A Weight Training Program for Golfers

Improve Your Golf Game with Weight Training

Professional golfer Tiger Woods.
Professional golfer Tiger Woods. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Comprehensive training programs for individual sports are “periodized” to provide a progressive and interactive training program. Periodization means the programs are broken up into three or four phases during the year with each phase concentrating on a particular area of fitness development.

For professional sports that utilize weights in their training (which is most sports) each phase will have different objectives and each successive phase builds on the previous one.

For traveling professionals, golf is a little different. If you move from continent to continent trying to get ahead of the weather, you could pretty much play all year round. Wherever you go, a training program is an essential part of your season.

Here's how a weight training program could look if your golf playing season is followed by a closed or off-season in response to snowy weather.

How Periodized Programs Work

Early pre-season

Players are preparing for the season and starting to build up after the break. Emphasis is on building functional strength and some muscle bulk (hypertrophy).

Late pre-season

Players are working up to the start of the season. Emphasis is on building maximum power.

In season

Competition or regular recreational golf is underway and you expect to be in peak condition. Maintenance of strength and power is emphasized.

Closed season

Time to relax for a while but you need to keep active if you want to get a flying start for next year. Emphasis is on rest and recovery with maintenance of light activity —​ cross training, light gym work.

During this time a break from serious strength training is often helpful. As pre-season approaches, more regular gym work can resume.

Physically, golf requires a mix of aerobic fitness and strength. You don't want to fade in the last few holes in a round because you feel tired, which impacts mental as well as physical performance.

While this program is for strength training, you should prepare well for the long days on the fairway with additional aerobic conditioning. Practice rounds might be enough for some players but additional cardio on the road or in the gym could work to your advantage.

Basic Approach to a Golf Weight Training Program

Professional golfers like Gary Player, Greg Norman, and Tiger Woods have made strength training respectable, if not essential, for maximizing achievement in the sport. However, amateur and recreational golfers can also benefit from strength training.

This is a four-phase weight training program that should suit most golfers. The first phase concentrates on building basic strength and muscle. In the second phase, you'll focus on power delivery.

If you play all year round you can just continue with the power program once you build your basics. If you take a break for longer than a month, start again with the strength program.

Consider this program an all-around program that is best suited to beginners or casual weight trainers without a history of weight training. The best programs are specific to an individual's current fitness level, goals, and access to resources and coaches.

If you're new to weight training, brush up on principles and practices with the beginner resources before you get started.

A medical clearance for exercise is always a good idea at the start of the season.

Phase 1: Pre-Season

Strength and Muscle Phase

During this phase, you will build strength and muscle. The emphasis is on lifting moderately heavy weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibers to move bigger loads.

Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength, although in this foundation phase some muscle-building will serve you well for strength development. Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development.

Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is essentially a product of strength and speed.

For golf, power could mean a better tee shot, more control on those tricky approaches, or length on the big par five holes.

Time of year: Mid pre-season
Duration: 6-8 weeks
Days per week: 2-3, with at least one day between sessions
Reps: 8-10
Sets: 2-4

Rest in between sets: 1-2 minutes

Phase 1 Exercises:

Points to Note:

  • Always warm up and cool down before and after a training session.
  • Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but don't cause you to "fail" completely.
  • Although the upper body — the swing — is where the action is expressed in golf, the "posterior chain" of the hips, gluteals (butt) and upper legs and the abdominals are of equal importance in executing the swing. The squats and deadlifts build strength and power in this region.
  • Don't work to failure for the upper body exercises such as the dumbbell press, woodchops, and lat pulldown, and do hold good form. Keep the forearms in a vertical plane with the upper arms not extending excessively below parallel at the bottom of the movement. It's important to protect the vulnerable shoulder joint when training for sports where the shoulder gets a lot of specific "out of gym" work — in this case on the course.
  • If you are unable to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, re-schedule this program to two sessions each week rather than three. Strength training can be physically and mentally demanding — but so can golf.
  • You may be sore after these sessions. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal; joint pain is not. Be sure to monitor your arm and shoulder reactions to this phase. Back off when any joint pain or discomfort is felt.

Phase 2: Late Pre-Season to In Season

Conversion to Power

In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 1 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity. Power is combining strength and speed.

Power training requires that you lift weights at high velocity and with explosive intent. You need to rest adequately between repetitions and sets so that each movement is done as fast as possible. The number of sets can be less than in phase 1. There is no point training like this when you're fatigued.

Time of year: Late pre-season and in-season
Duration: Ongoing
Days per week: 2
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2-4
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds
Rest between sets: At least 1 minute or until recovery

Phase 2 Exercises:

Points to Note:

  • In power training, it's important that you're relatively recovered for each repetition and set so that you can maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.
  • At the same time, you need to push or pull reasonably heavy loads to develop power against reasonable resistance.
  • With the medicine ball twists, do a full set at maximum then rest sufficiently before the next one. If you don't have a partner, use a lighter ball and keep the ball in your hands while twisting from side to side.

Phase 3: In Season

Maintenance of Strength and Power

Alternate phase 1 (Strength and Muscle) and phase 2 (Power) for a total of two sessions each week. Every fifth week, skip weight training to assist recovery.

Points to Note:

  • Try not to do strength training on the same day as you practice on the course — or at least separate workouts morning and afternoon and concentrate on your short game rather than the power drives if you do.
  • Rest completely from strength training one week in five. Light gym work is OK.
  • Use your judgment. Don't sacrifice course technical skills training for weight work if you have limited time available.

Phase 4: Off Season

If you have an off-season, it's the time to rest up. You need this time for emotional and physical renewal. For several weeks, you can forget about golf and focus on other things. That said, it's a good idea to stay fit and active with cross training or other activities you enjoy.

Give yourself plenty of time to rest and get ready to do it all again next year.

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