Not so long ago, top golfers weren’t seen as athletes in the same way as footballers, or swimmers. Now, we know that the golf swing is one of the most explosive, physically demanding movements in any sport. The ‘drive for distance’ is on as players strive to get fitter and stronger to improve golfing performance. But as strength expert Steven Colvin will tell you, there is no one-size fits all solution.
As Colvin’s strength and conditioning career has evolved with Titleist Performance Institute (TPI), science has learned more about how the human body functions during the golf swing. He spoke to RSNG about how understanding your own body is the crucial first step towards achieving your performance aims…
RSNG How does having an understanding of TPI affect differently the way you approach the game of golf, and the advice you give to players?
STEVEN COLVIN, TPI-CERTIFIED STRENGTH & CONDITIONING COACH “While TPI golfers, like most others, will benefit most from a healthy and efficient body, we do not believe there is only one way to swing a club, rather in an infinite number of swing styles.
“The crucial point is there is one efficient way for every player to swing and it is based on what the player can physically do. In other words, while some trainers will talk about a designed, regimented swing style, a blueprint, the reality is the most efficient swing is not the same for every golfer, because efficiency is unique to that person’s body.
RSNG How do you discover what that swing style is?
SC “It’s worked out by doing an initial screening that will offer an assessment of swing mechanics and biomechanics, physical fitness, movement quality, current health, and a client history. All that forms a unique plan for that golfer, which could include fitness training, physical therapy and treatment, coaching of swing mechanics and biomechanics, nutrition, mental strategy, or all of the above.”
You look at the size of some of these guys and you realize there is way more at play than just ball mechanics
RSNG So modern pro golfers are able to bomb over 300-350 yards seemingly with little effort. How has this happened? Is it just down to strength and building muscle?
SC “If you look at the numbers on the data, the angle of dispersion [the accuracy of a golf club in lateral measurement] for these players still isn’t more than between 3° and 6°, which is to be expected. So, that means they are now able to hit the ball 300-350 yards and their angle of dispersion is not horrendous.
“My opinion is it’s because these guys are now more athletic. It was different 15-20 years ago when the likes of Colin Montgomery and Darren Clarke were going around with a less athletic (but very successful) persona. Back then it was more of a skill-based sport. Now, the mechanics and the building blocks of playing a hole have changed.”
RSNG So the game has shifted?
SC “It has become such an athletic sport. The experts talk about the ball having more of an impact – and it does – but then again, you look at the size of some of these guys and you realize there is way more at play than just ball mechanics.
“I remember the first time I saw Tiger Woods in the flesh – I was shocked at how big he was, physically. And then you saw the other players around him. No disrespect to them, but when I was in Dubai in 2007 I saw Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood – before he found Peloton and got much fitter. And credit to Lee, he came out and said it: ‘I want to prolong my career, so I am going to work out.’ If you’re in your Forties, Lee Westwood is your model.”
Bryson has demonstrated that if you get stronger, you will hit the ball further – even an average club golfer can achieve something on a relative scale for themselves
RSNG One player who is dividing opinion in relation to body shape and stature is Bryson DeChambeau?
SC “If you look at how Bryson has done it, fair play to him. He has gone out and demonstrated to people that if you get stronger, you will hit the ball further.
“Even an average club golfer can achieve something on a relative scale for themselves by getting a couple of bags of sugar and doing squats whilst holding them, or by putting stuff in a suitcase and picking that off the floor.
“Do that regularly enough and that’s going to have an impact on your mobility and your strength. That, in turn, means that you can swing the club easier.”
RSNG Back to Lee Westwood, he’s still making leaderboards in the majors and plenty of other tournaments besides?
SC “Yes, and if you go back to last March where Westwood was probably the strongest golfer through the Arnold Palmer and the Players’ Championship, and it shocks people that someone who is approaching their 50’s is still able to go toe to toe with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau.
“Tiger Woods was the first player to use a gym, and everyone said that it would ruin his back and that it would do this and do that. And yes, he does have a bad back – but it wasn’t down to his gym work.
“More likely, he was running stupid distances wearing army boots and carrying bricks in a backpack, after his dad died. There’s training and there’s bad training. Everyone will do something which will damage their own body if they don’t do it properly.”
RSNG Going back a generation, dedicated fitness and conditioning was almost frowned upon in some quarters in what is a traditional and sometimes old-fashioned sport. This new formula for golfing success is here to stay, isn’t it?
SC “It definitely is, though there are a lot of common misconceptions which get in the way, even in today’s game. Take, for example, some of the guys on the Sky Sports golf coverage. They are great entertainment… but some of the stuff that they say is way off.
“They are constantly saying that Bryson’s back is going to give out on him. If they think that, then we need to have people explaining why that’s going to happen to him – he’s strong and robust. I think that word, ‘robust’, is one that a lot of golfers should use. They should question how resistant they are to injury if it’s such a worry…
“My point is we need qualified, detailed strength commentary, not the dumbed down stuff.”
