Dr. Greg Wells is one of the world’s leading experts on golf performance and his Dr. Greg Wells’ Sports Medicine Blog is the go to place for anyone interested in practicing and improving their golf performance. In this blog post, Dr. Wells shares his 6 Pillars of Golf with you.
I’m not a doctor but I’m a qualified sports physiologist. In fact, I’m one of only a few people in the world to hold a full doctorate in sports science. I’ve been a professional golf player for almost a decade, competing professionally for many years both in the US and internationally. I have since moved on to become a coach, and am now an award-winning PGA Professional Teaching Professional at a number of venues around the country.
Golf has been revolutionized by the incredible achievements of players like Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. One factor that has clearly helped these players reach the top of the world rankings is their commitment to being fully fit.
When we talk about full physical fitness, we are talking about the following 6 physical attributes.
6 pillars of fitness*
- Hull stability
- force and power
- Cardiovascular form
*All of this, of course, is supported by good athletic conditioning and excellent nutrition.
Thanks to the careful attention paid to each of these pillars, the new generation of players is leaner, more muscular and more flexible than the previous generation of players.
In addition to physical performance, PGA players have also discovered the importance of fitness and nutrition in injury recovery. This has allowed them to train more, compete more often and play more rounds without injury.
Starting this summer, there is good news for all golfers. My good friend and co-author of this article, Dr. Greg Wells, has just completed a new study on golf training and performance.
Dr. Wells is director of sports science for the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) and the Canadian Golf Association’s men’s and women’s national amateur golf teams.
In his latest study, Dr. Wells identified a number of critical elements of fitness that can affect a person’s ability to play golf, whether he aspires to one day play on the PGA Tour or simply enjoys the game as entertainment.
It is interesting to note that this study was born out of controversy. After developing a highly unconventional training program that had never been used in golf before, Dr. Wells encountered some resistance from prominent golf coaches.
Essentially, they needed proof that Dr. Wells’ educational ideas worked. And without scientific research, there was no proof. So he should have had something. In the next year, he did exactly that.
Wells selected 17 players from both national teams and evaluated their fitness. This evaluation included a series of ball speed and distance exercises with a driver and a 5 iron. He also tracked the results of the season’s tournaments. Interestingly, you can do it yourself, check out www.shotbyshot.com.
Finally, he tested balance, agility, posture, trunk stability, strength and power, cardiovascular fitness and performance improvement. And he has developed ways to improve each area, taking into account the specifics of golf.
He also noted that a diet based on these principles and an athletic lifestyle also improved results.
The story goes like this: Golf is a physically demanding game that requires explosive strength, but also incredible precision and difficulty, says Dr. Wells, who also does medical research at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
During a swing, for example, an average man gains 10 kg of muscle and uses almost every joint in his body to generate a force of 2,000 kg in less than 0.2 seconds.
In the past decade, golf has gone from a recreational activity to a sport thanks to athletes like Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and others.
There is no doubt that people exercise, but until recently very little research has been done on the exact link between fitness and performance.
So Dr Wells did something about it.
Despite the size of the study, some important and simple lessons were learned. First, he concluded that for women, lower body strength is the most important element in their ability to hit the ball.
Interestingly, leg strength was important for the men, and arm and upper body strength correlated with their ability to hit the ball. Dr. Wells debunked a myth and discovered that there is no correlation between standing strength and speed and distance traveled…..
We found that strength of the abdominal muscles is not related to ball speed and range, which is completely counterintuitive to what was previously thought, Wells says.
This doesn’t mean abdominal muscle strength isn’t important…..
We also found that people with the strongest torsos had the fewest lower back problems. This is important because many of our team members have back problems.
Dr. Wells also correlated aerobic performance with total short game score (chip efficiency) and average ball-strike frequency. This suggests that as the season progressed, golfers with better aerobic fitness performed better in these areas.
In addition to these interesting findings, research has shown that golfers need to train in 6 key areas – the 6 pillars that we will discuss in this article:
- #1 Balance
- # 2 Posture
- #3 Flexibility
- #4 Nuclear power and stability
- #5 Power and strength
- #6 Cardiovascular fitness
Message: Dr. Wells’ research will be published this summer in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. If you would like a reprint of this research article, you may request one by emailing Dr. Wells through his website, drgregwells.com.
Educational factor 1: Scale
Balance is the most important element for optimal golf performance. Good balance helps golfers control their strokes, maintain a perfect swing on the way up and down, and execute good strokes from the bunkers.
The goal of balance training is to develop good balance and body control. This helps the golfer transfer the swing from the feet to the dynamic and agile upper body during the swing, while maintaining full control.
If you can’t keep your balance while golfing, your chances of maintaining optimal mechanics decrease and accuracy decreases. Here’s an example of an exercise you can try:
Single legged balance with golf swing
Practice balance during golf-specific movements.
Stand in the starting position with the golf club in your hand. Keeping your body completely still, lift one leg slightly off the ground and stand on one foot. Then perform a half-wave move while balancing on one foot. Repeat with the other leg. Start with very slow movements and gradually move to faster movements, increasing the range of motion until you get a full swing.
