How strength and conditioning impacts your golf swing

By: Lisa N. MacFadden, PhD .

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Strength and conditioning is a hot topic in the athletic world, prompting many studies in the recent decades. Research typically focuses on high-impact sports, but with the awareness of the strength training regimes of Tiger Woods and other professional golfers, there has been interest to better understand how participation in a golf-specific workout program could improve golf performance.

A recent pilot study at the Sanford Sports Science Institute focused on assessing the impact of strength and conditioning on golf swing biomechanics and performance. The study looked at the changes a 14-week strength and conditioning program had on a golfer’s club speed, ball speed and accuracy for two different clubs.

Twelve middle school and high school golfers between the ages of 14 and 18 completed the study. It consisted of two testing sessions and a golf-specific strength and conditioning program at the Sanford POWER Golf Academy, which met twice a week.

The test

To test the changes in golf performance, each golfer hit 10 balls with a driver and 10 balls with a 6 iron in the indoors Sanford Biomechanics Lab before and after the training program. High-speed cameras and a Flightscope Xi launch monitor recorded swing data, and two force plates beneath the golfer recorded ground reaction force data.

The data from the study was analyzed and showed that each golfer who completed the program made strength gains as indicated by an increase in the weight for the lifts they did. These strength gains were further related to an overall increase in club speed, ball speed and accuracy for both clubs.

The results

Changes observed before and after strength and conditioning program completion:

  Club speed (mph) Ball speed (mph) Accuracy (yds L/R)
Club Driver 6 Iron Driver 6 Iron Driver 6 Iron
Before training 93.53 82.29 133.57 106.49 13.09 7.39
After training 95.32 83.16 135.61 108.76 3.17 0.02
Difference +1.79 +0.87 +2.04 +2.27 -9.92 -7.37

These statistically significant changes in club and ball speed were consistent with previous golf strength and conditioning research. While the improvements may seem small, any increase in club speed or ball speed typically increases distance.

The most significant change, however, was seen in ball accuracy. The results of this study showed that on average, at the end of this strength and conditioning program, the golfers were hitting both their driver and iron much straighter. Further research is needed to follow up on this pilot study and strengthen the confidence in these results.

Ground reaction force data collected by the force plates also shows a trend that the more force a golfer can produce on the lead foot and back foot during the swing, the more club speed and distance will be produced.

Further studies using ground reaction force will be done to assess how the timing of these forces affects a golf swing and how coaches can use this knowledge to help golfers understand and optimize these forces.

Benefit of strength and conditioning

The golfers participating in the Sanford POWER Golf Academy are getting more distance with their shots using both a driver and an iron, putting them closer to the green than before. Previous research has found that an increase of just 1 mph in ball speed can increase drive distance by 2 to 3 yards.

An increase in shot accuracy plays an obvious role as well. A nearly 10-yard increase in driver accuracy could be the difference between a golfer hitting out of the rough or having a much easier shot from the fairway. Similarly, a 7-yard increase in iron accuracy could ultimately be the difference between a putt on the green or a bunker shot.

Overall, this study has provided preliminary evidence that golfers who add strength and conditioning training as an element of their training can see improved performance.

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