In recent years, improving golf performance through regimented exercise and training has gained popularity in both professional and amateur players (26,28). Previous literature has focused on improving a golfer's performance by detailing more efficient kinematic patterns of the swing (29,30), pregame mental focus (16,23,24,27), and the individual technical components of an athlete. However, recent observation of physical characteristics possessed by professionals compared with those of amateur golfers, such as greater trunk rotation and increased coordination near the distal segment of the swing (37), has brought forth an emphasis on physical training. Although resistance training (RT) has been shown through a number of studies to enhance neuromuscular firing and coordination (1,2,4,14), some golf professionals are hesitant because of fear of decreased range of motion and fascia stiffness resulting in decreased performance (8).
A major component to an athlete's success in golf revolves around both accuracy and driving distance (17,21). Although recent findings have shown an increase in golf drive and swing performance after RT (12,35), optimal training methods and equipment is still unclear. Several electromyography studies have revealed the major muscles involved in the golf swing, including but not limited to shoulder girdle, scapula, hips, forearms, wrists, and trunk. (18–20). Hypothetically, an RT program designed around improving the neuromuscular firing of one or all of these areas should result in an increased ability to exert force and therefore increase driving distance. Fletcher and Hartwell (12) found that an 8-week RT and plyometric program significantly (p ≤ 0.05) increased both driving distance and club speed head in golfers. Similarly, Álvarez et al. (3) found an increase in squat jump, countermovement jump, ball speed, and club mean acceleration after an 18-week RT program for low-handicap golfers.
Currently, coaches and trainers are evaluating the manipulation of handle diameters for increasing their athlete's neuromuscular strength, endurance, and activation (7,10,34). Although increasing grip diameter for developing neuromuscular proficiency is still in the early stages of research, past studies have presented findings showing that it does affect performance (13,31,32). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the effects of increasing grip diameter during an 8-week RT protocol on performance markers in division I male golfers.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
To examine the given hypotheses of the present investigation, a between-group study was used. Two groups of collegiate golf players participated in an 8-week, linear-periodized RT protocol, but one group performed all grip movements with an additional attachment to increase handle diameter. The magnitude to which an increased handle width causes weight reduction is unknown because of grip strength already being a major limiting factor during RT. Therefore, grip strength was measured and correlated with performance markers to examine potential relationships if they exist.
The subjects for this study consisted of 10 (n = 10) male members of the Mississippi State University golf team aged 18–22 years. All subjects involved were present during their standard golf training regime which also included practices 5–6 days a week. Players were randomly assigned to either RT with use of the fat grip (FG) during each exercise (n = 5) or control (CON) group (n = 5) which used normal diameter bar on each exercise performed. All subjects were right-handed golfers. Subjects scoring averages per 18 holes were determined based on performance during the competitive playing season. Because of the nature of physical training, 2 men were dropped from the study because of lower back injuries. Exclusion criteria included that each athlete be free of anabolic steroids and not ingest supplements banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) guidelines. Each subject had at least 6 months of RT experience, with some having up to 3 years of experience. All subjects were accustomed to a training frequency of 3 days·per week. Furthermore, each subject had completed at minimum three 4-week phases of golf-specific RT program before participating in the current investigation. Each subject was informed of the risks and benefits of the study and signed an institutionally approved informed consent in accordance with the guidelines of the Mississippi State University Institution Review Board. Furthermore, subjects also signed a Par-Q which stated they were free of any medical or orthopedic issues that might compromise participation for this study.
Descriptive characteristics are shown in Table 1. Anthropometric testing followed after proper calibration of each measuring instrument. Height was obtained in centimeters using a Seca stadiometer (Mortara Dolby, Leicester, United Kingdom) allowing a measurement to the nearest half centimeter with an accuracy of ±0.5 cm. Weight was assessed to the nearest 0.1 kg using bioelectric impedance spectroscopy (mBCA 514/515; Seca Corp., Chino, CA, USA).
