Strength and conditioning coach Jamie Greaves is here to explain why golf fitness is something you shouldn't be afraid of.
Using a gym and training specific exercises for golf is often thought of as a new phenomenon, but if 85-year-old Gary Player or 66-year-old Greg Norman are anything to go by - golf fitness is far from a revolutionary concept.
Step in Strength and Conditioning Coach Jamie Greaves, based at Northampton Golf Club and training a wide range of golfers from Ladies European Tour stars like Meg Maclaren to 75-year-old club golfers. Jamie is here to talk through some common misconceptions when it comes to golf and fitness.
What would you define golf fitness to be?
I think golf fitness conjures up images of the things you see on social media. If you typed “golf fitness” into Google, you'd see lots of exercises that I despise, for example, the standing on stability ball or mimicking the golf swing on a cable machine. A lot of people believe golf fitness is replicating the golf swing in the gym.
To me, golf fitness is using fitness in a way to improve performance on and off the course. I always like to stress that what benefits you on the golf course is probably also going to benefit you away from the golf course. If you can move a little bit better, it will help you in your golf swing and it will help you in everyday life.
There is definitely confusion, people have an expectation of what golf fitness should be and if something doesn't look like the golf swing, they struggle to understand why it will help them.
Strength and conditioning is a term used a lot in golf, what exactly does it mean?
Strength and conditioning is more about using fitness work to improve performance. For any sport you would conduct a needs analysis which will determine what qualities are essential for the athlete, the sport, or a combination of the two. All the things that will make someone a better player.
If we look at golf, obviously driving distance is important. We know we can influence driving distance, through strength and through power. In the gym, if we can increase strength and power levels that should indirectly improve performance. So that's what strength and conditioning is, it's looking at what the sport needs and requires and then how can we positively impact that in the gym.
To me, golf strength and conditioning and golf fitness are the same thing. I think it's something as an industry, we haven't really done a very good job of explaining.
What are the common misconceptions around fitness and golf?
You need to improve your cardiovascular fitness
As it stands I think a lot of golfers see golf as a cardio game. Obviously, you're out there for four to four and a half hours, walking five miles, but the cardio demands of golf are actually quite low. Most people are physically fit enough to walk a few miles over a few hours.
When you look at those parameters, the impact on performance of how cardiovascular fit someone is, isn't that high. Now, that's not to say that being fitter is unhelpful, obviously, if you are fit, it is only going to have a positive impact. There are certainly benefits to being cardiovascular fitter, but from from a pure golf performance standpoint, they wouldn't be that high on my list of priorities.
You need to be flexible
Alongside cardio, golfers believe they need to be really flexible. Normally when I get a message from a golfer, I want to hit the ball further, I want to do this, this and this…but I can't because I'm not flexible through my hips, shoulders, etc.
Flexibility is important and for some people is more important than others. A 60/70 year old may well have some mobility restrictions that if that was improved, could have a positive impact on their golf game. But for a lot of people, mobility is probably not the reason they're struggling to get the ball out there.
If you look at the research, with regards to mobility and distance, the correlation is not particularly strong, which surprises a lot of people, they think the more mobile you are the further you hit it.
My view is that as long as you're mobile enough, you can move reasonably well to put the golf club in positions that you want to get into, then, actually chasing more flexibility is not that valuable. We don't have to be gymnasts with golfers at the end of the day.
I think stretching and flexibility work is over emphasised for golfers, particularly female golfers, because for the large part, they will be more flexible than male golfers anyway.
Cardio and flexibility are two areas that don't have much correlation to swing speed and shooting lower scores.
Strength training will make me bulk up and become inflexible
There's this perception out there that if you lift weights, you will become inflexible, and tight and stiff as a board and all those kinds of things. It just doesn't really bear out. That's not what happens.
There is actually research out there that shows that strength training can improve flexibility to the same degree, if not more, than stretching, which for most people kind of blows their mind, they think how can that happen?
When we're doing strength training through full ranges of motion, and we're improving those ranges of motion (flexibility), and we're also strengthening and controlling those ranges as well.
A squat, for example, done through range of motion is going to be really helpful for someone's ankles, knees, hips, trunk, shoulders, they're going to get so much ability to improve range of motion in that. But they're also going to get the benefit from the strength component of a squat, the power production that you can get from a squat.
You won't become Arnold Schwarzenegger
Strength training makes things more time efficient, because most people are busy, they don't have seven, eight hours a week to dedicate to things. If you can do some smart strength training and improve strength, power and mobility in the same exercise. It's more time efficient than doing a stretching session, a strength session and so on.
Most people, when they see a player that maybe looks slightly more muscular, and that kind of big look, they tend to shy away from it. I don't think they quite realise the effort that goes into that. The idea of not wanting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mean that's taken hours and hours of training and correct nutrition. Built on, weeks, months, years. That's not something your average person really needs to concern themselves with, because two or three hours in the gym a week doing some weights is not going to have the impact on the body that professional bodybuilders have.
Particularly from a female point of view because you have lower levels of testosterone in your body. So, it's even harder for you to add muscle mass and size, particularly in an upper body area as well. Women, in particular, shouldn’t shy away from lifting weights because of the fear that they might look a certain way, it's highly, highly unlikely unless they take it to the absolute extremes.
About Jamie Greaves
Jamie Greaves is a strength and conditioning coach and an avid golfer. He started playing golf at the age of 10 and played college golf in the USA, where he reached a +2 handicap. It was during his time in the USA that he discovered his love for fitness and how proper training can positively influence your golf game. He currently works with a wide range of clients from players on the main professional golf tours such as Meg Maclaren, England representatives and county squads, going right through to regular club golfers and beginners. Jamie believes that the great thing about golf fitness is that everyone, no matter age or ability, can benefit!