RSNG So what about players who aren’t already looking to build themselves stronger to be able to hit the ball further, what should they be doing?
SC “It all depends on what you really want from the game. Some people will be quite happy to just play golf as a social event. But ultimately, if you don’t train, you’ll start losing muscle mass as soon as you hit 25. If you don’t counter that, you will get the beer belly – it’s a metabolic issue. We don’t have to obsess over strength and conditioning; but if you’re looking to improve performance, it should be the first box you tick.”
WHAT NEXT? Try these strength and conditioning exercise modes from Steven Colvin. Choose your level from the three here, but remember to check with your doctor before taking up gym exercise after a break, or the first time…
Return to Training: Three Exercises “Creating more clubhead speed actually uses a lot of what school Physics taught us,” says Colvin.
Force = Mass x Acceleration Power = Force x Speed
“To generate more power, you need to be stronger – not just to apply the force, but so that your body can withstand the exertion. Robustness is important to swing the club quickly and efficiently, without having to see a chiropractor afterwards!”
Front Squat “The front squat is performed while holding a barbell in front of the chest. This places more force on the upper body while still working the glutes, hamstrings, and hips. This is great for golfers as it encourages the upper body to remain upright, strengthening the core as a result too.”
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press “The incline dumbbell bench press is a variation of the bench press and an exercise used to build the muscles of the chest. The shoulders and triceps will be indirectly involved as well. Utilizing an incline will allow you to better target the upper portion of the chest.
“The use of dumbbells will also promote balanced and equal strength on both sides of the chest. They can also help prevent shoulder and pec injuries when performing presses.”
“Increasing upper body strength will help golfers maintain the swing structure, as well as increasing the force they can apply to the ball.”
Chest Supported Rowing “The back is another power creator in the downswing, and the stronger the muscles that make up the back, the faster you can swing.
“Chest supported rowing provides all the isolation benefits of a bent-over row but without the risk for potential injury. Other back exercises such as bent-over rows activate secondary muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings. The chest supported row keeps your spine in a neutral position thereby limiting the number of other muscles used in the movement.”
For Improving Amateurs “These three exercises push the requirement further. They rely on a base of existing strength and a tolerance to explosive movement.
Jump Squat “This is about exerting force quickly through the ground, just like in the downswing. Also known as a ‘hex bar’, the trap bar is mainly used for deadlifting, but it’s also the perfect implement for Jump Squats.
“When performing Jump Squats, it’s important to perform them explosively, otherwise it defeats the purpose of the exercise. So it’s a fast squat down, no pause, fast explosion. Using dumbbells is an option too for players new to weighted jumps.”
Romanian Deadlift “The Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is a traditional barbell lift used to develop the strength of the posterior chain muscles, with a hinging motion at the hips, including the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductors.
“When done correctly, the RDL is an effective exercise that helps strengthen both the core and the lower body with one move.
“The Romanian Deadlift is great for developing the muscles that are required to keep the body in golf posture when swinging the club, helping increase all-important physical robustness.”
Barbell Bench Press “This exercise is designed to work your chest, shoulders and your triceps. First, you would sit on the bench, then lie back making sure you keep your back nice and flush with the back pad. You want to avoid any arching of the back as this could cause damage.
“Press the weight over the top of the chest and then lower the weights. As you do, inhale and as you return the weights to the starting position, and exhale. Move the bar up and down slowly and then control to help you avoid any jerked or fast movements and keep the weights under control. To complete the movement, return the weights to the starting position.”
For Elite Amateurs “The modern game really sees a greater athletic requirement of its players. Clubhead speeds of 120mph plus are the norm in college golf, and athletic training will only see this increase. French Contrast training is an advanced method designed to increase strength and power in the lower body.”
French Contrast Training “French Contrast training is using a heavy movement followed by an explosive plyometric movement using the same movement pattern. For example, a heavy Hex Bar squat followed by a Squat Jump. Contrast training is performing a maximal or near-maximal lift followed by a brief rest, followed by a faster set with a lighter load at 50-70% of 1RM.
“French Contrasts consists of four exercises performed one after another. These include:” “Heavy compound (80-90% 1RM) e.g. Squat, Hex Bar or Deadlift A plyometric jump, e.g. Squat Jumps or Box Jumps A drop set or weighted jump (30% 1RM) Plyometric or accelerated plyometric e.g. Banded or hand supported Squat Jumps.” Steve Colvin is one of the UK’s leading TPI certified Strength and Conditioning fitness professionals and the goal of his company ‘Long Game Golf Fitness,’ is to support PGA Professionals offering fitness and clubhead speed clinics or programs to members, combining physical assessment and drills to increase clubhead speed, giving players improved movement and performance, fast.
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