Golf is one of the most popular sports played throughout the world and is played at all levels, form beginner to advanced pro levels. One of the great things about golf is that you can compete against anybody of any levels as long as you have a handicap. Over recent years, since Tiger Woods came on to the scene, golf has seen more of a scientific approach with most pros and even elite amateurs implementing fitness programmes into their daily routine in order to improve their performance on the course.
Burden et al. (1998) states that in order to optimise powerful rotational force that translates into the back of the ball via the club head, the athlete requires to produce a series of muscular contractions and joint movements that have to be precise in order to develop an efficient swing. The advantages of having an efficient and powerful golf swing will result in high ball velocity, which in turn will have a positive impact on performance. In addition, an efficient golf swing will require less effort to hit the ball the same distance when compared with someone that has less efficiency (Burden et al, 1998).
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It is evident from biomechanical literature that using the longest lever available will result in the greatest force being produced (Cooper et al, 1974). This can be highlighted in the game of golf, where an individual seeks to hit their longest club in the bag when they want to achieve optimal distance. At the elite level in golf, the difference between hitting the ball that extra 5 or 10 yards in the air can be huge. This could be the difference between carrying bunkers off the tee, to going for the green in 2 at a par 5. These finite differences can separate a golfer from his competitors and can be the difference between success and failure.
As previously mentioned, golfers use the driver off the tee when they want to maximise distance. In contrast to this, Iron shots, chipping and putting are more about the feel that the golfer possesses, as the goal is to send the ball to a certain location with a required distance. In order to seek perfection in these categories, hand eye co-ordination is the skill required as opposed to strength and power.
The purpose of this study was to identify the components of fitness that an elite amateur golfer possesses, which would provide the fundamentals for an efficient swing. A battery of tests was constructed that replicated movements in the golf drive. These tests were performed by an elite amateur and recreational club golfer, which would highlight differences between results. A training programme was then constructed for the recreational subject, which would focus on the weaknesses and try to bridge the gap between the novice and elite athlete.
Name: Keith Young
Keith Young is regarded as one of the best amateurs in Scotland and has been for many years. Keith has played at all levels of the game, representing his county and country along the way, together with turning pro for a spell earlier in his career. Keith was chosen for this project due to his past experience of competing at the top level, which will enable a true comparison to be drawn between an elite and novice golfer.
Name: Stuart Brown
Stuart has been playing golf for less than a year and in comparison to Keith he has a high handicap, which will enable the differences in physiological components of fitness to be highlighted in the golf swing.
Barrentine et al. (2004) states that an efficient golf swing is a result of a sequence of muscular contractions that enables powerful rotation. Plowman and Smith (2003) define power as work divided by time. The power created in the golf swing is largely down to the strength of the muscles involved and the speed at which they contract. Large amounts of strength together with fast muscular contractions result in peak power output(McArdle et al, 2001), which essentially results in high ball velocities.
In addition to the golfer requiring to produce large amounts of force into the back of the ball, it is essential that they maintain core stability throughout the swing in order to maintain efficiency and reduce the amount of energy being wasted (Hosea et al, 1990). Gatt, (1996) and Lehman, (2006) also imply that sufficient core stability will reduce the likelihood of injury and will maximise the total energy that is transmittedthrough the ball. A study by Baechle and Earle (2008) conveyed that core stability was the ability of the central muscles to control the movement of the body in the anterior and posterior directions.
According to Hosea and Gatt, (1996), large levels of core stability around the abdominal and oblique area allow for an efficient transfer of power between the lower body and upper body. In contrast, low levels of core stability would result in the weaker muscle breaking down during the swing, which would result is the loss of energy and low power output. Due to the large amounts of force and torques being created during the golf swing, injury to the spine is likely if the athlete is not in the right condition. This is highlighted by Lehman, (2006) who noted that weak core stability will result in the golfer not being able to resist the large torques generated and may predispose the golfer to lower back pain.
The golf swing is a complex movement and involves a sequence of coiling of the legs, hips, back, arms and the club. The power output of the golf swing is a byproduct of the power generated by the agonist and antagonist contractions, which is known as the pre stretch principle (Baechle and Earle, 2008). The pre stretch principle usually involves a rapid change from deceleration to acceleration in the positive direction and can be best replicated by using polymeric exercises (Chu, 1998). The driving distance of a golfer is well documented in studies by Doan et al, (2006) and Fletcher and Hartwell, (2004) who conveyed that you can significantly increase your driving distance, with the implementation of polymeric training.
