IMPROVE MY GAME
Debunking The Three Most Common (And Ridiculous) Arguments Against Golf Fitness
Fri Sep 1, 2017 by TPI
Last week, Golf Digest published a piece titled “Survival of the Fittest?” which was aimed at exploring the controversy surrounding the role of fitness - specifically, strength training - in golf.
The goal of the article is to examine the pros and cons, sharing opinions from some of the legends of golf and fitness. The core of the argument against strength training is that “old-schoolers” wonder if “more taxing workouts seemed to make [golfers like Duval, Tiger, Rory and Day] more physically fragile.”
Anyone who has a background in strength and conditioning recognizes what a weak thesis that is.
This isn’t a hit piece on Golf Digest. The author, Jaime Diaz, is one of the most highly-regarded journalists in all of sports, much less golf. He does a terrific job of giving a voice to both sides of the argument (including stalwarts in the fitness space like Randy Myers, Dr. Ara Suppiah and Coach Joey D). Diaz and Golf Digest aren’t making the case against fitness, they are just relaying it.
We’ve written before about the media’s trepidation and naivety with golf fitness. Though it's possible to have a nuanced discussion about the benefits (and potential risks) of strength training, fitness detractors often present the same argument, time and time again (the Golf Digest article being the perfect example).
Here are the three most common themes we see when discussing the potential pitfalls of golf fitness and why they are bogus.
1 Using Loosely-Related Personal Anecdotes
One of the issues that we see in the media - broadcast, print and social - is that the criticism is largely driven by personal anecdotes, not facts. In the Golf Digest article, Johnny Miller recounts how his body changed throughout his career as a case against golf fitness.
After winning the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1976, Johnny Miller bought a ranch and began doing heavy manual work to refurbish it. Over the next few months, Miller put on 20 well-proportioned pounds. When he rejoined the tour in 1977, he was suddenly a much worse golfer.
"It was like I was built like a tight end—broad shoulders, small waist, big legs," Miller says. "I looked great, but I didn't do any stretching, and I felt stiffer. When I went out and started practicing again, my swing had lost a lot of flexibility. The worst thing was how far off I got with the distance control on my irons, which was the part of the game where I was better than anyone. I was hitting shots I had never hit before, flying it over greens, leaving wedge shots way short. Changing my body, putting on all that muscle, getting stronger but losing flexibility, it was one of the things that killed my game and probably caused a lot of my later injuries.
There’s nothing wrong with Miller sharing a personal anecdote. It’s what he’s paid to do. However, the idea that his experience could offer an argument against strength training is absurd. The basis of this argument is completely unsound. A major champion buys a farm, lifts some hay bails, puts on muscle, gets worse at golf and thinks it’s evidence of why a golfer shouldn’t lift weights under the supervision of a qualified coach. Miller saves himself a bit here:
"Moderation is the best guide," Miller says. "Sometimes guys who work out hard start looking in the mirror and fall in love with what they see. I think a golfer has to have enough strength and flexibility, but not go crazy with it.”
Moderation might not be the specific word we'd use, but we would definitely advocate for balance. The last sentence is actually a bit naive. Miller suggests that golfers should be strong and flexible, “but not go crazy with it.” What does he think they are trying to do? Professional golfers are surrounded by extremely qualified medical and fitness professionals. Nearly every one of them screen and assess their athletes for weaknesses and limitations. Programs are written with these considerations in mind. Miller’s assertion that golfers are simply pursuing vanity in the gym is borderline insulting to the people who watch over their training. While Miller is an important voice in golf, he might be a bit out of his depth in this discussion.
2 Judging A Program Through Social Media
Social media has done a lot of good to further knowledge and exposure of golf fitness, but it’s also created opportunity for criticism without cause or accountability.
It’s not fair (and impossible) to judge a program from a 25 second video on Instagram.
