Golf Performance – Specificity
One of the biggest barriers we come across in golf S&C and golf fitness is the issue of specificity. Obviously the golfers and coaches want their programmes to be specific to their sport, but too often trainers are lead down a path of over-specificity to appease these requests, and also because the ‘sexy stuff’ sells better!
When designing a training plan that is golf relevant/specific, it is first important to remember the basic training principles (specificity, overload, recovery, adaptation and reversibility) which we see frequently ignored by trainers who claim to be more specific.
The biggest missing piece of the jigsaw here tends to be the progressive overload rule – which requires a need to use exercises that gradually progress to cause a physiological adaptation. Making an exercise programme more convoluted through use of golf-like or complex movements is often insufficient to cause the desired training adaptations (strength, power, speed etc.) There is frequently a need to apply load (weight) to create the training response rather than make an exercise/movement more complex. Making things heavier will help stimulate the muscles, bones, tendons etc. to adapt and improve.
What is Specificity?
A quick dictionary search – ‘having a special application, bearing, or reference… to state one’s specific purpose.’
This doesn’t mean golf-specific cable wood chops, but rather being golf relevant and for the purpose of enhancing an athletic ability appropriate to the individual’s goals. The starting point here has to be an understanding the ultimate goal, is it injury risk reduction? (You probably need to get stronger). Is it increasing distance? (You probably need to get more powerful, and having a strong base/starting point is crucial).
Rules of General Specificity
A strength and conditioning coach will only be able to improve the athlete in a limited number of ways. In addition, if the exercises are too golf-like, you may be better off just playing some more golf (if you want to get better at your sport, go and play your sport). The rules of general specificity outline the potential areas we can target:
1. Force absorption and production – our ability to deal with the HUGE forces placed upon us in golf (on each drive nearly as much force goes through our back as an American footballer going into a tackle). This means heavy squats, deadlifts, bench press, anti-rotation exercises etc. are crucial.
- Rapid force development – with courses getting longer and players hitting it further, we need to develop force really FAST. Rarely are there prizes in sport for moving slowly… Therefore, training needs to develop these properties. Weightlifting, loaded jumps, and plyometrics are great tools here.3. Injury risk reduction – golfers get A LOT of injuries. We know 80% of them are ‘overuse’ injuries. We also know that strength training can reduce these forms of injury by about 50% (stretching doesn’t do all that much in this area!)
Whilst doing this, we should be working along the well accepted process of developing strength, through to power and finally speed. Get the athletes strong, build a good foundation of movement and then get them moving quickly. Too often we hear those in the industry being scared of weights, encouraging much higher force activities as ‘safer’ (plyometrics, throws & jumps), and getting their players to do all of these things without developing a foundation of strength and movement. What’s so bad with doing both, if they complement each other?
So what to do?
In order to develop a programme which meets all of our rules of general specificity, we need a progressively loaded strength and power plan. This means a foundation of squats, deadlifts, push and pull exercises with anti-rotation and some bracing/carrying. Ultimately if you can’t squat 1.5-2x bodyweight, can’t deadlift a similar amount, bench press 1x bodyweight or complete around 6-8 wide grip pull ups, start there. Once you’re strong, start to layer on the power/speed in a similarly simplistic way and always ‘earn the right’ to move things on. This can then mean developing exercises to include weightlifting and its derivatives, loaded jumps, plyometrics and throws further down the line.
With professional golfers completing 1000’s of swings per week, I’m not sure there is much need for too many loaded rotational or rotational power exercises throughout the year – although they may have a place at specific points in the season (but not because they’re ‘golf specific’).
Let’s focus on getting strong and powerful golf athletes, who can produce and reduce force and have a lower risk of injury. Keep it simple, follow the rules of general specificity and then you’ll really have a ‘golf specific programme’.
ETPI consultant & Medical board member
England Golf National Lead for Sports Science and Medicine
Lecturer in the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, University of Essex