In the golf swing it is imperative that the golfer has a solid base, as this will provide balance for the rotation of the upper body, which will result in large amounts of torque being generated. Barrentine et al, (1994) suggests that the hamstrings, quadriceps and gluts provide the base and in turn have a large role to play in the golf swing. A solid base in the golf swing will involve a stance of shoulder width apart and a flexion at the knee of 40 degrees. To enable this knee flexion and a solid base, there will be an eccentric contraction around the quadriceps with an opposing concentric contraction in the hamstrings. Furthermore the hip rotation that goes towards the target is controlled by the quadriceps adductors and abductors.
Barrentine et al. (1994), also state that it is imperative to contract the hip flexors, rotators and extensors if you want to achieve maximal club head speed, as in order to create this powerful transition between the lower and upper body, hip rotation is the vital ingredient to the cores rapid uncoiling.
In the same study by Barrentine et al. (1994) they also convey that a golfer must have strong forearms if they want to achieve optimal distance off the tee. This is largely due to strong forearms being able to resist the force of the club on the way down, allowing for a delay in the rotation of the forearms, which in turn increase the torque generated and essentially results in greater performance.
A battery of tests was constructed for both the athlete and the novice that would replicate the movements of the muscles in the golf drive. The tests were constructed in orderto cover all components of fitness that are vital in the golf swing and can be identified as; balance, power, strength and core stability. These tests were chosen as the golf swing is a whole body movement that involves open kinetic chain movements together with contractions of the muscles (Bruder et al, 1998).
The following tests were carried out at Craiglockhart Sports Centre, Edinburgh, UK. In order to ensure that there were no external factors present that could affect the validity of the results, all tests were carried out in the fitness suite and sports hall. In order to minimize the risk of injury, prior to testing, both subjects performed a 10 minute warm up to ensure heart rate was elevated and the muscles were warm (Olsen et al, 2004). In addition to this, they also replicated their own warm up that they would undergo prior to playing golf.
An overhead medicine ball throw (2kg; NIKE SPARQ) was prescribed to provide replication of the hip flexors on the back swing and downswing, as this ensures that the core and torso coil before rapidly uncoiling towards the target. This plyometric exercise was chosen to ensure that a pre stretch occurred around the hip joint. Fletcher and Hartwell. (2004) implied that in order for the projection of the ball to be successful, the subject would have to start the movement form the legs and in sequence transfer this energy through the hips and arms, which would ultimately lead to the projection of the ball. Poor co-ordination and an inability to link these sequential moves efficiently would result in loss of energy, which would present a poor throw. The subject required to stand in an upright position whilst holding the ball anterior to the hip flexors. The subjects then required to keep their arms extended, whilst flexing their knees, and then extend their knees to propel the ball vertically with the arms in the vertical direction. The ball was thrown overhead and distance was then recorded. Each subject was given 3 familiarisation trials post warm up, where upon they would have 3 trials and the best trial would be recorded.
A 45 degree incline medicine ball throw was the second plyometric test performed by both subjects. Subjects required to flex both their knees whilst holding the ball just outside of the right knee and keep their arms extended. The subjects were then instructed to rotate in the opposite horizontal direction and extend vertically, where they would propel the ball at 45 degrees in the upward direction, where upon distance would be recorded. The subjects were then required to carry out the same movement in the opposite direction, to ensure that they were both using concentric and eccentric contractions that are replicable in the golf swing (Beachle and Earle, 2008). This would also help to highlight potential weaknesses or imbalances between the dominant and non dominant sides.
One of the test measure used to measure core stability was the plank. This test involves the subjects to support their own body weight with the aid of their forearms and toes in the face down position. The plank requires the back to be flat at all times, together with a gap between the ground and core muscles at all times. Subjects were required to perform these tests to failure, which could be identified as a reduction in the gap present, increased curvature of the spine or failure to maintain the tension of the core muscle which would result in falling.
In addition to the front plank there is an alternative method that can be used, and is known as the side plank. This method is used to assess the strength of the oblique’s, which are present in the in both the loading of the back swing and rapid uncoiling of the downswing. Subjects were required lie on their side and support their body weight with the foot and forearm of the same side. Proper technique was deemed when the hip was raised off the ground and a straight line between the feet and head was present. This test was performed on both the left and right sides to failure, which would highlight imbalances between sides and potential areas of gain.
