Training for power in the golf swing seems to finally be getting its time to shine. I think golfers can relate to this portion of their training because it is ballistic like the golf swing, and for some baffling reason most of the time people make this portion of training try to look like the golf swing.
Power, like strength, is essentially a physics equation. The faster you can move a particular weight, the more powerful you are. It is work over a specific time period. So, if you increase the amount of work you are doing, say performing 10 reps at 100lbs instead of 50lbs, over the same designated time period, say 10 seconds, you are creating more power. Or, you can lift those same 50lbs for 10 reps in 5 seconds and you are more powerful. Like the levels before it, power cannot improve the qualities that it sits upon, but can benefit the level above it. Therefore, becoming more powerful can improve your golf game, but the reverse is not possible.
Nowadays on social media and the internet you will see lots of chop/swing like activities that are designed to improve the power you can produce in your golf swing. There is a huge focus on moving faster in the weight room. Despite this being a very valid way to improve power in the swing, I argue that focusing on the work portion of the power equation is safer, but also provides us with a larger ceiling of improvement.
Training for power starts all the way back down at the bottom of the pyramid with positional integrity work. If you cannot express the positions you need to get into for the exercises or golf swing that you want to produce you will likely get hurt if you try to get into and maintain these positions with any semblance of speed. This is my big hang up with speed training, but we will get to that in a minute. Once you can get into safe lifting positions without load, you can then work on your strength. Here, you will build up a solid foundation of strength and an ability to use the ground to produce force. The latter is absolutely crucial for power work and the skill of the golf swing. This area of training, strength work, holds the potential to significantly increase your club head speed without actually having to work on your clubhead speed. Meaning, the stronger you get, the faster you can swing your clubs. This has nothing to do with swinging varying weights of clubs at overspeeds, or making chopping movements with your bar on the cable machine. This has to do with grinding out reps with certain set and rep schemes to safely improve your strength levels in controlled ranges of motion. This alone holds the potential to improve your swing speed. I know it is just anecdotal evidence, but during our last club fitting, Chris’s driver club head speed was in the mid-to-high 120mphs and I was around 116-120mph for over 50 swings each, and we both have not trained to improve our swing speed through anything that looked like golf swing in recent history.
So what I am saying is that gaining power can be done safely at the lower level of the golf training pyramid. Gaining strength will help you gain speed. I have to look at risk to reward when analyzing power as well. Strength training is relatively safe compared to other sports and the other levels of the golf training pyramid that sits above it. However, the performance of overspeed swinging when the body may not be equipped to handle the deceleration, or elevated force levels around the spine makes me question its efficacy in most amateur golfers. Obviously this needs to be looked into further. However, if golfing holds the potential to produce many overuse injuries like low back pain, elbow tendonitis, and rotator cuff issues, I would be hard pressed to think that swinging something faster repetitively is going to help reduce the rates of these injuries.
But even using bars, bands, and cables are likely not the best way to train for power when a powerful lower body is what we are after. These tools however, are great for training the kinematic sequence of firing the hips, then trunk, then shoulders, then arms. Remember, the legs generate the most force that we ultimately put into the ball. If we are going to address power in its true form we prefer simple but extremely safe and effective lifts such as kettlebell ballistics and jumping to enhance power output. Why these movements and their numerous variations for safe power training? They do not produce much loaded rotational force through the spine, they utilize minimal equipment, and their positions have been repeated ad nauseam in the lower levels of the golf training pyramid (think deadlifting, hip hinges, bridges, straight leg raises, etc).
Kettlebell ballistics such as the swing, snatch, and clean work on producing explosive hip extension, trunk stabilization, and grip strength. These can all be performed one hand at a time which will cause the need to prevent rotation during the movement. And as we know, preventing rotation requires the muscles that produce rotation to work, but the actual movement around the spine does not occur. There are other variations of these movements that put even less rotational force into your body, like two bells and two hands, or one bell with two hands for kettlebell swings.
Jumping can be done almost anywhere there is room and flat ground. Jumping can be done with both legs at the same time, or single leg. It can be done in one plane of movement like a squat jump, or multiplanar like 180 degree jumps, or lateral bounding. These, like kettlebell ballistics, require good hip and trunk control. And like kettlebell ballistics they can work on strengthening the rotational muscles in the body such as the glutes when they are performed in a multiplanar fashion. As a golfer, you need to earn this, and show good control with strength training prior to applying speed. If you cannot get into good take off or landing positions you need to go back and address your positional integrity work.
Training for power seems to be where everyone wants to be when they are performing golf specific exercises. Isn’t any exercise that improves your golf performance golf specific? Why not start with the safer, less rotationally based drills like those mentioned above. Working on your power requires improving your strength and/or improving your speed, but you are much more likely to hit your speed ceiling before your strength ceiling. So it is my recommendation that you continue to focus on strength, while progressing to ballistics that work within the same movement patterns your strength work was in.
Power is coveted in the golf community but so is staying healthy and playing more rounds. Getting stronger and working within familiar patterns while continuing to work on positional integrity for other patterns can help with progressing power while continuing to reduce undo stresses on your body. To put it bluntly, power training doesn't need to be complex, nor look like golf, but it does need to be earned.