Why Golfers Lift Weights: Addressing Trepidation in the Media
Wed Jul 27, 2016 by TPI
As more and more golfers turn to the gym to improve performance and durability, golf fitness is pushed into mainstream discussion and, with it, comes misinformation about the what, why and how.
Over the last year, strength training has received criticism from several members of the media and golf community. We thought it might be helpful to address some of their trepidation from our perspective of having worked with thousands of professional and amateur golfers over the last two decades.
The most prominent spat came in February when Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee voiced his concern over Rory's physique and penchant for strength training. Rory infamously responded by tweeting a video of him doing squats which further fueled the debate (TPI instructor Jason Glass addressed Chamblee's comments in a video we posted on our site). Just before the Masters, Brian O'Connor of the Irish Times (whose bio describes him as a Horse Racing correspondent) shamed Rory for his dedication to fitness. Most recently, Michael McCarthy of the Sporting News agreed with Johhny Miller's Open Championship rant that Rory's failure to win in 2016 was the result of an obsession with "tight shirts" and too much time in the gym.
One common element in these three examples is that none of the authors interviewed a single performance coach, offered any background about Rory's workout programming or took the time to educate themselves about WHY golfers lift.
We've evaluated Rory numerous times at our Oceanside headquarters and put together the video above to provide some context for why Rory lifts weights. As you'll see in the video, Rory creates TREMENDOUS separation between upper body and lower body and rotates his pelvis as fast as anyone on TOUR. Measurements that we took with Rory in our 3D bay indicate that he creates 65° separation of upper body and lower body (PGA TOUR average is 45°) and rotates his hips at 720°/sec (PGA TOUR average is 550°/sec). Over the course of many years, that type of explosive movement is a potential recipe for disaster if the body does not have an adequate strength foundation. Rory had to get stronger.
The media criticism isn't limited to Rory, either. In May, after winning his third tournament in two months, Jason Day credited his improved durability and consistent performance to a renewed off-season commitment to fitness and nutrition. Chris DiMarco responded to Day's comments by saying that young players are "doing too much lifting" and that "we are seeing more injuries due to working out."
As Dr. Rose says in the video, you can hurt yourself by doing stupid stuff in the gym, but these comments suggest that gym-related injuries are common. The reality is that they aren't.
It's interesting that golf is the ONLY sport where athletes are criticized by media for trying to become stronger. Think about it: if a baseball player goes down with an injury, announcers and beat writers don't shame him for doing squats.
The vast majority of analysts and media members seem to support golfers being in the weight room, but those that disagree tend to make the most noise.
For every critical statement made on air, there are hundreds of pieces of content created by the TPI and greater golf fitness community that support strength training. Here are a few recent pieces that we wanted to highlight which dispute the claim that lifting weights is bad for golf.
Nick Buchan, a TPI Certified strength and conditioning coach based in London, recently wrote about the significance of strength in golf. “The most obvious benefit of improved strength and power is an increase in clubhead speed,” says Buchan. Strength gains can help power, speed, mobility, balance, muscular endurance and coordination: “Because you are stronger, each swing is relatively less stressful, and the likelihood of making a mistake – or a small movement pattern error – is less likely.” Most notably, a properly designed strength program will reduce injury risk and “ensure that you have a strong, stable musculoskeletal system.”
That being said, strength is just a small portion of the golf skill continuum. Continually chasing personal bests in the gym may not always translate to golf course performance. As Buchan states, “Strength will reach a point of diminishing returns in which in order to get stronger you will spend time in the gym accumulating training volume that for golf performance could be better spent focused on other areas of their game improvement.” Once standards for strength are met, a golfer should focus on skill development.
At its root, Buchan believes “being stronger than you were makes you a better athlete, and a better athlete is a better golfer. Everybody should be trying to get stronger, and at least part of their training should be focused to that end. How much of their training time or training year should be spent on that goal will however vary from golfer to golfer depending on their needs.”
The most criticized form of training among golfers recently is Olympic lifting. Nigel Tilley, a physiotherapist for the European Tour, believes Olympic lifting can be beneficial for golfers, specifically because it requires both speed and technique. “Olympic lifting is training someone to build power at a greater speed with control at the end point of acceleration. This is vital for golfers.” That being said, very few golfers are suited to training in the full spectrum of Olympic lifts. The type of training an individual needs is dependent on their specific “limitations, abilities and requirements.” A skilled strength and conditioning coach is required to determine which components of Olympic lifting are both safe and beneficial for an individual. Furthermore, a golfer should have foundational movements mastered before they progress through an Olympic lifting program.
As Tilley states, “Where we often see problems and high risk in using Olympic lifting with golfers is when someone hasn’t developed that good basic foundation to build from.” Finally, Tilley points out that Olympic lifting is just a small portion of the potential components to improve golf performance. He concludes by saying, “the ultimate underlying aim of a training program is for a player to become strong, stable and robust. This should maximize their golf game and minimize potential injury risks both in training and playing golf.”
In a recent article with todaysgolfer.co.uk, TPI Certified strength coach John Waghorn argues several points for the merits of weight training in golf. First, Waghorn points out that without training, golfers are susceptible to injury:
Golf is such a one-sided rotational sport and I believe that focusing on multiple sports throughout your formative years is really paramount to become a balanced athlete. Ensuring you are athletically balanced in both directions will help prevent the one-sided rotational pattern developing and keep you on the fairways.
Waghorn points out that the games' greats were did not escape injury: “Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson have both had hip surgery caused by the one-sided rotational demand of the game.” A golfer's pelvis withstands up to 9G of force while hitting a driver; this is the real injury risk.
There are several keys to building a training program. First, the team approach is paramount. The trainer should work with the golf coach to build a program that reinforces golf performance. In this way, the Body-Swing Connection™ is the ultimate guiding principle. This process should start with a physical screening. According to Waghorn, “Once you know your limitations you can formulate a training program and begin with the correct exercises.” The injury risk from weight training often stems from self-guided programs, “Even if you have a strong fitness background, without the correct focus, the exercises you put together will not be taking into account your strengths and weakness and will therefore cause you more harm than good.”
These are just a few examples out of literally hundreds of pieces that we could choose from. We aren't trying to bash the media and we recognize the challenge with producing hours of compelling golf content (some of which is filmed live). Part of the problem is that media members are often debating it amongst themselves and we felt it was important to add our perspective (ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg noted on Shane Bacon's podcast that the majority of the most vocal critics of strength training are retired golfers who didn't lift weights during their careers).
Overall, the narrative that golfers are "hurting themselves in the gym" is tired and unfounded. It's also somewhat disrespectful to the athletes and the professionals advising them (like Rory's trainer Dr. Stephen McGregor, a speaker at our upcoming World Golf Fitness Summit) to suggest that their commitment is born out of vanity, not performance (according to statistician Jake Nichols, Rory has played at an elite level this year). We greatly respect some of the folks that have criticized fitness, but hope we've been able to provide some context.