Testing took place during the team's competitive season (i.e., February, March, and April) and during normal training hours at 6 am. Before beginning the training regimen, session 1 involved recording the average of 3 attempts for ball speed, drive distance, club speed, and force production for each player using a TrackMan 4 (Trackman, Scottsdale, AZ, USA) dual radar golf analyzer. All testing took place indoor. Driving range, club, model, and balls were all noted and used for both pretesting and posttesting. On a separate day, session 2, separated by 48 hours, maximal repetition strength was determined for 3 different exercises; strict pull-ups, trap-bar or hex-bar deadlift, and hand grip strength. Pull-ups were standardized by having each athlete start with full extension of the arms and completion of each rep ending with the player's chin above the bar. Another bar was placed 10 cm in front of the subject's hips to prevent any unnecessary swinging caused by leg momentum. An attempt was terminated once the player reached volitional fatigue or caused excessive swinging to force completion of a repetition. The trap-bar deadlift max followed the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) protocol developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (15). Load was based on each subject's previous 1RM which allowed for a progressive increase in weights. Athletes were instructed to warm up with resistance that would allow for 5, 3, and 1 reps, respectively. Each golfer was allowed 5 attempts at a maximal single until failure to complete a repetition was reached which resulted in termination of the lift. Each deadlift's initial and end position started from the floor, with the athletes having the option to drop the bar after completing the concentric portion of the lift. Full extension standards were the shoulders of the individual directly aligned over the top of the hips with barbell in hand. The movement was terminated if a neutral spine was not maintained throughout as well as keeping an upright chest. Verbal cues were given by the strength coach at the start of each initial rep. Hand grip strength was assessed by a Takei A5401 Digital Hand Grip Dynamometer (Takei, Stokenchurch, United Kingdom). Each player started at an upright position and the arm fully extended. The maximal (kg) number from the best of 3 attempts was then recorded for each limb. A rest period of 2 minutes was provided between each set and 5 minutes of rest was provided between each individual exercise.
The 8-week training program consisted of a linear-periodized RT program involving 3 sessions per week lasting approximately 45 minutes for each session. Pretraining and posttraining included both a thorough warm-up and cool-down. This consisted of a 5-minute general warm-up that resulted in elevated heart rate and respiratory responses. A sport-specific warm-up was then closely followed, which included joint rotations mimicking golf patterns, dynamic flexibility, and performing, respectively, light percentage work with the barbell movements used for that specific day. Athletes were then instructed on the proper mechanics to complete each movement safely and efficiently. Every training day consisted of a squat or deadlift variation, a pressing or pulling complex, rotational core work, and a flexor/extensor grip strengthening exercise. The specific training program for the golfers during the study is shown in Table 2. The cool-down was a stretch routine consisting of 2 sets of 30-second holds for each major muscle group worked during that training session. Both FG and CON followed similar protocols during the 8-week mesocycle. However, the FG performed all movements with a fat gripz model (2.25 cm, Model; Original, Toronto, Ontario, Canada), attached to every bar used during training. All training days were supervised by a nationally qualified strength and conditioning coach.
Descriptive statistics (mean ± SD) were performed for all dependent variables. Comparisons of training group means for all dependent variables were analyzed using dependent t-test. The significance level was set at p ≤ 0.05. Data were analyzed using SAS version 9.4 (SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA).
Driving performance variables are presented in Table 3. For measures of ball speed, carry, and driving distance, the FG training group significantly increased from pretraining to posttraining (p ≤ 0.05). No significant differences were observed with swing speed in either training group and ball speed, carry, and drive distance for the CON training group.
Strength training performance variables are presented in Table 4. Left hand grip strength significantly (p = 0.022) increased pretraining to posttraining in the FG training group. The CON group significantly increased pull-up performance (p = 0.033) pretraining to posttraining. No significant differences were observed with right hand grip strength and 1RM deadlift in either the training group, pullup performance with FG, and left hand grip strength with CON.
