in the rack position). This will really work the grip strength as well, so avoid it if your client is dealing with forearm or elbow pain.
A more traditional scapular stability exercise is the prone one arm low trap/Y-Raise. Laying on a table or a bench, have the client raise thumbs to the ceiling in a “Y”. Make sure the client is retracting from the scapula, and not shrugging up the traps. The main goal is to activate the lower trap area, and get a slight upward rotation in the scapula. Start un- weighted, with 2 seconds hold at the top for 6-8 reps.
Here is another fantastic video breaking it down by the one and only Eric Cressey.
Try these exercises if these three common problems show up in your clients, and re-screen after a few weeks of work. Once these mobility and stability issues have been cleared up in your golfers, then it’s time to start training for power!
Just because golf is a rotational sport, it doesn’t mean that all exercises must be rotational cable chops. Doing heavy weighted cable rotations may make your core area stronger, but not necessarily more explosive.
When the swing is broken down, we see hip rotation, hip extension, and the upper body follows suit. Powerful hip extension is one of the big keys for a powerful golf swing.
When it comes to training golfers to improve their power from the hips, there are two factors to look at: relative strength and speed strength. For the purposes of this article, relative strength is choosing weights based on a percentage of the golfers bodyweight.
The reason I prefer relative strength is because golfers come in many ages, shapes, and sizes, and I have seen some 145-pound golfers that can crush the ball further than my 215-pound Adonis like frame. 😉
Also, the Titleist Performance Institute has worked with tens of thousands of golfers and has found strong correlations between weights lifted relative to body weight and the best golfers in the world.
The second type of strength to work on is speed strength. This involves explosive, dynamic movements with medicine balls, bodyweight jumps, and kettle bells. The point of emphasis of these exercises is accelerating as fast as possible with some, but not a ton, of resistance.
The speed strength exercises are where the more rotational work comes in. By using med ball throws, we can easily work on powerful hip extension and rotation, without being confined to a cable station.
The first exercise for increasing hip extension strength is, you guessed it, the deadlift.
There is no better way to get more strength off the tee than building some uber strong glutes that can power the hips through the ball. There are many variations of the deadlift, but my preference with most golfers is either a lower rack barbell deadlift, or a dumbbell deadlift from a bench. I do this to decrease the range of motion (especially for my older clients who may have history of low back problems) and because this range of motion is often easier on the client in general, while still allowing good hip extension and glute firing to occur.
For a strength goal, I like to see my golfers lift 100% of their bodyweight for 4-6 reps per set with perfect form. This is also usually pulled from a position just below the knees. (Example – a 160-pound golfer should be able to lift 2, 80-pound dumbbells from a flat bench for 4-6 reps.)
My second favorite strength exercise for creating powerful golfers is the dumbbell split squat. This is a great exercise because not only does it work the glutes, hams, and quads, but also serves as a great lower body stability exercise.
The Titleist Performance Institute has set the relative strength standard of 50% of body weight for 8 reps in the dumbbell split squat. (Example – a 160-pound golfer should be able to lift 2, 40-pound dumbbells for 8 reps on each leg)
Now, your functional training brain may be thinking, “Mike, the golf swing is a multi-planer movement and these exercises are only training in one plane – how is this functional to the golf swing?”
Settle down “brofessor”, that’s where the speed strength work comes in.
The first exercise I include in almost every golfers workout programming is a rotational medicine ball throw. These should be done from both sides, and using a medicine ball that is roughly 1 pound for every 20 pounds of body weight. (Example – a 160-pound golfer should be using an 8-pound medicine ball). Make sure the client is using their whole body, and especially getting the hips around and facing the target at finish.
These throws should be done with maximum effort, lower reps, and at least 60-90 seconds between sets. If you have antsy clients, use this resting time to incorporate filler/corrective exercises.
The reason we want to train from both sides is to create balance across the body. Golf is such a one sided sport, that we need to make sure we balance out all the right to left swings with some left to right medicine ball throws.
The second explosive rotational exercise I love is the rotational jump. Obviously, this is an advanced exercise and should be used with the right type of client. The rotational jump can be a stand alone 90, 180 or 360-degree rotation, or used as a 90 degree with a jump up to a box. As with the medicine ball tosses, use maximum effort and minimal reps.
Rotational jumps are awesome for training explosive, rotational power, especially with an emphasis on separating the lower body from the upper body, and thus getting them to fire in proper golf sequence.
So how would I put this all together for a client looking to increase power in the golf swing? The following is a sample basic template that can be used:
Dynamic Warm-up – work mobility, speed, core activation/stability and incorporate corrective exercises
1 – Medicine Ball Side Throws – 3 sets of 3-4 throws – each side
Rest 60-90 seconds (incorporate fillers for core stability, scapular stability, hip mobility, during rest periods)
2 – Box Jumps/Rotational Jumps/Lateral Bounding – 3 sets of 3-4 jumps
Rest 60-90 seconds
3A – Dumbbell Deadlift from Bench 3×6-8
3B – Low Cable Single Arm Row 3×8
3C – Anti-Rotational Ab Exercise 3×10-15
Rest 1 Minute – Repeat twice more
4A – Dumbbell Split Squat 3×8
4B – Single arm cable or bench chest press 3×8
4C – Anti-Extension/Flexion Ab Exercise 3×10-15
Rest 1 Minute – Repeat twice more
Finish with any additional correctives and mobility work.
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Stay healthy my friends,