Would you like to improve your golf game by increasing your drive 20 to 30 yards or more? Would you like to improve your focus during 18 holes of play, increase your precision during tee off and for the short game, improve posture, and have better club control? It’s all about using the entire body. Let me show you how. Despite what you may believe, a golfer is a speed athlete, not a bodybuilder, marathon runner, or a cyclist thus golf fitness programs should not emulate training from these sports but be specific to golf.
Many golfers train with the wrong types of exercises or do not strength train at all. This inevitably leads to joint injuries, especially the knees due to muscularity and joint weakness, as well as other weak areas.
The ability to play golf well requires playing with great technique, but more importantly, using the entire body, which is where most golfers fail. No athlete can be successful in any sport without using the entire body and often, we are simply not as conscious of it as we should be. For example, without using good hip rotation, a large golfer will not be able to drive a ball far enough to compete with a smaller golfer that generally has better hip rotation. We assume here that these two golfers would be equal in other technical aspects. Without proper training, one cannot attain good hip rotation or the many other variables necessary to improve golf technique. The entire body must be united and linked to the mental aspect of the game. But perhaps more importantly, you need to be fully aware of your body – this is true of any sport.
Considering this, we can make a simple statement about golf: Total Body = Total Game! Now let us look at the myths of golf. Tom (his account is below) began his golf training utilizing the programs concepts taught in MyHealthandFitness with an 8 handicap. His favorite saying, “You drive for show; you putt for dough.” Obviously, this has some significance because without a good short game a golfer will not win often, at least at the pro level where livelihood depends upon success. Two golfers with a good short game would likely achieve similar scores by the end of the day. However, suppose one of these golfers has not only an exceptional short game, but also a longer drive and consistently hits the ball 25 to 30 yards farther than his or her competitor. What would happen to his or her scores then? Most likely, the golfer with the longer drive plus the ability to deliver with the short game would be several strokes ahead. If you have a good short game, would you also desire the ability to drive the ball an extra 25-30 yards, e.g. the long ball? The answer from many is that a long drive does not really matter it is technique that counts most. Do you really believe this?
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Enter Tiger Woods, a man that has exceptional technique in his short game, but wait, what’s that you say, he can really blast the ball too? But, you said distance did not matter, it is technique that counts most. Let me ask the question a different way. If your short-game skill equaled that of Tiger Woods, could you beat him in a game of golf? Many golf pros have discovered beating Tiger was not easy because they consistently were out-distanced by his powerful drive, which reduces the competitive effectiveness of their short game. Tiger is usually on the green in two strokes on par 5 holes and others are on the green in three, not the best situation in a very competitive sport. If I told you I could increase Tiger’s drive another 30 yards and even his ability in the short game with these programs, would you want to compete against him then? I can and, our programs would do it; they are scientifically based. Bodybuilding-type programs are likely the worst possible programs to use as a golfer because such programs do not transfer learned skills to the tee and fairway although they are great for bodybuilders.
Following is an account of Tom, a mid-sixties senior who was seeking help to improve his game and who succeeded with the principles described herein. Read the account with the following questions in mind. Have you given the game of golf your all for years and been unable to reach the goal that you seek of becoming a minimal or no handicap golfer? Do you think that because you have great skills at putting and driving that you are at your peak performance level? Before you answer these questions, let’s read about Tom, a fellow senior golfer, who believed the only way to improve his game was to practice driving, putting, and a myriad of chipping and other techniques until he wore himself into a frazzle. Make no mistake, Tom has a great short game, but was unable to link his entire body into his swing and gain the explosive strength necessary to compete with others on par 4 and 5 holes. Following is Tom’s journey along this path.
It was mid-March in Denver, a cold, light breeze blowing from the north as Tom placed his ball atop the tee to make his drive on the first hole of the day. The wind brought a biting chill at 7:30 a.m., despite the clear sky and the slowly generating heat from the rising sun over his shoulder. At 62, Tom remains an athletic man, having played for the New York Yankees as a rookie many years ago he had maintained the discipline and drive to succeed. As an instructor of golf and an avid player, fan, and athlete, Tom reeked with confidence. Using a 1-Wood, he drove through the ball into the wind—a picture perfect 285-yard drive, farther than many of his youthful friends who were half his age. His playing partners congratulated him as he moved aside for the next player.
