Strength training takes its place alongside flexibility training for improving both power and speed in the golfer’s swing.

An estimated 25 million American men and women play golf each year. Unfortunately, many golfers experience injuries to their hips, back, shoulders and elbows, most likely due to the explosive action of the golf swing. A possible explanation for the high injury rate is a low level of physical conditioning among most recreational golfers.

Recently, stretching exercises have been recommended for golfers, and both amateur and professional golfers have experimented with strength training. However, the popular consensus is that strength training may be more harmful than helpful for the average golfer. For example, some middle-aged and older golfers are concerned that strength training will increase their body weight and blood pressure, and adversely affect medical conditions such as arthritis and low-back pain. Many golfers also have the impression that strengthening exercises will make them tight, reducing their flexibility and swinging speed.

To answer these questions, we conducted three research studies with senior recreational golfers who take their game seriously. The first study was completed during the winter of 1995, and included both strength and flexibility exercises. The second study was completed during the winter of 1996, and involved only strength training. A third, smaller-scale study of stretching exercises for golfers with low-back pain was also performed during the winter of 1996.

Study 1: Combining strength and flexibility

During January and February 1995, 17 recreational golfers (mean age 57.8 years) participated in an eight-week program of muscular conditioning. The subjects were assessed before and after the training period for body weight, body composition (ultrasound), blood pressure, hip and shoulder flexibility (electronic goniometer), muscle strength (10-repetition maximum leg extension), and club head speed (Beltronics radar).

They were assigned to small exercise classes (four to six participants each), and trained about 40 minutes a day, three days a week, for a period of eight weeks. Each training session was divided into 30 minutes of strength exercises and 10 minutes of stretching exercises.

The strength exercises were performed on machines in the following order:

Exercise Target Muscles

1. Leg extension Quadriceps
2. Seated leg curl Hamstrings
3. Leg press Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals
4. Chest cross Pectoralis major
5. Chest press Pectoralis major, triceps
6. Super pullover Latissimus dorsi
7. Lateral raise Deltoids
8. Biceps curl Biceps
9. Triceps extension Triceps
10. Back extension Erector spinae
11. Abdominal curl Rectus abdominis
12. Neck flexion Sternocleidomastoids
13. Neck extension Upper trapezius
14. Weight-assisted chin-up Latissimus dorsi, biceps
15. Weight-assisted bar-dip Pectoralis major, triceps

The subjects performed one set of each exercise, using a weight load that permitted eight to 12 repetitions. When they completed 12 repetitions in proper form, the resistance was increased by 2.5 to 5 pounds. All of the exercises were performed through a full range of joint movement at a speed of six seconds per repetition (two seconds lifting and four seconds lowering).

The stretching exercises were done on a StretchMate apparatus, which is a large frame with a web of elastic cables. Six specific stretches were performed for the hip flexors and extensors, shoulder protractors and rotators, and trunk muscles, including the lumbar extensors and rotators. Each position was held for about 20 seconds, and the flexibility training took less than 10 minutes per session.

These golfers made significant changes in every assessment category except body weight, which remained essentially the same. The subjects’ body weight increased by 1.1 pounds, due to a 3-pound fat loss and a 4.1-pound muscle gain. This resulted in a 1.6 percent improvement in body composition.

The subjects also experienced a 5.0 mm Hg decrease in their mean resting blood pressure over the eight-week training period. This represented a 4.5 percent improvement in resting blood pressure. Their movement range increased 11.9 degrees in shoulder abduction, 15.3 degrees in hip flexion and 8 degrees in hip extension. On average, joint flexibility in the shoulder and hip areas improved by 24 percent.

The muscle strength assessments showed a 31.9-pound increase in the 10-repetition maximum leg extension weight load. That is, the participants made a 55-percent improvement in their leg strength. Finally, the golfers achieved a 5 mph increase in their club head speed. This indicated a 6 percent improvement in driving power.

A control group of five golfers was also assessed for fitness and performance changes over the same two-month period. No significant improvements were observed in the control subjects in any of the assessment categories.

The findings from this study did not reveal any adverse effects of strength training with respect to body weight, blood pressure, arthritis, low-back pain, joint flexibility or swinging speed. In fact, the golfers significantly improved their body composition, resting blood pressure, joint flexibility and club head speed, as well as their muscle strength and functional capacity.

However, because the participants did stretching exercises along with strength training, it cannot be assumed that the strength exercises were responsible for their performance improvement. For this reason, a second study was conducted that did not include a stretching component.

Study 2: Strength

During January and February 1996, 31 recreational golfers (mean age 51.7 years) participated in an eight-week program of strength exercises. The subjects were assessed for bodyweight, body composition, blood pressure, joint flexibility, muscle strength and club head speed in the same manner as the first study. They were assigned to small classes (four to six participants each), and trained about 35 minutes a day, three days a week, for a period of eight weeks.