The results from our study indicate that training with FG compared with normal diameter bars can significantly increase both RT performance and golf driving performance in division I male golfers. Although this RT program was not the athlete's first experience using FG implements, this was the first completed program exclusively using FGs. Performance variables assessed in our study were measured because success of a golfer is often determined by driving performance and muscular performance. Muscular performance is an important determinant of success in highly skillful golfers, as golfers with increased strength (22,33) and muscular endurance (36) have been correlated to have better on-course success. Increasing muscular performance may give a skillful golfer a competitive advantage to a counterpart not participating in an RT program.
Fat grip–based training is used in strength and conditioning programs with the overall goal of increasing strength in forearm muscles (7). A majority of research has examined FG and its influence on performance during acute 1RM strength testing. Ratamess et al. (32) examined the effect of 1RM strength testing with common push/pull movements while using a standard Olympic bar, 2, and 3 inch bars. Results indicated significant decrements in performance with pulling exercises of deadlift and bent-over row with 2 and 3 inch bars. Furthermore, Blackwell et al. (5), Edgren et al. (11), and Grant et al. (13) observed significant decreases in grip strength with increased grip diameter. The present investigation examined the effect of chronically training with FG compared with training with standard diameter bars. Previous literature has established that muscular strength is decreased with acute FG training, but our results indicated that training with FG over the course of 8 weeks can elicit significant increases in left hand grip strength, ball speed, carry, and drive distance. The CON group showed no significant increases in any golf driving performance variables. Increases in golf driving performance variables may be explained by a significant increase in left hand grip strength. The lead hand of right-handed golfers (left hand) has been shown to provide the most dominate grip forces during swing acceleration (25). Therefore, increases in left hand grip strength may explain significant increases in driving performance. Although there were no significant increases in swing speed with the FG group, a strong positive relationship has been observed between left hand grip strength and swing speed (6). Grip strength and, specifically, left hand grip strength may play an important role in overall driving performance.
Previous research has established the importance of RT in improving driving performance in low-handicap golfers (3,9,12). Alvarez et al. (3) found significant increases in explosive strength after 6 weeks of training, but driving performance variables only after 12 weeks. They also observed no increases in grip strength. With the ultimate goal of a strength and conditioning being to increase sport-specific strength allowing adaptations to transfer from training to specific movements and FG may provide a much-needed stimulus. Our group already had RT training experience, as they participated in supervised periodized training at least 3 days a week for the past 6 months. Using a new stimulus with experienced lifters is important to continue to see increases in the performance. Although past research has established RT practices to be advantageous for low-handicap golfers who had past training without supervision (12), experienced low-handicap golfers, such as the subjects in our study, may benefit from FG-based training.
Our study is not without limitations. All training sessions took place in a strength and conditioning facility shared with other athletics, not allowing for a laboratory-controlled setting. External factors such as music, interactions with other athletes, and interactions with each other could have affected results. Dietary habits of the subjects were not measured over the course of each workout and duration of the study, and dietary habits could have had an effect on performance. In addition, not all subjects completed every single training session. Because of NCAA rules, collegiate athletes need a mandatory day off from both practice and competition every 7 days. During the team's season, several times, the required off day would fall on a training day, and those who competed in team tournaments would miss a Monday or Wednesday workout. Future studies should look at chronic training studies with FG and also be aimed at observing kinetic and kinematic parameters of the golf swing after FG training. Finally, research in other sports similar to golf, where grip strength is an important component of performance, should train with FG to observe possible benefits compared with training with normal diameter bars.
In a population such as division I male golfers where minimal differences in driving performance may affect scoring, FG training may significantly improve performance compared with traditional training. When initially beginning a training cycle, one can expect decreases in strength, specifically with pulling exercises, but adaptations after significant time exposure with FG may cause an athlete to increase sport-specific strength. Strength and conditioning coaches are always looking for new modalities to incorporate into training regimens with the goal of increasing adaptations. With athletes who have experience with RT, FG may provide an added modality to further elicit adaptations.
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