Golf Sports Performance: Will resistance exercise training negatively impact my Golf Swing? What’s the benefit?

By Dr. John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC

Golf is a popular sport in the US, with over 32 million participants annually (National Golf Foundation, 2020). The most critical determinant of golf performance is the resulting combination of ball accuracy and driving distance. A significant amount of skill and deliberate practice is needed to hit a golf ball accurately.

Some golf pros and golfers believe that resistance exercise training will “mess up” their golf swing; however, this dogma could not be further from the scientific truth. In this article, I will debunk that myth and demonstrate how the appropriate golf exercise training program can enhance your game.

In the golf swing, many physical attributes significantly influence driving distance. The ability to hit a golf ball far from a body’s morphological perspective comes from explosive muscle contraction and segmental sequencing and stacking forces. The power starts from the ground reaction forces at the foot and ankle, transitioning up the kinetic chain to the hips. Next, the kinetic energy passes from the trunk or torso to the shoulders. The force continues to move into the arms, hands, and eventually the clubhead.

Elastic energy amplifies the power during the swing by winding up and unwinding soft tissues (muscles, tendons, fascia), much like a “rubber band. The optimal range of motion and flexibility during the swing sequencing allows for the optimal stretch-shortening cycle. Optimal range of motion and flexibility is needed during the swing to create segmental body separations (ankle-knee, knee-hip, hip-torso, torso-shoulder, shoulder-arm, and arm-wrist) that amplify explosive power.

Optimal clubhead speed can be realized if all the energy is transferred up the kinetic chain rapidly and orderly without energy leaks (inefficiency in the movement reduces energy transfer). Efficient sound swing mechanics are critical to allowing these events to happen.

However, the golfer must generate a significant range of motion and power (strength x velocity/time) to optimize the golf swing. Exercise training can make a substantial impact in developing clubhead speed. Many elite golfers use resistance exercise training programs to improve their power in hitting a golf ball. Studies have shown that proper exercise training programs can increase clubhead speed by 1.6-7% and increase driving distance by driving distance 4-8% (Wells, J Strength Cond, 2009). Research demonstrates that those with the most muscle power in the trunk/torso, hips, legs, and hands had the greatest swing speeds among elite golfers.

Will weight training negatively affect my golf swing?
A common myth is that weight training negatively affects an individual’s golf swing by reducing flexibility and range of motion. Some believe that weight training will create bulky, tight muscle like Arnold Swartznager or “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson; however, this is not true. First off, most adults will have difficulty putting on significant muscle. Secondly, strength gains happen slowly over months to years. In the first six weeks of training, there is minimal hypertrophy (growth) in the muscle. The changes in strength are neurological, aka a motor learning effect in lifting weights. Muscle hypertrophy does occur over time, providing there is; good genetics (fast-twitch muscle optimal for hypertrophy), high amounts of protein (1.6 g per lb) to optimize protein synthesis (muscle building process), adequate amounts of quality calories, and optimal hormonal levels (testosterone, insulin growth factor, and growth hormone). Even with all of this, the most an adult will gain is 1-2 lbs. of muscle per month. With proper functional sports-specific progressive resistance training, this 1 – 2 lb. of muscle gain would be over the whole body, not one given region. The type of muscle the golfer would gain would be lean muscle, not bulky tight muscle commonly depicted in bodybuilders.

What is the best way for a golfer to exercise?
The optimal exercise prescription would be sports-specific functional progressive resistance exercise vs. bodybuilding exercises. Bodybuilding exercises focus on isolated body movements (i.e., one joint body movement, the biceps). This exercise creates strength and hypertrophy in a specific muscle group with no concern for function or sports-specific movement patterns. However, sports-specific functional exercise trains multiple joints simultaneously in specific movement patterns that create strength and power relative to the individual’s sport. ( Emery et al. Br J Sports Med, 2002) Functional exercise training would include; balance, flexibility, posture, core stability, strength, power, and cardiovascular training. Functional exercise training is based on the principle of specific adaptation to an imposed demand. (SAID principle). The SAID principle means that our body will respond specifically to how we train. So, train specifically to the needs of the sport!
(Cook G. Movement: Functional Movement Systems. Aptos, 2010.)

Will sports-specific functional exercise prevent or minimize golf-related injury?
The golf swing is a complex motion of the whole body that transfers power through all the limbs and most joints of the body. A recent large epidemiological study found that 60% of professionals and 40% of amateurs experienced an injury that removed them from play. Overuse injuries account for up to 82% of all golf injuries. (Ludwig et al. Am J Sports Med. 2003) A study demonstrated that the injury frequency is based on handicap (59% injury rate with handicaps >18, a 62% injury rate 10-17, and a 68% <10). (McCarroll et al. Phys Sports Med. 1990) The injury occurs more frequently in the lead arm, i.e., the left shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand for a right-handed golfer. (Theriault G, Lachance P. Golf injuries: an overview. Sports Med. 1998) Low back pain is the most frequent injury due to the significant torque and rotational range of motion on the trunk and lumbar spine during the swing.

Many golf-related injuries are due to ill-prepared or improperly trained athletes. (Caine et al. Clin J Sports Med 16) 2016.) Several research studies have indicated that if trained appropriately (conditioning, strengthening, muscle imbalances correction, balance, coordination, and correcting training errors), 50% of injuries could be reduced. ( Chan et al. Concept, 2006,
Olsen et al. Br Med J, 2011)

Bottom line, sports-specific functional progressive resistance exercise will enhance a golfer’s ability while increasing athleticism and preventing golf-related injury.

Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania.

He has authored two books; “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete”, “The Rubber Arm; Using Science to Increase Pitch Control, Improve Velocity, and Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injury” both can be bought on Amazon.

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