As a golfer, improving your game can border on an obsession. I spend a lot of my free time thinking about golf, and what I can do to improve.
After playing golf for over 15 years, I never gave much thought to how improving my fitness could impact my game. In 2016 I started getting into better shape by working out several times a week. By the next season, I was amazed at how much my performance had improved.
After seeing substantial improvements over several seasons, I’d like to give you a guide to golf workouts, and how they can help you too!
Why Golf Workouts Matter
If you haven’t done much to work out before, you may be wondering what benefits you’ll see from working out that translate to the course. You can swing the club, hit a decent shot, put up a score you’re happy with.
So what’s the point?
As a golfer, you will always want to be better. That’s just the way it is. There are various ways to improve your game; you can buy new gear, play more rounds or even take a few lessons. Ultimately, a significant portion of your performance on the course is attributed to your physical capabilities.
From experience, I can say first hand that I have noticed a dramatic difference in my game through golf workouts. For about two years at this point, I have made significant lifestyle changes by starting to exercise regularly. In turn I have lost fat, gained muscle, flexibility and truly strengthened my body where it counts on the golf course. My body seems to be more in sync coming through the ball, and I’ve been able to add 10-15 yards to each club in my bag.
The correlation between fitness and performance is especially prominent in the professional golf world. When you look at golfers like Rory, Brooks, DJ, DeChambeau, and of course Tiger Woods, the work they do off the course to get in shape translates big time.
Golf workouts can also help your mental game; being in better shape on the golf course will help your confidence in your abilities and help your mental fortitude when the going gets tough.
Although it may not seem like it, golf is a very physically demanding sport. You don’t need to look further than the challenges Tiger Woods has faced; back issues, torn ACL, neck issues, Achilles problems, and the list goes on. A golf swing puts pressure on the hips, elbows, back, knees, shoulders and wrists. By being in better physical condition and warming up, you will reduce the possibility of injuring yourself.
Health Benefits, of course
I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking by saying that workouts to improve your golf game will improve your overall health. There are countless studies linking being in better shape to reducing your exposure to various health risks.
What are we looking to improve?
Reading up to this point indicates to me that you’re pretty interested in improving your game through workouts- awesome! I’ll list the major areas to focus on.
Simply put, your core is what puts power into the rotation aspect of your swing. This directly contributes to more club head speed, meaning more distance. Beyond power, a strong midsection will give you more stability and balance over the ball. Strengthening your core can make your swing much more effective.
You don’t need to be able to do a split to be a great golfer- most of us would not make the cut if that was the case. That said, flexibility allows you to use your full range of motion, adding serious power to your swing. Think of flexibility as both joint mobility and muscular flexibility. “It takes me a couple holes to get warmed up”. Tell me you haven’t said that before, because I’m sure most of us have at some point. You can achieve improved flexibility by implementing stretching into your routine. You should stretch both in the gym and during your warm up at the course.
The base of your swing starts at the legs. Your legs play an important part in the stability of your stance and power behind your swing. Leg strength improvements will lead to more hip stability, leading to a better rotation.
When you hear posterior chain, think of all the muscles in the back of your body- muscle groups in your back, glutes, and calves. When you think about it, these are the muscles you are rotating around (spine, legs, etc). Chances are, playing a lot of golf in one day has lead to these muscles feeling sore. A stronger posterior chain can improve your posture, and prevent injuries to your back and knees.
While you don’t use your biceps much during your golf swing, improving the overall strength of your arms (and wrists) will prevent injuries like golfer’s elbow and wrist pain. You’ll want to work on your shoulders, biceps, triceps and wrists.
Do I need to be in good shape already for this?
Anyone can take these workouts and implement them. You don’t need to be in great shape for these workouts to have a positive impact on your game and life. You just need to be able to commit to doing them consistently.
How to Approach Golf Exercise
We’ve gone through why golf exercise matters, and what muscles you should work on. With this section, you’ll be able to take away some key points on warm ups and how to schedule and plan your training.
Warming up is important, both on the course and in the gym. When you go to play a round of golf, taking 5 to 10 minutes to warm up can seriously help your game. It is good practice to warm up before exercising as a whole, allowing your muscles to activate and loosen up. If you are doing weight training, it is a good idea to start with one warm up exercise with little to no weight to help this process along. I typically do 1 warm up per exercise to err on the side of caution.
Planning your Training
Working out is truly subjective. Everyone will tell you different things on what the “best” approach is.
The best approach is the one you can commit to.
Planning on exercising 5 days a week is amazing. Yet when push comes to shove, if you only end up doing 2 days, you might get down on yourself and feel like you’ve failed. Frankly, if you only have 2 days a week you can dedicate, that’s OK.