The strength exercises were identical to those in the first study, with two additions. These were the rotary torso machine for the oblique muscles, and the super forearm machine for the wrist flexor and extensor muscles. The strength-training protocol and exercise procedures were exactly the same as in the first study.

These golfers made significant changes in every assessment category except body weight and joint flexibility, which remained about the same. The subjects’ body weight decreased by 0.5 pounds due to a 4.8-pound fat loss and a 4.3-pound muscle gain. This produced a 2.4 percent improvement in body composition. They experienced a 6.4 mm Hg reduction in their mean resting blood pressure, for a 6.2 percent improvement in this category. Their movement range increased 1 degree in shoulder abduction, 2.8 degrees in hip flexion and 3.4 degrees in hip extension. However, none of these changes were statistically significant.

The participants had a 34.5-pound increase in their 10-repetition maximum leg extension weight load. This represented a 58 percent improvement in leg strength over the two-month training period. The golfers’ club head speed increased by 3 mph, for a 3.5 percent improvement in driving power.

Like the first study, these findings did not reveal any adverse effects of strength training with respect to bodyweight, blood pressure, arthritis, low-back pain, joint flexibility or swinging speed. Actually, both Study 1 and Study 2 produced similar results in terms of body composition, resting blood pressure and muscle strength improvements. Clearly, the stretching exercises enhanced joint flexibility (Study 1), and may have contributed to the larger increase in swinging speed. However, strength training by itself (Study 2) maintained joint flexibility and increased swinging speed significantly.

Study 3: Flexibility

During January and February 1996, eight recreational golfers (mean age 55.7 years) with chronic low-back pain participated in an eight-week program of flexibility exercises using the StretchMate apparatus as described in Study 1. Assessments of hip and shoulder flexibility, club head speed and an X-factor were determined at the beginning and conclusion of the study. (The X-factor is defined as the difference in rotation around the spine axis between the shoulders and pelvis at the top of the backswing.) Each participant performed their stretching program three times a week.

The participants experienced an increase in mean flexibility of 18.7 percent at the hips and shoulders. Hip flexion increased by 15 degrees (23 percent), hip extension by 5 degrees (25 percent), and shoulder abduction by 13.5 degrees (8 percent). Club head speed increased by 5.4 mph by the completion of this study, an improvement of 6.4 percent. This translates to approximately 10 yards of ball carry per drive. The X-factor did not change appreciably in this group of patients with low-back pain (27.62 degrees vs. 28 degrees at study completion).

These results suggest that a group of senior recreational golfers can improve flexibility and club head speed without an increase in spinal torque by means of a concentrated eight-week program of flexibility exercises.


The findings from the two strength-training studies and preliminary investigation of flexibility training (with a total of 56 recreational golfers) showed similar and significant improvements in body composition, resting blood pressure and muscle strength, whether stretching exercises were performed or not. However, only the subjects who included stretching exercises significantly increased their joint flexibility. Club head speed was improved in all three studies, although the participants who performed stretching exercises experienced an increased training effect.

Based on these results, golfers’ concerns that strength training will add body weight, increase blood pressure, increase arthritic and low back discomfort, reduce flexibility and decrease swinging speed seem unfounded.

While the subjects’ average body weight remained the same, those who strength trained lost about 4 pounds of fat weight and added about 4 pounds of lean (muscle) weight. Considering that adults add fat and lose muscle throughout the mid-life years, this clearly represents a beneficial change in body composition.

In both of the initial studies, the golfers experienced about a 5 percent decrease in resting blood pressure. Because similar results occurred with and without stretching exercises, the blood pressure reduction was apparently due to eight weeks of regular strength exercise.

Strength training by itself did not reduce joint flexibility, even though the participants’ muscle strength increased by almost 60 percent. And when strength training was supplemented with stretching exercises, joint flexibility was enhanced by 24 percent.

Strength exercise did not reduce the golfers’ swinging speed. Strength training alone resulted in a 3 mph increase in club head speed, strength training with stretching exercises produced a 5 mph increase in club head speed, and stretching exercises alone elicited a 5.4 mph increase in club head speed.

It would appear that a combination of strength and stretching exercise is most desirable for both fitness and performance enhancement in golfers. The subjects in these studies reported an improved feeling of well-being, and better function both on and off the golf course. More specifically, the golfers reported longer drives, lower scores, less fatigue and no injuries during the following golf season. These positive playing outcomes may have been partially due to the fact that many of the participants continued strength and/or flexibility training after the program ended. These golfers remain convinced that exercise training and golf are highly compatible activities.


Konik, M. Gary Player: Over 30 years with the PGA and still up to par, Nautilus, 4:3, 38-42, 1995.

Westcott, W. Pumping irons, Nautilus, 5:2, 17-19, 1996.

Westcott, W. Golf and strength training are compatible activities, Strength and Conditioning, 18: 4, 54-56, 1996.

McCarroll, Jr., et al. Injuries in the amateur golfer, The Physician and Sports Medicine, 18: 122-126, 1990.

By Carrie Sowiak.

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