Sprinting vs Jogging: Why Distance Running Won't Help Your Golf Game

Tiger Woods is as responsible for popularizing "golf fitness" as any entity in golf or sport.  He's one of the most accomplished - and dedicated - athletes of all time, but that doesn't mean all of his training strategies were optimal.    

As fans, we're quick to laud elite athletes for their work ethic, but as performance coaches we need to consider how that work is focused.  Less than a year later, Tiger was acknowledging that distance running wasn't the most effective way to build a strong lower body.  He is right.  Here's Dr. Rose from a recent TPI LIVE.


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This article isn’t “is cardio important?” The answer to that is unequivocally yes. Cardiovascular fitness is, to simplify, the way in which the body supplies oxygen to working muscles for the energy you need to move. This article is more about how to get good cardio and why longer, slower, distance running is not what I’d choose for high performing golfers.

There are two categories that activities/exercises fall into: anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic means that the oxygen supplied to the muscles isn’t sufficient enough to sustain the work for a long period of time (think sprinting or a max speed driver swing). Aerobic means that the supply is plentiful enough for long sustained activity (think jogging or walking a round of golf).

Obviously golf has both, leading to the crux of this article. In my experience, golfers tend to focus on the 4+ hours that a round takes, decide that this requires significant stamina (they are not incorrect), and then go run 3 miles in about 20-30 min.

Here’s my problem with this philosophy: the level of cardio necessary to play a competitive round of golf is low. In other words, no one shoots 90 because they can’t get enough air.

I liken golf to a mixture of shooting free-throws, kicking field goals, and pitching a baseball. All outrageously pressurized, all highly demanding in skill and the ability to control oneself, but do not require elite levels of cardiovascular fitness to perform at a high level. Therefore, what is truly needed is to be cardiovascularly fit, but only so that the body recovers more quickly and operates more efficiently, to then be an explosive athlete for longer.

In a study conducted by Potteiger et al. (1992), (thanks Eric Cressey and Rob Rabena for finding this one), it was found during simulated baseball games that the Vo2 levels (measured in reached ⅓ the levels associated with endurance athletes. Meaning, cardiovascular endurance isn’t really a factor in pitching late into a game. While a real game probably elevates the consumption and expenditure, it obviously doesn’t raise the levels to that of a Tour de France rider. Though I do not have any reliable data on VO2 for golfers during a round of golf, I have seen data indicating that VO2 max reaches about 35-46 during a round of golf, indicating that cardio isn’t a major player in finishing a round of golf as strongly as started.

Cardio is important, but a golfer will quickly see diminishing returns if it's overemphasized in their training. It is far more important to develop a golfer's strength, mobility and power as these are they physical capabilities that are responsible for hitting the golf ball, and particularly hitting the golf ball far. 

There’s a saying, “What you do is who you become.” Same thing with training: if you only train slow, you’ll be slow.  I don’t care if you run a 7 minute mile, it’s not fast relative to the power and rate of force production of the golf swing. The golf swing is an explosive activity. If you want to swing fast, train fast. Train to build strength and explosion.

If a golfer is relatively active and playing golf regularly, they are probably not limited by poor cardio.  Many of my athletes see a peak heart rate in the 140-160 range during a one hour training session, which is around the peak of a pretty solid run anyways. 

So, instead of distance running, I would prefer intervals and explosive training. Train fast to go fast.  You're not a marathon runner, you're a sprinter. 

On speed days, elite spinters might rest for one minute for every 10m they run at maximium velocity.  If you're sprinting (or just training) to improve power and speed, make sure to monitor rest time.  Want to incorporate more cardio?  Try interval training.  Run a short sprint (~50 yards), rest, recover, and then do it again. Do Assault Bike sprints where you're 10 seconds on at max intensity and resting for 20 - 30 seconds. The more stuff we can do where we muscle in our body quickly, the better off we’ll be. Explosively lift weights, perform low rep-high explosion box jumps. It's also important to remember that while HIIT workouts are very productive for improving general fitness (and generally better than steady-state cardio), improving "general fitness" shouldn't be the only goal in "golf fitness."  Get strong, mobile, explosive, stable and fast.

You still will gain cardio just by working out and, as we’ve seen, golfers don't need marathon-levels of cardiovascular fitness. If you prefer to be that sort of athlete, you can get there with shorter, higher intensity runs, learning to lift weights properly, and using a few circuits to develop athleticism with a moderately high heart rate.

In summary, I argue against distance running and would have my golfers get their cardio from strength sessions or faster interval type training. In-season sprints have been shown to increase lower body strength while long slow distance running has shown to lessen it in baseball players (Rhea et al. 2008). If we want to be fast - and I believe that all of us golfers want our swings to be fast - then we have to get serious about training the system that produces that, and spending most of our time in this way. So spend some time doing some box jumps, or sprints (if you have the form and capability to do so), and definitely some strength building if you actually want to hit the ball further.

Michael Whitehead is a former full-time professional golfer. He has
seen what it takes to reach the highest levels, and has competed in a
US Open himself (2011, Congressional). He competed at various levels,
in almost every type of event from NCAA D1 to the PGA Tour.

Michael and his Wife, Jordan, own and operate Whitehead Fitness in
Houston, TX. Whitehead Fitness is dedicated to helping individuals
move well in, and for, any avenue of life.

Michael has a TPI Level 1 Certification, a Boditrak Golf Ground
Mechanics Certification, and a Functional Golf System Cert from The
Gray Institute. He also is a Certified Functional Strength Coach.


  1.  Potteiger, J., Blessing, D., & Wilson, G. D. (1992). The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 6, 11-18.


  1. Wells GD, Elmi M., Thomas S. (2009) Physiological Correlates of Golf Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 May;23(3):741-50. 


  1. Rhea, M., Oliverson, J., Marshall, G., Peterson, M., Kenn, J., & Ayllon, F. (2008). Noncompatibilty of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research , 230-234.

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