Planning to be in the gym 3-5 days a week is ideal. But again, you are looking for consistency. Be realistic, not optimistic when it comes to planning your workouts.
Generally, the better your plan is for these exercises, the better results you’ll see. There are many ways to break up your exercise days, but I’ll list the two I recommend below.
Full Body Exercise Days
If you have limited time to commit, let’s say 2-3 days, this is likely your best approach. You’ll want to mix in legs, core, and general upper body workouts all on the same day. These days you can plan on 2 exercises per muscle group.
Splitting Exercise by Muscle Group
I prefer to be exercising 3-4 days a week, splitting up my workouts by muscle group. Typically, you’ll want to work muscles that work together. For example, I dedicate one day to back and biceps, one day to chest, shoulders and triceps, and a third day to legs. This is a pretty standard workout plan, and can also be described as “push, pull, legs”. In this example, you’ll want to work on 2-4 exercises per muscle.
Training for Strength
When training for strength, you should aim to do 3-4 sets of each exercise, generally with 8-12 repetitions. You want to make sure you’re challenging yourself enough while doing this. If you find it’s a bit too easy to get to 10 reps, you should increase the weight on the exercise.
Add Some Cardio
Incorporating cardio into your regimen is a great way to work on your endurance. It is safe to run before or after a workout. The extra endurance you earn from incorporating cardio into your routine will make the back 9 a little less exhausting.
A Quick Word on Rest
Rest is just as important to exercise as the exercise itself. Getting enough sleep and giving your muscles a break from training are 2 of the biggest factors to build muscle. Make sure you give yourself enough time to rest between sets while working out, too! Anything from 30 seconds up to 2 minutes is appropriate.
Let’s get to it. I’ll break down these exercises by what they target to make it easier to digest.
Cable Wood Chop/ Reverse Cable Wood Chop
When I see and do these exercises, they look and feel like they’re made for golf. The wood chop pretty much simulates putting your body into a golf shot. You twist while keeping a steady lower body, working on your core and obliques. Doing these can help you develop explosive power from your body.
- On an adjustable cable machine, attach a handle to the top setting.
- Stand next to the cable machine, and place your feet shoulder width apart. Keep knees slightly bent throughout.
- Reaching up, grab the handle with both hands over your shoulder (similar feel to top of back swing).
- Extend your arms fully and pull the cable down across your body, rotating both your torso and hips.
- For a Reverse Cable Chop, repeat these steps, but move the handle to the bottom of the cable machine.
- Perform 10-12 reps per set.
This simple and effective move will work your core, but also help you with stability in your lower back and hips.
- On a yoga mat, lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees, with your feet on the ground
- Keep your arms on the ground, with your palms down for stability.
- Bring your knees to your chest and squeeze your core while lifting your hips off the ground.
- Slowly bring your legs down just above the floor. That is one rep. Perform 10-15 reps per set.
Such a simple concept, yet 40 seconds in you will be begging for mercy. Planks work your entire core making them a perfect and simple exercise. Planks also help reduce pressure on the back, and in turn back pain.
- On a yoga mat, get on your hands and knees.
- Brace your upper body on the ground with your forearms. Take your knees off the ground, so that only your feet and forearms touch the ground. Keep your back straight and squeeze your core.
- Regulate your breathing. Hold for as long as you can. As a beginner, try for 30 seconds, then 45, up to a minute etc.
This works on improving the strength of your obliques, which will add power and mobility to your rotation. Again, strengthening muscles in your core takes pressure off your back. These can also be done seated.
- Standing upright, hold a medicine ball, exercise ball or a golf club (horizontally) at arm’s length
- Keeping your arms fully extended, rotate your upper body in one direction while squeezing your core. Rotate from one direction to the other for 10-20 reps.
These can be done with a barbell, kettle bell, resistance band, or no weight at all!
Squats are a compound exercise that recruits many muscles to work together. Expect to work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and calves. If you’re using a barbell, it will be a bit of a back workout too!
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
- Squeeze core for stability
- Squat down putting your knees forward and hips back until you’re parallel with the ground. Keep your body upright and inhale on the way down.
- Keeping your body upright push yourself back up to the starting position. Exhale as you do this.
- Repeat 6-10 reps with a bar.
Deadlifts are one of the best exercises you can do when you do them properly. You will want to focus on excellent form here, rather than trying to lift as much as possible. This is one of the most complete body workouts you can do and I promise you will feel it. Deadlifts work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back, forearms, and grip strength.
- Start with a barbell on the floor with the appropriate amount of weight.
- Stand close to the bar with your legs shoulder width apart. The bar should be over the laces of your shoes.
- In an athletic stance, grab the bar and keep your hands just wider than shoulder width.
