Where to Start:
Vertical Power, Distance and the Golf Swing

Bob Forman is the Health and Fitness Director at The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, North Carolina and authors a golf fitness website at www.golfitcarolina.com.

It’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion that states “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Starting the downswing by pushing down into the ground with the trail foot creates a ground-reaction force that generates power in the swing. The greater the push off that back foot, the more power produced. That’s why it’s important to keep the weight on the inside of the back foot in the backswing.

How high you can jump can influence how far you can hit the golf ball. The higher the leap, the more lower body power you’re able to generate. This impacts one’s ability to push or thrust off the trail foot in the initiation of the downswing, translating into more yards down the fairway.

To measure a student’s vertical power output, have them reach up from a standing position and place a piece of tape on a wall. Then, from a standing start, have them jump up as high as they can, sticking another piece of tape on the wall at their highest reach. Measure the distance between the two pieces of tape, taking the average of three attempts to see how they compare.

Use this measure as a pre-score to compare with subsequent assessments after a period of training to gauge improvements. A good score is anything over 17 inches for men and 15 inches for women.

Power is a product of strength and flexibility. It also requires the recruitment of the faster twitch muscle fibers, which are designed for short, quick bursts. Unfortunately, we lose muscle as we age, and most of that is of the faster twitch type, predominantly in the legs.

This loss of muscle, known as sarcopenia, is inevitable in both men and women, starting at age 30 and accelerating when one hits 50. In order to regain some of that lower body power, one must work at it by first strengthening the muscles in the legs, and then incorporating power or speed type exercises.

Lower body strength exercises include any type of squat, lunge, bridge, leg extension/curl, calf raise or leg press. One or two sets of 8-12 reps, done three days per week is recommended for strength gains. Strength exercises should be done at a steady pace, the slower the better, so that momentum doesn’t take over any part of the exercise.

Power exercises, on the other hand, are performed quickly, raising the potential for injury, a key reason why a good strength base should be developed first. Power exercises are explosive, recruiting the fast-twitch muscle fibers similar to those required for the 1½ seconds it takes to swing a golf club. Medicine ball slams and tosses are examples of power exercises, as are 180-degree jump turns, alternating Russian twists and lateral leaps.

Ideally, have your students start off with exercises to stretch and strengthen their lower body, and then integrate power exercises once a good base has been established. Have them safely progress through phases – a steady progression is key.

If your students desire more distance or they want to get the distance back that they once had, power exercises are the way to go. Working first on the strength and range of motion deficiencies enhances program safety and will set the stage for the power phase. That will improve playing performance and satisfaction, and boost their love of the game.

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