If you are looking to excel in any field, the bar for what is needed to obtain excellence is constantly being raised. In golf, prior to Tiger Woods, if you wanted to excel in golf you trained using the Triangle of Instruction. This included: Golf Instruction (technique); Mental Preparation &; Equipment. In 1996, Tiger Woods introduced the golfing world to a new training regimen for golf. To excel in golf after that point you needed to train in:
- Golf Instruction
- Advanced Golf Instruction
- Course Management
- Mental/Emotional Preparation
- Physical Conditioning
At that time, a lot more golfers added a physical conditioning to their golf training program. These conditioning programs varied for each therapist but typically consisted of a set of ‘golf’ exercises. These conditioning programs frequently did not utilize many diagnostic tests and were to a large degree, the same for every golfer. The programs were based upon ‘the kinds of physical attributes that someone playing golf should have’.
More recently, some physical trainers, coaches, therapists and doctors have been introducing a greater number of screening tests that might look at some particular physical characteristic for each body region. This would allow the therapists to design a training program that was more customized for each golfer. A typical diagnostic workup at this time period involved 1-2 tests per body region for a total of a few dozen tests.
Now, if you want to rise above the pack, or improve the efficiency of your golf training program, your physical conditioning needs to be taken to the next level. Top level physical conditioning needs full customization to make sure that each of the exercises you do gets you the best results. To achieve these kinds of results, you need to do more testing for what your body is capable of and exactly what exercises you need to do.
This can be achieved by considering what each part of your body could be evaluated for, in each of the different performance characteristics. This could potentially involve many hundreds of different tests and result in thousands of possible training exercises. Such a testing & training program could easily involve a prohibitive amount of time, so let’s look at this in more detail to find out how we can get the desired golf results we want with the amount of time we’re willing to invest.
Body Units & Characteristics
First, let’s briefly describe what we mean by ‘Body Units’ and ‘Characteristics’ and give some examples of each. Future articles will look at these in more detail and describe the variables as well as how you might test and train each one of them.
The body units refer to each:
- Functional group – Multiple muscles &/or joints up to and including the whole body, that work together to perform some function. A function is any general activity such as knee flexion, shoulder internal rotation, jumping, etc. Generally, functions do not refer to sport specific techniques such as a golf back swing or putting. Techniques are made up of a coordinated set of functions.
Why look at both small & large body units? There are times when it is preferable to train by focusing on a single muscle or joint. Other times, it will be preferable to train a functional group or technique. Choosing the size of the body unit to work on will depend on where you are in your golf career & training program, your training strategy and, if you are recovering from an injury or not. For more information, see Sequence Your Golf Training Program
Here are the basic characteristics to address when training the motor components of each body unit.
A good way to remember all of these physical characteristics is:
Note that these characteristics refer to ‘motor’ control. This would include the active motor tissues (muscles, nerves, vascular) as well as the passive motor tissues (ligaments, tendons, connective & scar tissue). They do not address sensory input, although there will be some overlap.
Each muscle, joint or body region can be tested and trained to develop balance, speed, power, etc. Each of these characteristics can also be looked at in a few different ways. Let’s look at ‘Range’ for an example. The most simplistic example of Range would be considering if we can get our lead shoulder up to the proper height with a straight elbow. If we look in more detail, we also measure how much a joint can: flex, extend, abduct, adduct, internally & externally rotate. We can also look at Range from the context of active range of motion vs. passive range of motion. Each of these different perspectives will tell us different information that will help us develop different aspects of our golf game.
Why would we take the time to measure a joint through all these ranges of motion rather than just stretch the motions that you use in golf?
If a joint is stretched in only 1 or 2 directions and the other vectors remain constricted, the joint will not remain properly centered through its range of motion. Tissues will get tugged on abnormally and damaged….perhaps to the point of impairing performance, causing injury or curtailing play.
Another reason why you might not want to just stretch the restricted motions that are used in golf has to do with the active vs. passive motions. Doing a generalized stretch can result in regaining the desired total range of motion as a result of some previously normal length tissues getting overstretched while other tissues in that motion remain restricted. These combinations of abnormal ranges result in a total ‘Normal’ range of motion will have a set of side effects that impair many other aspects of your game and career. i.e. The hypermobile tissues will have sloppy joints along with the resultant loss of: power; stability and; control. Targeting the stretch to only the tissues that are abnormally constricted will yield better results.
Testing & Training Strategies
In most basic golf training programs, time will be spent developing muscular control and power to move the torso independently from the pelvis during a drive. You can improve your chances of preventing the development of back and torso injuries by simultaneously training the antagonistic muscles for the same amount of power and speed. These antagonistic development protocols are included in fewer training programs. Developing comparable speed and power in the stabilizer and synergistic muscles of the same torso/pelvis region will add that much more control and power to your hits, fewer injuries and more years to your career. The protocols to add these stabilizer and synergistic physical conditioning skills are included in even fewer training programs.
Let’s take one more example that will give us a sense of how much time can be put into physical conditioning for golf. Vision Training – How many golfers train the muscles and nerves involved in this at all? When you are reading the green for a long putt, tracing the path from your ball to the cup, how long does it take you? Do you remember the size and shape of the first few bumps by the time you get to tracing the last few? Do you find that your eyes skipping over parts of the path leaving blank regions? How good is your peripheral vision at maintaining sight of the cup and terrain while you look back at your ball? What if you could expand your peripheral vision and acuity by 20 or 30 percent, would that help your putting? There are training programs for each of these skills and each one takes some time to develop.
When there are so many training options to choose from, designing an overall training strategy is one of the first steps to take. It is easy to imagine how the training program will differ between a football linebacker, a vocal singer and a business person. But even within the field of golf, training priorities list will vary quite a bit. It will be necessary to take into account far more than age, injuries and level of commitment to the game. Each player will also need to design their training strategy to take into account their temperaments, physical attributes, targeted career length and the competitive field. Your strategy might be driven by trying to be the first to develop a skill that others have overlooked before.
Coming Soon – Power Testing & Training for Golf