If you’ve been paying attention to the fitness stories of pro players like Bryson DeChambeau and Lexi Thompson, or have tracked the increase of club head speed in players like Victor Hovland, then you will know that the drive for distance is on in the pro ranks. In 2023, hitting the ball further is a defining advantage, and for that you are going to need to increase your club head speed.
But how quickly can we add speed? I spoke to the PGA European Tour’s ‘fixer’ for pro players hunting for speed, Dr Dan Coughlan, to get to the bottom of this question, and find out what’s being learnt at the sharp end of golf about the most effective way to find speed…
1. Hitting The Gym Is Essential
What the stories of pros who have added distance all share is that they hit the gym, or started a strength-building programme of some sort, in order to do so. Sure, you can tweak your technique to find more speed, but you will eventually hit a ceiling, and building your body's capacity for power will be the only way to move beyond it.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated, as Dr Dan Coughlan, Head of Strength and Conditioning at the PGA European Tour told me: “The most important thing for the majority of people is just to get their general strength up by using squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses – those sorts of traditional exercises.” This is good news for anyone already familiar with a gym, but there’s more to know about how to optimize your training, and how quickly you should expect results.
2. Gym Newbies See The Fastest Gains
Dr Coughlan works with the PGA European Tour to support players inside and outside tournaments with strength-building advice and programs. Players come to the Tour’s team of strength and conditioning coaches, who are at 35 events a year, to get everything from single PT sessions to season-long programs.
You might imagine that someone who makes their living playing golf wouldn’t have access to almost instant golf performance gains. Not so, says Dr Coughlan, who over the years has worked with players who are golfing pros but complete newbies to the gym. “And if they are complete novices to the gym, then they'll probably have quite a quick increase in club head speed,” he says.
In fact, you can expect to see definite improvements after just four weeks of gym work. “And after anywhere between four and 12 weeks, they might have an improvement of 3-4mph and 10 yards – that wouldn't be uncommon.”
William Wayland is another strength and conditioning coach who has worked with the PGA European Tour, who ran a study into junior golfers and saw that they added 7mph to their club head speeds after 12 weeks of weight training.
Of course, you do need to stick to a program of lifting weights to see this improvement, because consistency is key when getting your body to adapt to a training stimulus. And strength gains need to be maintained by further gym work, so don’t think you can just walk away and keep the same speed boost forever.
I've had players that have put on 10, 12, 15 miles per hour over quite a long period of time, but you have to be a lot more targeted with the approach
3. Invest In The Long Term To Lift Your Speed By 15mph
Once you have got used to that initial boost of speed, you will need to dig in and stay motivated because there are more significant gains to be had, but they come after an investment of time and effort.
“People can definitely continue to improve quite a lot. I've had players that have put on 10, 12, maybe 14 or 15 miles an hour over quite a long period of time, but you have to be a lot more targeted with the approach,” says Dr Coughlan. “You have to focus on certain elements of strength, explosive strength, putting on muscle mass, whatever it might be.”
Fortunately, even if your club head speed is already fast, there’s still room for improvement with a long-term, targeted approach – Wayland has seen results above 130mph with his clients, for example.
So, start to set your speed goals on a season by season basis, rather than thinking you will add 15mph in a handful of months. If this is a bit disappointing, remember that gradual speed gains are more sustainable, because your body will get the chance to become more resilient and better able to resist the forces involved in a golf swing, if you are training with weights over time.
One study found that a golf swing is equivalent to swinging a 32kg kettlebell across your body, so the forces involved should not be underestimated. And there’s no point being fast if it breaks you – time out from golf will hurt your game much more than you stand to improve it with increased club head speed.
4. Faster Speed Gains Require Looking At Your Power Transfer
Even though it’s a long-term project, there are ways to optimize your strength training for speed, so that you enjoy the benefits quicker. “The beginner can just lift some weights, and then ‘magically’ their club speed goes up.
