The Six Biggest Myths in Golf Fitness
As a golf fitness professional, I spend most of my waking hours writing programs and protocols to help golfers perform better. The moment when a golfer starts to move and feel better, swing better, or post lower scores as a result of one of my programs is my greatest motivation. However, when I step out of my bubble of dedicated clients, the misconceptions and pseudo-science that seem to greet golfers in developing their fitness programs always shock me. Furthermore, this misinformation is stopping golfers achieving these moments of better movement, a better golf swing, or lower scores for themselves.
Indeed, I recently polled golfers on my social media communities for their opinions on golf fitness. Much of the results reflected long standing (and I had hoped long dead!) myths such as weight training reducing flexibility, making golfers too slow or too big to properly execute the swing. Writing this is my attempt to dispel some of the most commonplace fitness myths I see touted to golfers. So without further ado, let the myth busting commence!
Myth No. 1
Golfers shouldn’t lift weights because it will make them tight. This will ruin a player’s ability to swing.
Ah the big one! It amazes me this myth is still quite so prevalent to be honest. After all, look at Tiger Woods’ success since bulking up and massively increasing his strength levels after his Masters win as a lanky 21-year-old.
First of all, research has actually shown that resistance training is one of the most effective ways to develop functional mobility and flexibility. A properly designed strength program, in conjunction with playing golf, is the best way to make your strength and flexibility gains golf specific.
Let’s also not forget about injury prevention. Golf is a much more physical sport than most people think. You only need to look at force plate and biomechanical analysis of the forces on the body during the golf swing to get an understanding of this. Heck, guys are swinging a 44-to-46-inch club at well over 100 mph! Strength training is imperative to staying healthy and overcoming muscular imbalances created by the asymmetrical nature of the golf swing.
Finally, swinging a golf club is one of the most explosive activities in all of sports. Without a strong, powerful lower body, you’ll never reach your full potential.
Myth No. 2
Golfers shouldn’t bench press because it’s not “sport specific.”
In reality, no exercise is truly sport specific. We make the physical attributes gained in the weight room specific by playing golf and learning how to transfer these attributes to the course. Don’t get me wrong; certain exercises are more productive than others. And remember that it is impossible to duplicate the speed, intensity and technique of the golf swing in the weight room, and it’s something that golfers shouldn’t try to do.
The bottom line is that the bench press is a great, multi joint, free-weight exercise for developing strength in the chest, triceps and shoulders. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The chest, back and triceps musculature have been shown by Dr. Sergio Marta in multiple studies to be the most important muscles in the upper body for the golf swing.
I’m not saying that the bench press is the most important exercise for golfers, but it can and should be incorporated into the training programs of most golfers.
Myth No. 3
Olympic lifts are the only way to get explosive.
Olympic lifting is without doubt a great way to develop speed, power, explosiveness and overall athleticism. As countless strength coaches and studies have shown, they improve clubhead speed and lead to greater distance off the tee. While I’m not disputing their effectiveness, I do believe there are other more user-friendly and effective moves to develop power in the golf swing.
The Olympic lifts have a large learning curve and mastering the complex form required can be difficult and time consuming. After all, Olympic lifting is a sport in itself! Olympic weightlifters spend their entire lives practicing these lifts and some of these athletes still never perfect them! Research has shown simpler and much more teachable moves, such as the weighted squat jump bring all the benefits of the Olympic lifts to golfers without the learning curve.
Recent studies into power development in rotational sports have also shown that power is plane specific. That is, you only develop power in the direction of movement in which you are training. The Olympic lifting movements above are sagittal plane dominant (movement is up and down). With this in mind the golf swing, which features movements in the transverse plane (rotation movement) and frontal plane (movement is side to side), should be trained using movements with a rotational and/or lateral nature.
For these reasons I tend to opt for med-ball training, jump drills and lateral jumps to get power training in. Many of these lack any significant learning curve at all, provide great effect and have the happy coincidence of utilising movement in the same plane as the golf swing.
