Strength Training, Athletes, and the PGA Professional
In the past few years the area of strength training has been a bone of contention in the golf world with many players attributing improved performance and increased successes to this type of training, whilst others have been critical about the impact it may have on their game.
We ask experts Dr Ben Langdown and Jack Wells from the PGA of Great Britain & Ireland some key questions about fitness for golfers, specifically when it comes to strength training.
How can strength training help a golfer improve performance?
BL – There are various ways – strength, stability, mobility, the clubhead speed is probably the obvious one and therefore distance and that’s potentially what most golfers are looking for when they come and do some strength and conditioning work.
Although others are just looking for – can they get into certain positions within the swing that their coach is trying to work on, and therefore we’re looking at the specific restrictions or limitations that they’ve got in their body and using strength and conditioning to aid that and improve their mobility and their stability.
Who should be taking part in strength training and how does a coach determine if a student should start strength training?
BL – Anybody can take part strength training – and the best way to find out as a PGA Professional if your client actually wants to, or needs to, take part is to ask him or her.
Do they want to see quicker benefits from the training that they’re doing, so not just practicing on the range but also can they reap the rewards of doing strength training in the gym? Basically anybody can do strength training as long as there’s no underlying health issues or injuries currently in place.
JW – This has to be guided by them [the athlete] really, and it might be a conversation that you bring in. If they’re looking to increase their driving distance and you feel that technically you’ve done quite a lot but actually they probably need to increase their clubhead speed through different areas, then engaging in strength & conditioning might be something that you approach with them. If that is something they want to do you can seek out an individual that will help them with that.
What strength training should people be doing?
BL – Strength training should be targeted to each individual. People can go and do a generic programme but they’re not necessarily going to get the maximum benefit from doing that. If you can target that strength training programme or strength & conditioning to that individual then you can hit the needs of that golfer and therefore they’re going to get maximum reward.
Does strength training limit a golfer’s ability to be flexible and mobile?
BL – No, is the short answer. There’s research out there that demonstrates that golfers who do strength training correctly can actually increase their flexibility and their mobility through doing their training.
There was this myth in the past that golfers should stay away from all sorts of strength training because it would of limited their movements in the swing, but actually that is a myth and there’s evidence out there now that shows flexibility can be increased.
How can coaches incorporate strength training into their teaching remit?
BL – The best way to do this is to work with a team – PGA Professionals, unless they’ve got themselves an additional qualification, they’re not insured to provide fitness or strength & conditioning advice. Therefore if they have done an additional qualification and they’ve got insurance on the back of that, then that’s fine, they can deliver the whole package themselves if they wish to.
Otherwise PGA Professionals can do some basic physiological or musculoskeletal screening that are looking for any restrictions in the movements that they want a golfer to do but in terms of providing correct exercises or strength & conditioning advice, that’s where they need to refer out to a specialist.
JW – Golf coaches who actually want to get into this field need to start to seek out professionals. But what a coach can perhaps do is start to incorporate things like warm-ups…and that will hopefully help them be suitably potentiated to hit the golf ball but also to bring in some movement patterns that will help them going forwards.
Who should a PGA Professional work with to carry out strength training with athletes and how can they incorporate them into an athlete’s performance mix?
BL – There’s always this, again, maybe a myth that the strength & conditioning coach or the physiotherapist is going to try and pinch [steal] the golfer. But PGA Professionals shouldn’t be afraid of working alongside a fitness team. So they’re the people that should be doing the full assessment.
There’s no reason why a PGA Professional can’t look at certain movements and positions. But then it should be the strength & conditioning coach or the physiotherapist who actually puts a programme together to develop that golfer as an athlete.
JW – So if they work with someone who has a good understanding of the fundamental movements that are involved with the swing then actually that is a good grounding for working with a specialist.
BL – Maybe give them some free golf lessons in exchange for some free fitness advice or physiotherapy sessions in order to up-skill the team that they’re working with.
Are there concerns with injuries in strength training? What are the warning signs and what should a PGA Professional do?
