Published on Enhanced Fitness and Performance (http://enhancedfp.com)

Golf Conditioning by Dax Moy

By DMorgan
Created 09/06/2007 - 9:59am

You've bought your top of the range clubs, go-faster balls and all of the best golfing equipment that money can buy. In addition you play round after round of practice, drive ball after ball on the range and even invest in lessons with your club pro in order to improve your technique. You are, you believe, doing everything the right way in order to improve upon your game but your handicap stubbornly refuses to come down.

Sound familiar? It is!

This is the most commonly heard complaint amongst golfers who dedicate a vast amount of time, effort and money to their sport and yet fail to see any appreciable improvement from year to year despite their best efforts to the contrary.

So where does the problem lie? Why, when club and ball technology is better than it has ever been are golfers not improving? It's time to address the one piece of equipment that modern science has not been able to improve. You!

Believe it or not, as a golfer you are a power athlete in much the same way as a sprinter or an Olympic weightlifter. Don't believe me? Consider this; you address the ball with a weighted implement that you accelerate with maximal force at speeds up to and beyond 100mph in less than 1/5 of a second. The force produced during these drives is often in excess of 90% of your maximum strength capacity. During a round this process takes place some 30-40 times and the average golf amateur will play 4-6 rounds per week not counting the hundreds of exposures on the driving range.

Make no mistake, this is a power sport! The forces applied to your body during a round are massive and traumatic to your tissues and have greater impact than many sports due to the volume and frequency that you are doing them.

It's time for a change of thinking in the sport of golf. It's time for golf athletes (that's what you are whether you recognise it or not) to get serious about their conditioning and learn to utilise the most powerful driver available to them. Their bodies! The most powerful machine behind the club is the person that wields it, yet most golfers would rather believe it to be the titanium club or the Titleist Pro-vx1ball that makes the difference. This is simply not true.

Just one look at Tiger Woods, Annika Sornestam or Hale Irwin should give us a major clue about the direction we should be taking as golf athletes, but no. We choose to buy the same clubs that they use, wear the same clothes and copy their stance and swing style. After several months of trying and spending several hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds we arrive back at square one and frustrated to boot!

So, what are we doing wrong? It's this simple folks; the top pros do what they do because of the way they use their bodies NOT because of their equipment. If, as golf athletes we expect the same results as the pros we have to do what they do. Train like an athlete!

Now I know that some of you reading this will be thinking 'I've never trained for golf and I've done perfectly well so far' but ask yourself these questions;

Has your game really improved over the last few years?
Are you as good as you want to be?
Can you play year in year out without the aches, pains and injuries that plague most golf athletes?

If you can answer yes to ALL of these questions then you may well not need any further conditioning. You are a natural! If however, you are like the 99% of all golfers who fail to improve and have back, neck and shoulder problems you would do very well to take note of what follows.

So, where do we start? What are the most important considerations for improving your golf? What exercises should you do?

All in good time! We can't fix a problem unless we know what that problem is.

Kinetic Chain Assessment [1]

The human body can be likened to a chain where the movement occurring in any link directly affects those either side of it. If one of those links moves either too much or too little then it disrupts the flow of force through the entire chain. We've all heard that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link right?

Many top pros, Tiger Woods amongst them, are now hiring teams of specialist to assess the movement available in their joints and muscular system, recognising that even the smallest deviation from optimal alignment could cost them their game.

This need not be reserved just for the top guys though. A thorough Kinetic Chain Assessment [2] (KCA) is vital to improving the performance of any golf athlete serious about his or her game. Indeed, it could be argued that the leisure golfer or 'weekend warrior' needs a KCA even more as they lack the condition and skill of the champion players.

During a typical KCA golf athletes will be assessed for the following:

Static and Dynamic postural alignment
A joint and the muscles that cross it can only function optimally if it is in its intended place. As the body migrates toward the typical golfing posture of rounded back, forward head and internally rotated arms the joints are far from their optimal alignment. The implications for the swing are vast. Not only will the shoulder be under greater strain but other joints such as hips, knees, wrists and the lower back will be forced to compensate.

Any deviation from optimal postural alignment may be caused by and in turn cause problems with the range of motion available at the joints. For example, tight pectorals or lats will cause the arms turn in (internally rotate) and the upper back to round. These muscles will no longer have the available range or strength with which to carry out the drive and so more rotation will have to come from the lower back and hips, leading to problems in these areas. Therefore, it is vital that golf athletes are assessed for the available joint range BEFORE applying strength based exercises indiscriminately.

We're not talking about how much weight you can lift or how many pushups you can do. These tests are almost useless for our purposes. Assessments of static strength, positional endurance and muscle activation sequence are the order of the day. Without this knowledge the golf athlete is literally 'firing blind'. He or she will have absolutely no idea where the drive comes from making it very difficult to consistently reproduce the shot, which after all, is the whole point of the game.

The information gained from these assessments is like crucial to successful performance as they create a unique profile of the individual, allowing Performance Enhancement Specialists to better understand the reason for the swing faults of their athletes.

Any time a swing fault is present it is often due to one or more of the following factors:

Clubface alignment - A lack of flexibility and muscle imbalance that causes a postural distortion will directly affect the ability of the athlete line up on the ball. The position will often be 'forced' creating muscle tension and altering the strike pattern.

Swing Path - Similarly, any tension held in the muscles at the start of the swing will affect the range and direction available. This makes reproduction of swing erratic.

Angle of attack - Really an integration of the above two factors, angle of attack is likewise affected by posture and flexibility. Without good posture flexibility is compromised and without flexibility so too is attack angle.

Hitting the sweet spot - It's as simple as this, if you can't move through your entire available range without tension in the muscles responsible for the precise position of the club then sweetspot strikes will be few and far between.

Club head speed -To create maximum power for your drive requires strength, postural control and flexibility all drawn together in that 1/5th of a second. A tall order at the best of times but try it with poor posture or reduced range and other joints will be forced to take up the strain equalling a loss of power.

Did you spot the common theme? I hope so! To spell it out for you in plain English, it is not the strength or power output that makes the golf athlete a champion, rather it is the attention to postural alignment and flexibility that allows the athlete to generate that power!

Now, it's not enough to simply begin a general stretching and strengthening programme. In fact, those that do often find that this approach is actually detrimental to their game. The key here is to make it personal. Remember the KCA? All of the info gathered here should be put to use before you ever do your first set of stretches or weights exercises. A good Performance Enhancement Specialist should analyse your KCA data and provide a programme that addresses the following areas:

Flexibility: Specific stretches for specific areas that 'unwind' the postural distortion patterns. This increases neuromuscular co-ordination allowing for a more synchronised golf swing.

Stability: Once we've regained our available range we need to learn to control it again. Simply gaining range will create an unstable joint leading to a loss of power and reducing accuracy.

Strength: Only once the previous phases have been satisfactorily completed should the golf athlete consider adding strength exercises to the performance programme. Adding them early on will only exacerbate the problems and will probably result in injury!

Power: The production of maximum strength in minimum time is the aim of the game but usually features too often and too early in the golf athlete's training. Here it comes last as improvements in the other three programmes will ALWAYS result in increased power, thus reducing the need to actually train this quality.

In Conclusion
As golf continues to evolve and gain recognition as a true sport and not simply a weekend pastime, so too will the techniques and methods used to condition golf athletes evolve. For this evolution to be successful, not only in improving performance but also for reducing injury, golf professionals, performance enhancement specialists and the athletes themselves will have to work together to bring about the desired effect. Identifying and correcting biomechanical stresses caused by poor posture, lack of flexibility and muscular imbalance is the logical start point for this evolution.

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