Turns out generating swing speed is only half the story.
Second things first. Now that speed and athleticism have become coin-of-the-realm in golf fitness and modern training, there remains an often-overlooked component of getting stronger and longer—while also remaining injury-free: deceleration.
And no, we’re not talking about the dreaded deceleration that precedes short putts and weak shots. We’re talking about the deceleration that naturally occurs after you’ve struck the ball.
Consider: Your car’s not in tune nor highway ready if you feel the brakes tug right or you hear them start to squeal. Same goes for your golfing musculature. On the course or on the range, it turns out, most injuries occur after the ball strike, according to Denver-area Master Trainer and fitness consultant Jim Warren, founder of the Center 4 Champions in Highlands Ranch. “Hips and legs plus knees are where most of the injuries happen,” he says.
And yet, Warren says, “Up to 90 percent of amateur golfers train exclusively on building strength and flexibility aimed at the first 50 percent of the swing.” This is not all wasted time and effort, he explains, just somewhat shortsighted.
“The follow-through, the finish, is as important as your takeaway or downswing,” says Warren, 58, who has trained more than 200 NFL players over the years, as well as home run legend Barry Bonds (in his pre-PED days), who knew a few things about swing. “It’s the point where your body has to disperse that speed and energy generated through the impact zone.”
For golfers, dedicating a bit of swing time and prep to deceleration moves once or twice a week is about more than avoiding injury. It’s about improving your swing plane and follow-through. And while the power reaches up high—arms, shoulders, lats—it emanates from the core (see moves, below). And swing speed and acceleration cannot peak without a stable cradle of hip and pelvis muscles, plus the spine.
“The point is, you need to work on how you are rotating,” says Warren. Tremendous downward force followed by a choppy finish is a trait that suggests trouble ahead. “Each of our vertebrae rotates about a degree and a half. The more athletic you are, the more likely you can rotate freely—and athletically.”
Using a ViPR trainer (shown here), which mimics and improves upon some of the wide range-of-motion swing exercises done with kettle bells or the TRX Suspension Trainer, you are able to build a more complete turn and follow-through based upon solid swing technique.
Through repetition, resistance and flexibility moves, you work to smooth and strengthen both sides of contact. While you may not be able to actually feel each of your thoracic vertebrae stretching out a millimeter here or there, that’s exactly the aim here. When performed regularly, top trainers agree, working on deceleration as a sweeping focal point; not a stopping point, is sure to increase turn angles while shoring up your quads, hips (psoas muscles) and abdominals (obliques).
As Warren explains, “When I hear golfers say: ‘It hurts to turn, I can’t finish,’ what we do in functional fitness training is to fix their left-to-right side balance [when
right-handed], and show them how to finish athletically.”
Boulder-based writer Curt Pesmen is the author of How a Man Ages, What She Wants, When a Man Turns 40, Your First Year of Marriage and The Survivor's Guide to Colon Cancer. His writing has appeared in Esquire, GQ, SELF, Glamour, Redbook and Outside magazines. An award-winning, seven-part series of his successful fight against colon cancer appeared in Esquire magazine in 2001 and 2003.