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Golfers Exercise Selection: Considerations for Optimizing Your Strength Template

Golf is a popular sport worldwide, regardless of race, sex, age, or skill level (Cabri et al., 2009; McHardy et al., 2006; Sell et al., 2007). The global significance of golf was reinforced by this sport’s inclusion in the 2016 Summer Olympics, the first time golf was played at the Olympics since 1904 (Soligard et al., 2017). Participation in golf has risen considerably, particularly amongst seniors whose age is categorized as 50 years or more (Lindsay, 2012).

Traditionally, golf has been viewed as a skill-based sport, in which the continual refinement of ball striking and putting skills has been given more emphasis than the development of physical fitness. However, physical exercise is now an integral component of an elite player's regimen, because golf is a demanding physical game, also in terms of creating explosive power through a wide range of motions.

The aim of this document is twofold. First, to examine the existing scientific literature regarding strength training and golf in healthy, non-injured players; and second, considerations that could provide information on how to design more effective strength training programs to improve golf performance. In this document we'll review studies which analyzed the relationship between muscle strength, swing performance variables (club head speed, driving distance, ball speed) and skill (handicap, score).

Additionally, a Swedish study compared 300,818 golfers to non-golfers, a 40% lower mortality rate was found with the authors speculating that this corresponds to a 5-year increase in life expectancy regardless of gender, age or socioeconomic status.

Golf is noted for providing moderate intensity physical activity, it is biologically plausible that golf could be expected to have beneficial effects in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, including ischaemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and colon and breast cancer.

The updated Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 150 min of moderate-intensity physical activity, 75 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or combination. A cohort study from the Medicine and Sports in Science and Exercise Journal found a total of 83,454 community-dwelling Japanese who answered a questionnaire in 2000-2003 were followed for all-cause mortality through 2012. During 894,718 person-years of follow-up, 8891 deaths were identified. Compared with physically inactive subjects concluded that meeting the guidelines in either pattern of physical activity is important for lowering mortality risk (Kikuchi, 2018).

Golf, on its own part, is a game that involves sudden movements of force (is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object), with the player swinging numerous times with the entire body.

The full golf swing is the technical skill most often used and it is the primary foundation on which all other golf swings are based. The main goal of using the driver is to transfer power to a golf ball, which constitutes an explosive burst of muscular activity of the whole body that puts various joints of the body under stress. The displacement of a golf shot is a direct function of club-head velocity and is a vital aspect of success in golf. Club-head velocity and ball speed are determined by the technical ability of golfers to swing the club and also by their capacity to powerfully contract the muscles involved in the movement. Typical club-head velocities can exceed 160 km/h and it takes just 0.2 seconds to accelerate the club to this speed, performed 30 to 40 times per round (Cabri et al.). Therefore, golfers like all sports need general strength, especially in tasks such as full swing, in which the ability of the golfer to use muscle strength effectively plays an important part in performance.

Consequently, one of the main aims of training programs should be to improve strength to optimize swing mechanics and golf performance. Next, American College of Sports Medicine, the governing body for exercise in the United States, has included it in its recommendations for all Americans since 1998.

When hitting from the tee, golfers usually want to maximize distance (Cabri et al., 2009; McHardy et al., 2006). To do so, they produce very powerful movements with the back, shoulders, arms, hips and lower extremities. Previous studies have described changes in the clubhead speed, in the club shaft and head material, and in modern golf swing techniques (referred to as the dynamic X-factor), all designed to further maximize distance (Lindsay et al.). Current players regardless of age are pushing the bar higher. As a result, it would be insufficient to rely only on techniques to keep up with the tide of the sport.

Strength is the most general physical adaptation from which all other physical attributes can be built; conversely, as stated in Practical Programming, 3rd ed., “the absence of sufficient strength limits the development of all other athletic parameters.” A resistance training program aims to prevent musculoskeletal injuries, improve strength (ability to produce force against an external resistance) (Rippetoe, 2017) and power with respect to the golf swing and increase the general fitness of participants.

In order to be most effective, general adaptations should not be overlooked in favor of exclusively sport­specific training; an athlete should develop a general (i.e. nonspecific) base of strength (e.g. many movements through different rep ranges) and then practice their sport for the “specificity effect”.

There is a reason why football players don’t just scrimmage every day year ­round in order to get better at football, and why swimmers don’t (or shouldn’t) just practice their competition stroke every day year ­round in order to get better at swimming; offseason is a time to get generally, stronger and faster in order to then be more effective at their particular sport.

