Golf is a sport that can be played by almost anyone regardless of age, sex, or skill. Worldwide there are an estimated 35 million golfers with approximately 26.5 million participants in the United States alone (16). With the wide appeal of this sport comes unique demands that must be met for the golfer to be successful.
During the normal full golf swing, high levels of force are required to accelerate the club into the downswing and then again to decelerate during the follow through (21). The golf swing is considered to be a sequential movement with power development beginning with ground reaction forces (GRFs) in the lower extremity and peaking at club head impact (9,14). Hume describes the kinetic chain sequence as initiated by the “legs and hips followed by movement of the trunk and shoulders, and finally the hands and wrists” (9). Elite golfers do a better job of this summation of power, which is one of the reasons for their greater club head speed (14).
The literature has established strong support for the use of physical training in the sport of golf (1,8,13,20,24). Because of the nature of the sport and the correlation between measures of power and club head speed, an important focus of training is on the development of power (18). Although the golf swing is a unique movement, it is important to approach the development of power in a golfer the same way one would develop power in other sports. There are basic principles that apply to power development and these should be adhered to while also acknowledging the unique demands of golf.
TESTING FOR POWER
Power for golf can be measured with a variety of jump tests and medicine ball throws. The seated medicine ball chest throw, standing rotational throw, squat jump, and countermovement jump have been found to correlate well with club head speed (5,18). Club head speed is an important means of assessing the intervention's effect on the golf game. With all other aspects being equal, an increase in club head speed of 5.3 km/h has been shown to result in 10–15 m increased carry distance from the tee (23). The role of the lower extremity in the golf swing is to generate force and transfer it through the foot into the ground. The force pushing back on the foot from the ground is usually described as the GRF. The ability to load the rear foot and then transfer this GRF from the rear foot to the lead foot during the downswing is something that skilled golfers do better than novices which results in increased club head speed (9,10). In addition to this weight shift, highly skilled golfers demonstrate better stability and increased transfer of force at impact (14). The initial assessment of a golfer should include these tests of power and they should be retested regularly to track progress. A complete description of the tests mentioned in this section has been discussed elsewhere in the literature (5,18,22).
POWER DEVELOPMENT PARAMETERS
The 3 main components that interact together allowing for maximal power are: muscular strength, rate of force development, and the amount of force that can be developed at high velocities of movement (6). In each of these domains, the specific exercise, the load used, the velocity by which it is performed, sets, repetitions (reps), rest periods, sequencing, and frequency are all parameters that are important to consider. A full description of how to manipulate these variables is beyond the scope of this article and the reader is referred to the article by Haff and Nimphius (6). However, in general, the load will be submaximal and the rest periods will be long enough to allow for complete recovery.
For power development, a mixed methods approach is often recommended (3,6). This approach combines heavy resistance training with ballistic training to maximize the training effect to the individual demands of the sport. A mixed methods program trains power production across its entire spectrum compared with strength training or ballistic exercise alone.
ROLE OF STRENGTH
Strength is closely correlated with the athlete's capacity to rapidly produce high levels of force (2,3,6). A foundation of strength must be in place for the golfer to develop significant levels of power (3,6). Strength development can be sufficient to develop power without the addition of any specific work (15) and a stronger golfer will respond to the addition of specific power-based exercises more optimally (2).
It should be noted that strength is relative to the individual and sport. Observed increase in power resulting from strength work is assumed to come from increased muscle cross-sectional area and changes in neural drive (3). General guidelines for strength development suggest that near maximum resistance levels should be used (>80% of 1 repetition maximum) with lower repetition ranges and longer rest periods (19). Exercise prescription for strength must take into account a multitude of variables, but general guidelines suggest significant gains in as few as 2–3 sets performed 2–3 times per week (3,8,11,19).
ROLE OF BALLISTIC TRAINING
Ballistic training is the second aspect of the mixed methods approach. This form of training allows the golfer to accelerate throughout the entire movement (6). This is in sharp contrast to an exercise such as a bench press where up to 52% of the total duration of the exercise has been shown to consist of deceleration (3). The full importance of training at high velocity has been discussed in depth in prior reports (6). When looking to train for high velocity, it is important that the loads used for the ballistic exercises are low enough that the golfer is actually able to perform the movement at high speeds. Winchester et al. (26) looked at 8 weeks of ballistic resistance training performed 3 times per week at loads between 26 and 48% of 1 repetition maximum and found increased peak power and rate of force development compared with a control. The observed increases in the rate of force development are caused by adaptations in neural drive, the rate of activation, and intermuscular coordination (3). Both the intent to move rapidly and the actual rapid execution of the exercise have been shown to have a large effect on training outcomes (3). Insuring that the golfer maximizes velocity during the execution of the movement, while using a load that allows for attainment of these high velocities, should be a component of the training program. When performed in this manner, ballistic exercises allow the athlete to train at or near performance speed with a large power output and high rate of force development that can lead to increased power at game speed (3).