The most notable example of this is the playful disagreement between Rory McIlroy and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee over whether or not Rory should be squatting. Brandel has an significant platform, but virtually zero qualifications to analyze a training program. For whatever reason, he feels compelled to criticize how one of the most successful athletes in the sport prepares their body to compete. What’s more is that Brandel’s familiarity with Rory’s program likely extends to a few posts on social media. Nothing more.
It’s not often that an athlete who might coast to $500 million in career earnings can look like a victim, but Brandel might be making McIlroy the exception. The heat he has taken for strength training is unfair. He doesn’t lift to look good in t-shirts (as Johnny Miller sometimes suggests), he lifts to become more durable. How do we know this? Because we among the people telling him he needed to get stronger.
Social media is a tremendous vehicle to convey the benefits of fitness, but if you’re trying to build or criticize a workout program from what you see on Twitter, you’re doing it wrong. Everything you see is out of context because you don't know the whole story about the program or assessment.
3 The Tiger Conundrum
Nobody has done more to raise awareness the importance of strength and athleticism in golf than Tiger Woods. When Tiger was in his prime, mentions of his physique and athleticism were heard as often as we hear “Dustin Johnson uses Trackman to dial in his wedges” and “Justin Thomas is Jordan Spieth’s good friend” today." However, in the wake of his injuries, Tiger’s penchant for the weight room is frequently cited as the reason modern golfers shouldn’t work out. Though this logic is completely broken, he's become a lightnight rod for fearing the weight room.
Look at the comments in these posts.
Comment sections aren’t always the place for thoughtful discourse and we aren’t trying to pick on these specific people (which is why we blacked their names out), but it’s an example of a silly argument against strength training for golf. If an athlete who trains gets injured, it doesn’t mean that athletes who train are more vulnerable to injuries.
Tiger, specifically, is a tricky case. Though he’s a tremendous athlete, anecdotes from Wright Thompson’s ESPN profile indicate that Tiger’s training might not always have been appropriate for a golfer.
It’s not fair to compare players who have had different trainers, different bodies, different programs, etc. We don’t believe in boilerplate programs because golfers don’t have boilerplate bodies. TPI's entire philosophy is oriented around building a workout and swing that is suitable for a golfer’s physical capabilities. Blanket statements about how a group of golfers train are usually not accurate.
Most of the people who are reading an article on MyTPI.com probably have a healthy respect for the value responsible strength training. We think it will soon become the popular opinion. The tide is turning. Golfer working to improve durability will continue to achieve mainstream acceptance. Our goal with this article isn't to blast Miller or Chamblee, but to present how most of the negative noise around golf fitness is born out of the same three weak arguments. Golf fitness professionals shouldn’t be discouraged, but emboldened.
Golf will continue on the performance trajectory it is on. As Dr. Ara told Golf Digest, as golfers push the envelope, it will elevate the need for good coaching.
"It just means that in golf, the trainers who can properly guide them will become even more valuable.”
I can't tell you how many people I see every day at the gym who do their strength training, often with very heavy weights, and then do no flexibility (joint mobility) exercises whatsoever. Mobility and balance training, especially as we age, are crucial to maintaining proper golf swing mechanics just as strength training and power training are critical for maintaining club head speed, for example. As you said, it's all about balance in your program- strength, power, stability and mobility. In older clients, the mobility aspect, particularly in the form of range-of-motion exercises, becomes even more important. What I don't understand in some of the strength training programs that the pros have been performing is the use of heavy barbells on the shoulders (back). That seems to be a recipe for major back issues down the road with all that spinal compression. I feel that dead lifting is far more effective, utilizing primarily the larger muscles groups in the buttocks and legs. Just as we stopped doing lat pulldowns behind the head years ago because they're ineffective, I think heavy weights resting on the shoulders and back are potentially detrimental. I'm relieved to see the pros moving away from exercises where a heavily loaded bar is on their backs.
Cathy 1/7/2019 7:12 PM
Just like to say that this was a great read and from a person that is in the process of running an new junior academy articles like these are I think in the long run going to make my job as a coach so much easier.
Morten Bredahl 9/7/2017 7:27 AM