Thursday, July 13, 2017

Teach, Don't Just Critique: Getting Golf to Accept Fitness

Teach, Don't Just Critique

Getting Golf to Accept Fitness

The world of strength and conditioning for golf is among the most debated topics in sport science at the moment. Until relatively recently, physical training was not an important aspect of golf performance. In fact, it has been largely thought of as detrimental instead of beneficial. This of course is not true, but the golf fitness world is in a similar place that sports like baseball have been in not so long ago. 
Even though most of the best golfers in the world hit the gym in one way or another, the golf population as a whole has still not bought in. And in some ways, the idea of working out even leads to ridicule by former golfers and commentators:

I, like most exercise scientists and golf fitness professionals, am outraged by these comments. Because we understand that even though the massive majority of exercise science research and personal experience would support the use of resistance training for golfers (and really everyone),  people worldwide listen to the comments of these golf media personalities.

The misconceptions surrounding golf and fitness are deep-rooted and veryprevalent. I have addressed several of these misconceptions in the past.

Some Misconceptions that are holding golf fitness back:

  1. Lifting causes injuries
  2. Lifting will make golfers bulky
  3. Lifting will make golfers lose mobility
  4. It isn't important to be strong for golf.
The purpose of this post is not to debunk these, but since I can't help myself...
  1. Getting stronger has been associated with decreased injuries (cut them in half). Yes, lifting like an idiot can hurt you, but so can doing anything like an idiot.
  2. It is very possible to get stronger without putting on significant weight, nobody "bulks up" on accident, it takes a conscious effort. Bodybuilders train very differently than athletes.
  3. Lifting through a full range of motion actually improves flexibility and mobility, not the opposite. In fact, lifting is often found to be as useful as stretching to improve mobility.
  4. It is very important to be strong for golf. See any of my other posts on the subject to learn more.
OK, now that I got that out of my system, it's time to address how to help.

How do we progress the sport?

The obvious answer is that we need to spread the message about what fitness actually can do for golfers. In order to attack this problem though, we need to understand what we are up against as golf fitness professionals. 

 The world of golf respects history and is resistant to change.

Golfers are a peculiar group (including myself). They are desperate to improve but are afraid of messing anything up. Golfers are often not the biggest risk takers as they are constantly worried about changes that could potentially throw their game into a downward spiral. This is seen in how any changes a player makes is attributed to changes in play (every time someone changes equipment and then plays poorly for example). 

There is also a reverence around former champions. Golfers typically look to those who have succeeded in the sport at the highest level to guide them in their own practice. And the reality is that the great golfers of old did not value fitness to a great degree. The earlier generations of the game valued finesse and accuracy more than power. This has begun to change due to better technology, longer courses, and better athletes choosing golf as their primary sport. 

Unfortunately, many former golfers that did not work out encourage current golfers that there is no need for it. It is a tall order to rewire the thought process to adapt to a changing sport when very few have thought this way before.

 The fitness world in general is one of mixed messages and misconceptions.

Even if golfers wanted to adapt to start using fitness for their games, they often have trouble sorting through the BS out there in the fitness world. Exercise Science can be a frustrating field to work in because of all the misinformation spread out there, the poor education of some personal trainers and strength & conditioning coaches, and the always important value of making MONEY. 

For example, if you search for fitness online, you will likely see a mess of information (with much of it incorrect). There will be articles about how everyone should focus solely on steady state cardio, others that say you should ONLY do interval training, then others that say cardio is overrated and that lifting is the best method. This is the same if they search for golf fitness specifically. The golfer will see some information saying all exercises have to resemble a golf swing due to a misunderstanding of specificity (I hate this by the way), or that you should focus primarily on rotational exercises, or that only core training is important. And just as many saying fitness is completely useless for golf.

A lot of this has to do with misinterpretation of research and principals within exercise science or a general misunderstanding of the complexity of the human body and its adaptations to stress.