Educational factor 2: Flexibility
Flexibility is widely considered a key component of athletic performance, injury prevention, and optimal health (US Olympic Committee, teamusa.org).
Flexibility is defined as the range of motion (ROM) around a single joint or series of joints and reflects the ability of muscles and tendons to stretch within the physical limits of a joint (Hubley-Kozey, 1991, in Testing High Performance Athletes).
Dynamic (in motion) flexibility is associated with resistance or resistance to motion. This is especially important for golf, where freedom of movement is essential for the development of optimal swing mechanics and club head speed.
Paul Check (2001) suggested that flexibility in golf is a descriptive term for the amount of movement a golfer without ROM limitations needs to play at full power.
If you look at some of the players on the circuit who can really bomb – guys like Hank Kuehne and Charles Howell – they’re not the most physically intimidating athletes. But they are all very flexible players, able to generate tremendous club head speed and still remain balanced. It’s also one of the keys to my power. I am a firm believer that if you increase your flexibility, you will make your swing stronger. -Tiger Woods
This quote from Tiger Woods is supported by the basic laws of physics, namely: Power = power x distance / time (highest club head speed).
Thus, the golfer who is able to generate more power through a greater range of motion in less time during the swing will be the most powerful and achieve the greatest distance from the tee or for a given shot, provided the mechanics of the swing and shot are correct.
Here are some good stretching exercises for golfers:
To increase the rotation and turn of the body around the spine.
Stand with good posture, feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips, turn your body as far to the side as possible. Look back to reinforce the track. Repeat the process on the other side.
Try this with a golf club on your shoulders. Another option is to perform this movement while sitting on a Swiss ball.
Stretching with trunk rotation in the supine position
To increase the rotation and turn of the body around the spine. Also to increase mobility between shoulders and hips.
Lie down with your arms extended on either side of you and pull your knees up to 90 degrees. Keep your legs parallel to the ground.
Dog on one leg down
To stretch the hamstrings, calves and lower back.
Lean forward and place your hands on the floor as shown. Slowly try to form an inverted V shape, with your arms and back forming a straight line to your hips and your legs also forming a straight line to your hips. You can bend one knee to isolate the muscles in the other leg.
To stretch the lower back and hip flexors. This is an excellent rehabilitation exercise for people with back pain.
Lie flat on the mat and place your arms directly under your shoulders. Keeping your hips on the ground, slowly lift your upper body as high as possible. If you feel pain in your lower back, do not continue with this exercise.
Educational factor 3: Posture
Posture is defined by Paul Chek (Handbook of Golf Biomechanics, 1999) as the position from which the movement begins and ends.
Ramsey McMaster (2003) defines posture as the maintenance of the primary and secondary curves of the spine. These bends occur in the neck (cervical flexion), upper back (thoracic flexion) and lower back (lumbar flexion).
These natural curves are supported by a series of postural muscles in each area – the neck, back and shoulders, lower back and the entire abdominal area, including the anterior abdominal muscles. These muscles serve to keep the spine in position during movement and to protect the spine from excessive motion.
Good posture is very important for the correct execution of the golf swing. This is important to prevent injury and ensure correct positioning when handling and swinging. Good muscle posture also helps to avoid involuntary movements. Ben Hogan (1985) writes:
Good posture not only improves your ability to hit the ball more consistently, but also increases your strength and stability and prevents chronic golf injuries.
Here are examples of top golfers taking the right stances at critical moments in the swing. Note that golfers maintain an upright posture during the swing and throughout the swing. Also note that the natural curves of the spine have been preserved.
A simple push/pull exercise with a pulley system is an excellent way to train posture during rotational movements, such as For example, playing golf. Another benefit of this exercise is that it stretches the hip flexors and works the core,
Starting with a lunge, hold the pulley or pipe with your hand, then rotate your body forward as if you were punching:
You can also do reverse exercises to train the opposite muscles:
Educational factor 4: Abdominal muscle strength and stability
Golf performance depends on the efficient transfer and coordination of energy from the feet to the trunk and arms, which in turn depend on the strength and power of the trunk muscles.
Good core strength allows the golfer to develop maximum power with optimal control during the swing. In addition, core strength stabilizes the hips and spine and improves body control during athletic movements. Perhaps most importantly, good muscle strength keeps your back healthy and prevents spinal injuries that can result from golf.
The core is a general term that refers to the central part of the body between the lower chest and the hips. This is the torso, which includes the spine, including the lower back, all the abdominal muscles and the pelvis. There are 29 muscles in this region!
The strengthening of the trunk can be achieved by special exercises.
In addition to building strength in these muscles, you should also focus on muscle endurance. These muscles are used in most daily activities, not just golf, and therefore can easily become fatigued, causing instability, injury and poor golf technique.
In strength exercises and exercises for stability of the spine, safety is of utmost importance, as the spine is involved. Athletes should always pay attention to balance and control when training their core muscles, and be taught the proper technique by a professional before practicing on their own.
If you have a history of back pain, you should consult a physical therapist or chiropractor before beginning a back strengthening program to ensure there is no underlying cause of back pain or weakness.
