Golfers are not fragile!
This article originates from a twitter interaction I had with Nick Buchan of @StrongerGolf and Alex Ehlert of @GolfingAthlete1. The conversation started with a tweet by Nick stating “Strength and movement quality are not mutually exclusive, they can and should be trained simultaneously.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Too many times have I heard coaches, trainers, PTs etc. say the following: You can’t squat until you have x amount of hip mobility or you can’t deadlift until you can touch your toes, this is false. There are many variations of all the movements that an athlete performs in the gym. You can always find one that you can load them with while improving any pain or mobility and stability limitations they may have. For whatever reason out of all the sports golfers are seen as fragile and told that they shouldn’t lift heavy weights or perform loaded squats or deadlifts and it blows my mind. My background is in outpatient physical therapy and while I work with golfers I still treat part time in my outpatient clinic. If I can get my patients who are post op lumbar fusion or total joint replacement surgery to perform a loaded squat or deadlift, which I do with all of my lower extremity and spinal patients, then there is no reason a golfer shouldn’t be able to.
The squat and deadlift are two of the most common movements I see golfers being told they should not perform. They are also some of the best movements for building lower body strength and learning how to use the ground. Take the squat, if you have an athlete that has limited hip mobility or pain you can have them squat to a box in order to control ROM. For those with stability issues or pain with loading the back and shoulders then the front squat or goblet squat is a good variation. It is amazing how having someone with stability or perceived mobility limitations goblet squat actually cleans up their squat mechanics very quickly. There are some people in the fitness industry who claim that if you can cannot touch your toes then you cannot deadlift. This may be true for a full range off the floor deadlift but again there are many variations that can still load the deadlift movement. Variations like sumo deadlifts, rack pulls or block pulls (essentially deadlifting from an elevated surface) helps control ROM while keeping proper mechanics. Other options such as KB deadlift or trap bar deadlifts are great ways to load the hinge pattern for people who have difficulty or pain with a full range conventional deadlift. While you still want to address the limitations an athlete may have there are plenty ways to safely load them and get stronger while doing that.
Another argument is that golfers shouldn’t lift heavy weights. Dan John, who is in my opinion one of the best strength coach to have ever lived, has the following strength standards with his athletes of all sports:
Strength Standards for Men:
Expected = Bodyweight bench press Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press for 15 reps
Expected = 5 pull-ups Game-changer = 15 pull-ups
Expected = Bodyweight to 150% bodyweight deadlift Game-changer = Double-bodyweight deadlift
Expected = Bodyweight squat Game-changer = Bodyweight squat for 15 reps
Expected = Farmer walk with total bodyweight (half per hand) Game-changer =Bodyweight per hand
One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water
Strength Standards for Women:
Game-changer = Bodyweight bench press
Game-changer = Three pull-ups
Game-changer = 275-pound deadlift
Game-changer = 135 for five in the back squat
Game-changer = 85 pounds per hand
One left and right, done with a half-filled cup of water
While these numbers may not be the goal of every golfer that I work with, I think for elite level athletes these are reasonable numbers to get to. I assure you though, that if certain people in the golf community saw numbers like double body weight deadlift or body weight squat they would freak out about how bad for your back they are and how that will lead to injury. In reality, when performed with proper mechanics and progressed and programmed in safe manner by a knowledgeable coach, those numbers are not unsafe. See this study by B.P. Hamill in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which backs this up (2). Actually, I would argue that those loads are optimal for building a strength base needed both for the speed and power needed for the golf swing as well as building the resiliency needed to protect an athlete from repetitive injuries. These claims are backed up in the research showing that not only is strength training safe when performed properly but that it can minimize risk of injury especially repetitive use injury seen commonly in golf. (3,4,5) Again all research has its limitations but I feel confident that there is enough out there along with the experience of the best coaches in the field to support a loaded strength training program when performed and programmed properly will not only boost performance but also help protect against some injuries.
So next time someone tells you that because you are a golfer or because you have certain limitations that you shouldn’t be doing a certain movement or lifting certain weights remember you are not fragile and find a coach who is willing to build you up instead of telling you what you can’t or shouldn’t do. You can’t go wrong, getting strong.
2. Hamill, B. P. (1994). Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 8(1), 53-57.
3. Lauerson JB, Berteken DM, Anderson LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: A systematic review and meta-analysis of random controlled trials. Br J Sports Med, 2014; 48: 871-877.
4. Winett, R. A., & Carpinelli, R. N. (2001). Potential health-related benefits of resistance training. Preventive medicine, 33(5), 503-513
5. Gobbett TJ. The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? B Jr Sports Med. Published Online First: 12 Jan 2016. Doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788.
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John Paul Guidry DPT CSCS TPI