Additionally, there are many people spreading misinformation because at the end of the day, fitness can be a major business. For example, a personal pet peeve of mine is altitude training mask companies. These are often advertised as being able to improve your training by utilizing the "magic" of altitude. 

But unfortunately these companies fail to mention that these masks DO NOT simulate altitude training. They simply make it harder to breathe, meaning you just work the respiratory muscles harder than usual. This usually makes most workouts less effective rather than more. But they slap one of them on a famous athlete and take some cool pictures or videos and people believe it.

The reality is that those who have not been trained or educated in exercise science will likely find a lot of misinformation out there and are probably going to have poor results and a lot of headaches. It is our responsibility to spread evidence-based information and educate those who are seeking the best methods of improving their health or fitness.

So what do we do about it?

Golf has made tremendous strides in the past decade or so to make fitness more mainstream. Most top golfers on the professional tours workout with a fitness professional in some regard. But in order for golf to truly accept fitness to the same extent that other sports have, we need to make an effort to educate rather than just critique. 

I am guilty of this myself all of the time. I hear comments about how golf has no need for fitness, or that Rory has ruined his career because of his "excessive bulking", or that they "do not want to lose flexibility" from lifting. And it infuriates me. I want to just fire back that they are wrong, and they are misinformed, and that they have no idea what they're talking about. 

As satisfying as this can feel at times, it is far from the most effective method of educating. In fact, it is more likely to entrench the person in their original viewpoint and make them want to oppose you even stronger (see any angry twitter argument and you'll see this; very few people change their mind, they just get angrier and angrier). 

What we need to do instead is use whatever platform we have in a patient manner to educate and lead meaningful discussions.

For example, this summer I have been a lecturer of Human Performance at a local university. I was teaching about muscle physiology one day and a student asked about the idea of "toning" a muscle. I responded that there is really no such thing. All this did was cause her to get defensive and rant about how her personal trainer and high school basketball coach would disagree. 

I had to take a different tactic. I had to educate rather than just critique her point of view. I started with what the idea of toning represents; a more defined look of the muscles. I then discussed how physiologically, a muscle does not "tone" in that sense. We then brought back the topic of the different ways muscle adapts to training from earlier in the lecture. Then we finally concluded that based off what we know about muscle, to accomplish the "toning", we are really attempting to add muscle and reduce body fat. That means we need more traditional resistance training rather than the super high repetition, very low resistance workouts that are often advertised for women to accomplish this look of more definition. This was all done in a discussion-based method where I asked questions, and wanted to hear what my students had to say. I could see my class open their eyes to this idea and it was like something clicked. They were able to understand the connection between the topics in class and how to apply it to a real-life situation.

Just correcting someone is not enough, we must have a discussion and be able to explain and educate our point. This takes practice and should be a continuous process.

We all have a platform as golf fitness professionals, whether it be big or small. Mine is as an educator of college students and as an exercise scientist. Others have their clients in a fitness setting that are looking for advice. Others are creators of content that post articles similar to this one. And some are lucky enough (and good enough) to work with the best golfers and athletes in the world and are more in the spotlight with the chances to reach thousands of people.

We need to all make an effort to educate rather than just tell people they are wrong. That along with continuing to work with and teach the best golfers in the world about fitness will slowly transition golf towards accepting fitness as a meaningful practice for better performance. The leaders of our industry, and those that work with high profile clients will obviously have the largest platform, but we can all reach those who are looking for the best way to stay healthy, play their best, and enjoy this great game that we all love.

And most of all, stay patient. Change does not usually happen overnight.

I welcome any comments, suggestions, or discussion. Feel free to leave comments here or on twitter (@golfingathlete1) and I will respond when I get the chance!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Science of Golf Fitness: Where are we and where should we be going?

The Science of Golf Fitness

Where are we and where should we be going?

I have operated this blog for several reasons. First, during my graduate studies in exercise science I focused most of my efforts on sport science and human performance. Second, as a former collegiate golfer and a member of the sport science community, I love golf and I love fitness. Third, golf is an area that has massive room for growth in the area of physical training. And finally, the more you study a topic and the more you write about it, the more you learn about it yourself. 

