Strength exercises for golf — do they really improve your golf? Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth think so. Use these golf strength exercises to up your game.
Strength exercises for golf: is your strength hindering your progress?
Determining the level of strength a player needs to play at their best is difficult. Some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour wouldn’t be considered overly impressive at the gym. Yet, some smaller players are still able to create top club speeds and move the ball long distances. How is this possible? In this blog post, we’re going to give you some strength exercises for golf from the new edition of Golf Anatomy that can help increase your distance and improve your overall game.
Dr Craig Davies and Dr Vince Disaia
What do the pros do?
Some players, such as Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, are able to use their longer limbs and levers to use physics and geometry to create high club-head speeds. In contrast, several players including Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth emphasise gym sessions as part of their training programmes. This helps minimise the stress of the golf swing on their bodies and get a competitive edge. This means they’re able to smash the ball out of the rough when required.
Additionally, one of the main reasons Henrik Stenson was able to beat Phil Mickelson at the 145th Open Championship was because of the importance both players placed on their bodies for years, before competing in the championship. This demonstrates something Golf Anatomy, 2nd Edition authors, Craig Davies and Vince Disaia observed in their ten years working on the PGA Tour: Proper mobility and body awareness are an important part of an athlete’s training programme. They’ve also seen the positive effects strength exercises for golf can have on player performance. However, it’s worth noting that some players may focus heavily on strength training, improve dramatically at the gym but only see a minimal improvement on the golf course.
In some extreme cases, players have lost distance and suffered more injuries after introducing strength training to their programmes. So, why do some players excel whilst others fail when it comes to using strength training?
For most cases, the answer is surprisingly simple. These players had previously, or simultaneously, developed the mobility, body awareness and neurological control needed to perform strength training properly and allow movement through the preferred range of motion in the golf swing. The players without successful carryover of strength training did not.
Functional strength movements
Most traditional strength and power training programmes involve both the arms and legs moving together in the same direction and with the same joint angles. Upper body examples include the bench press, pull-up, pull-down and dip. Each of these exercises requires a stable or stiff thoracic spine to support the movement. The problem is, most athletic scenarios don’t require a stiff thoracic spine with both limbs moving in the same way. Throwing a ball, taking a golf swing and running are some that do. These activities involve the athlete’s thoracic spine moving (flexing, extending, rotating) to effectively position the extremities while one arm pulls and the other pushes.
Most traditional training methods don’t encourage this type of movement among the affiliated joint complexes. In fact, these exercises promote the opposite pattern. The result can often be seen in the stiff gait exhibited by long-time gym rats who walk with almost no motion in the trunk and with an arm swing isolated to the glenohumeral joint (shoulder).
This is not to say that muscle strength doesn’t matter. But, if the individual muscles cannot communicate and work together the strength will be useless in a golf swing. This is why it’s crucial to formulate a fitness routine with exercises that don’t just improve muscle strength, but also improve the way muscles work together. That is what’s meant by creating functional strength and not just raw strength (figure 6.1). With younger, more athletic and better-trained athletes becoming the norm on the PGA Tour, a golfer’s body has to move as well as possible to keep up.
Strength exercises for golf
Initially the following strength exercises for golf should be performed with a load that allows 8 to 12 repetitions. For exercises that require resistance tubing, cable machines, or free weights, start with a low resistance that allows you to complete 3 sets of 12 repetitions per set. Once you can do this, increase the resistance or weight and complete a lower number of reps. For exercises that require only body weight, begin with 2 or 3 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions. Once you can easily complete 3 sets of 8 repetitions, increase to 10 repetitions.
- Stand with your legs about shoulder-width apart and your feet slightly turned outward. Hold a bar across your chest with your arms crossed to support the bar. Elbows should be shoulder-height, if possible.
- Your knees should face straight ahead and be above the ankles, not dropping in toward the centre.
- Lower into a squat position by pushing your buttocks backward while simultaneously pushing your knees laterally. Your heels and big toes should remain on the ground, with a noticeable arch under your feet.
- Push into the ground and return to the start position. Repeat.
Primary: Gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps
Secondary: Rectus abdominis, hip adductors
Power needs to be generated by the legs driving into the ground. The front squat is a fantastic exercise to build strong muscles throughout the legs and buttocks. We’ve all seen the best golfers in the world drive using their pelvises just before impact. This drive helps anchor the golfer into the ground and allows for proper transmission of power through the body into the club. Use this exercise to help produce more strength in your pelvis and in your golf game.
Start with very little to no weight and as you become stronger, add a little weight at a time. In the image below, you can see the golfer creating a strong extension through the pelvis and really taking advantage of the large muscles in the legs and buttocks to derive maximum energy from the ground.
Knee-Up Reverse Lunge
- Stand on your right leg with your left knee raised to hip level and bent 90 degrees, left thigh parallel to the ground.
- Reach your left leg straight back behind you and touch your foot to the ground.
- Drop your left knee straight down to about 2 inches above the ground.
- Push through your right heel and return to the start position
- Perform the desired number of repetitions and repeat with the opposite leg.
Primary: Gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hip adductors, hamstrings
Secondary: Tibialis anterior, tibialis posterior, fibularis longus, fibularis brevis
This is a great exercise to not only challenge your balance but also gain some strength in your legs. Keeping proper form is crucial in order to work the muscles properly and get the most efficient results. Keep most of your weight on your front heel while going into the reverse lunge and when coming up from it. This activates your glutes as much as possible. Also, the foot that you step back with should only lightly touch the ground. This forces you to keep the weight on your front heel and challenges your balance as much as possible. The knee-up reverse lunge gives you the strength, balance and muscle control needed for shots that require a little extra power.
These strength exercises for golf have been taken from the new edition of Golf Anatomy. For more information on strength training for golf and other sports, check out some of the resources below.
- The best strength training books
- The Effects of Resistance Training on Junior Golfers’ Strength and On-Course Performance
- A Three-Week Conditioning Program for Improved Golf Performance