This first pyramid displays the various training attributes of a typical professional golfer. However, each of these categories must have some presence within the training continuum of amateur and elite golfers as well. Currently, I’d say there is a much different distribution of the pyramid within the amateur golf world, looking something like the second pyramid below. The second pyramid shows a greater focus on making golf swings and when in the gym performing golf-looking power based movements such as medicine ball throws, speed sticks, or explosive chops. Despite golfers being power based athletes, a focus on these two aspects of training will be shown to likely lead to overuse, or stress based injuries. This shape of “pyramid” is much easier to knock over.
A review of each of these categories is needed to see why they are distributed in the manner above, and why this leads to improvements in how a golfer feels, and improvements in the way a golfer performs. Even if the goal of the amateur golfer is to just play more golf, the proper distribution is still needed, as will come to light within this article.
The form of a pyramid is used to display these characteristics because each element of training builds upon the one below. There cannot be good strength training without good positional integrity and so on and so forth. As the top tiers outweigh the bottom ones as in the second pyramid, the risk for injury begins to increase. Besides only portraying the base for the characteristic above, each element below is larger as it should consume more time within your training week. The time under tension for power work should not outweigh your time performing strength or positional integrity work. This is not to say that you should spend 5 hours a week performing mobility work while only playing golf for 1 hour. You have to consider the actual time under tension for each of these activities. If you are performing direct mobility, stability, or flexibility work for 20 minutes per day, 6 days a week that is 120 minutes each week. A typical golf swing will take roughly 1 second. This means that if you are at the range for 60 shots, this is 1 minute of time under tension, despite the session taking an hour. Therefore there is a greater focus during this training week on positional integrity than skill/sport.
For a better understanding of each of these characteristics it’s intention must be better understood. To do so we will briefly breakdown each training attribute.
Skill/Sport - This is where we must utilize the power, strength, and positional integrity in a skilled fashion to achieve optimal outcomes during the game or practice session. This portion of training does not possess the ability to improve power, strength, or positional integrity but is a coordinated application of positions, strength, and power to achieve specific task requirements. The movements and positions do not need to mimic those of our training, but they will use various aspects of the levels below. The sports can utilize partial or full aspects of each supporting factor. I feel that this is where golf fitness gets lost.
Golf uses mobility, control, flexibility, strength, and power found within the traditional training exercises (squat, deadlift, military press, pull ups, bench press, carries, olympic lifting, and a substantial mobility program), but there is a mindset that training for golf needs to look like the skill. This thought process is flawed. Because not only is positional integrity work the foundation that strength and power are built off of, but you are capable of withstanding more of the work without breaking down. As the pyramid ascends we are capable of withstanding less volume of that training variable. At the top of the pyramid is the sport; golf. If this approach is accepted, then golf and other activities that look like golf would be best performed for the least amount of time. If most of your strength and power work resembles a golf swing, the overuse and injury patterns that occur with golfing will most likely show up earlier.
Power - Power is the interaction of strength and positional integrity over time. If you do not have the needed strength or ability to get into proper positions due to limited mobility, flexibility, etc you will not be able to be powerful. Power output is improved through increased strength and speed. You must have ownership of the beginning, middle, and end range positions that are practiced with strength work to produce power. Power is utilized during golf to hit the ball farther so you can have shorter wedges into greens. Getting more powerful can improve your skill.
Strength - Strength work should not be an attempt to improve movement quality beyond initial motor learning with a new exercise. Good strength work requires ownership of positions and movements, and should safely utilize available range of motion to provide continuous input to the neuro/musculo/skeletal systems. Getting stronger can improve your power and skill. Combined with power, this is where your ability to get into positions and make movements are loaded, allowing for increases in hitting distance.
Positional Integrity - It needs to be understood that “positional” is in reference to any position through a range of motion; not just the starting and ending positions. This work is the base for all other training characteristics. Improvements in positional capacity equal improvements in efficiency and expression of movement. Improvements here allow for less compensatory movement strategies with strength, power, and skill work. This is where you attempt to get or maintain individualized range of motion, stability, flexibility, and motor control. These modalities are hopefully not performed in a primarily passive manner, as for motor control/neuromuscular education to occur we must use our nervous system for control. Passive modalities such as stretching and foam rollers need to be paired with movement based mobility and flexibility work that uses the interaction of the neuro/musculo/skeletal systems for optimal progression.
This article is actually an endorsement for a shift in where time under tension is spent. Your body can withstand lots of low load time under tension for positional integrity work, while increasing loads and speed are more difficult for the body to withstand. A round of golf can take hours, but we are looking at the actual time under tension - which is the amount of time we are swinging a club at velocity (driver, woods, irons, wedges). This is roughly 1 second per swing.
If we revisit the pyramid and we start to have our power, strength and mobility work only resemble golf swings we are significantly increasing the structural loads on our muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons in a specific wear pattern. If we are doing cable chops to increase trunk strength we should be do so sparingly or in a fashion that prevents rotation instead of doing some form of them every day or in a way that always rotates the spine. If one set of 8 reps takes 15 seconds this would be 15 swings worth of time under tension. Make 3-4 sets and you’re looking at 45-60 swings. Now, if you do this 4 times a week it’s 180-240 extra swings a week on the body, just from that exercise alone.
The question we often get is that if what we see professional golfers doing on social media and within the media as a whole looks like golf, and professional golfers are always hitting golf balls, how are they not injured? The truth is that professional golfers (31%-90%) actually experience a higher rate of injury on a yearly basis than amateur golfers (25%-68%). Even with the current training and practice programs of today’s top golfers, they still experience elevated injury rates because they are playing golf for their profession and they are accepting the risk of injury. But wait, if professional golfers are following a properly distributed pyramid, why are they hurt more?
The truth is that golfing is a ballistic, unidirectional sport that inherently possesses risk of injury. Loaded rotation of the spine is one of the most risk-filled movements anyone can make, and professional golfers do this A LOT. Using our hands for repetitive movements has shown to be injurious to our elbows because of the tendinous attachments. The high velocity and rotational movements in the shoulder can also be inherently strenuous to the ligaments and muscles of the shoulder. The sheer number of repetitions that professional golfers make with a golf club is what leads to their injuries, not an improper distribution of the training pyramid. If you look at a professional golfer’s training/practice week, I am sure you would see that their time under tension for positional integrity work outweighs all other aspects.
I’d highly suggest you take a look at your own training weeks. Where are you spending most of your time under tension? Is it at the gym, or is it on the course and range? A close look at your lifestyle needs to be taken as well. Are you sitting all day and trying to undo all this sedentary time with making golf swings, or are you incorporating a daily movement practice like The Daily Habit?