The last few months have left me unable to create as much content as I'd like as I was entirely focused on a daunting thesis research study with a serious time crunch. So for a short time, I lived in the world of Soccer sport science rather than golf (with hopefully a pretty cool paper being sent out to journals in the very near future to show for it). But it's about time to return to golf. And I believe there is no better way to get back on the golf fitness content wagon than to have a quick post about where the world of golf fitness sits and in my opinion where we need to proceed in terms of research and sport science. 

Where are we now?

Golf fitness is an area that has exploded in the last decade or so as some golfers have realized there may be some benefit to preparing their bodies in addition to their golf swing and mental games. 

This explosion is in no small way due to the emergence of TPI and their golf-specific fitness screening. TPI has made it common for golfers to focus on their bodies to perform at a high level. For that reason it is hard to find a top young pro who does not work with a TPI certified fitness professional. And for good reason, TPI and their methodology has been shown to work time and time again and have made a profession out of golf-specific fitness training. 

In addition to TPI leading to more fitness professionals focused on golf, there have also been researchers starting to publish academic papers on golf fitness. 

From the research that has been performed, there are a few key areas to focus on.

1. Establishing club head speed (CHS) as a major factor for performance
2. Correlations between measures of fitness and CHS
3. The effects of training on CHS

I would like to touch on each of these areas briefly

1. Establishing Club Head Speed as a factor for performance

For years the common saying is "drive for show, putt for dough", emphasizing the theory that distance is more for pride but putting is what actually makes a golfer great. I will NEVER say that putting is not important, but it is becoming more and more clear that distance is not just for show. In fact, it may be one of the single most important factors in the game. 

One of my first posts ever looked at the top 10 and top 20 players in the world
 (located here

 I ran some basic stats and showed that more of these players were proficient in driving the ball far than they were in putting stats. But when looking at real research, one commonly cited study is the super strong correlation (r=0.950) between CHS and golf handicap (Fradkin, Sherman, & Finch, 2004). Other studies have also found strong correlations between these values, indicating that there is clearly a huge advantage to having more speed (leading to more distance). 

There is also the common sense factor. The further you hit it, the closer the approach shot into the green. With a closer average approach shot, the average distance from the hole decreases. And as putt distance decreases, the number of made putts increases exponentially. Over the course of an entire season, this makes a massive difference in a game where the good and the great are only separated by a handful of shots per tournament.

2. Correlations Between Measures of Fitness and CHS

A lot of studies have shown very good correlations between various measures of athleticism or strength and CHS or driving distance. For example, one group found a strong correlation (r=0.64) between lower extremity muscle strength and CHS (McNall, Yontz & Chaudhari, 2014). One of the major measurements that has correlated consistently with club head speed is vertical jump (Hellström, 2008). This would make sense as the golf swing relies on power produced in triple extension (extension of the ankle, knee, and hip at impact) in a short period of time. 

Additionally, one study found VERY strong correlations (r=0.805) between maximal squat strength and CHS (Parchman & McBride, 2011). This same study found that the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), the most popular movement screen in the literature showed minimal correlation with any golf performance measure. The TPI screen did a little better job in identifying weaknesses in swing technique, but only in two of 14 swing faults that they looked at, and only with a couple of the movements on the test (Gulgin, Schulte & Crawley, 2014). 

Over and over again, correlations of muscle strength and CHS have been observed. Screening tests have not shown very good performance correlations, despite being measures of "proper movement". Though this is not surprising as these screens are designed with the intention of measuring a client's current movement capabilities for proper exercise and workout selections rather than to predict performance. If used for this purpose, they are tremendous tools and can provide a coach with extremely valuable information to create the best program for the individual.