Despite the congratulations, Tom was troubled as he gazed down the fairway. His steel-gray eyes stared fiercely at the ball where it lay next to the sharp cut of a right dogleg far down the par 5, 505-yard swath. Though confident with his eight handicap Tom felt concerned and a little bitter at the shortness of his drive, which had been 30 plus yards greater not more than a few years ago. It wouldn’t bother him so much he thought except for one thing, he was physically much stronger now. How can you be stronger and drive shorter? He had been walking, lifting weights, and performing light stretching to improve his game. This was in addition to his constant practice and play four to five times per week—retirement had its benefits. “Is it me,” Tom wondered, “or is it simply my age?” Doing some quick mental probing, considering his driving distance versus most of his younger friends, he wondered if it were because he was more experienced and had a better swing, a size difference, or a basic athletic ability due to his former baseball years that his friends did not have. Regardless, he couldn’t resist feeling disappointed and more concerned than before with age as he approached his ball. “Drive for show; putt for dough,” Tom mumbled as he swung his 5-Wood and watched the ball as it rose to about a 25-degree angle then hit and run until it came to rest almost twenty yards shy of the green—the greens were half frozen and very fast.
As he walked, Tom felt more depressed; while his overall game had improved considerably during the last few years, his driving distance was getting shorter. He knew in his heart that the ball should have at least ended up on the edge of the collar or green; an easy par or birdie. Now, he may make par, but a birdie would be difficult. He was chastising himself as he strolled down the fairway. A short chip and two shots later, just missing birdie, Tom made par. Considering it was a par 5, it wasn’t too bad. Not as good as a PGA Pro, but acceptable.
Tom placed his golf bag into the trunk and headed home. Ending the day with a score of 79 was good, by any standards. Yet he could still not keep his mind off his shortened driving distance. Tom pondered what, if anything, he could to do to improve that part of his game. He resolved to increase his exercise regimen and carefully track his progress to determine if anything changed. For a period of several months Tom maintained records of his driving distance, practice time, and strength-training exercise program. Increasing exercise intensity had done nothing. He began to go crazy as it was all he could think about. After all else failed, he began consulting personal trainers and reading all types of fitness books. Still, there were no improvements; it seemed as though there was also a downside to retirement.
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Now late September, a long-time friend whom Tom had become a father figure for, dropped by accompanied by a gentleman Tom hadn’t met previously, but whom he had heard much about.
“Tom,” Felisha shouted, “this is my friend that I told you about, Jim.”
The two shook hands and took an immediate liking to each other.
“So,” Tom said. “Felisha tells me you’re into fitness and training athletes.”
“That’s right,” I replied. “I train athletes from all sports, so they can optimize performance and achieve greater results. I’ll give you some tips sometime if you wish.”
“What kind of training do you teach?” Tom asked. “Is it bodybuilding?”
“No!” I replied emphatically. “I teach speed-strength training for professional athletes. I design programs specifically for each sport, in other words the program for each athlete is sport specific. Bodybuilding is specific to bodybuilders and while it produces some of the greatest bodies in the world, it does not enhance athletic performance for speed athletes.”
“Well,” Tom said despondently. “I guess it wouldn’t help at golf would it?”
“Probably not,” I said. “If you take away the ball, golf is just walking.”
Tom looked at me for a second, then I burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Tom asked.
“I was just teasing.” I said. “Besides martial arts, the rotational torque of the body when swinging a golf club is probably the fastest body torque among all athletes, at least the greatest in rotation.”
“So, you can help me.” Tom responded.
“You should see how he trains people,” Felisha chimed in. “He’s a trainer’s trainer. His students are the best.”
“Yes, I can.” I said, interrupting. “Before I forget, I have a book and video in the car that I’ll leave for you. If you like it, give me a call.”
When I had left the shop, Tom remarked, “Do you think he can really help me Felisha?”
“Yes, I do.” Felisha said. “When I ran into him, everything you had been telling me about your drive and so forth came to mind, so I started picking his brain. He has a student who is 72 that looks 35 and his colleague has a 57-year-old that can clean and jerk 350 pounds off the floor. To Jim, age is just a number that’s relevant in the mental state more than the physical, to a point. He’s always saying younger to older and older to younger, something he teaches. I’m not sure what that means. Give him a chance; I don’t think you will be disappointed. He’s got several degrees including a Ph.D. and you should see the tape he’s giving you. Most of his students half his age wishes they could perform some of those exercises.”
“He’s not going to kill me is he,” Tom asked?
“No, he’s a great teacher and trainer.” Felisha said. “You’ll see.”
A couple of weeks passed, and Tom found himself giving me a golf lesson as part of his training. I had rarely used a driver except on the practice range, so I was being taught with a 3-wood after having taken a dozen or so shots with a 5-Iron under Tom’s watchful eye. Tom was skeptical, if I couldn’t play golf like a pro, how was I going to help? Yet, Tom noticed I picked things up very quickly and, the best players aren’t usually the best instructors.
