Mar 9, 2016Up To Par
To better meet the demands of the sport, Louisiana State University men’s golf revamped its strength program prior to the 2015 season. The new approach paid off with a national championship.
This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Training and Conditioning.
After reaching the 2014 NCAA Division I Final Four for the team’s best finish since 1967, Louisiana State University men’s golf was hungry for more. To win a national championship and break the 60-year title drought for our program, we knew we had to ramp up our training.
In the past, my focus had been on building overall strength with the men’s golf team. But to help us reach the next level in 2015, I knew I had to make our regimen much more sport specific. Weightroom work was tailored to the golf swing, and we added exercises to address the varied movement demands of the sport. I also believed the athletes had to be mentally resilient to reach their goals, so we emphasized having a process-oriented mindset.
The results of our new approach were on display during the 2015 NCAA Regional Qualification round. Facing an 11-shot deficit going into the final 18 holes, the team shot 12 under par, which was just enough to qualify and advance. Our players’ ability to put two bad rounds behind them, paired with the strength to physically outlast the competition, helped propel them through the Regionals and eventually capture the 2015 team national championship.
HEAD IN THE GAME
Golfers compete drive by drive, shot by shot, and putt by putt. So I ask them to approach training with the same process-oriented mindset-to take workouts day by day, set by set, and rep by rep. I instill this in our players by demanding intensity, discipline, and attention to detail in everything they do.
Our athletes understand that every seemingly minor decision they make affects something bigger than them. For example, I’ve had the entire team do a penalty run because one guy wore the wrong color shirt to a workout. And I often have players repeat lifts if they get a small detail wrong. If they continue to perform the movement incorrectly, the whole team will redo it.
It’s one thing to have a strong mental focus during individual training sessions, but it’s another to maintain it over the course of a long season. Our team has fall tournaments from September to November, and the official season can go from February to June if we make a deep postseason run. Keeping players mentally sharp through it all comes down to consistent coaching. I demand attention to detail all year long, and I don’t give the athletes an inch. Over time, focusing on the details becomes habit and translates to play.
My new training philosophy for building better golf swings focused on three things: core strength, explosive power, and range of motion. Why are these necessary for a golf swing? Because all three help the body transfer force more efficiently.
Force production in the swing must travel through the core to get to the club and ball. Therefore, a strong core is vital for transferring kinetic energy. In contrast, a weak core not only reduces the power production of the swing, but also leaks potential energy that could be transferred to the club.
In addition, golfers need to be explosive through multiple planes of movement. When you look at the mechanics of the golf swing, the most obvious movement is transverse rotation, but hip extension and vertical displacement at the pelvis play a role as well. We address these with heavy doses of explosive med ball training and plyometrics.
Finally, the swing requires a certain degree of range of motion. If the body can’t reach this amount, it will compensate in a less efficient way, which can lead to injury.
Our solution is to set range of motion goals for the hips, shoulders, and thorax. The ability to rotate and extend the hips violently is paramount in golf, so we shoot for 45 degrees of internal rotation for both hips. This allows the athlete to get a quality backswing, shift onto their lead leg, and reach full internal rotation during follow-through.
The next benchmark is attaining at least 130 degrees of shoulder external rotation while standing. This helps the golfer open his shoulder at the top of his backswing without altering his swinging motion.
We also aim for adequate rotation at the trunk and thorax. The thorax usually maxes out at 140 to 155 degrees during the swing, so we shoot for 80 degrees of rotation in each direction at the thorax and trunk. The golfer should be able to disassociate his upper and lower body, keeping the lower body stable while the upper body rotates.
To reach all of these range of motion goals, we work on mobility and stability in the thoracic spine, lats, shoulders, and hips. Some of our sample exercises include T-spine mobility drills, wall slides, soft-tissue work on the pecs, and strengthening the internal hip rotators.
There is much more to golf-specific strength and conditioning than improving athletes’ swings. I also considered the movements required on the course and the varied terrain demands.
Golf is a unique sport because it is both asymmetrical and repetitive-athletes swing in one direction over and over again. To address this, we progress our athletes from bilateral to unilateral movements in some lifts. Unilateral work helps uncover any strength and movement imbalances because a single extremity is doing all the work. It also activates the core more and increases neural drive to the working muscle groups via bilateral deficit.
In the lower body specifically, as soon as an athlete begins a single-leg exercise, he activates the lateral oblique subsystem, which is a group of muscles that stabilizes the hips and knees. For golfers, this is vital for developing hip strength and stability.
After our players have gotten comfortable with the unilateral exercises, we advance them to performing auxiliary lifts on unstable surfaces. Proprioception and kinesthetic awareness are very important for golfers because they need to be comfortable on any type of surface and recognize their body’s relation to the environment. By utilizing tools like Bosu balls and Airex pads, we are able to activate more motor units and increase the athlete’s proprioceptive abilities.
Once an athlete has mastered the unilateral exercises and unstable surfaces separately, we combine them. An example of this would be a standing, single-leg dumbbell press on an Airex pad.
Another unique trait about golf is that it utilizes multiple energy systems. A golfer uses the phosphagen system to swing, then immediately shifts to the oxidative system to walk to the next shot. We condition for this by performing high-intensity intervals to work on the phosphagen system and low-intensity distance running to train the oxidative system.
PUT IT TOGETHER
To enact my sport-specific training philosophy, I created a new year-round regimen prior to the 2015 season. There are three main phases, and each one has a different emphasis. We lift three days a week during the offseason and non-competition weeks and twice in a competition week. (See “Phased In” below for a sample workout from each training block.)