The back plank was the last testing plank protocol used to measure core stability. This test is similar to the previous planks, however it required subjects to face upwards and hold their body weight with both their heel and forearms. Again proper technique was only deemed if there was a straight line between the legs and upper body. However this exercise not only assesses the strength of the core muscles, it tests the strength of the lower back, which is one of the main injury risks in golfers (Vad et al, 2004).
A medicine ball twist to failure was the last method used to measure strength in the core muscles. This method required subjects to sit on the ground with their knees flexed at 90 degrees, whilst keeping their back straight. They would then proceed to rotate laterally on both sides, ensuring that the ball touched the ground, as this would replicate the rotation of the golf swing and would imply a plyometric effect. In order for the subject to return the ball to the ground of each side, they would require to maintain balance throughout the core muscles and erector spine. This test was performed to failure, which could be deemed when the subjects back or legs touched the ground, or the inability to enable the ball to touch the ground on consecutive occasions.
Strength in the forearm is a key element in the golf swing as mentioned previously. In order to measure this, a one rep max (1RM) was calculated for the flexion/extension of the wrist. The methods of Kraemer et al, (2002) were applied to this protocol to ensure that there was a low risk of injury. These methods required subjects to perform a 5RM in a seated position with the forearm resting on the knees, being flexed at 90 degrees, whereupon the dumbbell would be moved by the flexion of the wrist.
As mentioned previously, the legs are the base of the golf swing and invole a serious of concentric and eccentric contractions in the quadriceps and gluts. The strength of the lower body was measured by having the subject perform a 1RM seated leg press, where the knees were flexed at 90 degrees and extension of the knee provided the subjects maximum strength in the gluts, quads and knee joint. In addition to this, a 1RM of the back squat to parallel was calculated for the subjects using the established 5RM protocol provided by Kraemer et al. (2002). The back squat required the subject to hold an Olympic bar (20kg; Eleiko, Sweeden) just below the back of the neck in the upper trapezius region. Whilst keeping the back straight, the subject was instructed to squat down until there was a flexion of 90 degrees at the knee. This position was addressed in advance to the test with familiarisation trial and a safety bar being placed at the 90 degree position. The parallel squat was used as Beachle and Earle. (2008) imply that this test is a true measure of whole body strength and is also deemed to be safer than testing for strength during the midpoint of the squat. This test was found to be relevant as it replicates the golf swing as a whole body movement, with the muscle and joints having to work in sequence to provide efficiency.
Table 1: Battery of test results
Exercise Athlete Novice
Overhead Med. Ball Throw45 ft.46 ft.
45 °Med. Ball Throw Left51ft. 40ft.
45 °Med. Ball Throw Right45.9 ft. 37 ft.
Med. Ball Twist45 reps. 42 reps.
Wrist Flexion27 kg. 26 kg.
Wrist Extension11 kg. 9 kg.
Plank3 minutes 4 seconds. 2 minutes 42 seconds.
Side Plank Left3 minutes 15 seconds. 1 minute 45 seconds.
Side Plank Right2 minutes 30 seconds. 1 minute 52 seconds.
Reverse Plank2minutes 42 seconds. 1 minutes 43 seconds.
Figure 1: Measures of core stability. Time to failure measured in seconds.
Figure 2: Measure of rotational power, distance measure in feet.
The results illustrated above highlight that generally the elite golfer outperformed the novice golfer. In order to establish the differences between the two performers, components of fitness were put into different categories, of which were, power, core stability and strength. Due to the demands that strength training places on the body, it was agreed that flexibility work would be incorporated on a daily basis to ensure there was no restriction in range of motion.
As mentioned previously, power and strength are 2 key components in achieving a successful golf drive. Beachle and Earle. (2008) define strength as the ability to exert maximal force at a given velocity and in turn Kraemer et al. (2002) Portray they theory that in order to develop power, it is essential to have a strength base. Kraemer et al. (2002) also noted that individuals must train at intensities higher than 80% of their 1RM in order to seek optimal rewards.
Strength training would therefore be incorporated into the programme prior to the commencement of the power phase. The use of closed kinetic chain exercises would be employed as Kraemer and Ratamess, (2004) implies these compound movements enhance the production of muscular force.
Plowman and Smith (2003)defined power as the product of force and velocity. Therefore, it is imperative when constructing a training programme to take into consideration both elements (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004). During the power phase the athlete should attempt to lift the same loads they were lifting in the strength phase (>80% 1RM) but should attempt to do this at high speeds. Furthermore, the power production phase should involve the athlete lifting lighter loads (>60% 1RM) at maximal velocity (Power and Howley, 2009). Research within the literature (Beachle and Earle, 2008; Kraemer et al, 2002; Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004) suggests that maximal power production be addressed with the use of both heavy and light loads at maximal velocity.