- Bend your knees so they touch are touching the bar. Keep your chest upright, and make sure your lower back is straight.
- Inhale, and stand up with the bar. Lower the bar to the ground by pushing your hips back and bending your legs.
- Repeat for 5-8 reps.
Single Leg RDLs
RDL stands for Romanian Deadlift, which of course is a variant on the standard deadlift. The difference is this focuses on working the hamstrings and glutes, with a huge emphasis on stability and balance.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with your knees slightly bent. Lift one foot off the ground.
- Balancing on one foot, bend at the hip moving your torso toward the ground until parallel.
- Pause, and then bring your hips forward to your starting position.
- Perform 8-12 reps per leg, per set.
This is a simple flexibility move that will work your core, lower back and hips.
- Lie on your back on a yoga mat or on the ground. Extend your arms to either side to help keep your upper body in place. Bend your knees and keep your feet on the ground.
- Slowly move both your legs to one side until they touch the ground, while keeping your upper body on the ground during the entire move. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds.
- Move your legs to the other side of your body, maintaining the same form. Once you’ve returned to starting position, that is one rep. Do 6-8 reps.
This is a dynamic stretch that will help you maintain flexibility in your legs and hips. This exercise will also give you some protection from injuring these muscles.
- Brace yourself by holding onto a wall, or other form of support. To include this in your pre-round routine, you can hold a golf club and brace yourself on it for support.
- Keep your body upright, and swing your inside leg forward and backward, increasing the range of motion as you swing. Do this for 8-12 swings.
- Repeat by switching legs and adjusting support as necessary.
Bent Over Rows with Dumbbells
This is a compound exercise that targets your lats, traps, and biceps. Doing this with dumbbells is safer, as it puts much less strain on your lower back. Using individual dumbbells as opposed to a bar also allows you to work each side of your back individually. This is advantageous if you have a stronger side, as it forces you to work them equally.
- While holding two dumbbells at your side, bend your knees and lean your chest forward until it is nearly parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight.
- Lift the dumbbells to your side while keeping your elbows tight to your body. Hold this position for a moment and try to squeeze your back muscles.
- Lower the dumbbells to the starting position slowly.
- Repeat 8-12 times for one set.
Exercise Ball Push Ups
This may not be an obvious exercise, but it targets the muscles that stabilize your shoulders and upper back. You will be working your chest and shoulders primarily, and you will be activating more core muscles as you stabilize yourself in this variation of the push up.
- Lay your chest on the exercise ball, and place your hands even with your chest on the sides of the ball, at shoulder width apart.
- Place your toes on the floor and keep your legs straight, assuming the position of an “inclined push up”.
- Push your torso off the exercise ball, but do not lock your elbows at the top of the position.
- Hold yourself at the top for a few seconds, and slowly lower yourself to the starting position.
- Repeat 8-12 times per set.
Close-Grip Push ups
This variation on push ups engages your triceps more than a standard push up. Do these and you’ll be working your chest, shoulders, triceps and core all in one movement.
- Start by assuming a standard push up position with your arms fully extended.
- Move your hands inside shoulder width, until they are close to touching. The exercise will be more difficult the closer they are.
- Lower your torso toward the ground until you are close to touching the ground.
- Use your chest and triceps to push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat 8-12 times per set.
Tricep Push Downs
Great, simple exercise working the back of your arm, from shoulder to elbow. Performing this exercise correctly helps with shoulder stability as well.
- Attach an angled bar or a rope to a high pulley machine.
- Grab the bar with your palms facing the ground. If you are using a rope, your palms will face your chest.
- Lean forward slightly while keeping a straight back, and bring your arms close to your body.
- To initiate the movement, push down with your triceps until you have extended your arms fully. Make sure you are only moving your forearms, while keeping everything else stationary.
- Slowly bring the bar/rope back to the starting position.
- Repeat 8-12 times per set.
I don’t think this exercise needs any introduction. This is a classic arm workout that is great for building overall strength.
- Start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand at arm’s length. Keep your elbows at your sides.
- Bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders by bending your elbows. Squeeze the muscle at the top.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
- Repeat 8-12 times per set.
When you think of sports that will benefit most from exercise and building muscle, it’s likely that golf doesn’t make the top of your list.
It has become a trend for golfers to pay attention to maximizing their capabilities on the course by paying more attention to gaining strength and flexibility.
You will not see results from doing a couple of days of exercise. For you to see true results from doing these exercises, you will need to have a consistent routine and stick to it. If you pick this up on an off-season, you will be amazed how you come back to the course after just a few months. Make sure you incorporate rest into your routine as well. Take 2-3 days off a week from strength training, and get enough sleep for your body to make a full recovery.
I look forward to hearing how you progress and how this impacts your game!