“Here,” Tom said as he placed a ball atop the tee. “Let’s see what you can do with this.”
Tom couldn’t believe it; my first shot with the 3-Wood sailed straight down the driving range for about 260 yards.
“How did you do that?” Tom asked, amazed. “You rarely play golf and you hit that first shot like a pro. How often do you play?”
“About three times per year to answer your last question, but I practice at the driving range once every couple of weeks so that I know what golfers need to improve. However, to answer your first question, I did that utilizing what I term body physics,” I replied. “What you probably have heard of as bio mechanics. It’s fairly simple. Once you taught me how to swing properly, although it will take many hours for me to perfect, the motion is the same—it’s a consistent mechanical, albeit fluid motion that can be repeated over and over, much like many other athletic movements. What I’m going to do is enhance and strengthen that motion for you, make it more ballistic and more dynamic, explosive if you will.
Unlike bodybuilders who take their time in a lift, it is important for you to contract your muscle from concentric to eccentric (short to long and vice versa) as fast as you can. The faster you can do it, the more power you’ll have and fluidity, in your swing. You already have the motion perfected; I’m going to help you make it more powerful. You will learn to incorporate every muscle in the body in an explosive movement, all at once. Not a grit your teeth, strong-man approach, but a fluid, flexible, powerful drive. And that, as my next ball sailed, but sliced for 300 yards down range, is what I’m an expert at. I cannot outplay you or Tiger Woods in golf, but I can train you for vast improvement in athletic performance and whether you believe it or not, golfers are athletes. When I’m done, you will use all your body, from the finger tips to the toe tips.”
“What club would I use Tom to drive a ball 200 yards down the fairway,” I asked?
“Just like choosing the correct club for the correct shot and distance, you must make the same choice in a training program for strength and health for your sport, golf in this case.” I said. “Simply performing strength, running, or stretching exercises from magazines or ‘so called’ fitness books will not accomplish what you desire. Also, despite the fact that a great deal of time spent golfing is walking, a golfer is a speed athlete, not a bodybuilder, marathon runner, or a cyclist. For a golfer to perform the types of athletic-training routines that these type athletes perform, to improve your own performance, is a waste of time that would be better spent putting or chipping, unless of course you just want the exercise.”
We were now on the back nine. I spent more time analyzing the swing and the game with Tom than on trying to put my ball in the hole. Tom was struck by my straightforward manner and impressed at how quickly I learned.
“Is that why increasing my intensity in training didn’t help my driving distance,” Tom asked?
“Very good insight; in part,” I responded. “But, mostly because you were not sport specific with your choices of exercises and strength programs. Also, to be fast in the hip rotation and other aspects of golf, you need to train fast. Simply practicing with a club or lifting weights will not maximize the motion or individual potential, also the wrong training can cause hip, knee, and other joint injuries due to the strong dynamics of the swing. I’ll help you avoid those. The choices you made and method you chose were the wrong ones. To enhance performance the exercise motions in your fitness program must closely emulate the sport you are competing in. Unless you are a speed-strength professional and have experience training professional athletes, you will not know how to do this. You told me you worked with a trainer, followed a regimen, and increased intensity; did it work for you?”
“No,” Tom replied. “In fact, there was no improvement, minimal at best. Often I thought it was more detrimental because my swing seemed to suffer for some reason.”
“Have you noticed Tiger Woods recent slump?” I asked.
“Yes.” Tom replied. “You noticed too? It looks like he has gotten too beefy.”
“I would agree.” I replied. “In my opinion the extra muscle mass he has gained has caused his swing to suffer because the program doesn’t appear to have helped recruit all the muscles for the swing or to increase or sustain his flexibility so, it’s a little off where it should be for golf.”
“I think you may be right.” Tom said. “I wondered about that when all the news talked about the great program he was on. Seems like he is in the same kind of slump I’ve been in.”
“That should serve as a testament to you,” I stated. “Write it down in stone: unless your program is sport specific, athletic performance will not be enhanced!” This is a misnomer among younger athletes. They think they are better because they are younger and stronger, but more than their physical prowess, which is my role to greatly enhance, they get better because of experience. I like taking experienced athletes that are over 35 and training them. Within a year, they can generally outperform athletes that are 20 to 25 due to both experience and renewed strength and power that they didn’t have at an earlier age. So, the old become young and the young become old, relatively speaking. In fact, I am nearly twice as old as most of the college athletes I work with and I’m stronger and faster than most of them. I’m also stronger and faster now than when I was 20, 25, or 30. If I could just get better looking, I’d be set.” Tom laughed.
