In an age where everyone wants faster club head speed, in order to hit the golf ball further, it’s no surprise that pros and amateurs alike are picking up gym equipment in the search for a performance edge. What’s more surprising is that some of the assumptions about the kind of training you should do in order to get there, are incorrect.
Now, strength and conditioning coach and fitness consultant to the European Tour, William Wayland of Powering-Through.com has crunched the numbers and run scientific studies in his own gym in order to bust some myths and find out exactly how gym work can increase club head speed. Here’s what he found out...
1. Lower Body Strength = Club Head Speed There’s one key movement that seems to translate to more power for the golfer, and that’s your ability to extend your hips. When William Wayland needed to measure the total lower body strength of the golfers training in his gym, he had them pull on an immovable bar set at mid-thigh height and then measured the force they pressed into the ground (with pressure plates). These measurements (of Challenge Tour golfers) were used to build a scientific study.
“We found that the players that hit the ball furthest also happened to be the strongest, in this test. So there's a very good relationship between lower body strength and ball speed, and club head speed,” he told RSNG.
What’s more this kind of strength is not created by highly specialised ‘golf’ exercises. Instead, it’s built with those classic ‘meat and potatoes’ lifts such as the squat and the lunge. “If you're doing compound, bilateral (two-legged and one legged movements), then that gross improvement in strength is going to transfer to your golf swing.” says Wayland.
2. Jump Force Also Predicts Your Drive Distance But raw strength, AKA maximum force, is only half of the equation – you also need speed. Wayland also tested golfers to see if the speed at which they can generate maximum force was relevant, using a countermovement jump test. (This test measures the force that each leg puts into the ground when you jump from standing).
Lo and behold, the golfers who could produce the most raw force the fastest, also had the fastest ball and club head speeds. Remember this is not measuring a golf-specific movement, it’s just a general measure of speed and force, which athletes from a wide variety of sports improve by lifting heavy weights, and doing non sport-specific plyometric, jumping and bounding exercises.
80% of what we do is to improve general strength and power – the final 20% is where we start using speed sticks and medicine ball throws
3. 80-20 Gives The Best Results You don’t have to tell a golfer that they need speed – the internet is groaning with golf-specific routines that promise to specifically build club head speed. For Wayland, this has created a lopsided picture. Before he works with any of his clients using speed sticks, he makes sure they have a foundation of strength (more on that below) and then sticks to an 80-20 split.
“80% of what we do is in service of improving general strength and power. And then that final 20% is where we start using things like speed sticks, medicine ball throws and stuff like that,” he says. All of the golf performance improvements that he makes in his gym sit on top of a big foundation of general physical strength, built by ‘meat and potatoes’ strength training, using barbells and weights for squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull ups, rows etc.
4. Lifting Creates A Robust Body The other indisputable benefit of lifting weights is that it provides a whole host of scientifically-proven quality of life improvements, beyond just being stronger. These range from promoting healthy testosterone levels, to improving bone density and arresting muscle loss after age 35, and helping to prevent injury.
And, as Wayland points out, 80% of golf injuries are from overuse, due to the repetitive nature of the golf swing. “The problem with a lot of ‘golf fitness’ is that quite often it's very focused on swing optimization, and trying to find exercises that will help either improve parts of the swing, or elements of the swing, or fix faults in the swing.”
The problem with this is that it piles more pressure on the golf swing movement, while neglecting to look at the body as a whole. And the golf swing is an extremely powerful movement that requires your whole body to execute.
“People don’t realize how a full long drive swing produces, through the spine, 7,000 Newtons of force. So you've got to be able to handle all that force – you need to have a certain level of physical readiness, of robustness, to be able to resist the forces involved in playing golf,” he says. In other words, you need to build a foundation of strength before you take up a swing optimization strategy.
“We know that, in terms of probability and impact, if you're physically stronger, you're going to be less injured. And if you're less injured, you're more available to play and you're going to get better at golf, right?”
The young golfers who hit the gym once per week for strength training saw an approximate improvement of 7mph in 12 weeks, which is huge
5. Medicine Ball Throws Are Clutch – But Leave The Bosu Ball Out If you’re time poor and need to know the most effective way to build rotational strength, then you should know that Wayland uses medicine ball throws – where the client is sat down and throws sideways to a trainer – extensively.
