Golf, pejoratively and erroneously known as an “old man’s sport,” is often perceived as an activity that requires minimal athleticism. As one of the most popular sports played by American adults, golf continues to be a staple activity for social gatherings, business meetings, and even just for fun. More than ever, golfers are looking for ways to step up their golf game. What differentiates successful golfers from the rest is a focus on building mobility, balance, strength, and power. In this month’s Movement Memo, our fitness team explains why adding a fitness component to your training can significantly improve your golf game.
The Rise of Fitness in Golf
In much of the 1900’s, golfers neglected to physically prepare their bodies in the same way athletes of other popular sports did. Competitive golfers previously tended to replicate the training methods of previously successful golfers, most of whom did not have strict fitness regimens. In fact, there was a common misconception that muscle mass gain would limit mobility and, in turn, be detrimental to one’s golf swing. As a result, physical fitness was rarely a priority for golfers. However, the importance of fitness in the game of golf started to rise as Tiger Woods began his dominance of the sport.
Tiger Woods revolutionized the game by making a rigorous fitness plan an essential component for his golf performance training. Over the course of his career, golfers observed his success and gained a greater understanding of how fitness routines enhanced on-course performance. His methods inspired the next generation of golfers to be more physically fit and who would later dominate the game with faster club speeds and longer driving distances. Proof of the success of a fitness-centric approach is reflected in the success of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau. Since the start of Tiger’s professional golf career in 1996, the average driving distance (i.e., first shot off the tee) has increased by 30.8 yards on the PGA tour.1 In fact, increased driving distance has even led the United States Golf Association (USGA) to evaluate whether the construction of the golf ball should be altered to limit hitting distance, and therefore prevent the need to lengthen courses. Whether the PGA tour decides to adopt this rule or not, this expanding focus on fitness will remain integral to overall golf performance training.
Why is Fitness Important in Golf?
The golf swing is an explosive and athletic movement that requires mobility, strength, balance, power, and coordination to allow for a precise and repeatable swing. Fitness training supports the demands of the sport to improve performance, prevent injury, and prolong careers.
Golf, like tennis, involves repetitive and rotational movement that places an unequal distribution of force on the body. As a result, there is an elevated risk for muscle imbalance and overuse, which can lead to injuries of the back, hip, knee, and wrist joints.2 This is especially true for golfers who are actively training to maximize speed in their swing, as faster speeds produce greater torque on the body. A balanced fitness routine not only improves stabilization and posture, but also reduces compensatory movements and the chance of injury.2
The power developed from proper fitness training allows golfers to increase their club head speed and hit the ball farther. Hitting the ball farther is advantageous to any golfer’s game as it allows for shorter approach shots, opportunities to reach the green earlier on par 5’s, and greater ability to reach the green from fairway bunkers. Maintaining an ability to hit the ball far is especially important for aging golfers, as it becomes increasingly difficult to combat decline in strength and power seen in each decade of life.3 Aside from adding distance, a golf-specific fitness program also improves consistency, accuracy, and swing coordination.4 With one round of golf lasting up to ~5 hours, a fitness routine also helps improve stamina and delay the onset of fatigue.
As we age, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the mobility, strength, and balance needed to withstand the rotational forces of golf. If these physical abilities are not regularly addressed within one’s training regimen, an injury is bound to cut your golf career short. Arthritis of the knees, hips, and back lead to increased pain while playing. A proper fitness plan can improve the strength and range of motion around each major joint and, thereby, reduce pain and keep you on the course for many more years.
How to Build a Golf Fitness Plan
A well-rounded, golf-focused fitness routine should emphasize speed and power, but also focus on the dexterity and control needed for accurate ball striking. To accomplish this, golfers must incorporate elements of mobility, balance, strength, and power.
