Club Head Speed
what's core got to do with it?
The golf swing is one of the most explosive, physically stressful and biomechanically complex movements in sport. Yet how many of you golfers out there (Joe weekender to Joe pro) actually engage in a regular, golf-specific, strength and conditioning program? Hmmm, my guess is a select few.
More than likely it's because you'd rather be out on the golf course or at the driving range than in a gym. But, what if I told you that you could improve your club head speed by following a simple program of progressive, integrated, core strengthening exercises? What if I added that it would take only thirty minutes, three times a week? Have I got your attention yet? If so, pull up a chair. You are about to discover that integrated core training has everything to do with improving your club head speed.
What's important and why?
One of the most important issues to you, the golfer, is distance and it is common knowledge that greater distance can be achieved by increasing your club head speed. Therefore, a properly designed golf-specific program should address components of fitness, which are directly linked to club head speed. These are flexibility, strength and power, and core stability.
By improving flexibility you will increase joint range of motion thereby increasing your club swing range. The larger your range of motion (within limits of your strength) the greater the movement distance and time for generation of force. By developing greater muscle strength and power you can increase club swing speed. Finally, the power of your club swing is increased by integrating strength with, balance, stability and co-ordination in what are called multi-dimensional or linked movements. Strength and power on their own will do little to improve your club head speed, but when you integrate these components with core conditioning via linked movement patterns, you will be more efficient at transferring the power generated in the lower body through to your club head.
If I had to recommend just one facet of golf-specific conditioning, it would be the development of core strength. Segmental strength on its own is fine if you just want to look good in your golf gear, but it will do little for performance. (By segmental strength, I'm referring to exercises, which tend to isolate body parts).
Why is core strength so important?
Why do I feel core strength is so important? Let me give you an analogy to explain. Think of two identical buildings. Building A has a frame made of titanium and building B has a frame made of wood. Which building do you think will be able to withstand greater stress? If you guessed building A - you're correct. Well, the same goes for your body. If you have strength in your upper body and lower body but no core strength (building B scenario), most of the force you generate through your lower body will not make it through to the upper body let alone the club head. Why, you say? Because, the forces will be absorbed and dissipated as they travel through the core. The same holds true, even if you do core training unless you link your movements in a multi dimensional manner.
For many of you who do participate in fitness programs, perhaps the segmental approach to training (I call it traditional strength training) is holding you back. What you need to do is train in a more non-traditional, movement specific, multi-dimensional manner, for this will result in both a stronger core and a more efficient transfer of power. So, what I am suggesting is that you introduce core training and integrate it into more multi-joint golf-specific movement patterns.
Benefits of core strength
The benefits of improved core strength are multi-factorial. For starters, it will improve posture, which will assure a more consistent swing pattern. It will also provide a more efficient transfer and delivery of the power generated in the lower body, through to the club head. In fact this is the most pivotal link to greater club head speed and the most common weakness in recreational golfers. It will improve stability in both linear (shifting weight from back to front foot) and rotational (coiling and uncoiling of the body during backswing and swing phases) movement patterns.
Finally, if none of the above has convinced you of the importance of core strengthening (core-dinated strength) in the performance aspect of golf, then consider its role in injury prevention. According to most research, low back pain is the most common complaint in recreational golfers. Yet again core-dinated strength programming comes to the rescue as it is deemed that lack of adequate core strength is one of the most common causes of low back pain.
What should my program include?
Now that you recognize the importance of integrating core-dinated strength into your fitness program, it is helpful to understand how the whole fitness puzzle fits together. In the initial phases of training, each of these parameters should be addressed somewhat separately (this is to ensure proper technique and form are maintained throughout all of the required repetitions). Then, as each phase is mastered, integration begins and the exercises become more complex and movement specific.
A top-notch golf-specific conditioning program should be periodized and multi-faceted. Make sure you give yourself enough time to adapt to the exercises, as too much of anything too soon will send you down the path of discouragement and possibly injury. For these reasons I would recommend that you stay in each phase of your program for at least two months. A good rule of thumb to follow is when you can complete all of the required repetitions with perfect form and still feel fresh; it is time to progress onwards. It might be a good idea to hire a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach (with experience in conditioning for sport) to ensure that your form is correct.
For those just beginning a formal conditioning program (for simplicity let's call it off-season) your program should be designed to build baseline strength. The goal of this phase is to prepare the body to withstand stresses of the more intense training to come. This phase will give you a solid foundation and also reduce the likelihood of golf-related, overuse injury (prehabilitation).
The next phase, (or pre-season) you should begin to train the body to transfer forces from lower extremities through to the club head, so that the body functions as a cohesive unit. This is done by integrating segmental strength (i.e. Leg strength, torso strength, and upper extremity strength) and combining upper and lower body movements into one. It is important in this phase not to lose your connection with the core, as it is the agent that transfers the power from the lower extremity through to the club head. This is also the time when power training would be introduced.
A note of caution on power training: It is high intensity training so it is imperative that you allow enough recovery time (48 to 72 hours between power sessions).
The final phase of training, involves training the dynamic postural stabilizers. This is when your program becomes fun, as this is when you can begin to incorporate a mix of stability toys such as; balance boards, BOSU trainers and stability balls. The environment in a gym is far more predictable than that on a golf course. The lie of the ball, weather conditions and the terrain upon which you plant your feet in stance, are not always perfect, so train for this unpredictability by mixing up your environment. This phase of training can be enhanced by working out with a buddy or a trainer. They upset the predictability of your environment resulting in improved dynamic postural stabilization.
The nineteenth hole
Golf is a very complicated game of physics in motion, yet it seems most conditioning programs for golf are based in simple traditional and segmental movements. If you want to truly make an impact on your game you'll have to bring your fitness regime up to par with a more sophisticated program of integrated, multi-dimensional, "core-dinated" exercises. That way you'll have more time to be out on the course hitting those long drives! After all, isn't that what it's all about?
About the Author
Pam Pedlow (firstname.lastname@example.org) holds a bachelor's degree in Human Kinetics (Exercise Science) and a master's degree in Human Kinetics (Sports Medicine) from UBC and is a certified Medical Exercise Specialist (MES) with, The American Academy of Health and Fitness Professionals. She works as a strength and conditioning coach for multi-sport and endurance athletes, as well, she teaches group strength, core and athletic conditioning "sport" camps. Pam is also a published author and workshop presenter. Most recently presenting Core for Club Head Speed at the 2004 BCPGA Spring Seminar.