It should therefore be clear that although golf possess a set of skills that needs to be practiced in order to improve, it could certainly benefit by other means as well. Specific practice would improve neuromuscular coordination by way of familiarizing the athlete with the movement pattern e.g. golf swing. Yet, we would also expect general, nonspecific strength to be one of these determinants as well, because more strength means more force applied to the club or racket. Swinging is also necessarily a rapid movement; one cannot “swing slowly” in the same way one cannot perform a maximal vertical jump slowly (think dunking a basketball). Therefore, this is a situation where an athlete’s ability to generate force rapidly (i.e. “rate of force development”) is critical.

The rationale for the inclusion of resistance training is supported by the available biomechanical evidence and cross sectional epidemiological evidence (i.e. greater hip abduction strength is correlated with fewer knee injuries).

Golf like many sports where play time are often limited especially in said older populace by a lack of general strength, chronic or acute injury, and overall fitness. This results in sub-optimal play, member loss for clubs, and a lesser enjoyable experience. Preventing sports injuries and improving athletes’ performance is an important goal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

According to Fletcher and Hartwell (2004), physical fitness is viewed as a key component for optimum athletic performance. Different sports and people of all skill levels use strength training as a process to elevate athletic performance.

Of note the recent 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults recommends at least 2X/ wk resistance training for all adults in addition to the above mentioned.

Resistance training is supported and endorsed by:

American Heart Association

American College of Sports Medicine

American Diabetes Association

These recommendations are primarily based on the effects of RT on muscle strength, cross-sectional studies have shown that muscle mass is inversely associated with all-cause mortality and the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, independent of cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

Resistance training is optimal for improving:

Strength Lean body Mass

Increase Bone Density

Improve balance using free-weight exercises (e.g. barbells)

Injury reduction

One study found that resistance training focused on hip and shoulder rotation increased maximum hip rotation speed, which improved golf performance (Burden, Grimshaw, & Wallace, 1998). Researchers observed the characteristics of highly skilled golfers, and determined that golfers with the most strength, flexibility, range of motion, and balance possessed higher skill levels (Sell, Tsai, Smoliga, Myers, & Lephart, 2007).

Fletcher and Hartwell (2004) in a short 8-week study (16-sessions) examined the combined effects of resistance and plyometric training and found a 1.5% (between 0.7 and 2.7 km/h) increase in club head speed and 4.3% (between 5.1 and 17.3 m) increase in driving distance for the training group. In this study exercises were designed to strengthen the golfer’s whole body reporting that strong arms and hands are needed to deliver the club face squarely to the ball and the legs and torso need strength to maintain stability throughout the swing. *The study reports using simple exercises e.g. medicine ball throws.

Another study found that among older golfers, an eight week functional training program increased club head speed by 4.9% and caused some improvements in strength and flexibility (Thompson, Cobb, & Blackwell, 2007).

In 2006 another short 11-week study on NCAA golfers who participated in a strength, flexibility, and power program realized increases in club head speed, strength, and flexibility respectively (Doan et al., 2006).

In summary, several studies have reported that strength, flexibility, and range of motion are directly related to club head speed and driving distance, which is thought to result in increased performance (Doan et al., 2006; Fletcher Strength Training and Golf Performance 35 & Hartwell, 2004).

Golf and injuries: Prospective and retrospective epidemiological studies quote the incidence of injury in amateur golfers annually to be between 15.8% and 40.9% and lifetime injury incidence between 25.2% and 67.4% (Doan et al., 2006). *Overall, the incidence of injury is moderate, and the rate of injury per hour played is low.

Regarding limb injuries, the lead side (the left arm and leg in a right-handed golfer) is more often injured than the trail (right side in a right-handed golfer). The average length of missed practice or competition quoted is 4.0–5.2 weeks at one time.

The spine and particularly the lower back account for the greatest overall incidence of injury in amateur golfers (18.3–36.4%).

Elbow (8.0–33.0%)

Wrist and hand (10.0–32%)

Shoulder (4.0–18.6%) are other frequently injured anatomical regions in amateur golfers (Batt ME, 1993).

When we began research on injury rates associated with golf, The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported 1863 studies with 5 studies meeting their criteria for analysis.

Of the five studies included:

- Mean age of the golfers in these studies was 34.8 (±3.6) years.

- 72% males and 28% females.


*Four studies reported that lumbar spine injuries were the most common (range 22%–34%). *Hand/wrist was the next most common region of injury (range 6%–37%).