He rates normal two-legged weight lifts and med ball throws over the apparently popular stability exercises that you see people do for golf – balancing on Bosu Balls or similar. “The problem with that focus on stabilization is that it's context specific. So you can stand on a Bosu ball and do whatever you want. But the only stability that’s going to improve is within that context, so you’re only really getting better at standing on a Bosu ball,” he says.
6. You Can Progress Your Weight Lifting For Even Better Golf Performance If you’re used to seeing muscle-building workouts in magazines with 10-12 rep ranges, then you’ll be interested to hear that Wayland usually operates in a more strength-focussed rep range of 1-6 and 70-85% of your one-rep max (the most weight you can lift, once).
The advantage of this is that lower reps are better for building strength, rather than size. Of course, you need to learn how to do the lifts well, which can take up to three months, says Wayland, when he’d be training with 3-6 reps. The good news is that you can keep on progressing beyond this point, learning new skills and getting measurably stronger over time.
“If you really want to build strength rapidly, and you want to really focus on improving that sort of ‘high force output’ type of quality, then you'd be wanting between anywhere between one and five reps. The more advanced you become, the more we can start using more advanced rep ranges like clusters and go more towards the top end of most people's strength,” he says.
7. How does 7mph in 12 Weeks Sound? If you need more hard evidence that the kind of strength training Wayland advocates can improve your club head speed, then you should know that he ran another study, looking at the effects of 12 weeks of weight training on 12-16 year old junior golfers, published here. The control group saw no improvement during that time, but the young golfers who hit the gym once per week for strength training saw an approximate improvement of 7mph in 12 weeks, which is huge.
Wayland consistently sees these kinds of results in his gym, for both pros and amateurs. “In terms of what I'm seeing with a lot of the guys I work with, personally, again, the first one or two years as their strength improves, they get to a decent level, usually in the upper percentile of the numbers we have on tour. And then if we start using sort of optimization strategies to get this club speed higher, we can start seeing sort of 130mph+ plus club head speeds, sometimes even higher, in a few select cases.”
Getting heavier will actually help your long drive due to the anchoring effect, which stabilizes your swing
8. Getting Heavier Can Actually Improve Your Club Head Speed Ever looked at a muscle-bound weightlifter room and thought: “Jeez, I don’t want to get that bulky, my golf game would get trashed”? Then you’re not alone, but according to Wayland, getting heavier will actually help your long drive, due to something called ‘the anchoring effect’, which stabilizes your swing.
“If you’re heavier you can generate more angular momentum, which means you're going to have more club head speed. And if you are stronger too then you can offset all of the rotational force you are trying to create,” he says.
In fact, he says that this explains why smaller, more flexible golfers often have to create more separation in their golf swings. “Whereas, if you're heavier and stronger, your swing is more efficient, it actually doesn't need to create much more separation and the risk of putting a lot of rotational force through your lower back is very much reduced.”
So, the verdict is clear, if you want to increase your club head speed and boost your drive distances, then lifting weights is a great place to begin. To get you started, check out the exclusive RSNG Foundational Strength workout, specifically designed by William Wayland to hit your whole body, below...
WHAT NEXT? Do the following exclusive RSNG full-body strength foundation workout to increase your club head speed, from trainer William Wayland.
Full Body Workout For Golf Strength Start with a 10-15 minute warm up to mobilize and prepare your body, then do the exercises below, allowing 2-5 minutes of rest between each set, and five minutes between each exercise. You can do this workout once or twice per week.
A) Total Body Explosive Movement Exercise: Box Jump Sets: 5 Reps: 3-5
B) Lower Body Lift Exercise: Back Squat Sets: 4 Reps: 3-6
C1) Upper Body Press Exercise: Push Press Sets: 4-5 Reps: 6-10
C2) Upper Body Pull Exercise: Bent-over row Sets: 4-5 Reps: 6-10
D) Weak Area Focus Exercise: Romanian Deadlift Sets: 3 Reps: 8-12
Photo by Lorenzo Hamers and Courtney Cook on Unsplash