As illustrated in the results section, the elite athlete possessed higher levels of core stability when compared to the novice. In order to minimise the risk of injury and achieve optimal performance, core strength training has to be prescribed in the exercise training programme (Baechle and Earle, 2008). The goal is to increase the neuromuscular strength or the core and enhance endurance, rather than focussing on shear muscle fore, as inexperience in this area can lead to injury (Kraemer and Ratamess, 2004).
The control subject did not employ a training programme prior to testing or at any stage in the last couple of years, therefore this training programme would not disrupt any progression with any other physical components. Following the guideline of Kraemer et al. (2006) it was decided that the control subject would exercise 3 days per week. This would enable the subject to have sufficient rest periods between sessions and allow for adaptation to occur (Power and Howley, 2009).
The programme was prescribed in order to initiate the development of strength prior to the inclusion of the power phase, with development of core stability and maintenance of flexibility being incorporated throughout. All exercises with the exception of core stability were to be performed to 3 sets of 8; with a 2 minute rest period in between sets. The series of core exercises were prescribed to be performed for 4 sets of 25 reps and a 1 minute rest was deemed to be sufficient for recovery.
In order for physiological adaptation to occur, each training phase was prescribed for a period of 4 weeks, as Kraemer and Ratamess (2004) state this period of time is sufficient enough to allow for adaptation to the training stimulus.
Table 2: Strength development – Phase 1.
Unilateral dumbbell bench press
Bent over row
Shoulder lateral dumbbell raises
Core stability series
Shoulder rear dumbbell raises
Core stability series
Core stability series
The commencement of exercises prescribed in phase 2 could only be employed post phase 1, with the subject having adapted and now having a strength base. The goal in the power phase as noted by Kraemer and Ratamess. (2004) would be to apply maximal force at maximal velocity. In order to enhance power, it was deemed appropriate to reduce the weight to 60% of the athletes 1RM, as this would enable the load to be lifted at a higher velocity. All of the prescribed exercises were performed to 4 sets of 5 with 2 minutes rest, with the exception of the core, which was performed to 4 sets of 30.
Table 3 – Power – phase 2
Day OneDay TwoDay Three
Deadlift? Jump squatOne arm dumbbell snatch
Bent over rowHang pullTricep kickbacks
Unilateral dumbbell bench pressLateral medicine ball throw (off rebounder/wall)Forearm curls/extensions
Core stability seriesCore stability seriesCore stability series
Flexibility seriesFlexibility seriesFlexibility series
The purpose of phase 3 was to divide the week into 2 different components, of which 2 sessions would be on each. The sessions would be based on strength/power and ballistic/speed exercises. On the force production days, it was deemed imperative to perform all exercises for 3 reps and 5 sets, as Kraemer and Ratamess (2004) implies that this will enable maximal force production. The introduction of fast force sessions was incorporated to enhance power by moving heavy loads at high velocities. These sessions were to be performed for 5 sets and 3 reps, with 2 minutes rest in between. The speed exercises were employed to be performed with light weights (30-60% 1RM) which is highlighted in the study by Kraemer and Ratamess (2004). These exercises were in accordance with the same set and reps of the fast force sessions. The core exercises increased from 4 sets to 5, whilst keeping the reps the same.
Table 4: Maximal power – Phase 4.
Day One/MaxForceDay Two/SpeedDay Three/Fast ForceDay Four/Speed
Deadlift60m sprintHang pull60m sprint
SquatHang clean? jump squatOne arm dumbbell snatch
Forearm curls/extensionsCore stability seriesSeated Russian twist with weight plateLateral medicine ball throw (off rebounder/wall)
Triceps kickbacksCore stability seriesFlexibility seriesCore stability series
Flexibility seriesFlexibility series–Flexibility series
It is evident from all of the above, that in order to have efficiency in the golf drive, physiological components of fitness need to be addressed. With the comparison of the elite and novice golfer, noticeable difference can be highlighted and therefore shortfalls in the the novice are highlighted. A training programme can then be adopted following guidance within the literature and taking into account current fitness levels of the individual. This training programme aims to address the weaknesses in the novice golfer and provide a physiological basis for improvement taking into account the understanding of scientific literature.
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