3. The effects of training on CHS 

For a long time, golfers have been discouraged from lifting and training because it might negatively affect their performance. The scientific literature in other sports would not support this notion. Resistance training is commonplace in nearly every sport, including other rotational sports with similar movement requirements such as baseball, cricket, and throwing events in Track & Field. Resistance training has a massive list of benefits for golfers including increased strength (allowing for more power development which means more CHS), increased mobility (NOT decreased as is commonly thought), increased stability, and decreased overuse injuries.

Even in studies looking at resistance training and golf specifically, nearly every study has shown positive results (increased CHS, increased distance, even increased touch on putts) in just about every age and skill level of golfer from NCAA collegiate golfer to older recreational golfers (Fletcher & Hartwell, 2004; Doan et al., 2006; Lephart et al., 2007). At this time I am unaware of any studies that show negative effects of resistance training on golf performance.

Funny enough though, despite the exercise and sport science literature supporting the use of resistance training, golf as a whole has not been in a hurry to accept it. Instead, they tend to latch onto what commentators say about fitness ("Tiger hurt himself lifting, Rory will as well, blah blah blah") and also common misconceptions about resistance training ("it makes you tight and bulky, "it increases your risk of injury", "it isn't important for golf"). 

This does not even touch on the multitude of health and injury reduction benefits fitness can have in a sport where you can play competitively much longer than other sports and play recreationally for life if you avoid health/injury issues.

Where do we need to go?

Anyone who knows me or has read my content understands that I am strongly opinionated when it comes to golf fitness. I want to use my knowledge and experience to push my beloved sport to a new level and overcome years of misconceptions that are holding golfers of all levels back. 

1. Correlational studies

We need to continue to perform studies to correlate CHS and driving distance. In my opinion, we need more studies observing squat strength and CHS, and we absolutely need some studies looking at maximal deadlift strength and measures of golf performance. I believe we would find very strong correlations between sumo or hex bar deadlifts and CHS and driving distance. This has been seen with sprint speed and powerful movements in other sports, and these exercises translate naturally to the golf swing. 

2. Intervention Studies

There need to be more studies performed where we observe the effects of structured resistance training on measures of golf performance. This has been done already, but I would make several minor adjustments. I would like to see a comparison of traditional resistance training vs more golf-specific (emphasis on rotational exercises) as there has been little scientific evidence that rotational exercises provide any real benefit to the golf swing. 

In these studies, the outcome measures should also include video analysis of the golf swing to determine any technical changes, measures of range of motion/ dynamic mobility at various joints important to the golf swing, and at least one measure of accuracy in addition to the standard CHS and driving distance. This way, with enough subjects and enough study, we may be able to see if resistance training also impacts the accuracy, mobility, and technical aspects of the golf swing (three common concerns with golfers). 

Finally, more important than research is the need to educate the golf community on the multitude of benefits to golf. We cannot just blame the golf community for not accepting fitness, because it is our job as fitness professionals/sport scientists to inform those who may not know otherwise. 

Sometimes its hard to remember that most people are not weird like me. They do not choose to read the research and write academic papers about fitness in their free time. 

Overall, I am encouraged with where golf fitness is at. I have been lucky enough to collaborate, compare thoughts/research, and co-author papers with fantastic golf fitness pros worldwide. I am looking forward to seeing where golf moves in the future and hopefully helping push golfers to their best performance ever through fitness.

If you have questions, contact me with a comment here or via twitter (@golfingathlete1).


1. TPI and their movement screens have been a game changer for getting golf fitness off the ground
2. We have reasonable evidence that club head speed/driving distance is important for golf
3. There have been significant correlations between club head speed and various measures of fitness
4. Fitness training programs have shown very positive results in golfers of almost all skills/age
5. Golf fitness has made strides, but we need to keep pushing to learn more.


Doan B.K., Newton R.U., Kwon Y.H., Kraemer W.J. (2006) Effects of physical conditioning on intercollegiate golfer performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20, 62-72

Fletcher, I. M., & Hartwell, M. (2004). Effect of an 8-week combined weights and plyometrics training program on golf drive performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 59-62.

Fradkin, A. J., Sherman, C. A., & Finch, C. F. (2004). How well does club head speed correlate with golf handicaps?. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport7(4), 465-472.

