Getting In Shape For Golf

Dr. Westcott
In 1995, we published our first research study on golf conditioning. These study results were actually pretty impressive. After just eight weeks of strength training and stretching exercises (only 30 minutes a day, three days a week) the golfers added four pounds of muscle, lost four pounds of fat, reduced their resting blood pressure by five mmHg, improved their muscle strength by 50 percent, enhanced their joint flexibility by 25 percent, and increased their driving power (club head speed) by five miles per hour. Subsequent studies with injured golfers showed similar outcomes and additional benefits, such as no physical setbacks during the following golf season.

After four years of golf conditioning research we published a popular book on this topic, and have seen a tremendous transformation in the golf world in a remarkably short period of time. Consider that in 1995 only two professional golfers were doing strength training. By the year 2000 almost every professional golfer was performing regular strength exercise, typically with a personal trainer or physical therapist. During the same five-year period, the number of golfers in the United States increased from 25 million to about 45 million. We may take some credit for the new attitude towards strength training, but Tiger Woods is clearly responsible for the incredible increase in golf participation.

As you may know, golf is a most challenging activity due to the complexity and intricacy of the game. However, you may not be aware that the golf swing is one of the most difficult and demanding physical skills in the sports world. The ballistic action of a powerful golf drive places unusually high stress on the joint structures of the hips, back, shoulders, elbows and wrists. Although the old saying is “drive for show and putt for dough”, be assured that the golf swing is serious business with significant injury potential.

So what can you do to reduce your risk of injury and increase your driving distance? Your best bet is to get in shape before getting onto the golf course. Once you are well conditioned, be sure to obtain some professional consultation on your driving technique, as seemingly small imperfections in your swing mechanics can lead to troublesome injuries over time.

Golfers, like everyone else, benefit from all four health-related categories of physical fitness. These are cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, join flexibility, and body composition. However, for improved golf performance, the priorities should be strength training, stretching exercises and improved body composition. Such a program requires just over 30 minutes a day, two or three days per week for excellent results in both physical fitness and performance power.

Recommended Golf Conditioning Program
I can offer no better conditioning program than the one we used during our four years of golf studies. This included a basic strength training protocol with 15 exercises for the major muscle groups and six standard stretching exercises. the strength exercises, muscle groups and golf swing applications are as follows:




Golf Swing

Leg Extension

Leg Curl

Hip Adduction

Hip Abduction

Chest Cross


Lateral Raise

Biceps Curl

Triceps Extension

Back Extension

Abdominal Curl

Rotary Torso

Neck Flexion

Neck Extension

Wrist Movements

Front Thighs

Rear Thighs

Inner Thighs

Outer Thighs


Upper Back


Front Arms

Rear Arms

Lower Back

Front Midsection

Side Midsection

Front Neck

Rear Neck


Driving Power Production

Driving Power Production

Driving Power Production

Driving Power Production

Swinging Action

Swinging Action

Swinging Action

Club Control

Club Control

Power Transfer
(Legs to Torso)

Power Transfer
(Legs to Torso)

Power Transfer
(Legs to Torso)

Head Stability

Head Stability


These 15 exercisers address almost all of the muscles involved in the golf swing including those that produce driving power (leg groups), those that transfer power from the legs to the upper body (midsection and lower back groups), those that produce the swinging action (torso groups), those that provide club control (arm groups), those that provide club grip (forearm groups), and those that maintain head stability (neck groups).

We perform each exercise for just one set of 8 to 12 repetitions, which requires about one minute for completion. We train at a controlled movement speed of about six seconds per repetition to increase the exercise effectiveness and reduce the injury risk. We also advocate full-range exercise movements to develop full-range strength and to enhance joint flexibility.

To further increase joint movement range we perform six stretching exercises for the muscles of the hips, midsection and shoulders. These are the front thigh stretch, rear thigh stretch, hip stretch, chest and midsection stretch, back and shoulders stretch, and arm and shoulder stretch. We move slowly into the stretched position and hold each stretch for approximately 20 seconds.

Although our golf conditioning studies did not include endurance exercise, the participants improved their body composition by eight pounds in eight weeks (four pounds more muscle and four pounds less fat). If they had performed some form of aerobic activity (walking, jogging, cycling, stepping, etc.) or incorporated some dietary modifications, they may have experienced even more fat loss.

While cardiovascular conditioning has little relation to driving the golf ball or driving the golf cart, golfers who have higher levels of aerobic fitness seem to resist fatigue better, which may be advantageous on the back nine or for consecutive days of golf play. If you would like to perform some endurance exercise, I suggest 20 minutes of interval training, three days per week. For example, using a stationary cycle you warm-up with four minutes of easy cycling, then do four minutes of higher effort cycling, followed by four minutes of lower effort cycling, back to four minutes of higher effort cycling, and cool-down with four minutes of easy cycling. This interesting and well-tolerated aerobic workout will not prepare you for the Boston Marathon, but it should certainly improve your cardiovascular fitness and golf endurance.

Keep in mind that the relatively small amount of time you put into your golf-conditioning program could save you weeks of down-time by preventing a variety of injuries common to golfers. Just be sure to exercise reasonably and regularly, and to seek professional assistance if you have little experience in physical training.

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South
Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA., and author of 15 fitness books including Strength Training Past 50 and Complete Conditioning for Golf.

©2001 Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. all rights reserved

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Written by Wayne L. Westcott PhD

Explore Wellness in 2021