Interview with Alex Ehlert MS
Updated: Aug 3, 2019
Today’s Interview is with Alex Ehlert MS
Alex puts out tons of great content and does a great job of distilling down the research into real-world, usable information. He has been a great asset to me in growing my knowledge and improving my approach to golf and sports performance training. Alex has a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a Master’s in Exercise Physiology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he also played NCAA Division 1 golf. While there, he started working out with one of our strength & conditioning coaches and added 20-25 yards of distance and fell in love with fitness. He has experience working with a lot of different groups ranging from clinical populations to collegiate athletes. He is currently a Ph.D. student in Human Movement Sciences and a volunteer coach for UNCG’s men’s golf team, working in conjunction with their strength & conditioning and sports nutrition staff. His research interests are in fitness and nutritional strategies to improve performance for athletes (especially golfers), and tactical populations (military, police, firefighters, etc).
1. I understand you were a collegiate golfer; how did you get started in golf and did you play other sports growing up?
I grew up in a family that loves golf and have been swinging clubs since I could walk. My older brother is a competitive golfer himself so I spent most of my childhood trying to beat him and ended up falling in love with the sport. I played a lot of sports growing up but split most of my time between golf, soccer, and hockey. I started focusing mostly on golf at 15 when I realized college scholarships were a possibility.
2. When did your interest in fitness come into play?
I grew up playing sports every day but had never really done much formal training until I got to college. I hit it short off the tee at that time and was struggling on the long college golf courses. I also struggled with back spasms when playing and majored in Kinesiology with the hopes of going to Physical Therapy school after graduation. I ended up working individually with one of the strength & conditioning coaches and gained a bunch of distance, and at some point, my back spasms went away. From then on, I was hooked and ended up going on to a graduate program in Exercise Physiology.
3. What drove you to go towards the research route professionally rather than just coaching or training?
That’s tough because I do love coaching and training and want to continue to do so moving forward. I entered my Master’s program with the goal of eventually going into strength & conditioning or clinical exercise physiology. But the more I read through the research related to golf, the more gaps I saw in our current knowledge. I also realized that there was often a large gap between the science and what golfers and coaches are actually doing in the applied setting. For that reason, I hope to 1) produce quality research, and 2) communicate the science to coaches and golfers in a way that they can understand and use. With that being said, I also believe that sport science researchers should get their hands dirty and work in the applied field whenever possible. So I try to train and consult with golfers as much as I can rather than just stay in the lab.
4. What are the biggest barriers to progressing evidence-based training and research when it comes to golf?
I think the biggest issue is simply the misinformation that gets spread when it comes to fitness and nutrition. If you search on Google, you’re going to find a ton of information, some of it pretty poor. I also think we constantly battle with the desire for quick fixes and “flashy” exercises. Most people find those more interesting and exciting than the evidence-based methods consisting of largely basic exercises combined with consistent hard work over months and years. Spoken like someone that struggles with this myself, researchers also do not always do a great job of communicating their results in a way the average golfer can understand and apply to their own lives.
5. What are the biggest myths that you see in the world of golf fitness and performance training?
There are a lot of them. But some of the most common ones I hear and see are 1) strength training will decrease flexibility and ruin your swing and touch, 2) strength training is causing large numbers of injuries to pro golfers, and 3) exercises need to mimic the golf swing to be effective. There are plenty of others but those seem to pop up often and get a lot of attention.
6. What is the biggest thing or things missing out of most golfers training programs and preparation in your opinion?
Good question, if I had to generalize, I’d say a lot of golfers actually focus plenty on mobility (at least the ones that are training regularly), although they could probably improve how they go about improving it. But I would say the biggest thing missing is the consistent and progressive loading of basic strength exercises as well as movements designed to improve power output. If you compare golfers to other rotational athletes (baseball, throwers, etc), my experience is that they are lacking in general strength and power in most cases. As strength is a foundation of injury reduction and power development, that probably limits the benefit they get from their training time.
7. I think you do an amazing job of translating the research into practical useable knowledge. According to the research, what are the main things you think amateur golfers should focus on when in the gym trying to improve their golf performance?
I appreciate that as it’s been a goal of mine to try to communicate research in simpler terms whenever I can. Based on the research and my own experience, I think it’s pretty much what I said above. Focusing on progressive strength development in basic movement patterns (squat, hip hinge, push, pull, carries) over time is valuable from a performance, injury, and general health perspective. So they should first learn to perform these movements well, then slowly and progressively load them up and gain some strength. Other than that, a focus on the ability to produce vertical force quickly is a valuable tool. In particular, I like using loaded and unloaded jump training as that correlates well with clubhead speed. Then obviously address any mobility limitations they may have and begin incorporating in a bit of lateral or rotational work as well. Med ball throws or slams tend to be a good option on that end for most amateurs.
8. What are the main things that junior golfers 18 and under should work on in the gym and are there any inherent risks to your knowledge when training juniors as it relates to load and exercise selection?
I believe junior golfers would benefit a ton from mastering the basics of strength and power training early on. I wish I had spent more time as a junior golfer learning how to perform basic strength exercises really well. Once they have good movement quality and technique in those exercises, starting to slowly load it and develop some strength over time will be a valuable asset. This is especially true for those going on to college golf. They will have the ability to get a lot stronger and more powerful if they come in with some training experience rather than starting from scratch.
When it comes to risks, it appears most of the concerns about strength training for teenagers are mostly unwarranted. It won’t affect their growth plates or anything like that. But I do think it is important that they are supervised and that technique is emphasized when they train, especially early on. Then if they get to a point where they can safely load exercises, make sure they are using a load that’s reasonable for them. I like to emphasize that the ego gets left at the door if someone trains with me. They going to lift the weight that’s right for them based on their current strength and ability level, not the weight they can brag to their friends about.
9. If a golfer has 5-10 minutes to warm up and minimal equipment what would you recommend that they focus on?
There are tons of options, but anything dynamic rather than static stretching and preferably something that elevates the heart rate a little bit. I personally like to select 1-2 exercises that hit each of the following; hip hinge, squat pattern, hip rotation, shoulder rotation. So it could be as simple as a little circuit of good mornings, open/close the gates, overhead squats with their club, and thoracic rotations. If they have resistance bands, then that can be added as well in different ways. I also think golfers should experiment and find a warm-up they enjoy and that makes them feel good physically and mentally. A warm-up should boost their confidence going into a round, not just prepare their body from a biomechanical or physiological standpoint.
10. Any last pieces of advice that you would give the golfers out there as it relates their health and fitness?
I think findings a good coach or mentor that knows their stuff is great. Additionally, don’t be afraid of loading up strength exercises as long as you can do it safely and with good technique. I’d say the most important thing to emphasize is that consistency is key. Find a good coach and exercise program and stick with it. There aren’t many quick fixes when it comes to fitness, but little improvements add up over time.
11. Where can people find out more about you and access the great information you put out there?
I am pretty active on social media. They can follow me or message me on twitter @AlexMEhlert and on Instagram at golf_physiologist. For those who like reading the research, you can also follow me on Research Gate; just search for Alex Ehlert. I should have a few research articles published this year and will try to keep that page updated with what I’m working on.
I want to thank Alex for taking the time to answer these questions and give some advice and insight into the golf fitness and performance training. I hope you learned a much from this as I did. If you have any questions for us, we are here to assist you with our wide variety of in-person and online training options, just head to our website below. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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John Paul Guidry DPT CSCS TPI Guidry Golf and Sport www.guidrygolfandsport.com