Fitness training for golf has become so popular recently, with many of the big names like Tiger Woods and Anika Sorenstam crediting it for their performance. While a golf fitness and conditioning program should be tailored for the individual golfer according to his or her current physical condition, it must also follow some sort of logical sequence too. Using the Functional Fitness Pyramid model as a guide to your golf-conditioning program will have you booming your drives and draining your putts – guaranteed.
What is the Functional Fitness Pyramid (FFP)?
The FFP is a highly effective model for designing any sport specific or functional training exercise conditioning program not just for improving golf fitness. The FFP is so effective for exercise program design because each conditioning tier builds on the adaptations achieved in the tier below it – allowing for functional progressions that produce incredible results.
Tier 1: Flexibility and stability
Flexibility and stability form the base or foundation of the golf fitness pyramid. This tier involves stretching and exercises to develop your core as the foundation on which you will build your “golfing machine” body. Attempting to strengthen your body for any sport without first developing core strength and flexibility will only lead to frustration for the trainer and the athlete.
A good tip is to remember is that “You cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.” – that is the strength and power of your limb muscles can only be as strong as the core “anchor” to which they are attached.
Flexibility is the ability for a joint to actively and passively move through its full range of motion. A tight muscle is often an overactive muscle resulting from compensation or substitution for muscle weakness somewhere else in the body. These are what is commonly referred to as muscle imbalances.
To improve flexibility, you must restore muscle balance by stretching the tight muscles and strengthening the weak ones. Muscles that are frequently tight are the hip flexors, adductors (front and inside groin muscles), the low back, hamstrings, external hip rotators (deep butt), posterior neck and pec (chest) muscles. Muscles that are frequently weak are the abdominals, glutes (butt), middle back and deep neck flexor muscles.
Stability can be thought of as the ability to control your center of gravity. Static stability is what we commonly associate with our sense of balance while not moving the arms or legs; for example, your ability to stand on one foot with your eyes closed. Dynamic stability is the ability to remain stable while generating force with the arms and legs like in the golf swing.
It is crucial that you develop static stability first and then progress to dynamic stability. This makes sense since if you don’t have static stability, then how is it possible to have dynamic stability?
So a well-designed golf exercise program will initially concentrate on static core exercises using a stability ball and progress to free weight and cable column exercises while maintaining “neutral spine and pelvis” (neutral spine and pelvis are synonymous and comparable to a person with good posture standing upright).
The Supine Swiss Ball Bridge is an example of a static stability exercise and the cable wood chop [http://www.bossfitness.com/viewvideoclip.asp] is an excellent example of a dynamic stability exercise.
Tier 2: Whole-body strength
The second tier of the FFP builds on the foundation of stability and flexibility to develop whole body strength. Strength is the result of an improved communication of the muscles with the nervous system, that is, the brain is able to activate more nerves and more muscle fibers – increasing force generation.
Initially, you may start doing general machine-type exercises like shoulder presses, lateral pull downs, leg presses, chest presses and rows to build strength, but it is important that you progress toward exercises that closely mimic the golf stance and swing too.
Sport-specific exercises require the brain to form a motor plan. A motor plan is the sequence of nerve firing that activates muscles to work in a certain pattern to cause a particular movement. Exercising this way provides what is known as transfer or “carry over” to your sport. Isolated muscle strength is good, but to really smash your competition, you need strength in the motor pattern that most closely mimics the golf swing. Exercises such as the cable wood chop and reverse cable wood chop are two very effective examples of exercises that mimic the swinging and throwing movements in many types of sport and especially golf.
It is also essential that the technique you use to perform sport-specific exercises is perfect. Should you perform the exercises with bad technique, the brain remembers and reinforces the faulty motor pattern, thinking that it is actually normal and correct. Your brain is like a computer and a motor pattern like a program. If the program is full of “bugs” then the computer will not work effectively. The adage JUNK IN = JUNK OUT is very applicable to all three phases of functional fitness and conditioning.
Tier 3: Whole-body power
The third tier of the FFP takes the newly acquired strength developed in tier 2 and converts it into power. Power is essentially a measure of how quickly you can generate muscle force. So high power is the ability to generate high force or torque at fast speeds – allowing you to generate higher club head speeds and “bomb” your drives.
Most golfers are confused when trying to improve their power and assume that if they swing a heavier club they will increase rotary coil power. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen since muscle contraction speed is directly dependent on force. A muscle will contract much faster lifting little to no load compared to lifting a heavy load. Using a heavier club may slightly increase torque, but it sacrifices club head speed – reducing power output.
A tried and tested method to train muscles to generate high power regardless of sport is to use plyometrics. Plyometrics manipulates the nerve physiology of muscle to greatly increase the force and speed at which the muscle contracts by pre-stretching the muscle first.
Exercises using rubber medicine balls are ideal for developing explosive coil and swing power for example, the medicine ball swing slam [http://www.bossfitness.com/viewvideoclip.asp], the wood chop and reverse wood chop. The elastic recoil force of the rebounding ball stretches the muscles of the trunk and back and eccentrically “preloads” them for the next side throw.
The golden rule of power training is that it must be explosive, and the movements are quick and precise. It is essential then when doing plyometrics that the movements are not slow as this defeats the plyometric effect.
In closing, this article has provided some basic pointers for the golfer or athlete looking to improve their game with exercise. Following the Functional Fitness Pyramid model to a “tee” will have you well on your way to a lower handicap and possibly even “taking on Tiger”.