Pillars Of Golf Strength

Strength 

Strength is the most misunderstood and under-appreciated physical quality for golfers in my opinion. The main reasons for this are Tiger Wood’s injury woes, misinformation spread by golf media and instructors, and the common dogma that strength training is dangerous. It is extremely frustrating when people with no qualification or expertise in an area spread their mis/uninformed opinion to millions of people. This has meant that convincing clients the benefits of getting stronger is sometimes an uphill battle.

Increasing the force production that can be attained in a movement is largely determined by two factors. One of these is neural factors, in very simple terms the quality of the signal sent from the brain to the relevant muscles to produce the requested movement. This entails improving synchronisation of the involved muscle groups, and increasing the recruitment of the fibres (especially fast twitch/type 2x) in those muscle groups. It is through these neural improvements that enable significant increases in muscular strength and power, without increases in muscular size. Why can someone like Justin Thomas at 5’10 and 145lbs/65kg swing the driver at 118 mph on his fastest efforts? A large reason is neural efficiency. He must be good at recruiting all of his available muscle fibre, and I bet he has a decent proportion of fast twitch fibres. Thankfully this ability is highly trainable.

The second factor that nobody seems to like to talk about for golfers is muscle size. Bigger muscle fibres have potential to be stronger muscle fibres, and stronger muscle fibres have the potential to produce more force. This is critical because club head speed is the expression of force production in the golf swing. The golf swing is an explosive powerful move, which our physical preparation should reflect.

For older golfers the loss in muscle strength and muscle size due to biological aging is the primary reason why people don’t hit the ball as far as they get older. The good news is that there is an abundance of research proving that with appropriate exercise and diet interventions this decline can be hugely delayed and reduced. In addition, depending on your current training level, physical qualities can actually be improved as we age. I have worked with golfers in their 70’s who have made huge increases in strength, power, distance, and everyday function. I’m sure many of the people reading this have too. Please do not let your age discourage you from engaging in strength training. If you get some professional guidance it is one of the best investments you can make for golf and health in general.

Motor Control 

Motor control is the ability to carry out the movement you intend to do. Motor control is an issue when you have the required physical qualities for a movement available to you, but find it difficult to access and coordinate them to produce it.

An analogy often used to explain this, is that motor control is like the driver in a race car. You can have an excellent car with great acceleration, horsepower, brakes etc, but without a competent driver you will never get to see the car operate at its full potential. This is similar with how humans work for optimal performance. Someone can have a great frame and leverages, lots of speed, power, strength, mobility, etc. but without the ability to funnel these into coordinated movements that match their intentions, they will never operate at their best.

The pelvic tilt test in the TPI screen is an excellent examination of motor control. Most people have the necessary physical qualities available to perform the movement, but find they cannot replicate the movement you have just demonstrated and explained to them. Interestingly once you teach them how the movement feels by going through some regressions they can usually do it no problem. When someone can perform a move that minutes earlier seemed impossible, it’s a good sign that the brain has played the most important role in the change. The athlete has not changed much physically in those couple of minutes.  The progressions outlined in TPI Fitness Level 2 are excellent for this.

Motor control is extremely important for golfers (and other athletes). Having higher levels of motor control makes it much easier to follow cues from your swing instructor on the range, making technical change more achievable. The same holds true for your physical training. When an athlete understands and owns their movement, increases in physical qualities like speed, power, strength, always improve much faster. Good news all round.

Stability & Balance 

My definition of stability is the ability maintain a position when a force is trying to disrupt it. Balance and lower body stability are similar and I often don’t differentiate between the two. There is more to stability than maintaining balance on our feet however. It’s very important that we look at the pelvis/trunk. For golfers, pelvis/trunk stability is mainly about controlling pelvic tilt, pelvic rotation, and torso rotation (see motor control).

Our bodies centre of mass (COM) is located around our hips. If we cannot maintain stability at our COM it makes generating maximum power and efficiency very difficult. Ideally, a golfer can use their trunk to transfer power from their lower body to the upper body, and eventually into hands, club and ball. When someone is lacking pelvis/trunk stability we often see “power leaks”. Kids are common victims of a lack of pelvis/trunk stability, often due to the rate they are growing. This makes controlling the COM much more difficult. Their limbs are often capable of producing more power than their pelvis or trunk can stabilise. Due to this, large improvements in strength and power can be seen in kids from working on pelvis and trunk stability. It gives them a chance to use and control the raw materials that are already present.

This is returning to motor control slightly but another important element of pelvis/trunk stability is allowing us to get maximum contribution from the desired muscle groups, and reducing injury potential. If a golfer does not have the strength to control and transfer force through their trunk, they may have a tendency to fall into excessive anterior or posterior pelvic tilt during the swing.  When this occurs they will not be able to use their gluteal and abdominal muscles optimally, and put more stress on the lower back. This is disadvantageous for power production, and injury prevention.