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Modern golf has changed dramatically. In particular, pros are now driving the ball further than ever before. On the LPGA Tour Maria Fassi is leading the average driving distance with 291.8 yards off the tee , and on the PGA Tour Bryson Dechambeau is averaging 323.9 yards off the tee . In fact, the average driving distance on both the men’s and women’s tours has increased by approximately 2.6% since 2003 according to Randa’s distance insights report . But how have they been able to achieve this? There is no question that there has been major advancements over the past number of years in terms of equipment, including the innovations of the golf ball and driver design, but in addition to this, another key aspect is in fact the golfer themselves, more specifically their athleticism.
Crushing big lifts in the gym is not something golfers would even have thought of doing decades ago. But gym based training has become a key part of a golfers day to day life. You need only check out the likes of Rory McIlroy’s, Lexi Thompson’s, Tommy Fleetwood’s and Leona Maguire’s social media to see the various styled workouts they take themselves through. Bryson DeChambeau is a prime example of this. Having gained 9 kg of muscle during lockdown, he is now leading the field in average driving distance.
The advances and prominence of golf fitness has increased dramatically over the past number of years. Professional golfers now have gyms in their homes and are working with personal S&C coaches. More often than not, a collaborative effort from the player’s swing and strength coach is utilised in order to tailor a workout programme specific to the needs of that player, whether focusing more on the flexibility or strength aspects of that player. This in turn helps to increase clubhead speed, resulting in increased distance.
In addition to the various services pros have access to, technology is also ever present. Technology not only provides instant feedback on their swing parameters, but also aids decisions within their fitness programmes. With the advancements in technology making these systems more portable than ever, it is now possible for them to longitudinally track performance and in turn objectively quantify performance whilst they are travelling to various competitions across the season. This valuable data allows for the fine-tuning of swing-technique and fitness training programmes to empower high-performance.
Longitudinal graph comparing different sets one month apart of range of motion during the pull up exercise.
Golf specific fitness has become more prevalent, but this doesn’t mean the exercises have to exactly mimic the swing. Various exercises can be incorporated into a golf specific programme, but will generally be designed around 5 key fitness components [4, 5, 6]:
5 Key Fitness Components For Golf
• Muscle endurance
Many golfers focus on Olympic-style lifts, single-leg movements, rotational moves, and stability work incorporating these 5 key fitness components.
For example balance is key within golf, not only for handling the significant weight shift that occurs during the swing, but also due to the various stances that have to be undertaken during a round of golf. A simple test to determine balance is a single-leg balance test, during which better stability has been shown to be indicative of a lower handicap player .
Countermovement jumps are also a key performance indicator of clubhead speed , and it has been shown that the higher the golfer can jump, the further you can hit the ball. The average professional golfer can have a vertical jump height of 50-56 cm .
Push ups and pull-ups have also been shown to be a good way of assessing upper-body strength and in turn correlate to golf performance .
In addition to exercises targeting the areas of balance, power, strength and muscular endurance, flexibility is also a key component in order to successfully achieve various movements needed during the golf swing. Lower handicap players have significantly better flexibility and range of motion for their shoulders, hips and torso than higher handicap players . In particular, the separation of the upper torso and lower torso – commonly referred to as the X-Factor – is significantly related to ball velocity and in turn driving distance, particularly at the top of the backswing . A commonly used test to assess upper torso flexibility is to actively rotate your shoulders to end range while ensuring your pelvis remains stabilized .
The video below demonstrates some of the exercises explained above, and how you can measure and track the performance of each.
LPGA. (2020). Average Driving Distance | LPGA | Ladies Professional Golf Association. Retrieved 19 August 2020, from https://www.lpga.com/statistics/driving/average-driving-distance
PGATour. (2020). Driving Distance | PGA TOUR Stats. Retrieved 19 August 2020, from https://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.101.y2020.html
Randa. (2019). A Review Of Driving Distance – 2019
Sell, T., Tsai, Y., Smoliga, J., Myers, J. And Lephart, S. (2007) ‘Strength, Flexibility, And Balance Characteristics Of Highly Proficient Golfers’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(4), 1166-1171.
Torres-Ronda, L., Sánchez-Medina, L. and González-Badillo, J.J. (2011) ‘Muscle strength and golf performance: a critical review’, Journal of sports science & medicine, 10(1), 9.
Ronda, L. T., Fortó, J. S., Cuéllar, L. V. and Matas, X. B. (2010) ‘Relationship between the muscle strength of lower limbs and trunk and ball speed when hit with a driver’, Apunts: Educació Física i Esports, 101(3), 75-82.
Marshall, K. J., & Llewellyn, T. L. (2017). Effects of Flexibility and Balance on Driving Distance and Club Head Speed in Collegiate Golfers. International Journal of Exercise Science, 10(7), 954.
Hellström, J., 2008. The relation between physical tests, measures, and clubhead speed in elite golfers. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 3(1_suppl), pp.85-92.
Owens, P. (2016). 5 Training Strategies to Increase Vertical Thrust Without Leaving The Ground. Retrieved 4 August 2020, from https://www.mytpi.com/articles/fitness/5_training_strategies_to_increase_vertical_thrust_without_leaving_the_ground
Wells, G.D., Elmi, M. and Thomas, S., 2009. Physiological correlates of golf performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), pp.741-750.
Myers, J., Lephart, S., Tsai, Y. S., Sell, T., Smoliga, J., & Jolly, J. (2008). The role of upper torso and pelvis rotation in driving performance during the golf swing. Journal of sports sciences, 26(2), 181-188.