Use the Russian Twist to increase core strength
Ordinarily the words strength and golf are not spoken in same sentence but the reality of the situation is very different from what people think. Research shows amateur golfers achieve a peak muscle activity of 90 percent when hitting driver. (Paul Chek, The Golf Biomechanic’s Manual, pg. 144) What this means is that your body is being placed under a high level of stress each and every time you swing the golf club. In order to minimize the risk of injury, develop peak performance on the golf course and play better golf, you must incorporate strength training into your golf fitness program.
To provide some empirical evidence on the importance of strength training and its prevalence on the TOUR today, just look at Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and, well, just about every other top player as well. They all utilize golf fitness and incorporate strength training in the development of their bodies and their golf swing. If the best golfers in world are utilizing strength training in their programs, it might be good for you to do it as well.
What I see as the biggest misunderstanding in strength training and amateur is the definition of strength. Once we understand what strength means, it’s easier to understand why it’s such an important component in golf.
Simply put, strength is the ability of the body to exert the required level of force to perform the functional movement at hand. (Michael Clark, Director: National Academy of Sports Medicine) In relation to the golf swing, it is necessary for the body to elicit the required force to maintain the anatomical postures and spine angles of the golf swing.
An example of this is when you swing a club and find it difficult to maintain balance or generate distance on your shots, that’s an indicator that you’re lacking core strength in your golf swing. It simply means your strength levels are limiting your ability to perform the biomechanics of the golf swing.
Knowing the research and the definition of strength as well as what TOUR players do, we should understand the importance of strength and the need for these type of exercises to be part of golf fitness program.
A great beginner level golf specific strength training exercise is the Russian Twist. It is a great strength training exercise for golf for a variety of reasons. First, it focuses on the core region of body, which we know is the powerhouse of the swing. Second, it’s a strength training exercise that occurs in rotational pattern and we know the golf swing is rotational. Third, it’s a simple exercise to perform for most any amateur golfer.
1. Begin the exercise sitting on the floor, knees bent, heels pressed to the floor, and toes pointed upward.
2. Clasp the hands together and place in front of the stomach.
3. Lean the upper body back until you feel your abs “turn-on”.
4. Begin by rotating the torso (shoulders, and chest) to the right as far as possible. Focus on rotating the entire upper body, not just the arms, allowing the head to track behind the arms and shoulders. Pause at the farthest point of rotation and then return to the center.
5. Next rotate to the left, following the same guidelines. Return to the starting position and repeat.
6. Perform 15-25 repetitions.
Training Tip: Developing stabilization strength
For us to truly understand how important stabilization is in the golf swing and how strength training benefits the golfer, we must first look at the definition. Stabilization is the ability of the body to support and stabilize specific postural positions during functional movement patterns. (Michael Clark: Director, National Academy of Sports Medicine) Relative to the golf swing, this definition tells us it is necessary for our core and body to be strong enough to maintain a fixed spine angle and the correct postural positions while performing the biomechanics of the golf swing. Basically, if our body is weak (i.e. not strong) and can’t stabilize the angles required to execute the golf swing, we’re going to have some problems on the golf course.
The golf swing requires two types of stabilization capacities from your body. First is static stabilization and this is a reference to the body’s ability to maintain a fixed spine angle during the swing. The second type is dynamic stability. This is the ability of the body to maintain optimal positioning of every body part during every phase of the golf swing. These are connected yet separate components of stabilization strength developed in the body through strength training, and required of the golf swing.
To help us better understand these two categories, we can say the opposite of static stabilization is postural sway — or a change in spine angle — during swing. This occurs because the muscles of your body are not strong enough to hold a fixed spine angle. Once we get stronger and develop greater amounts of static stabilization strength, the ability for us to erase postural sway from our golf swing can be easily corrected.
We also have dynamic stabilization which comes into play in every phase of the golf swing — backswing, downswing, follow-through, etc. Developing dynamic stabilization thru strength training creates the ability in our body to integrate movement of the hips pelvis, trunks and shoulders in the correct order and with the timing required of the golf swing. The end result is increased clubhead speed, a consistent swing plane, and a repeatable golf swing.
The bottom line is improving dynamic stabilization capacity allow for these movement to occur more efficiently and more effectively in your golf swing. This brings us full circle to strength training as the vehicle which leads us to improving both our static and dynamic stabilization capacities in our golf swing and, ultimately, improving our golf game.
To begin this process of developing stabilization strength within the body for the golf swing, we will start off with exercises to develop the static component within body. The static stabilization exercise which I use with my pros and I see with other TOUR players is called the side press-up. It’s one of the best exercises to develop static stability in the core region because it targets both the internal and external obliques, which are an integral part of creating power (read: clubhead speed) and a fixed spine angle in the swing.
