This article is co-written with Jenna Peanasky, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Iowa State University. Jenna has been working with the Cyclones mens and womens golf teams for the past 4 seasons.
One of the best things about being a support staff member with golf is that the sport has embraced the holistic approach of training and sees that to improve your golf game means taking care of your body. Staying healthy is crucial, and staying on top of your physical training by addressing weaknesses and improving upon strengths is key to a long successful career throughout college and beyond. Gone are the days when the strength coach simply writes a program that everyone blindly follows, now programs are individualised to fit the exact needs of the sport and the athlete.
The physical attributes required to play good golf are widely debated, and rightly so when such a vast array of body types have been successful in the sport over the years. Outlined below are what we as trainers working with elite (PGA Tour) and sub-elite (college) golfing athletes, consider to be most important factors in training college golfers:
Posture is such a significant piece in the golf swing from start to finish, which is why it is such an important aspect in our training. In all aspects of our training we focus on having awareness of where our body is in space and making sure our athletes are able to maintain posture throughout their movements without unnecessary compensations. A key contributor to that approach in the past couple of years has been introducing the GravityFit equipment to our gym and pre golf warm ups. It’s specifically designed to bring awareness to posture and train endurance in the muscles responsible for holding us in good form.
Common postural tendencies for golfers are to go into an excessively rounded set up position, known as C-posture; or to have an exaggerated arch in the low back, known as S-posture. I have found that if a golfer carries these tendencies in their golf setup, they also appear in the gym. We aim to be right in between these postures and maintain a neutral spinal curve. One area of posture that sometimes gets overlooked is head position. All of the time a college golfer spends studying, reading, or sitting on their phone promotes a forward carry of the head, so when in the gym we aim to avoid this at all times and bring awareness to an upright tall posture through the head and neck.
Movement Efficiency & Mobility
Before adding weight to exercises, we make sure the athlete has solid technique whilst performing a wide variety of gym movements. We can start by asking, “Does the athlete have the ability to squat, hinge, lunge, push and pull correctly?” Starting at the feet, we look for a stable base and a strong connection with the ground during movement. Can the athlete maintain a strong connection or is there instability? Everything we do starts from the feet, therefore instability here may cause issues up the chain. Next we move to the hips, does the athlete have the ability to hinge and maintain their posture effectively? Can they create separation between their lower body and upper body? The ability to hinge and disassociate the upper and lower body are key elements in the golf swing so it is important that our athletes have the awareness and ability to perform these movements in the gym extremely well.
Movement efficiency and mobility go hand in hand. Knowing the difference between an athlete having a restriction due to a lack of mobility, or if the inability to perform a movement comes from a lack of skill and/or understanding is important. We strive to look at the body holistically and evaluate movement at the ankle, hip, lumbar spine, thoracic spine, and shoulders. Using a collaborative approach with coaches, athletic training staff, physical therapists, and massage therapists allows us to all have a better understanding of each athlete and their individual needs. Communicating with the entire staff allows us to make sure that we are all on the same page to help our athletes improve as a whole.
Jeremiah Hales has provided an invaluable service as a consulting physical therapist to the Iowa State golf programs. Jeremiah conducts his custom design golf specific physical assessments on the players twice a year. The screenings provides very in-depth and specific information about the player’s stability, posture, mobility and movement efficiency. That information is like gold for the coaching and fitness staff, it helps us prioritise gym workouts, technical training and practice set up for the player.
Core Stability & Glute Strength
Back injuries are one of the most common issues among golfers. Our goal is to address this from the start by making sure we have stability through the entire core. Golf is a very rotational sport, so our core work focuses predominantly on anti-extension, anti-flexion and anti-rotation. At specific times of year we may incorporate some rotational work, but since these athletes are getting this every day at practice, we benefit more from strengthening the core through stability and creating a rock solid pillar.
The ability to properly activate the glutes is also extremely important. Proper glute firing ensures that the body reduces compensation and minimizes stress on the back. I have seen athletes present with glutes that do not activate well, yet they appear extremely strong through their gym movements. These athletes are compensating and not performing these movements optimally for sport. Once we address these compensations and the athlete learns to properly activate their glutes, they are much stronger than before and put themselves in a better position to avoid injury.
Strength & Power
Golfers must create, transfer and absorb their own force, which can put a lot of stress on the body. Developing strength is like putting on the armour to help protect the body against injury. Moving in all planes of movement and focusing on developing a strong posterior chain is very important. A well rounded program includes a wide variety of movements, including squats, hinges, single leg movements, pushes, pulls, carries, and core exercises. Varying these and incorporating them throughout the year at different intensities and volumes have given us exceptional results in keeping our athletes strong, powerful, and healthy.
Having a strong foundation of strength is the key to developing power. Once a base of strength has been set we work to translate this into power in different planes of movement by increasing the rate of force production. We do this by using various approaches including jumps, medicine ball throw variations, and using accommodating resistance such as chains and bands. Just like the varying types of movements we use for strength work, we vary our methods based on the time of year and individual needs of each player.
Approach to training
Having a collaborative approach with all members of the staff allows us to look at each athlete from various perspectives to ensure we aren’t missing anything. We have the coach explaining what they are working on in their swing, we have the athletic trainer and physical therapist performing evaluations and prescribing individualised exercises to improve weaknesses. We also have a massage therapist who sees the players regularly to address any soft tissue issues or restrictions. Then there is the strength coach who will write a training program that will help each student-athlete become the best version of themselves through improving in the key areas detailed above. By working with every member of the staff and taking a holistic and collaborative approach we can all work together and share information to create a better program and plan for each student-athlete.