For more information on trunk stability and back health, see the book Spine Biomechanics by Dr. Stuart McGill of the University of Waterloo. You can find this book at www.backfitpro.com.
For a great program to strengthen the core, designed specifically for people rehabbing from a back injury, check out Solid to the Core.
Here are some basic strengthening exercises to get you started.
Lower abdominal activator (transverse abdominal muscles)
To increase the activation of the lower abdominal muscles. This is a basic exercise for any functional training, as this contraction can be performed at any time during a workout to increase core stability and balance.
Lie on your back with your hands on your chest or lower abdomen and contract your abdominal muscles between your navel and pubic bone. Hold the contraction for 5 seconds and release. Repeat the procedure as recommended. Switch to performing this contraction while sitting, then standing, and finally walking.
To increase the strength of the oblique abdominal muscles.
Start this exercise by lying on your side on the floor with your bottom hand on the floor. Slowly lift your hips as far off the ground as possible while holding your other arm above your head. Hold the raised position for at least 5 seconds. Repeat the process on the other side.
Basic seated rotations
To increase the muscle strength of the central rotor and increase the flexibility of the lower back.
Instructions: Begin this exercise by sitting on the floor. Lift your feet off the ground and slowly rotate your upper body to one side, as far as possible in each direction, with your arms extended. If you can’t move evenly in both directions, emphasize the tense side.
To increase the strength of the key stabilizers and muscles of the shoulder.
In the push-up position, slowly lift one arm off the ground until it is parallel to the ground. Hold the position for at least 5 seconds and then repeat on the other side. The second step of this exercise is to perform arm lifting exercises, using one leg for balance – so one arm and the other leg are lifted off the ground at the same time.
Learning factor 5: Power and performance in golf
Strength and performance are important to any golfer and can help improve range, play from the fairway and accuracy of the short game.
The most obvious benefit of improving strength and power in golf is the positive impact it has on clubhead speed, which can be greatly increased by proper training. Fortunately, the effect of this type of training can be directly measured in the riding distance.
In addition, stronger and more powerful muscles allow for finer motor control, which means that because you are stronger, each movement is relatively less tiring and there is less chance of making a mistake (no matter how small). Fine motor skills can be measured by the accuracy of the shot – hitting the greens or fairways.
Perhaps most importantly, a comprehensive strength training program that trains all muscles and joints (even those not necessarily used in golf) helps reduce the risk of injury by ensuring a strong and stable musculoskeletal system.
There is a difference between strength and performance. Force is the maximum ability to contract a muscle. The power is how quickly you can achieve this reduction.
Essentially, muscle power is the ability to exert a large amount of force quickly. Powerful movements are explosive, and few movements in sport are as powerful as a golf swing.
To make exercises more powerful and train your muscles and joints to move quickly and accurately, simply reduce the weight you lift in the gym and increase the speed of your movements. Here’s an example of a player on the national team doing jump shots:
Strength exercises like push-ups are ideal for golfers. To make these strength exercises specific to golf, you can add some imbalances as shown here.
Normal (basic) :
Slightly asymmetrical (medium) :
Very unbalanced (advanced) :
Educational factor #6: Cardiovascular training
The aerobic cardiovascular system consists of the heart, lungs and blood. This system delivers oxygen to the muscles, which then use it to provide energy for activities such as walking and to recover from strenuous activities such as golf.
Although golf is considered a sport that primarily requires explosive power for the swing and fine, relaxed motor skills for the short game and putting, aerobic cardiovascular fitness is also essential for the following reasons:
In a typical round, a golfer uses his or her aerobic system to run 7 to 10 miles without tiring, uphill and downhill, over a variety of terrain.
A strong aerobic cardiovascular system also helps to manage mental stress and relax in stressful situations.
In addition to the need for a strong aerobic cardiovascular system when playing golf, the aerobic system is actively used during exercise when the golfer can perform repeated strokes with minimal rest between repetitions. Optimal muscle recovery between shots depends on the proper functioning of the aerobic system, which allows golfers to train more efficiently over longer periods of time.
Finally, balance and posture are the most important factors that influence the performance of the golf swing itself and depend on the muscles that are active throughout the day (postural muscles and fine motor muscles in the joints). These muscles become most fatigued during the course of the day, especially if you walk long distances and make explosive movements, such as golf swing.
Therefore, aerobic training of all the muscles of the body and of the heart, lungs and blood is very important for golfers who want to perform at their best.
Aerobic fitness can be achieved by performing any exercise for an extended period of time at a constant heart rate.
Swimming, walking, jogging, running, skipping, stepping and rowing are examples of exercises that improve cardiovascular aerobic function.
Each of these activities has advantages and disadvantages that can affect your golf game. When starting an aerobic exercise program, consult with your golf professional or coach and monitor your playing ability to ensure that the workout is improving your game.
Always supplement aerobic exercise with golf-specific flexibility exercises and drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your workout. Make sure you wear good quality shoes designed for the activity you are doing i.e. running shoes for running, cross training shoes for indoor training.
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