Begin by lying on your left side and the left elbow directly under your left shoulder. It’s very important you do not allow your elbow to be in front of or behind the shoulder during the exercise as it could cause discomfort in the shoulder capsule.
With your legs extended straight, right leg on left, right hand on right hip, begin the exercise by elevating your hips two inches off the floor. From this position, press the hips upward toward the ceiling to a position where a line can be drawn from your head through your spine to your toes.
When fully extended, squeeze your gluts and hold for one second. Return hips to a position a few inches off the floor and repeat the upward extension of body. Start with 10 and build to 20 repetitions and repeat the same exercise on opposite side of your body.
Remember, the key here is strength training is a large component of developing the body for your golf swing and stabilization strength is one component of strength training. Next week, we’ll get into other categories of strength training for golf swing.
Training Tip: How can the Russian twist help you?
For amateurs, we started the journey of developing strength for your golf swing with stabilization strength training, specifically, static stabilization exercises for your benefit. From this we need to take the next step in developing your strength-training program and that’s the incorporation of exercises to develop dynamic stabilization strength in the body. We touched on the definition of dynamic stabilization last week. A quick reference back is that it’s the ability of the body to integrate the hip, pelvis, trunk and shoulders in correct order and timing for the golf swing.
Improving your dynamic stabilization strength will allow for all these movements to occur more efficiently and effectively. Before jumping into a stabilization strength exercise for our program, we must be very aware of a principle within strength training programs at this point; certain strength training exercises are beneficial to the golf swing and others are not. There are no bad exercises, only bad exercises for golf.
The reason some exercises are possibly counterproductive to the golf swing is they do not train the body in the positions and movements required of the golf swing. That is why it is integral at this juncture of your training program to keep in mind the principle of cross specific training. This is training your body to the positions, movements, and physical requirements of your chosen sport, in this case golf.
What we must do is choose strength training drills and exercises that simulate the golf swing and develop the strength capacities in your body specific to those requirements of the golf swing. This will create benefits to you as a golfer such as; greater efficiency in the mechanics of the golf swing, improved repeatability of the swing, and enhanced clubhead speed (i.e. power).
Knowing that our second component of strength to be developed in the body for the golf swing is dynamic stabilization strength and knowing the exercises we chose must be cross specific to the movements performed in the golf swing, one of the best cross specific strength training exercises for the golf swing is the physio ball Russian twist. Almost every pro golfer I know utilizes this exercise and says it’s one of the best training exercises for the golf swing.
Begin this exercise by sitting on a physio ball and slowly walk forward, allowing the ball to roll onto the upper back, continue to walk out until your head and shoulder rest on top of ball. From this position, elevate your hips horizontally inline with your shoulders and knees. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, extend your arms and clasp your hands in front of your face. You are now in the correct beginning position for this exercise. Next, rotate to your right, utilizing your core on the rotation allowing the ball to roll underneath your shoulder. Focus on the rotation of the torso to create the movement within the exercise. Allow your eyes to follow your hands within the rotation. This will enhance your ability to involve the core within the exercise.
Continue rotating to you right to a position until your shoulder and arm are resting on top of the ball. Return to your starting position and repeat the rotation to the opposite side. Technique is of the utmost importance within this exercise and I like my golfers to begin with 8-10 reps and work up to 25 reps on this exercise.
Again this is a great stabilization strength training exercise for golf. This requires you to stabilize your knees, hips, and core as well as keep your spine in a fixed position, while rotating around a fixed spine angle, which is very cross specific to the golf swing.
So, let’s keep in mind as we continue on with developing a strength training program for golf; begin with static stabilization exercises and move onto dynamic stabilization exercises, remember in each phase we must make sure the exercises we use are cross specific for golf.
Learn about functional strength training that is ideal for golf
Functional strength training is a buzz word in relation to sports specific training, similar to core training. It is also often misunderstood and interpreted in such a way that if you are performing functional training then you are training correctly for your sport. This statement is not necessarily true and misconstrues the correct definition of functional training.
As a result I find it necessary for us to define functional training in order for you to use it correctly in your golf fitness program. Functional training simply states the body functions as a unit to create movement (movements such as swinging a golf club). As a result, to develop your body for your chosen sport (i.e. golf) it is necessary for you to train the body as a unit. The mantra for functional training can be “integrate movements of the body by your muscles, rather than isolating a single muscle in your training”.
For example, in order to execute the golf swing, you must incorporate your entire body (you do not swing the golf club with your arms only). As a result the strength training exercises to improve your body for your golf swing should utilize all the muscles involved in the golf swing. Functional strength training accomplishes this goal by training the entire body, feet to fingertips.
