Great Athletes Make Great Golfers – The Importance of Functional Fitness

By Karen Harrison, BGGA Director of Health and Athletic Development

Golf is now considered a power sport. The professional game is a highly competitive arena, with high club head speed and long drives off the tee, deemed critical to producing low scores. To maximize their performance, promote longevity in the game and even reduce injury risk, elite golfers look to increase flexibility, strength and power through functional training programs.

Functional movement training, as compared to traditional strength training, can be defined as movements based on real-world situational biomechanics. That is, human movements that in some way replicate those found in the sport being played. While traditional training usually involves isolating an individual muscle and overloading it, functional training tends to involve multi-planar, multi-joint, multi-directional movements. Exercises that not only replicate the coordinated movement patterns found in the sport being performed, but reflect the range of motion utilized, as well as the type and speed of muscle contractions. Some of the greatest improvements in performance have been shown to come from training a muscle in the same way it is contracted during the sports action.

While research in this area is not conclusive, the value of either resistance programs or combined programs that include endurance, flexibility and balance and plyometric (power) training on swing performance variables including club head speed, shot accuracy and distance off the tee has been clearly demonstrated.

Ideally, a functional training program is tailored to the individual, periodized to fit in with your golf practice and tournament schedule and has outcome goals firmly established. Good communication between the trainer and golf coach is also immensely important. Respecting and understanding the link between the “technical” and the “physical” is key to accelerated technical progress.

Functional training is much more than just exercise selection. Sports performance and aspects of physical training can place high demands or stress on an individual’s body.  Thus, it is important to consult the experts in the field of exercise science and/or strength and conditioning to navigate this process safely and effectively with performance enhancement in mind.

How to get started? Initially, it is important to create a sound foundation of fundamental movement skills in our golfers. A comprehensive Physical Screening or Physical Competence Assessment (PCA) provides a baseline measurement from which training programs can be created, progress monitored and intervention prescribed (e.g. physical therapy, massage etc.) should that be necessary.

From this point, the selection of exercises to improve Fundamental Movement Skill (FMS) for golf is key and will vary based upon the skill and experience of the trainer and of course the individual’s needs. Our golfers need to be able to perform the following movements – “with movement, under load and under fatigue” (Kelvin Giles):

  1. Squat (single and double leg)
  2. Lunge (multiple directions)
  3. Push (chest drills)
  4. Pull (back)
  5. Brace (trunk integrity or core stability)
  6. Rotate (multiple options with a variety of bases of support)
  7. Bend (ability to maintain a bent over posture)

Says Michael Dalgleish of The Golf Athlete, “In considering the link between the physical and the technical, golfers also need to have specific physical competence across the following five key golf physical abilities”:

  1. Single Leg Efficiency – ability to maintain control on one leg
  2. Weight Transference Control – ability to control the shift from address to TOB to impact
  3. Maintenance of Bent Over Posture – ability to maintain the spine posture at address and impact
  4. Trunk on Pelvis Efficiency – ability to separate the movements of the hips and shoulders while staying stable
  5. Arm to Trunk Connection – ability to keep the arms connected to the trunk especially at impact (thus pulling and to some extent pushing ability)

Dalgleish, an Exercise Scientist and Physical Therapist with extensive experience treating and training golfers of all ability levels, believes FMS training should be the cornerstone for all elite level players. The maintenance of FMS ensures that a golfer is more likely to be stable, strong, coordinated and flexible enough to compete week in, week out, on the world tours.

Including functional movements patterns in the strength and conditioning programs of younger athletes especially is incredibly important.  In the junior academy environment or college setting, the repetitive nature of the golf swing combined with busy daily practice and tournament schedules can be stressful on young bodies.  Establish good routines (the “training to train” phase of long term athletic development) and a solid foundational base of movement and sports skills early, to enhance performance and minimize the risk of injury.


Training Programme – Exercise Options for FMS for Golf, Michael Dalgleish, The Golf Athlete,

Muscle Strength and Golf Performance, Lorena Torres-Ronda, Luis Sánchez-Medina and Juan J. González-Badillo; Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2011, 10 (9-18).

Movement Dynamics, Kelvin Giles,

Functional Training improves club head speed and functional fitness in older golfers, Thompson, Cobb and Blackwell, Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 2001 Feb;21 (1):131-7.

Functional Training versus Traditional Training, Landon Dean, ShapeFit

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