The development of lower-body strength and power is a key component of golf-specific training (25). Golf is similar to other striking and throwing sports in that the golfers' power development originates in the lower extremities and the resulting GRFs are expressed through the trunk and upper extremity into the golf club. The inclusion of exercises that emphasize extension through the hip and knee is therefore important. Exercise selection should be specific to the demands of the sport with a focus on the specific muscles, movements, and energy systems that are required by the sport. Lower-body power and upper-body strength are correlated with all specific golf performance measures, most notably distance and overall score (25).
When used in conjunction with strength training, plyometrics have been shown to be beneficial for improving club head speed in golfers (1). Research suggests that power development is specific to direction (22). Exercise selection, to some extent, should therefore emphasize those movements that mimic the same patterns of movement that are seen in the sport. Because golf is largely a sport of frontal plane motion translated into rotational power, the inclusion of exercises that develop this frontal power is warranted.
The medial to lateral jump is performed with the athlete jumping onto a box in the frontal plane as described in (Figure 1A and 1B and see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A141). This exercise aids in the development of explosive power generation from the hips that can be helpful in the rapid development and transfer of GRF from the rear foot to the lead foot during the downswing. To avoid excessive loading through the lower extremity, the athlete is instructed to step down from the box after each repetition instead of jumping down. The athlete should be instructed to perform an explosive movement from the ground and land in a controlled manner. As golf is a sport that is asymmetrical in nature, it is important to perform an equal number of reps to both sides.
MEDICINE BALL THROW
The medicine ball throw described in Figure 2A and 2B and Supplemental Digital Content 2 (see Video, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A142) is a fundamental power development exercise. The medicine ball is one of the most versatile exercise tools that allows for power development at a velocity similar to sport-specific speed. The rotational throw has been shown to be closely correlated with club head speed (18) and programs using various rotational throws have been shown to improve club head speed for golfers (4,20). The rotational medicine ball throw reproduces the characteristics of the golf swing by creating power from the lower extremity that is expressed in a rotary throwing manner both in the backswing and downswing. It is important to use a weight that is light enough to allow for high movement velocity. The strength and conditioning professional should also avoid instructing the golfer to attempt to imitate their golf swing with this exercise. The goal is not to interfere with the swing motor program but to develop general rotational power. Appropriate verbal cuing would include a phrase such as “try to throw the ball through the wall.”
The kettlebell swing (Figure 3A and 3B and see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 3, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A140) has been shown to develop power and strength and has been suggested as a viable alternative to more traditional methods, such as the power clean, when looking for exercise program variety (12,17). Inclusion of the kettlebell swing offers the strength and conditioning professional an alternative means of lower-body power development that may be easier for the golfer to perform at home or while traveling. The kettlebell swing is executed with an emphasis on flexion at the hip, often called the hip hinge, which biases toward the use of the posterior chain for the execution of the exercise. This emphasizes powerful hip and knee extension similar what is found during the golf swing. Verbal instruction includes “hike” the kettlebell between the legs on the downswing and “snap the hips forward” on the upswing.
An example program is provided in the Table. This program would be implemented as the foundational component of the golfers program and likely would follow-up a block that has emphasized strength development. The warm-up and accessory exercises added to the program would be specific to the needs demonstrated by the athlete. The program would be followed for 4–6 weeks as a power-specific training block and emphasis should be placed on progressing the intensity of the exercises performed without excessive variation in the specific exercises.
The strength exercises chosen compliment the power work that the golfer will be performing. Sufficient hip and knee flexion while performing the squat is important with deep front and back squats producing greater transfer to the squat jump (7), which is highly correlated to club head speed (18). The inclusion of an upper-body pressing and pulling exercise is indicated by the correlation found between strength in these movements and golf performance (25). In addition, the single arm format trains the core muscles because of their increased stabilization activity. A comprehensive program would include additional exercises that focus on other aspects of performance outside the scope of this article. Basic principles of periodization, load selection, rep ranges, and rest periods should be observed in the implementation of these and any other exercises.
The integration of power development into the golfer's exercise program should include both strength and ballistic training principles. Following these training principles and using exercises that combine the various power training methods will allow the strength and conditioning specialist to design a program that will increase power in the golf swing which can potentially result in lower scores.
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