Functional strength training is also the reason why many conventional strength-training exercises may not be conducive to the golf swing. For example, a dumbbell bicep curl isolates your bicep muscle. This type of exercise isolates a single muscle rather than integrating it into a movement pattern performed by the entire body. Where in the golf swing do you see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Vijay Singh hitting the golf ball with only their biceps? The reality is you don’t so why would you train in such a manner if your goal is to improve your golf swing? Bottom line is you would not.
Can you still get in shape, loose weight, and tone-up with functional strength training? Absolutely. It is as though you are killing two birds with one stone. You are getting in better shape and improving your golf swing at the same time.
A functional strength training exercise I have found to be ideal for golf is the Tubing Side Rotation. The exercise places you in an athletic position, forces your lower body to stabilize the movement, creates rotation in the core, and incorporates the upper body.
Begin the exercise by standing upright, feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and perpendicular to the tubing attachment. Grasp the handle of the tubing with both hands at stomach level, step away from the tubing attachment two to four feet to create a slight amount of tension in the tubing. Allow your hands to rotate to the side of your body, straighten your arms, and rotate your shoulders to 30 degrees.
Begin the exercise by rotating your shoulders and hips to your left, pulling your arms across the front of your body. Continue rotating at a high rate of speed to a position where your shoulders and hips are fully rotated to the left. Focus on creating the rotation with your core rather than pulling your arms across the body. Return to the starting position and repeat for 8 to 15 repetitions. Repeat the exercise sequence in the opposite direction.
Remember in order to improve the golf swing it is best to utilize functional strength training exercises. And in the development of the strength training section of your golf fitness program start with a static stabilization exercise Side Press-up, proceed to a dynamic stabilization exercise Physio-ball Russian Twist, and finish with a functional strength training exercise.
Learn how to utilize the five training variables
As an amateur, we must understand the goal of strength training is to get your body stronger for the golf swing and we do this through increasing the amount of resistance placed upon your body day in and day out. We achieve this through our three categories of strength training for golf (static stabilization, dynamic stabilization, and functional strength training). Utilizing exercises from these three categories over time allows your body to become more flexible, stronger and more powerful.
We know improving the flexibility, balance capacities, strength and power outputs of our body requires us to stress our body beyond what it has experienced before. In response to our increased stress we’re placing upon the body through flexibility, balance, and strength training the body compensates, causing it to adapt and physically improve.
Now there are certain training variables that allow us to utilize our golf-specific strength training exercises correctly to overload the body and physically improve it.
The first of these variables is called intensity. Simply put, that’s how hard should I work and how much effort should I put in every exercise. On the scientific side, it’s the amount of work on a given exercise, drill or series of exercises. The higher intensity of the exercise, the more work being your body is being performed
The second training variable is load. Simply put, that just asks how much resistance should be used during the exercise. Scientifically, it refers to the amount of resistance you use for each repetition of the exercise. Typically, load is defined as the amount of weight used for the exercise and it can be body weight or external resistance, such as a weighted ball, elastic tubing, and increase in resistance from limiting the base support.
The third training variable is volume. This refers to total amount of work performed in an exercise. A higher level of volume per exercise in terms of sets or repetitions will increase the overall volume of work performed in your golf fitness program
The fourth variable is duration. This is the amount of time between each exercise within a workout. Duration is often misconstrued as the total amount of time spent training. This is incorrect whereas duration refers specifically to the amount of rest between sets or exercises within your golf specific training program.
Finally, the fifth variable is frequency. This is the number of training sessions within a given time period. Frequency is measured is terms of set time fame. The time frame could be a week, a month, or even a year.
So to review, we have five training variables — intensity, load, volume, duration and frequency — and they can all be utilized in a strength training program for golf to increase the resistance upon our body for overall improvement in the areas of flexibility, balance, endurance and power.
To see how all they work together, let’s utilize an exercise and example. Referring to the physio ball russian twist, let’s start off with intensity. Two sets of 15 reps each would be higher than only one set. Adding a medicine ball to the physio ball russian twist would increase the load. Performing three sets would increase the volume of this exercise over just one set. Resting 30 seconds between each set rather than one minute would decrease the duration between sets thus increase overload on your body. Finally performing the physio ball russian twist three times a week would be a greater overload on body rather than two times a week.
Through this example, you can see how taking a golf specific strength training exercise and applying these five training variables — utilize all five or just one — to increase the overload on your body to continue the improvement of your body in relation to the golf swing. Remember in order for your body to continue to improve itself in relation to your golf swing. The body must be continually challenged through the utilization of these five training variables.
A visual example of these training variables at work can be viewed in the pictures above. I have added dumbbells to my Single Leg Airplane Rotation, utilizing the training variable of load to increase the intensity of the exercise. Forcing my body to work harder and continue to improve in relation to my golf swing.