JW – I think with any sport there is always a risk and a concern of injury. If we look within golf we see that the in the amateur side there’s a lot of lower back injuries whereas at the top end of the spectrum it’s wrist and elbow injuries.
Actually engaging in strength training might help these individuals – so amateurs could be a little bit more robust to cope with the dynamic patterns of the swing. But also in terms of the elite end of the spectrum, a lot of the injuries involved with the wrists and elbows are potentially through overuse.
BL – Done in the right way, there shouldn’t be any concerns with injuries. Under supervision from a strength & conditioning coach or physiotherapist then actually we should be building athletes that are robust to injuries.
If people are going off into the gym doing there own thing and using incorrect techniques, maybe using too much load when their body isn’t ready for that load, then potentially there could be an increased risk of injury.
JW – If they [the PGA Professional] start to see a really bad ball flight and the player then says they’re struggling with this shot because they’re feeling pain in their left should or hands…then these are warning signs that perhaps hitting a number of golf shots is not going to help in the long run, and actually might potentially make that injury worse.
So it may just be discussing with them [the athlete] verbally or it might be something that occurs through performance. Sometimes it might involve a little bit of digging and learning a little more about the person in-front of you and trying to find out what’s going on.
BL – If the PGA Professionals spots any signs of over-training [or injury], first of all sit down with the golfer and just get them to outline what they’ve done in the past few weeks. If the PGA Professional doesn’t know how to deal with this then seek advice from maybe a sports scientist, strength & conditioning coach or physiotherapist.
Is it safe for juniors to engage with strength training?
JW – Absolutely – There’s so much research supporting the notion of actually getting juniors to engage in strength & conditioning. The golf swing has more force going through it than any form of lifting really so actually swinging a golf club is potentially, you could argue, more injurious than engaging in strength training.
BL – Again this is another myth that has been out there that juniors shouldn’t be doing any strength & conditioning work, lifting any weights, should stay away from the gym because it’s going to cause them injuries or cause them long-term problems.
Juniors should be in the gym if they want to be and if they need to be in terms of their goals and their development. Even things like fundamental movement skills can be done within a golf environment or they can be done within a gym. So developing those movements that are going to be able to create them as an athlete rather than just a golfer. Things like hopping, skipping, throwing, catching, running, dodging, or jumping – all of those fundamental movement skills that eventually lead to them becoming a robust athlete, and therefore cope with the demands of the sport a lot better.
JW – Other things that juniors will do naturally like climbing trees, learning how to walk, picking up their bike out of the garage, jumping over walls – these are effectively strength training. Engaging in that sort of activity naturally is the same almost applying a bespoke strength & conditioning programme.
Why are there golfers winning majors that do not engage in any form of fitness training?
BL – So this doesn’t help our cause as sports scientists or strength & conditioning coaches, but there’s always exceptions to the rule. There are going to be players out there that potentially aren’t engaging in strength & conditioning work currently, but you’ve got to ask what have they done in their youth, in their development period. They may have engaged in a lot of different sports as they were growing up and therefore they’ve developed these fundamental movement skills to become a golfer.
JW – Strength training is just one vehicle to successful performance, obviously the strongest golfer doesn’t necessarily win every tournament because there are other important parameters such as what’s going on at impact, to the mental side of the game.
BL – Occasionally you’re getting someone winning a major or a tournament that hasn’t engaged in strength & conditioning, but the ones at the top week-in, week-out are the ones that are athletes that are training. Putting in the hours in terms of not just practice but in the gym as well and working with that team around them.
Dr Ben Langdown is the Training Executive for Sports Science at the PGA National Training Academy at The Belfry. Alongside this Ben also works with many elite amateur and professional golfers providing strength and conditioning support. Ben has a PhD in the field of golf biomechanics, studying strength and conditioning for golf and movement variability in the swing. Follow Ben at @BenLangdown.
Jack Wells is Education Officer (Golf Coaching & Sports Science) for the PGA of Great Britain & Ireland. You can follow Jack on Twitter at @Jackwells009.