This study analyzed golf-related injuries treated in US hospital emergency departments from 1990 through 2011 using the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database. *Injury rates were calculated using golf participation data.


Estimated 663,471 individuals ≥7years old were treated in US emergency departments for golf-related injuries, averaging 30,158 annually or 12.3 individuals per 10,000 golf participants. Patients 18-54 years old accounted for 42.2% of injuries, but injury rates per 10,000 golf participants were highest among individuals 7-17years old (22.1) and ≥55years old (21.8) compared with 18-54years old (7.6). Patients ≥55years old had a hospital admission rate that was 5.01 (95% CI: 4.12-6.09) times higher than that of younger patients. *Injured by a golf club (23.4%) *Struck by a golf ball (16.0%) were the most common specified mechanisms of injury. The head/neck was the most frequently injured body region (36.2%), and Sprain/strain (30.6%) was the most common type of injury.

This study included 363 members of the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA), who competed in tournaments during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. This was a prospective study with a follow-up period of 24 months. Injuries varied with tournament level and was significantly higher in Division II and Division III than in Division I.

The most common location and type of injury were the shoulder/clavicle (Division I: 14.1%, Division II: 15.7%, Division III: 17.3%) and the tendinosis or tendinopathy (21.2%) (Division I: 23.7%, Division II: 21.2%, Division III: 18.5%), respectively.

The most common mechanism of injury was the golf swing (47.9%–51.6% for the three divisions). Additionally, multivariate analysis revealed that body mass index and the number of previous season competitions were significantly associated with injury risk in female golfers.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. As mentioned earlier, BMI, the number of matches games and pre-existing injuries are related to some cumulative fatigue of golfers, so it may be evidence that a golfer with moderate BMI has a lower risk of injury than a high BMI.

BMI Scale assembled by World Health Organization (WHO) in 1993 an Expert Consultation Group in charge of developing uniform categories of the BMI. Considered underweight - range of 15 to 19.9 Normal weight - BMI 20 to 24.9 Overweight - BMI was 25 to 29.9 Obese - 30 to 35 or greater.

In previous studies of female professional golfers, the most common location of injury was the wrist, followed by the lower back and the hand (McCarroll and Gioe, 1982). According to the Gosheger et al. in their study, the common injury site of male professional golfers were the lower back, wrist and shoulder, and that of male amateur golfers were the elbow, lower back and shoulder (Gosheger et al., 2003). Additionally, a study by McHardy et al. reported that male and female amateur golfers were the lower back to be the site of most injuries, followed by elbow/forearm, foot/ankle, and shoulder (McHardy et al., 2007).

Barriers of preventing injuries in golfers:

Although the interest in preventing and treating golf-related injuries was very high (82.5%), only 59% of golfers reported being treated within 1 week for their injuries, and 37.6% remained untreated after 10 days.

The reasons given for not accessing timely treatment included being:

- Time (43.7%)

- Education (19.7%)

- Motivation (18.2%)

- other (18.4%)

Source: J Sports Sci Med. 2018 Sep; 17(3): 492–500.

Therefore, evidence-based practice guidelines suggest that golfers to prevent injuries should consider weight control, neuromuscular, and proprioceptive, and strength training to improve the functional stability of the shoulder, lumbar and wrist joint, or the number of tournament games in which the athlete competes (Hoogenboom et al., 2014).

In a relatively recent review, Farrally et al., 2003 summarized the results of golf-related investigations published by the World Scientific Congress of Golf (WSCG). One of these areas comprises issues related to physical conditioning, exercise and nutrition. It appears when researching that physical demands in golf are yet not well understood, even though growing attention is being paid to increasing muscle strength and flexibility to optimize driving distance.

First let's consider relationships proved by the scientific literature.

1) A positive relationship exists between handicap and swing performance (even though few studies have investigated this issue).

2) There is a positive correlation between skill (handicap and/or score) and muscle strength.

3) There is a relationship between driving distance, swing speed, ball speed and muscle strength.

Several authors have suggested that leg, upper body, and arm strength are all correlated with performance measures, especially with the acceleration and speed reached in the swing (Doan BK et al.). Though studies that analyzed variations in swing performance following resistance-only training programs are scarce, results suggest that improving leg-hip and trunk power as well as grip strength is especially relevant for golf performance improvement and injury reduction.

An aim of resistance training program is to increase muscle strength parameters, mobility, and balance. A study using isometric knee extension torque and leg extension power,10-m walking speed, dynamic balance test, and self-reported outdoor mobility were measured in 60- to 85-year-old community-dwelling men and women 0.5 to 7.0 years after hip fracture. It was concluded that intensive resistance training is feasible for people with a hip fracture and improved muscle strength and power ( Portegijs E et al.).