Gulgin, H. R., Schulte, B. C., & Crawley, A. A. (2014). Correlation of Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) level 1 movement screens and golf swing faults. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(2), 534-539.

Hellström, J. (2008). The relation between physical tests, measures, and clubhead speed in elite golfers. International journal of sports science & coaching3(1 suppl), 85-92.

Lephart, S. M., Smoliga, J. M., Myers, J. B., Sell, T. C., & Tsai, Y. S. (2007). An eight-week golf-specific exercise program improves physical characteristics, swing mechanics, and golf performance in recreational golfers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research21(3), 860-869.

McNally, M. P., Yontz, N., & Chaudhari, A. M. (2014). Lower extremity work is associated with club head velocity during the golf swing in experienced golfers. International journal of sports medicine, 35(09), 785-788.

Parchmann, C. J., & McBride, J. M. (2011). Relationship between functional movement screen and athletic performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research25(12), 3378-3384.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Role of Fitness in Various Sports: Where does Golf land?

Role of Fitness in Various Sports: Where does Golf land?

There have been a number of arguments about golf fitness and what the role of physical training has in the sport. If you poll a variety of golfers of different skill levels, you will likely get varying answers ranging from "it's crucial to my success" to "working out will harm my game". This should not be entirely surprising, as golf is a game rooted in tradition and its participants are often resistant to change unless they are sure it will help their game.

The reality is that the history of golf has included very little in terms of typical strength and conditioning. Many of the great golfers of the past did nothing in terms of physical preparation. But I, like many others in the exercise and sport science world, believe that just because something has been done one way for a long time doesn't necessarily mean it is the best way.  

There are several reasons fitness training was less emphasized back in the day. First and foremost, we just didn't know as much as we do now. Sport science is a relatively new academic discipline that has some catching up to do when compared to more traditional sciences. We have only recently started studying the physical demands of golf as well as how various training techniques can benefit performance or injury risk. 

The second reason is that it was likely less needed back in the day. There have been two major advances in golf that have made power more important; better equipment and better athletes competing. The old golf clubs and balls were difficult to hit accurately so the emphasis was on a smooth, controlled swing. This is seen in the swaying "classic" style of swinging the club. With new and improved technology, it has never been easier to hit it straight (this is relative, its still pretty dang hard). This has allowed skilled golfers to swing harder and harder without losing control of where the ball goes. This can be seen in how the modern swing has transitioned to a more violent motion relying on rotation of several key joints at great velocity.

Better athletes are also picking golf as their primary sport. The tour is now littered with athletic guys that can achieve swing speeds of well over 120 mph.

But now, more and more evidence is supporting the use of strength and conditioning to benefit golfers. But like any other sport you must be able to identify the best way to train to transfer benefits to the course. 

 Various Sports and how fitness contributes

Factors influencing performance are largely dependent on the individual requirements of the sport. For some sports, performance is highly related to various markers of fitness. While others, technical and skill-based aspects are the primary determinant of success while fitness may benefit in more of a secondary role. 

Every sport falls somewhere on a continuum of being completely technical to purely fitness related. For example, endurance sports lie closer to the fitness side of things. A marathon runner's success is mostly due to how aerobically fit they are and how efficient their running economy is. You cannot succeed without an above average aerobic fitness, even with excellent technique. While the elite runners having excellent fitness and running economy or efficiency.

Most team sports lie largely in the middle of this continuum, where there is a large skill-based component but you must also have the necessary fitness to compete. For example, elite soccer players typically cover about 10-12 km per match and must be able to perform high intensity actions every 4-6 seconds on average (Stolen et al., 2005). Improving fitness can absolutely be seen in improved performance for most team sport athletes but they also must have a strong skill-set to succeed.

Finally, there are sports that are primarily technical. Golf would certainly be included in this category. Anyone that has ever played will know that without a technically sound swing and plenty of practice, even the most athletic individual in the world will not be that great. The first priority of any golfer to improve performance should be to improve their golf-specific skill-set.

