I see it every time I go to the range. There are rows of people practicing their games and most of them use their new $500 driver and bomb away bucket after bucket of range balls trying to get longer off the tee. I see it every time I play, people playing the most expensive golf ball because the pros play them assuming this will improve their game.
I see it and shake my head. Yes, in a few rare cases, the new and improved clubs and balls work. In most cases, it’s just putting lipstick on a pig. Slices and hooks don’t disappear because of new clubs. New balls don’t add 30 yards of distance if your swing is in shambles.
It’s proper training and technique that allows your game to improve. It’s being in shape that allows you to swing easily and consistently from the first tee to the final putt. It’s ironic that people will spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on the range, yet fail to take proper care of the most important component of their swing — their body.
That’s where this column comes in. Over the course of the year, we’ll address training methods for different style of golfers, we’ll talk about how the pros work out, answer your questions on the best ways to improve your body and your game, look at all aspects of training (including flexibility, balance, strength and power), nutrition, swing mechanics and the mental side of the game and also show you the proper exercises and technique to improve. The plan is to help you realize that by golf, like any other sport, requires physical training specific to the sport.
First of all, though, let’s tackle a few common misconceptions about training.
One of the biggest misconceptions I hear all the time is that weight training is bad for golf. Hello? Have you seen these guys lately? Look at Tiger or Vijay or Phil or these young guys coming on the TOUR. It’s no coincidence many of the top players started winning more once they were in better shape.
Weight training is not bad for golf. Weight training done incorrectly is bad for golf. The goal of any golfer is to improve how he/she plays. What is needed is a cross-specific program that trains the body to the positions and movements of the sport. Granted, everyone’s swing is different and the ideal scenario is to develop a plan tailored just for your swing, but the main goal of a cross-specific program is develop your body physically and to induce a transfer of the training effect onto the golf course. In other words, what you develop by training positively impacts how you play.
It’s a fairly simple process as everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The easiest place to start is with a flexibility program, using large range of motions, and to do the exercises efficiently and correctly. One of the most important areas is flexibility. Every golfer need to be flexible in their core region — the area from just above your knees to just below the chest. This includes lower back, butt, abs, hips. Think about it: a key to a successful golf swing is the turn. Every time you watch the pros, the announcers will praise their nice, smooth turns on their swings. Often times, amateurs don’t have the flexibility to make their shoulders turn, which limits their distance and control.
Another aspect in the cross-specific program is balance training. Simply put, it’s a greater efficiency of the muscles and nervous system regulating the center of gravity and how the body moves. There’s always talk about being balanced in golf, about the finished position, etc., but more often then not, it’s poor balance that dooms a swing. The swing falls victim to the body being unable to hold the spine angle or stay balanced. The brain is telling your muscles and nerves what to do, but because the body hasn’t been trained properly, it simply cannot follow the order.
Then there’s strength and endurance. You need muscular strength to maintain postures in a swing — fixed spine angle, rotating, turns, weight transfer, etc., — but it’s your not strong enough to do these, the swing is in trouble.
As for endurance, people often mistake endurance training for aerobic training. While cardio work is essential, it’s a parallel avenue with endurance training. Aerobic is improving how efficient the lungs and heart operate. When they’re operating efficiently, the muscles obviously work better. Endurance work is training the muscles to repeat a movement over and over and over again without getting tired. That’s a key in golf. You need to make the same swing consistently to score consistently. To do that efficiently, accurately and consistently, you need a high level of endurance. Aerobic and endurance training are separate, but both are very important
As for strength training, people instant equate it to bulking up like a linebacker. Bench pressing 300 pounds does not mean you’ll drive the ball 300 yards. It’s not the same thing. Look at the golf swing. Nowhere in there is a pressing movement of the chest and shoulders. Just like any of the Olympic power cleans and push presses, exercises that are great for explosive movements for a sport like football, they’re hardly useful in golf. Bicep curls may make you look great for the beach or fill out your golf shirt nicely, but it’s not necessarily going to lower your score.
Golf is different. It utilizes the whole body to swing the club, from the feet to the fingertips. Golfers need to work on hamstrings, lower back, hip flexors, upper back, shoulders, lats and any exercise that revolves around the core area. Things like ball crunches, oblique crunches, Russian twists, single leg squats, lat pulldowns, leg curls, let extensions, single arm dumbbell rows, side crunches … well, we’ll get more into these specifically during the year, but you get the idea that the core area — the entire core area — is very important to the golfer.
Another common misconception is how people say they’re tight when they go out to play after working out the day before. That sounds more like an excuse to not exercise. If you follow a golf template of training you won’t feel tight. The pros are all working out after their rounds and they’re able to play just fine the next day. The key is not to do the two hours of bench press or heavy weight training. It’s more about repetitions than weight. Build flexibility and balance, not bulk.
I’ll also hear how people say they get tired and start to lose their swing at the end of the round. That’s simply sign of the body not being strong enough or having enough endurance. Or you see that at the range, where people are pounding 250 balls in an hour, but by the end of that hour, they’re tired, their swings are consistently inconsistent and any good that may have been accomplished earlier is now forgotten amid the flurry of poor swings and shots.
Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, it’s not the fancy equipment or how many buckets you hit. The biggest, most important part of your golf swing is the one thing you can control the most — yourself.