There’s a lot of speculation about how to train like a tour player, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight.
One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train. Far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros. A strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game.
Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied — yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.
This serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual.
One of my athletes, Cam Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of “stronger equals more powerful” and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology.
Below is my current method of training tour pros. It’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as we all move forward.
I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a five-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.
Subjective — This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to dictate what’s included in a program that fits in with the individual’s life.
Postural — I take photos in standing and golf set-up positions from in front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example, a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.
Musculo-Skeletal — This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example, ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, while scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the swing.
Stability and Balance — I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.
Basic Strength and Power — I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.
Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.
From these five areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).
Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own Golf Fit Pro app. I use it to write programs that are generally split into three or four strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:
Warm Up — Foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles
Stability — One or two exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.
Strength — Four or five exercises designed to elicit a strength adaptation while challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.
Core — One or twlo exercises that specifically strengthen the core
Mobility — Five to 10 largely static stretches
Cam Smith has followed this structure the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load bearing strength work.
My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention first on perfecting technique and second on driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.
Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!
The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps, sets and load while still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels while not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be quite fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.
Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands and spiky ball, the following are my favorite bits of kit:
GravityFit — Absolutely the best equipment and training system available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture quicker.
Push Band — This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players.
Of the PGA Tour players I work with, the following are the key areas for each individual:
Cam Smith— Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.
Jonas Blixt— Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.
Harris English— Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.
My advice if you want to get your fitness regimen right is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it while listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.
Nick Randall is vice president of Sports and Performance for GravityFit. Reach him at www.gravityfit.com