A golf swing requires a high degree of rotational movement from the upper and lower body. Optimal mobility allows a golfer to achieve the full range of motion needed to generate power, increase speed, and create a consistent and accurate swing motion.5 Without adequate mobility at each of the major joints, the body will inefficiently compensate, resulting in poor shot quality and potential injury. Mobility work should include a combination of foam rolling and stretching implemented before and after a workout or a round of golf. Recommended areas of focus for golf mobility training include the hips, spine, shoulders, and neck. Refer to our previous Golf Mechanics Blog for more information on golf-specific mobility exercises.
Balance is also important in golf because it enables a smooth transfer of weight from one foot to the other, which is necessary for generating power and accuracy. Balance improves body control during the swing, allowing for consistent swing paths and optimal ball contact. Exercises to improve balance should be incorporated into strength workouts with the addition of unilateral movements, such as single-leg RDLs, reverse lunges, and forward step-up’s.
Strength & Power
Strength is essential in golf performance because it improves the upper and lower body stability necessary for balance, body control, and accuracy of a golf swing. Strength is also essential for maintaining proper posture throughout the swing. As the building block for power, strength is necessary for generating greater clubhead speeds and lengthening shot distance with each club. A golf swing with increased power gives a golfer greater optionality when choosing how to approach a hole off the tee. These strategies include the ability to launch the ball over corners on curved fairways, hit past fairway hazards (bunkers and water), and drive to greens on short par 4’s. A 2021 systematic review investigating the effects of strength and conditioning interventions on golf performance revealed that a combination of nonspecific and golf-specific strength and power training increased clubhead speed by 4.1% and hitting distance by 5.2%, which was significantly greater than nonspecific training alone.6 It is recommended to train for strength and power at least two times per week with a focus on golf-specific movement patterns. For strength training, we recommend incorporating heavier resistance (i.e., higher weights) in controlled movements. Power is targeted using light to moderate resistance with the intent to perform each repetition as fast as possible. Visit our previous Golf Mechanics Training Blog for more information on golf-specific power exercises.
The belief that golf is not a physically demanding sport is outdated. The addition of a well-rounded fitness routine into your overall golf performance training is key to gaining a competitive edge on the course. Research shows that golfers of all ages who adopt a golf-specific fitness routine benefit from better scores, less injuries, and longer golf careers. Prioritizing fitness could be the difference maker you need to take your golf game to the next level. Connect with our physical therapists today to get started.
SHIFT TPI Golf: Fitness & Mobility Training
If you are interested in taking your golf game to the next level, consider our new SHIFT TPI Golf Program. Scott Robin, DPT, is certified through the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) and uses their systematic approach to screen and evaluate the physical capabilities that affect swing mechanics. Scott addresses your specific limitations and provides a personalized fitness plan to unlock your full swing potential. Click HERE for more information or reach out to Scott (email@example.com) with inquiries!
In Real Health,
The SHIFT Fitness Team
- Golf Stat and Records | PGA TOUR. www.pgatour.com. https://www.pgatour.com/stats/detail/101
- Gosheger G, Liem D, Ludwig K, Greshake O, Winkelmann W. Injuries and overuse syndromes in golf. Am J Sports Med. 2003;31(3):438-443. doi:10.1177/03635465030310031901
- Wiseman F, Habibullah M, Friar JT. The importance of driving distance and driving accuracy on the pga and champions tours. The Sport Journal. 2011;14(1):n. pag. Published 2011
- Ehlert A M.S. The effects of strength and conditioning interventions on golf performance: A systematic review. J Sports Sci. 2020;38(23):2720-2731. doi:10.1080/02640414.2020.1796470
- Marshall KJ, Llewellyn TL. Effects of Flexibility and Balance on Driving Distance and Club Head Speed in Collegiate Golfers. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017;10(7):954-963. Published 2017 Nov 1.
- Uthoff, A. Sommerfield, L. Pichardo, A. Effects of resistance training methods on golf clubhead speed and hitting distance: a systematic review. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2021;35(0):2651-2660. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000004085