“By sport specific, do you mean exercises that emulate a golf swing,” Tom asked?
“That is correct, but not only emulate the sport, the exercises and program must compliment it,” I retorted. “Are you a bodybuilder Tom?”
“No,” Tom said.
“Then do not train like one!” I said flatly.
“Now that I’m 64, can you make me young,” Tom asked, laughing?
“I can’t make you young, but I can help you perform like a 35 to 40-year-old if you follow my advice and are willing to discipline yourself,” I said.
By now we were on the 12th tee. I drove the ball way down the fairway in a straight line, almost forty yards further than Tom. This was unnerving to him and he naturally felt resentment at being shown up by someone who rarely played, even though he was winning.
“Why did you ask me to teach you if you can drive that far?” Tom asked.
“It’s simple.” I replied, “If I know how you’re teaching me, I get an insight to what you are feeling with your body, because it’s close to how you would swing, and it helps me fine tune your program.”
“Let’s see,” I mumbled. “That’s about 300, no make it 310 yards out, plus or minus five yards or so.”
“I’ll take a bet on that,” Tom quipped. “Since you don’t play golf often, you’ll be much further off than you think. Besides, there’s a slight breeze; $20 says you’re less than 300 yards.”
“You’re on.” I said.
“How did you guess the distance so close?” Tom asked as he marked off 312 yards.
“Simple,” I replied. “I trained with the U.S. Army Rifle Team and am also an archer. You must judge distance accurately to strike the target precisely. Many mechanical devices, including bio-mechanics relate to each other. As an example, relating projectile to distance and incorporated tool to projectile and distance. A bullet to powder and primer is comparative to a golf ball to tee and club, but the latter is more complex having many more variables. The body is merely a system of fulcrums and levers; learn to use them together and don’t fight it, you get the point. Isn’t it also true in golf? If you’re attempting to place a small ball into a cup size hole that is 450 yards away, you must be very accurate. You must also make the correct choices from a variety of tools and use the entire body in the swing, plus a dozen other variables. All of them interact to form the perfect union.”
“Yes, you’re correct, again.” Tom replied. “Smart aleck.”
“Now,” I asked, laughing, “Do you want me to train you?”
Six months later (it was now April) Tom and I were on the same course. Tom placed his ball atop the tee of the par 5, 505-yard fairway and drove through. His second shot landed squarely on the green about six feet from the hole.
“That was an easy putt for eagle,” I remarked.
“Thanks to you, my entire game has improved dramatically Jim,” Tom said. “Given your quick learning ability, maybe you should train for the PGA tour.”
“I don’t think so Tom. I couldn’t afford the practice time,” I said, “Unless Tiger Woods wants to hire me as his trainer and personal bodyguard.”
“Well,” Tom said. “He would be getting a whale of a deal. Anyway, I want you to know that I’m grateful friend for all you’ve done for me. You can be sure I’ll tell my friends.”
“I appreciate your diligence in the program Tom,” I said. “I wish all my clients were as motivated and disciplined as you.”
Since beginning training, Tom had increased his driving distance an average of 32 yards, sometimes more depending on the brand-name ball used. He was back to his former form and drive. He found it easier to putt, felt less pain in his knees, was more vigorous, and achieved consistently lower scores. During play he was less tired as the game wore on, which resulted in greater finesse with his technique. Today, Tom feels 20 years younger. With the correct strength, fitness, and nutritional program, Tom made a dramatic improvement, much to the chagrin of his playing partners. They often remark, “If you want to find your ball, locate Tom’s and walk backwards.” But, more importantly he reduced his 8 handicap to four after 16 months on the program.
What could have made a greater difference in Tom’s game? Could Tom have used a different program, different trainer, better golf balls, or more practice time to achieve the same results? He tried several and none of them worked. Would attaining greater strength through use of heavier weights have made up for this difference? No, he also did this and it did not work, mostly because it did not link mind and body as one unit. Was his mental conditioning up to par, or did the fact that he had lost driving distance negatively affect his abilities? Perhaps, however, let us return to what I told Tom: “Simply doing a strength, running, or stretching routine will not accomplish what you wish for golf, because even though a great deal of time spent golfing is walking, a golfer is a speed athlete, not a bodybuilder, marathon runner, or a cyclist.”
