Training & Nutrition for Golf (And why it is important)
Golf is a sport that requires a great deal of skill and is played recreationally right up to elite level in international tournaments including the Ryder Cup, The Masters, The Open Championships, The US Open and the US PGA, but when it comes to training, if you want to improve on the course, you must be training more than just the technical element of the game (driving, putting, chipping etc). It doesn’t matter what level of golfer you are; a well-planned resistance training programme will really help you to improve your game for a number of reasons.
- Improving your power
- Reducing imbalances between each side of the body
- Sports like golf in which you use the same side of the body repetitively, in this case the swing rotation, can cause imbalances between the 2 sides of the body which increases the likelihood of injuries. Incorporating a resistance training programme can help to reduce these imbalances
- Reduces muscular imbalances
- Similar to above, muscular weaknesses can also occur due to training one side more than the other. In the case of a golfer, lower back tends to be weaker than the upper back. If left unchecked increases the likelihood of an injury.
Golf requires a mix of strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness. A golfer needs to be physically fit in order to cover a large distance of walking. If this is lacking and fatigue sets in, it will have an effect on mental performance which in turn will cause a decline in physical performance.
The main strength considerations for golfers should include glutes, hip stability and core strength. Another part of the game that will likely be forgotten about is carrying the clubs around the course, unless you are lucky enough to have a caddy or a golf cart that is. A fully loaded golf bag can weigh around 13kg, which if you are constantly lifting up, putting down and carrying around all day is likely to cause some fatigue which will have a negative effect on your game. Incorporating exercises that basically work on carrying heavy things and walking will be very useful.
The overall training for golf should focus a lot of strength training but you should also make sure you are incorporating aerobic training.
With the way the golf season runs, periodisation of training is very important. This mean that the training programme is broken up into multiple phases, in this case I have split it into 4 different phases that will focus on a different area of fitness and will aim to develop these to provide the optimum benefits for your game, which i will discuss in more detail.
- Phase 1: Pre-season – Preparation for the season starting, building muscle size, flexibility and functional muscle strength that will all translate into your performance on the course. During this period, you will be wanting to build strength and muscle which will require you to lift moderately heavy weights on the build-up to the next phase which will be then focusing on increasing power.
- Phase 2: Pre-season – Season starting – This phase you will be working up to the season starting so your training intensity will increase and you will be emphasising on building maximum power. In golf, power is extremely important, it can mean a better shot off the tee, better approach shots from the fairway, playing a good shot out of a bunker and increasing length of shots.
- Phase 3: In season – By this point you should be in peak condition so you will be focusing on maintaining strength and power
- Phase 4: Off season – After the season finishes you should be looking to rest and recovery for a while, just maintaining some light training before getting ready for preseason starting again.
According to the PGA, “The average course length on the PGA Tour is approximately 7,200 yards. That’s 4.09 miles. And the average PGA Tour pro plays 78 rounds per year. Combine those two stats and you get 319 miles travelled by the average pro every season.” That is about from Edinburgh to Birmingham or just over 12 marathons. Obviously this can vary massively from player to player depending on course length, how good they are playing (think rogue shots could add a good distance on)
Phase 1: Pre-Season
You may think that the upper body is the most important part to train for a golfer, however when you break down the action of the swing, you will notice that the hips, gluteals, upper legs and core are equally as important which is why your training programme should reflect this and contain exercises that work all of these muscles.
Good exercises to do
- Barbell squat, dumbbell squat
- Romanian deadlift
- Bicep curl
- Dumbbell bent over row
- Dumbbell tricep extentions or cable pushdowns
- Lat pulldown
Remember when you are training that you must be focusing on your form during the preseason phase. Make sure you are not pushing too heavy with the weights which may result in your form deteriorating and could lead to an injury. Don’t work to failure, focus on form.
Phase 2: Pre-Season - Season Starting
This is when you will shift your focus to power, following the strength you will have built up in phase 1. The definition of power is the ability to perform strength based movements quickly. In the case of golf, you will see this in abundance with most swings.
Training power requires a higher weight with less reps to develop the explosive nature you are looking for. It is very important when training for power that you rest adequately between reps. This can be up to 5 minutes. The weight should be about 90-95% of your 1 rep max, so a heavy weight with less reps and a higher rest time.
- Barbell or dumbbell hang clean
- Cable push-pull
- Cable wood chop
- Medicine ball push press
- Medicine ball standing twist
Phase 3: In Season
Following a successful pre-season in phase 1 and 2 you will now be entering the important part of your sport… the actual season when you hit the course competitively. In regards to training, you are not actively trying to build strength or power at this point so your main focus is to maintain the strength and power you have developed in preseason for the duration of the season. The best way of doing this is to alternate the previous 2 phases each week. E.g. Week 1: Phase 1 training. Week 2: Phase 2 training. Week 3: Phase 1 training etc for 4 weeks then have a week off for recovery where you could do light training instead.
When it comes to training, it is important that you plan when your sessions are going to be to fit around your on course training sessions. The most beneficial plan would be to avoid doing weight training and on course practice on the same day to avoid fatigue.
Phase 4: Off Season
This is when you should be recovering following a long, hard and hopefully successful season. You should aim to stay active by doing exercise like running or other things you enjoy as well as reviewing your season to understand what you need to work on once preseason comes around again.
Nutrition For Golf
More recently there has been a switch for top golfers to be fitter, leaner and have more consideration of their diet than before. It has been said that golfers carrying excess skin folds could make a player more susceptible to fatigue and as a result more likely to suffer a reduction in concentration and skill. Looking at Rory McIlroy in around 2015, he had dropped his body fat considerably and gained a lot of muscle mass following a serious back injury which kept him out of action for a long time. This change in focus towards his diet helped him improve his performances on the course.
As a golfer, carrying excess body fat can really increase the likelihood of getting injured. So, it is very important that a well-planned diet is achieved to support the training phases mentioned above.
A Golfers Diet
- A well-balanced diet containing a variety of foods from every food group each day.
- There should be a focus on nutrient rich carbohydrates, including bread, cereals (rice, pasta etc), fruit and vegetables.
- The amount of fat should be kept low with the emphasis being on foods rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts, plant based oils and fish. Saturated fats such as butter, oil, cream, cakes, biscuits, fried foods etc should be avoided.
- A moderate amount of protein should be consumed. This should be coming from lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, low fat dairy products, legumes and whole grain cereals
- Maintain effective rehydration. The body needs to be properly hydrated in order to perform at the optimum level. Fluids should be consumed regularly throughout the day and during training sessions. The best option is water, however if sweat losses are high then it may be a good idea to include a sports drink.
Although you are building up to the competition phase of your training, it is important that your diet reflects the training you are doing all year round. If you aren’t giving it what it needs in pre-season when you are actively trying to build muscle, you will struggle to see the success you are aiming for, and this will then have an effect on your performance when it comes to competitions.
During a competition players need to maintain concentration and skill level over a long period of time, sometimes as long as 5 hours, sometimes over a period of a few days.
Once fatigue occurs, a reduction in skill level can be expected. This can be for a number of reasons including dehydration and low blood sugar levels.
These tips can help to reduce the likelihood of these instances occurring:
- Having a carbohydrate based meal around 2 hours before the start of play.
- Make sure you bring adequate provisions onto the course, including carbohydrate based snacks.
- Experiment during practice rounds to work out a plan for fluids and foods to find out what suits you best.
- Carbohydrate drinks such as milk and sports drinks are a good way of consuming fluids and carbohydrates.