But just because you can be a good golfer without emphasizing fitness, you can be even better with it. There is not that big of a difference between the best PGA tour golfers and the average. There really isn't even that big of a difference between the top PGA tour golfers and those that are stuck on the Web.Com Tour or the mini-tours. As a competitive golfer, being able to improve by even just 1 shot a round adds up over a season and could mean a massive difference in a career.

For example, during the 2016 season, Dustin Johnson had the best scoring average on the PGA Tour (69.172). There was only a 1 shot per round difference between him and 17th ranked Patrick Reed and less than 2 shots per round separated him and 118th ranked Henrik Norlander. 

Any improvement can make a difference.

Fitness can certainly help with this, by improving distance off the tee (a massively important factor), reducing injury risk, and extending a career.

Differences in Sport in Terms of Training

That being said, fitness is a broad term. Training should be specific to the sport by emphasizing the same energy systems, muscle groups, and velocity to improve sport-specific performance. 
Action Type
Primary Energy Systems
Type of Training Emphasized
Steady state endurance
Runners, Cyclists, distance swimmers

High Intensity aerobic (intervals)
Field Hockey
Throwing sports
American Football

This is an oversimplified chart. There is going to be some carry-over in most sports where they utilize aspects of each category. But this is meant to show the primary aspects of various sports.

Endurance Athletes benefit most from primarily stressing the aerobic energy systems. The style of workouts will depend on the specific event, with marathon runners emphasizing more steady state, long duration training with some speed work and intervals mixed in to improve high-intensity performance. 1500 meter runners will emphasize much more speed work such as intervals and sprint training to improve their ability to perform for extended periods at high speeds.

Intermittent athletes are typically those who play team sports. Soccer, rugby, and field hockey are all prime examples of intermittent athletes as they must constantly balance periods of high intensity action with active or passive recovery periods (i.e. Soccer player may sprint to make a play and then  jog to re-position themselves for the next play and recover for the next high intensity action). Their training will be reflected mostly in the ability to repeat high intensity actions with optimal recovery. This will include a lot of repeated sprints and intervals.

They also must develop sport-specific fitness, with many soccer researchers pushing to develop fitness through small-sided games and skill-based drills to emphasize both technical and fitness development simultaneously. This benefits team sport athletes that have limited time to develop a large number of components of skill and fitness. 

Finally, strength and power athletes do not rely much on aerobic performance and therefore focus on developing strength through resistance training and using that strength to develop sport-specific power through various forms of power training. 

Golf is a power sport. The golf swing relies on the ability to generate high force outputs in a short period of time. Their training should therefore be more consistent with other power athletes. For example, javelin throwers spend significant time developing a foundation of strength and then proceed to more on to power development through ballistic and plyometric exercises. They also work on stability and mobility in addition to developing power.

The driver golf swing has a lot in common with javelin and other throwing sports. They require coordination of a large number of muscles and joints in a kinetic chain action (transfer power generated from the lower body up through a stable core and through the arms). This transfer of power is also performed through a rotational manner as well as vertical. 

Golfers could learn a lot by looking at how similar sporting actions are developed through training. To achieve optimal performance of the golf swing, there should be an emphasis on developing the characteristics that best suit the nature of the sport. In golf, this is the ability to produce force and produce it fast. Additionally, they should work on characteristics that support this goal of power production, namely remaining mobile enough for optimal swing performance and developing stability to support the body throughout the swinging motion.
  1. Factors influencing performance is largely sport-specific.
  2. Some sports emphasize fitness beyond all else, some are very technical in nature, while most lie somewhere in the middle.
  3. Training must be specific to the sport based on its individual physical requirements
  4. Golf is a power sport requiring the ability to produce individual powerful actions with full recovery in-between and training should reflect that

Stølen, T., Chamari, K., Castagna, C., & Wisløff, U. (2005). Physiology of soccer. Sports medicine, 35(6), 501-536.