Myth No. 4
Strength training is unsafe for kids.
Parents that wouldn’t hesitate to get their young children involved in sports such as football, gymnastics, basketball and indeed golf often fear that participating in a strength-training program is damaging to their children’s long term health and may even stunt their growth. Nothing can be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that running, jumping, swinging a golf club and many of the activities our children are involved in daily create loading on their bodies that is up to 10 times greater than most strength training exercises. In other words, the physical demands on a child’s body are far greater on the playground, golf course or running track compared to the weight room.
Parents who don’t let their children participate in resistance training could actually be increasing their children’s risk of injury on the athletic field, as weight training has been shown to have the same injury prevention benefits in children as in adults. Indeed, there have even been campaigns by organizations such as the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Paediatrics promoting the benefits of participation in a properly designed and supervised resistance training program for children.
Prepubescent children shouldn’t lift maximal weights; they should lift weights that can be lifted for at least six repetitions with proper form. Strength training in this manner can be the most potent exercise stimulus for bone and muscle growth and development, as well as improving balance, coordination and kinaesthetic awareness, all of which are vital for a child’s athletic development. In fact, research has shown that young weightlifters have greater bone densities than individuals who don’t lift. The positive benefits of resistance training for bone health, injury prevention and improved athletic performance are far greater than the risks.
Myth No. 5
Lifting weights for high reps is more appropriate for golfers as this will “shape” and “tone” their muscles.
I really have no idea how this myth got started, but its prevalence is amazing. Especially considering it has absolutely zero scientific or factual evidence to support it!
Here are the facts. The main difference between a “lean and toned” physique and a “bulky” physique is the amount of body fat that surrounds your muscles. Basically, the “lean and toned” look that most people desire is a result of having muscle that isn’t hidden under layers of fat. And let’s not forget that the best way to build muscle is through strength training.
More importantly, with regards to training for golf, lifting light weights for high reps affects the musculoskeletal system in such a way as to build local muscular endurance. Muscular endurance specific to the golf swing (usually best developed by simply playing golf incidentally) is of course highly useful to golfers, as our sport requires multiple efforts over a long period of time.
Muscular endurance, however, has little to no carryover to any of the other physical qualities we need to address in order to perform better on the course. Strength, on the other hand, is the mother of all physical adaptations. All other physical capacities, such as power, speed, mobility, balance, muscular endurance and coordination depend on force production within the physical environment. If strength improves, all other capacities improve with it to varying degrees. With this being that case, strength training should form the heart, soul and major basis of your training programs for golf.
Myth No. 6
Golfers need to improve balance and build core strength by training on unstable surfaces.
This one, I have to admit, is my personal favorite! Unstable surface training (UST) has become an integral and expected part of many strength and conditioning programs, particularly in golf. Indeed, magazine covers and articles are abundantly promising a better swing, longer drives and lower scores from a few simple exercises performed on a stability ball.
Claims have been made for the effectiveness of UST for injury prehab and rehab, increasing power in the golf swing, increasing balance in the swing and improving swing mechanics. However, there is no evidence that UST reduces the likelihood of injury or improves performance in healthy, trained individuals.
In fact, studies have found that UST minimised improvements in plyometric and agility tests. Basically, the subjects of these studies who weren’t doing UST made bigger gains in power and speed. The other issue highlighted by the UST research is the specific nature of improvements made by trainees. Put bluntly, classic core work on unstable surfaces, such as stability ball crunches or Russian twists, doesn’t really carry over to anything at all, let alone a complex motion carried out whilst standing, like a golf swing.
Lastly, balance is best trained in the parameters it is to be used. Golf is a game played with both feet on a stable surface and should be trained this way. Additionally, significant anecdotal evidence is beginning to emerge that attempting to replicate sporting tasks on unstable surfaces actually impairs the learning of the skill through competing motor demands. In a sport as technically demanding as golf, this is unacceptable.
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