How to improve club head speed and driving distance: Training strength, power, and coordination in the golf athlete

The modern game of golf has evolved. Never has the exposure, financial compensation, and balance of competitiveness been at the current level. Modern technology and advances in golf science have created young athletic golf robots with beautiful, technically perfect golf swings. One unchanging theme throughout the history of golf has been the importance and advantage of distance. A high level of club head speed (CHS) strongly correlates to driving distance, which also has a strong relationship with playing ability.1 Many of the greatest golfers in history, and world number one players, have been dominant with their driving distance – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson. Innovations in golfing equipment and the prioritization of physical conditioning have created a golf athlete that is continuing to push the limits of golf course length. Each year on the PGA tour driving distance steadily increases.2 Current PGA rookie Cameron Champ has a driver CHS of 130mph, beyond that of previous golfing greats. In major championship competition, Par 3, Par 4, and Par 5 length is now exceeding 285, 520, and 680 yards, respectively. The development of rotational power is one of the cornerstones to maximizing CHS, and ultimately driving distance. 

The importance of strength for the golf athlete 

Rotational power, for the golf athlete, can be separated into the development of (1) high levels of force or strength, (2) the ability to display this force in a rapid manner, and (3) the summation of force through efficient segmental sequencing of the lower body, torso, and upper body.3,8 The best path to develop a large strength base is through free weight compound multi-joint exercises. Leaders in driving distance on the PGA Tour and Long Drive competitors have been recorded to possess  squat/deadlift-to-bodyweight ratios of 2.0-3.0. This overall muscular strength has been shown to be predictive of CHS and driving distance.4,10 The legs and hips are the main power generators in the golf swing. Free weight exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, involve greater amounts of muscle mass, require higher levels of postural control and coordination, and build the foundation of strength leading into subsequent power training cycles.5 

The importance of power for the golf athlete 

The golf downswing is a rapid event that occurs in a very small time-frame, roughly ≤0.3 seconds.3 The ability to produce force quickly is of critical importance for the golf athlete. Because maximum force levels take much longer to reach, Schmidtbleicher (1992)9 has recommended prioritizing rate of force development (RFD) for athletic movements occurring in rapid time frames (≤ 0.25 seconds). The practical demonstration of this observation can be seen in several research studies that have shown explosive concentric strength to have the highest correlation to CHS (r = 0.6-0.8).6,13 Once an appropriate strength base has been established the emphasis should switch to producing a high RFD in training. Exercises such as Jump Squats, Bench Press throws, Olympic lifts, and concentric dominant Plyometrics are all effective selections. 

Ballistic and over-weighted implement training 

A final element to maximize rotational power for the experienced golf athlete is the inclusion of ballistic medicine ball throws and over-weighted implement training. Proficient golf athletes who already possess large amounts of strength and power could obtain additional benefits of increased stretch shortening activity of the torso musculature and enhanced segmental sequencing through this method of training.11,12  Research has identified the rate of stretch in the torso musculature at the start of the downswing, not the total amount of stretch, to be of greater importance and could lead to increased potentiation and force development.9  Ballistic training could further develop the neural and elastic components that exist in the torso during the golf downswing. Well-conditioned golfers can create additional improvements in CHS through a targeted emphasis on ballistic exercise. 

Overall, increases in CHS can transfer positively to driving distance and playing ability. The golf athlete can apply a specific, proven training methodology to maximize rotational power. Building a foundation of strength is a necessity, followed by explosive concentric strength, and finally, enhancing mechanisms that contribute to the summation of sequencing. Depending on the golf athletes’ training age and experience, a customized intervention would be most effective. 

References: 

  1. Fradkin, A. J., Sherman, C. A., & Finch, C. F. (2004). How well does club head speed correlate with golf handicaps?. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 7(4), 465-472. 
  2. Heiny, E. L. (2008). PGA tour pro: Long but not so straight. Chance, 21(1), 11-21. 
  3. Hume, P. A., Keogh, J., & Reid, D. (2005). The role of biomechanics in maximising distance and accuracy of golf shots. Sports Medicine, 35(5), 429-449. 
  4. Keogh, J. W., Marnewick, M. C., Maulder, P. S., Nortje, J. P., Hume, P. A., & Bradshaw, E. J. (2009). Are anthropometric, flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance variables related to clubhead velocity in low-and high-handicap golfers?. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(6), 1841-1850. 
  5. Kraemer, W. J., & Ratamess, N. A. (2004). Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(4), 674-688. 
  6. Lewis, A. L., Ward, N., Bishop, C., Maloney, S., & Turner, A. N. (2016). Determinants of club head speed in PGA professional golfers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(8), 2266-2270. 
  7. Lynn, S. K., Frazier, B. S., New, K. N., Wu, W. F. W., Cheetham, P. J., & Noffal, G. J. (2013). Rotational Kinematics of the pelvis during the golf swing: Skill level differences and relationship to club and ball impact conditions. International Journal of Golf Science, 2, 116-125. 
  8. Read, P. J., & Lloyd, R. S. (2014). Strength and conditioning considerations for golf. Strength & Conditioning Journal,36, 24-33. 
  9. Schmidtbleicher, D. (1992). Training for power events. In P.V Komi (Ed.), The Encyclopeadia of Sports Medicine. Vol 3: Strength and Power in sport(pp. 169-179). Oxford, UK: Blackwell. 
  10. Smith, C. J., Callister, R., & Lubans, D. R. (2011). A systematic review of strength and conditioning programmes designed to improve fitness characteristics in golfers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(9), 933-943. 
  11. Sprigings, E. J., & Neal, R. J. (2000). An insight into the importance of wrist torque in driving the golfball: A simulation study. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 16(4), 356-366. 
  12. Szymanski, D. J., Szymanski, J. M., Bradford, T. J., Schade, R. L., & Pascoe, D. D. (2007). Effect of twelve weeks of medicine ball training on high school baseball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(3), 894-901. 
  13. Wells, G. , Elmi, M., & Thomas, S. (2009). Physiological correlates of golf performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), 741-750. 

 

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