Phase One: September to November is our general preparation phase. During this time, we use higher reps and a lower intensity in the weightroom, which prepares the players for the increased loads and volumes of later phases. It also gives us a base of conditioning and work capacity to build on through the winter and spring.
One of the areas of emphasis for phase one is increasing range of motion and flexibility. A favored exercise for this is the overhead squat on a Bosu ball. Not only does it develop overall total body flexibility, but performing it on the Bosu ball adds a proprioceptive element, as well.
Another focus during phase one is accumulating basic strength and aerobic capacity. Some of the exercises we use for this are dumbbell goblet squats, TRX rows, TRX I/Y/T, and stability ball push-ups. The goblet squat strengthens the hips and legs, activates the back, and helps us teach the squat motion. TRX exercises are great for back and scap development, and the cables activate the core and train shoulder stability. Lastly, performing push-ups on an exercise ball trains shoulder stability and takes pressure off the wrists. A golfer’s wrists are especially susceptible to overuse injuries from stabilizing the club after every swing, so we give them a rest whenever possible.
After every second lift of the week, the team does a banded hip strengthening circuit. Comprised of 10 reps of different exercises that strengthen the hips and glutes, such as clamshells, supine double-leg external rotations, and straight-leg hip abductions, the athletes run through the circuit twice.
Because core strength is so vital for golfers, we incorporate 10 sets of 20 reps of core work in each lifting session. This can include sit-ups to work on flexion, Supermans for extension, Russian twists for rotation, and plank variations for isometric stress. Team abs are done for time at the end of each workout.
Twice a week, we wrap up our sessions with conditioning. We use low-intensity distance running (one to one-and-a-half miles) or low-intensity interval training to gain an aerobic base.
Phase Two: The team’s true offseason lasts from late November to February, as the athletes don’t have any tournaments during this span. We use a higher volume and intensity in the weightroom at this time to shift training targets toward maximal strength. Higher-intensity, multi-joint exercises, such as the dead lift and dumbbell Romanian dead lift, will be implemented during this phase. The dead lift is great for developing maximal strength in the hips and lower body, while the Romanian dead lift targets muscles in the posterior chain.
We also continue to integrate power development exercises. For instance, we’ll use rotating box jumps to train rate of force development in the lower body and include med ball rotational slams to increase rotational power.
Instead of a hip strengthening circuit, we switch to a hip mobility circuit in phase two. It includes different exercises that target hip flexion, extension, and external and internal rotation, such as hurdles, fire hydrants, donkey kicks, straight-leg raises, hip circles, and up-and-throughs. The circuit emphasizes the disassociation of the upper and lower body and trains stability in the trunk, which helps develop range of motion. We do the circuit after our second lift of the week, and the players go through it twice.
For conditioning, we use a combination of aerobic and anaerobic work. Anaerobic conditioning is done after our first lift of the week and includes different higher-intensity intervals, such as short sprints separated by long rests or stadium runs. We do aerobic conditioning after our third lift of the week, and it’s similar to the longer-distance, low-intensity runs we do in phase one.
Phase Three: During the season-from late February to June-we shift our focus toward explosive power and golf-specific specialty movements. Our goal is to taper the athletes’ workload in preparation for the conference championship and NCAA tournament.
We include a higher concentration of golf specific exercises, plyometric progressions, and explosive med ball work during this phase, such as single-leg windmills on a Bosu ball and single-leg med ball rotational slams. The windmills are used for hip stability and strengthening, upper- and lower-body disassociation, and upper-body mobility. The med ball slam is a progression in our rotational power development exercises, and it emphasizes power development in the backswing.
There’s also a focus on maintaining shoulder, back, upper-body, and scapular strength during this phase. Sample exercises include six-point banded push-ups, horizontal cable rows, and bent-over dumbbell rear raises.
We shift our conditioning focus during phase three from aerobic capacity to anaerobic capacity using med ball circuits. These are done after our first and third lifts of the week and include a variety of explosive med ball movements, multi-joint movements, and core work. We run through three to four circuits per day, completing 10 to 12 exercises of 10 reps each, resting for 90 seconds to two minutes between sets.
It brings me tremendous satisfaction that the LSU men’s golf team was able to use our revamped training regimen to reach new heights in the 2015 season. By instilling mental discipline on a daily basis and tailoring our strength and conditioning program to the unique demands of golf, we hope to maintain this level of success for years to come.
Below are sample workouts from the three training phases in the Louisiana State University men’s golf team’s yearlong program.
- Overhead squat on Bosu ball 4 x 10
- Dumbbell goblet squat 4 x 10
- Thread the needle 3 x 10
- Weighted hypers 2 x 10
- Banded glute bridges 3 x 10
- Stability ball push-ups 3 x 12
- TRX rows 3 x 12
- TRX I/Y/Ts 3 x 12
- Banded hip strengthening circuit
- Core work 10 x 20
- Rotating box jumps 4 x 5
- Dead lift 5 x 5
- Dumbbell Romanian dead lift 4 x 5
- Stability ball leg curls 4 x 10
- Med ball rotational slams 4 x 5 each side
- TRX Push-ups 3 x 12
- Dumbbell bent-over rows 3 x 12
- Band pull-aparts 3 x 15
- Hip mobility circuit
- Core work 10 x 20
- Single-leg windmills on Bosu ball 4 x 5
- Med ball lunge twist 4 x 5
- Dumbbell single-leg Romanian dead lift 4 x 5 each leg
- Single-leg stability ball leg curls 3 x 10
- Single-leg med ball rotational slams 4 x 5 each side
- Six-point banded push-ups 3 x 12
- Horizontal cable rows 3 x 12
- Bent-over dumbbell rear raises 1 x 12 each arm