When it comes to golfers like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Lexi Thompson and many others taking golf fitness to another level, it can be intimidating to think intense golf exercise training is the only way to reach your potential on the golf course.
The reality is you can start on the path to building your best body for golf right at home with just a little time, desire and, perhaps to your surprise, no equipment needed.
But, first thing’s first: It’s important to understand there are five key pillars that go into an effective golf exercise program:
- Movement patterning
By regularly committing to simple exercises focused around each of these, you can make significant gains in strength and how well (and far!) you hit the golf ball.
The term mobility describes the range of motion of a joint or joints. This is often interchanged with flexibility, but not quite the same thing.
We all know that as we age our mobility can decrease. This is often initially caused by poor tone and control of the muscles surrounding the joint which results in unhealthy loads being placed on that joint.
As time goes on, this can result in degeneration and cause a loss of cartilage and formation of bone spurs. That can lead to significant losses of joint range of motion and pain.
Exercise can help mobility just as much as stretching
It can be surprising to learn exercises that build strength and train muscle firing sequences around the joint(s) are as important as stretching to maintain or increase mobility. The goal is to train the muscles to work together around the joint to allow maximum movement, free of unhealthy loads.
When it comes to mobility, the most important areas to focus on are the hips, shoulders and thoracic spine (upper back). Increased mobility in these areas not only helps you generate more turn and range of motion to hit the golf ball farther, but it also decreases risk of lower back problems by minimizing excessive movement in certain areas from of a lack of proper range of motion in the hips, shoulders and thoracic spine.
The Hip Circles Exercise
A simple mobility exercise for the hips starts by getting in the hands and knees position. The goal of this exercise is to raise your knees off of the ground and make smooth circles, while keeping your lower back as still as possible. This trains the muscles around the hip joint to work together to maintain mobility in the joint.
Flexibility describes the length of muscles.
Contrary to popular belief (especially among some yoga practitioners), striving for maximum flexibility in all areas of the body is not desirable. Too much flexibility around some joints can actually cause a long term decrease in mobility if it results in an imbalance or unhealthy amount of load on that joint.
This said, there are areas in which golfers will want to improve flexibility by stretching, which can be especially helpful right before starting a round.
One muscle group that needs flexibility work in most golfers (and people in general) is the hip flexors, or psoas muscles. Tight psoas muscles can hinder your ability to make a good backswing and increase the risk of lower back injury during the follow-through.
Balance training is likely the most overlooked aspect of golf exercise programs, because while you may know good balance is key for a proper address position and powerful swing, you may not realize your balance WILL decline with age if not practiced.
A result of several systems in the body, including the proprioceptive system (cells that tell your brain where your body is in space), the vestibular system in the inner ear, strength and vision, balance training should target everything together.
That’s why drills that train the vestibular and proprioceptive systems like the Single Leg Balance Head Turn Drill shown above are so useful. When done regularly, this exercise targets key systems in tandem and can go a long way toward helping your balance.
Movement patterning is the practice of perfecting and repeating specific movements until they become second nature, which is crucial for a consistent golf swing. This means that rather than only grinding on your swing on the range, it’s important to train various movement patterns away from the golf course as well.
Focus areas include hip hinging, full body rotation, shifting weight laterally from side to side and others. Perfecting these simple movements until they become habit, like hip hinge or bend (an important movement for the address position), will significantly help your ability to master the complex movements of the golf swing.
Building strength in the right areas increases mobility, balance and power. It also significantly decreases common golf related injuries such as lower back pain.
As mentioned earlier, you can start down the path to building strength right in your home with no equipment needed.
Of course, to achieve maximum strength, resistance training with weights is necessary. But it’s important to have proper guidance doing so, because there’s an inherent risk to your body with the excess loads placed on the joints and muscles.
Train your muscles together, not separately
When it comes to ideal strength training for golf, strength needs to be built and maintained in the core, gluteal muscles, shoulders and back.
This is a complex process and a common mistake many golfers make is to train strength in one muscle or muscle group at a time. Doing this an outdated, ineffective and even risky method of strength training.
While one muscle or muscle group will be trained at certain times, especially in small muscles prone to injury such as those in the rotator cuff, full body strength training with integrated movements should be the focus. An example of this is the hip lift, as shown above, which helps to build strength in the gluteal muscles. Strong glutes are a foundational key to a powerful golf swing.
Take this golf exercise program to the course!
As you can see, it’s critical to take a structured, comprehensive training program specific to golf. Doing so will improve your game, allow you to play longer into life, and stay injury and pain free.
Does this mean you’ll start posting your golf specific workouts on social media like Koepka, DJ and Lexi? Probably not.
But, if you do and your friends wonder how you’ve gained yards and dropped shots, you may just have to let them in on your secret.
Dr. Jeremy James founded and was director of the Aspen Club Back Institute in Aspen, Colorado, is the coauthor of the bestselling The Younger Next Year Back Book and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic from the University of Western States. Learn more about Dr. James here.