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Having evaluated Tom’s situation and his strengths, his failure was choosing a non-sport specific training regimen. When he was trained properly, the desired results were achieved. Additionally, the new programs I taught him incorporated full-body exercises, just as when playing golf. The swing must incorporate the entire body, not parts of it. Golfers who only have one or several parts of the body committed to the swing rarely make it in competition—there must be a perfect union. And, these programs are designed to help you ‘feel’ that union. Let me put Tom’s training into perspective for you. Two of the primary variables are hip rotational speed and body weight and strength. As Tom’s fitness level improved, using the best program, he developed more force upon striking the ball because more of his body was brought into driving the ball. In other words, the faster rotational speed of the torso increased club-head speed. It is a simple formula of Force = mass x acceleration (F = ma) — because the mass of the club head does not change you must increase acceleration to increase force upon the ball. If you can develop excellent rotational speed using fast-twitch muscle fibers in the body and add that force, coupling it with your physical size and body weight, you will drive further than other golfers that have not learned this principle or that will not be disciplined enough to do so. More importantly, this principle is enhanced by sport specific speed-strength training and, if you do it well, such exercises can greatly increase the speed by which you can learn it. However, this will take considerable practice and discipline of technique—just like golf.
While some golfers and trainers contend that strength is not necessary to be effective in the technique of golf, mostly because of the “short game,”, it is very, very helpful (Tiger Woods was perhaps the perfect example), especially if one can incorporate all body muscles into the swing to achieve a longer drive rather than just using the arms or legs. The latter is the norm among most golfers. The recurring problem is that most of these individuals think in terms of bodybuilding training and body parts—an incorrect training regimen for golf. Also, if you truly believe strength is not necessary, and, I mean no disrespect, why are women’s tees considerably distance shortened compared to men’s? The stronger a person is, when coupled with a program that induces flexibility, the easier it is to be consistent and therefore, accurate. An excellent short game and ball placement off the tee requires precision. The ideal goal is to achieve the technique level of a golfer such as Tiger Woods and unite that technique with your newly-found strength and full-body movement. It is then, that the combination of size and strength will create the greatest performance level and thus, advantage. How does a golfer become as strong as possible while maintaining the desired flexibility and technique to achieve peak performance without gaining too much muscle mass?
Several factors determine how strong an individual can be. The primary factor in strengthening the body is technique; the alignment and coordination of muscles working together as one; total muscle recruitment. Poor technique and the wrong kind of exercise greatly diminish the effects of this union. This is why, when Tom performed basic bodybuilding exercises, he did not improve. In my opinion, the same could be said of Tiger Woods and other professional golfers. Three primary factors that contribute to individual strength include: (1) how you train to use short, medium, and long muscle fibers together; (2) the strength of these individual muscle fibers; and (3) the number of muscle fibers present that you also can recruit for the sport task-at-hand. A larger person has more muscle mass than a smaller person and will, theoretically, be stronger. A weight lifter uses muscle fibers for a maximum lift; the muscles will respond by becoming bigger and thicker due to the immense overload placed on the particular muscle fibers used. Such workouts fail to coordinate and allow recruitment of all muscle fibers, which results in a muscle that is not as strong or explosive as it should be for the golf swing.
Further, training slowly with weights, using decreased ranges of motion in resistance training, and isolating muscles will train the nervous system to react slower than it should for a golfer. Also, it will shorten critical muscles rather than lengthen them. How do I know this? Because, like many of you, I fell into the trap of bodybuilding/weight-training exercises; I have almost 30 years’ experience with these problems. I determined that I wanted to build fine-tuned, quick, explosive bodies, not bodies that would qualify for Mr. Olympia! To do this, I use sport specific speed-strength training regimens, which train the fast-twitch muscle fibers in the body yielding the most power in the smallest amount of mass—perfect for golf.
A sport specific strength-resistance program is a perfect marriage with golf or other pro athlete. For example, if one were reading about building a skyscraper, would they study books about houses? No! Both structures, while having some similarities, are different. The same is true for a golfer versus a bodybuilder. The principles learned, and strength gained in bodybuilding/weight training exercises will not make one a great golfer, i.e., you cannot transfer the learned skills in the gym to the fairway. Sure, you may be stronger (like Tom) and can perhaps swing more forcefully, but the speed of the swing will not be as great as what it could be because you will be using separated muscle groups (as trained), not the entire body. And, like Tom, you will achieve only minimal results. Slower speed and reduced power and flexibility will result from these kinds of workouts. For those performing such exercises, the greatest differences in drive and technique would be seen early in their golf career when they are usually more flexible than older colleagues. As they age, they will eventually find themselves in Tom’s situation.
The rest of this story is available in the book Golf Fitness from Tee to Green by Dr. Tindall. The primary point is, that whether you’re a golfer or other speed athlete, a sport specific training program is necessary to get the most out of your fitness and training and so that your training is transferable to the field of play. If it is not, you are wasting your time.