“Then, after a certain period of time, you get stronger, you get more explosive, but your club speed isn’t going to continue going up until you practice swinging fast, and develop technical changes that help transfer the speed, like using the ground more efficiently, a longer backswing, a faster backswing – whatever it might be that's relevant to that player,” says Dr Coughlan.
If you’ve got really good explosive strength in your lower body but you’re passive through it in your golf swing, then you’re just not utilizing that strength
This is why working with a strength and conditioning coach who knows golf, and can assess your strengths as an individual, could be an invaluable investment. In the meantime, try filming your own golf swing and spotting where power transfer isn’t happening.
“You look at people's golf swing, and some are very efficient with using the ground, whereas some people are quite passive.
“If you’ve got really good explosive strength in your lower body, but you're really passive through that lower body in your golf swing, then you’re just not utilizing that strength,” says Dr Coughlan.
“Other people really pull down on the club and can be quite laggy, and they're obviously able to utilize their upper body strength, explosive strength, and mobility quite well. And then another group of players might not have that, so no matter how strong and explosive they are in their lower bodies, they are not using it in their swing and it’s not going to transfer,” he adds.
5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Messing Up Your Swing
Golfers often worry that by boosting club head speed they are going to mess with the golf swing that they have worked on for so long. Dr Coughlan says this is going to hold you back. Not only will you lose any improvement you could have got from naturally playing the game, but you will also block the strength gains in the gym from transferring power (as we’ve just talked about).
“By practicing at absolute max with some technical differences to your normal swing, it might not come out center and flat, and you might hate what's happening with flight, but actually, if you do that for a few weeks or a few months, you're obviously going to get better at it,” says Dr Coughlan.
He recommends getting into a position where you have your stock shot, which is the technically pretty one where you really understand the dispersion, but then really working in the gym and developing an alternative shot: “So you also have this absolute bomb shot where the dispersion is a little bit wider, but because you practice it, it’s under control. And with the right course conditions and the right fairways, you can let it rip sometimes.”
6. Remember To Work Vertical Jumps Into Your Sessions
The gold-standard physical movement for generating power transfer in the body is the vertical jump. “In terms of club head speed, it’s jumping, basically,” says Dr Coughlan, who says that for golfers the plyometric ‘bounding’ exercises that you see track sprinters training with, are not so useful.
“Multiple jumps in a row are not so important. It’s being able to just jump in one go, and that’s with a weight on your back, or holding onto a dumb-bell, or even just your own bodyweight.”
In fact, jumping ability is so key to golfers that Dr Coughlan gets the pro players in the PGA European Tour to jump on a pressure plate to measure the force they can put out during a single jump. “That single test is really predictive for their club head speed across the Tour.”
It’s actually very easy to train this kind of counter movement jumping ability in the gym. “Most of the time, we just get them to focus on ‘jump as high as you can’, and that cue tends to work very well. For most people it’s a pretty simple thing to do, which is helpful, because for real plyometrics you have to be quite a good athlete.”
Dr Coughlan often pairs a heavy lift with a jump but you can also work vertical jumps into your regular workout, or even your warm up before playing golf.
Partial-range heavy lifts mimic the range of motion in a golf swing
7. Partial Range Heavy Lifting Is Clutch
There’s another trick you can use in the gym to tailor exercises to increases in club head speed. This one is more complex and is best done under the supervision of a personal trainer: partial range heavy lifting. “These are lifts like half squats and doing trap bar deadlifts with the weights raised up on blocks,” says Dr Coughlan.
These exercises mimic the golf swing in that you don’t drop down through your whole range of motion to execute the swing, and allow you to add focus to more general efforts. “It’s not all you should do, but if you add it from having a program that creates a really strong, safe base, then partial range heavy lifts do seem to help with club head speed.”
WHAT NEXT? Want a progressive, six-week workout program that has been designed to boost your full-body strength, but also increase your club head speed, and golf-body resilience? Then check out part one of this free and exclusive RSNG workout plan.
Click for more on Dr Dan Coughlan, PGA European Tour’s Head of Strength and Conditioning.