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How to get fit for golf
Improving strength, stamina and flexibility in young golfers
I have been working with England Golf for the last 15 months, coaching the South West under 16s boys and girls squads.
I have been responsible for their golf fitness, and we have made significant progress since adopting a new approach since September 2014.
I have developed a simple online tool to help develop the habits of the young golfers systematically. This has enabled the golfers to get fit in a structured manner, even though I only see them intermittently. I have been very lucky in having the support of the golf coaches: John Jacobs and Martyn Thompson, who understand the need for strength and conditioning in golf.
Train Well, Eat Well, Recover Well
These are the 3 aspects of fitness that we have been told to develop with our golfers. Unfortunately, these ideas are alien to most of the young golfers when they arrive at the squad. Despite the fact that most of them are doing either GCSE p.e. or a BTEC in sport and exercise, the lack of knowledge and sound practice is frightening.
Eating a bacon and egg sandwich 15 minutes before training is about to start is one example. A few of the golfers have personal trainers, but are unable to do 5 good press ups, nor do a single leg squat (unloaded) nor run 400m without walking when they arrive. The sleep habits and bed time routines are typical of teenage kids, rather than aspirational athletes.
Parents, especially of the girls, have very strong opinions on what is necessary to succeed in golf: some telling their daughters not to run! Most are well meaning, but need help on what the best foods are to eat and when, as well as the requirements of golf.
So, imposing a “you must do this” approach together with the “World’s best golf fitness program” would be destined to fail.
Starting fitness for golf
We started the good habits necessary when we held a joining boys and girls assessment weekend in September. I wanted the candidates to be clear from the start what the program would involve: like running! That way there would be no misunderstandings later.
I did a presentation with the parents on Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) with special emphasis on the dangers of early sports specialisation. I told the parents that their children would be required to input 3 numbers a week online. They all agreed publicly that this was a reasonable goal.
Over the course of the weekend, I worked with every candidate and gave them a series of simple exercises that we developed many years ago called 5 by 5 by 5: 5 minutes of 5 exercises, 5 times a week.
I wanted every candidate to have this opportunity, because they and their parents had all invested a weekend of their time. That way they could go home and practice and try again next year if unsuccessful.
I then showed the candidates what their online reporting tool would look like, using google drive. All they had to do was create a gmail account and then report on what they had done the previous week, using a 1-5 scale for each category.
The first stage was:
- Train Well: do their 5 by5 exercises
- Eat Well: Eat 5 portions of fruit/veg a day
- Recover well: Measure the overall sleep quality that week.
Their form would look like this:
Now, you may think that is too simplistic. My job is not to impress anybody with what I know, it is to affect change of behaviour within the golfers (and their parents).
We set this as the target for the next 4-5 weeks until I saw them in their respective squads. Their individual sheets linked into a global sheet that I then reviewed every Monday morning:
The grey areas are where the gaps are, the green amber and red indicate how successful the golfer has been overall. I can then look at the individual scores for each golfer week by week.
I shared this with the golf coaches and the squad managers, everyone can then see what the golfers have been doing: they are accountable.
Building up the golfers’ fitness
My main aim at the start was to get the golfers thinking about these areas every week. There were accountable for filling in 3 numbers.
I realise that they can falsify the numbers (more later on that) but at least once a week they had to think about the plan when they had to enter the numbers!
By giving them some relatively easy goals, I was hoping to create some small successes, build confidence and trust and go from there.
However, setting up a gmail account and inputting 3 numbers a week, let alone remembering where their one document was on Google Drive has proven too much for some of them!
So, at the next squad meetings, I went over it again. This time we changed the goals for the next 5-6 weeks, but kept it to 3 numbers.
- Train Well: Run up to 5 miles in a week.
- Eat Well: Eat breakfast with 1 portion of fruit and some protein.
- Recover well: A stretch routine post training/ golf.
The golfers are getting fit!
Whilst it may appear we got off to an inauspicious start, over half of the squad were really having a go and making themselves fit.
The simple goals, identifiable tasks and weekly contact made for a good conversation starter. Some were so keen, they took their exercises on holiday and we now have a collection of “me training on holiday” pics”.
Our third stage of golf fitness training was:
- Train Well: Do 3 circuits +2 runs/week
- Eat Well: Drink 2 litres of water/day
- Recover well: Have a post training snack within 15 minutes of exercise/ golf.
This was where the intensity of training increased for the golfers. I gave them 3 different circuits to choose from before Christmas. I allowed for the proposed bad weather (it never arrived) thinking indoor circuits would be manageable over Christmas holidays, and a run twice a week when fine.
The girls especially nailed the recovery snacks, but most of them were making a real effort to change their behaviour.
This included stocking up with good food on the way home!
There is no hiding from The Hill.
I mentioned earlier that it is easy to fill out a form online, but much harder to do the underlying work.
That is why at every squad session we do a group run or circuit: it keeps everyone honest. I keep my mouth shut, and the rankings speak for themselves. On January 2nd we did a run on Frank Clarke’s Hill in Willand, which is pretty steep. This was the toughest thing some of them had ever done. Others were unable to run more than 50m up the hill without walking…
We are now in the situation where 80% of the squad members are really trying to get better.
There is a work ethic within the squad, and I get asked good questions about how they can improve their golf fitness.
We have a few more sessions left, but already this year we have made further progress than last year. There has been an increase in club head speed and a corresponding drop in their Golf Handicap.
If you want me to help you get fit for golf, then I am happy to help, please contact me.
Thanks to Ollie Whitehead and Randy Ballard for help on the monitoring sheets.
James' knowledge of strength and conditioning has been a valuable resource that I have used to enhance the training programmes at 4 professional Rugby League clubs; Harlequins, St Helens, Whitehaven and Workington. He has had a positive impact on the performance of the athletes and added to the professional development of coaching staff
10 Apr 2018
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