When we speak about strength in golf, we are talking about a complex, multifaceted concept. There is no definitive list of characteristics that identify the “strongest” golfers. We see many of today’s top golfers on a daily basis within the confines of the PGA Tour fitness trailers, and there is definitely a large range in their individual physical skill sets.
What is obvious, however, is that those players who are “golf strong” have higher than average performance in a number of individual fitness categories. These categories include balance, body awareness, stability, neuromuscular coordination, power, and endurance. When a golfer is below average in any one of these skill sets, the resultant functional weakness becomes apparent in the golf swing.
Golfers can be above average in strength in the gym while training with machines or free weights, but if they are not able to transfer that gym strength to the golf course, they are wasting the time they spend on their fitness. Traditional bodybuilding has little to no place in developing a strong body for golf. Bodybuilders are concerned about how much weight they can move during an exercise as well as the size of their individual muscles. As a golfer, you need to work your body through multiple planes of movement while concentrating on creating the proper sequencing of muscle activation (using the correct muscles in the correct order during each exercise). We are not saying that muscle strength does not matter, but if the individual muscles cannot communicate and work with each other, then that strength will be useless in your golf swing. For this reason, it is crucial to formulate your fitness routine with exercises that not only improve individual muscle strength but also improve the way muscles work together. This is what we mean by creating functional strength and not just raw strength.
To be truly golf strong, you need to have strength through the entire range of motion involved during your golf swing. A weakness at any joint through any section of the motion will create a breakdown in your golf swing. Lifting weights in one plane while using a bench or traditional machines greatly limits the functional strength that you can develop. This approach eliminates the need for your body to create and maintain stabilization through a full range of motion while performing an exercise. This ability to stabilize is exactly what is needed in golf and therefore must be heavily incorporated into your exercise routine. You will then see that the strength you gain in your fitness training begins to have a much greater carryover to the golf course. For this reason, we have formulated this chapter on golf strength to include exercises that expand on movements and concepts described in the previous chapters and combine them into more functional movements. The exercises in this chapter should be performed only when the exercises in the balance, stability, and mobility chapters can be completed comfortably and with good form.
Many people think that golfers do not need to be strong since they are not running, jumping, or knocking other people over. This attitude is probably due to the fact that the word strength typically conjures up images of a guy with huge muscles benching 300 pounds (135 kg) in the gym. Although this is one form of strength, there are many others. We have already explained that golfers require more of a functional strength to perform at the highest levels. There is also another key reason that strength is important: injury prevention.
The average person would never associate the two words golf and injury. However, as all professional golfers and avid amateur players know, injuries are prevalent throughout the sport and in fact are almost inevitable. The statistics on injuries at the touring level are staggering. About half of all touring professional golfers will have some injury each year that will cause them to miss many weeks of golf. Of those that are playing, up to 30 percent are actually playing injured. Those numbers are very high, and any single injury in a given year can be the difference between keeping your playing card or not. For touring professionals, the tour card is their job ticket. Lose the card, lose the job. For nonprofessional golfers, an injury may mean missing many months of golf or, even worse, deciding to quit golf altogether. For these reasons alone, you should increase your golf strength so you can prevent injuries as much as possible.
You may still be wondering how strength and injuries relate. Let us explain. First of all, there are mainly two types of injuries that occur in golf: joint injuries and soft tissue (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) injuries. Although there are no heavy loads to carry or move in golf (unless you are a caddy!), very high forces develop because of the speed of the swing. The muscles and joints not only help to create these forces but also must be able to generate opposite forces to slow down and ultimately stop the swing. As muscle strength—both individual and functional—increases, so does your ability to withstand the forces within the golf swing. If you do not possess adequate strength in the muscles to create and slow down these forces, then injury is sure to occur. Your soft tissues are your first layer of protection, but when the strength in these soft tissues cannot control the speed and rotation of the swing, the joints will begin to absorb the energy. Although the joints are capable of withstanding some force, they cannot be asked to be the major contributor to acceleration and deceleration. This scenario will surely cause injury and make it impossible to create an efficient swing. Therefore, building up your strength not only helps with your golf swing but also helps ensure you can take as many golf swings as you like.
Read more about Golf Anatomy.