What Is Resistance Training? Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, hypertrophy, mass, and/or endurance. The external resistance can be dumbbells, barbells, exercise tubing, your own body weight, or any other object that causes the muscles to contract.

Popular styles of resistance exercise.

(1) Olympic lifting (where athletes lift the weight overhead like you see in the Olympics),

(2) Power lifting (a competition where athletes perform the squat, dead lift, and bench press)

(3) Weight lifting (a sport where athletes lift heavy weights—typically fewer than six reps). When you lift weights or pull on bands at the gym to get stronger or bigger, you are performing resistance exercise. Occasionally you will hear the term "strength training" associated with lifting weights.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that resistance training should be progressive in nature (progressively overloaded).

"The principle of progressive overload is universally accepted as the model that creates the greatest gains in strength (Weil, 2003)"

Criteria for choosing exercises: Three basic and simple criteria to help us decide exercises with respect to being most effective at increasing our general strength.

We want the biggest return on our investment from our time in the gym, therefor exercise selection meet the following:

  • Use the most muscle mass

  • Use the most weight

  • Use the greatest effective range of motion

I want to note that this is purposefully not encouraging “sport specialization”, or making one as strong as possible, as fast as possible in a few specific movements. A more generalized (ie not specific) approach early in a resistance training career is not just suggested by evidence, it is also associated with favorable long-term athletic success. If you know me or I write your online programming you know I stress that I am not concerned with how much weight you lift in the first 12 weeks of training (as this is an irrelevant metric for comparison), yet rather how much you're lifting in the years to come, or more importantly for non-competitive trainees, frequency of lifting.

Most effective exercises with respect to lean body mass, skeletal muscle, bone mass, and time efficiency there are no other set of exercises that can match the same physical and clinical results within the same amount of training time that barbell squats paired with deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press exercises can. In other words, RT is optimal, while also improving medical relevant parameters, such as:

-Fasting blood sugar

-Body fat

-Waist circumference 

-Blood pressure

-Bone density 

-Cognitive capacity

Squats are one of the most commonly used exercises with respect to strength and conditioning (Schoenfeld, 2010). As a compound exercise, squats incorporate all major muscles in the legs and other key parts of the body. According to Schoenfeld (2010), the benefits of squats are enormous and are not restricted to the athletic populace. For golfers and tennis players, squats are considered to be one of the best forms of exercise because of its ability to recruit muscle groups in a single maneuver. Squats also expose the flexibility of the shoulder and teach load and balance of the hips.

According to Spassov (1989), squats are essential for the development of strength in tennis players because they focus on the legs which can cause endurance problems for players lacking aerobic conditioning. Said differently, Spassov identified squats as necessary for explosive power in tennis. Several studies, here, here, and here have found that older individuals could undertake strength training and realize several physiological benefits. Through progressively overloaded squats, balance, coordination, increased strength and flexibility in the whole body are likely to increase.

Like squats, deadlifts are another exercise that is considered to be optimal for golfers and tennis players. Deadlifts are one of the best exercises with respect to training the posterior chain and grip. Golfers are likely to benefit from deadlifts, because of its ability to improve strength and functionality in the various parts of the body needed to excel in the game (primarily the legs, back and hips). As well as swing speed, shot consistency and fatigue reduction.

Research has shown that exercises like squats and deadlifts are among the main physical attributes that strengthen performance in a wide range of sports. Also, according to Robbins (2011), strength and development are needed for athletes to reach maximum performance and these improved strength levels can be achieved through squats and deadlifts.

Squats and deadlifts are also important weight-bearing exercises for building and maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis, a metabolic bone condition characterized by loss of bone mineral density and an increase in bone fragility (Harding and Becks, 2017; Ermin et al, 2012). Bone tissue is made up of osteoclasts and osteoblasts. To improve the bone tissue and increase bone density, it is necessary to place stress on the bones with a progressively overloaded method.

Thank you for reading this document! My hope is that this read was insightful and either motivates you to start resistance training, encourages you to keep researching, or if you are already resistance training, further advances your journey.

I want to see those handicaps continue dropping, get more people playing, or should you have the lowest handicap - keep it (winning is fun).

Do visit our online coaching section if you are interested in form checks and or custom programming, cheers!

Thank you all for the continued support via encouragement, sharing, and continuing to follow.

Happy Training,

Frankie Vincent


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