The year is 1974 and you’re at the Winterwood Golf Course in Las Vegas, watching the US National Seniors Tournament with the well-known Mike Austin.
After hitting a series of 400-yard drives, he’s asked by one of the other golfers to really let it go—and so he does. Driving the green on 450-yard par 4, Austin blasts the ball 65 yards past the flag; a drive of 515 yards that still stands today as the record for the longest drive in professional play.
The 64-year-old Austin gave his name to the Mike Austin Swing, which continues to be practiced and taught by several golf professionals. So, what is his secret? The fact that he was also a kinesiology expert definitely didn’t hurt.
The technique of the swing is based on “supple quickness”—meaning that speed is mainly generated by a relaxation of the muscles. It also breaks from standard golf swing teaching by having the hips slide laterally rather than turning, throwing the club from the top of the swing, and bending at hips instead of the knees.
But we mention this not because we’re trying to go for the driving world record, but because it highlights the importance of not only technique but also physical ability when it comes to being a good golfer.
Being a good golfer comes down to several different variables—some of which can only be practiced on the golf course. Here we’ll be focusing not so much on technique and aim, but on the things that physical conditioning can prepare us for. Two important variables relative to this are power and flexibility
Austin, with his background in kinesiology, perfected a technique that allowed him to drive further than anyone else, and it was this technique that helped him to utilize all of the strength and flexibility at his disposal.
A proper workout routine will incorporate strength training for all the major muscle groups, as they relate to golf, and also stretching and flexibility movements to take your game to the next level.
One of the greatest benefits of training for golf is a lessened chance of injuring yourself. When it comes to professional golfers, about 80% of their injuries are sustained due to overuse—usually in terms of the shoulders, wrists, back, and hips.
When it comes to amateur players, their injuries usually appear in the lower back and shoulders, which indicates a poor swing form rather than overuse. Depending on how often you golf, you should first work to perfect your swing technique, but training will help to prevent these injuries as well.
A good strength training golf workout will hit all of the muscle groups.
Stronger arms, for example, mean that your clubhead speed will increase, thereby increasing the length of the tee. If you have to have a solid drive, you need solid arms.
Legs are essential for having a solid base—without a solid base, it’s impossible to execute a god swing. Especially when it comes to the balance in the calf, thighs, and glutes, you’ll want explosive strength in this department. There’s a correlation between vertical jump height and professional golfers as well, which highlights the importance of having strong legs. Additionally, you’ll want to develop your single-leg strength.
The core is the final piece of the puzzle and an important one at that. When it comes to your abdominals, a strong torso means that the speed at which your body unwinds is faster, which effectively adds distance to your shots. The increased stamina in this area will also help.
The back and abdominals complement one another, helping each other in the twisting motion. Basically every single muscle in the back is utilized when it comes to swinging a golf club. Developing the back will also help your posture which is absolutely crucial when brushing up on technique and making your swings stronger. Lastly, a strong back will ward off lower back pain in the long run—something we can all get behind.
We’ve organized the workouts into different categories, depending on their focus and what they’ll end up helping you with. First off are the extremely important stretches.
You’ve heard it a million times before, we’ve said it a million times before: stretching is important! And that goes doubly for the avid golfer.
It’s good to do before starting a round of golf, before a workout, and after. It helps to get the blood flowing into your muscles and throughout the body, which in turn benefits your lifts and gains in general.
Obviously, stretching for golfing is incredibly important due to the development of flexibility. Flexibility helps your range of motion, which helps your swing, for one. An increased range of motion will also aid you in getting the most out of your lifts. And the better your lifts? The better your swing. So, we can see how developing your flexibility is almost a double-pronged approach to improving your golf game, as it helps directly and indirectly at the same time.
And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that it lessens your chances of getting injured, both in the gym and on the green. Whether you do it as a warm-up, cool down, or before you start golfing, stretching is one of the most important things you can do. Here’s a good flexibility workout you can do anytime:
We hear a lot about the core muscles, but it’s sometimes wrongly thought of as simply being the abdominals. The core is actually composed of several different muscles and muscle groups, going from the side abdominals (obliques, transverse abdominis) to the lower back and the muscles around the pelvis and hip region.
But why is it important for our swing?
A strong core is absolutely essential when it comes to our ability to rotate our torso and develop the necessary torque for a more powerful swing. If you’ve got a solid base in your core, you can more effectively rotate at the torso and have a stronger swinging motion.
Strengthening the core is also important for when it comes to injury prevention. While you want and need a good swing speed, constantly doing the same motion can mess up the spine from overuse. However, if you strengthen the core then you also strengthen the spine’s base of support.
When it comes to developing the core, there are a number of ways to go about it.
While there are probably thousands of core workouts out there, even compound exercises that utilize the full body will almost always work the core as well. Take pull-ups for example or even the humble push-up. You need your core and glutes activated to perform the exercise properly.
Below is a list of some of the best core workouts to include into your training plan:
While it might not seem like it to anyone who’s never played golf (or not enough of it)—golf is a demanding sport.
It basically comes down to performing the same motion, hundreds of times. This is not only fatiguing for particular muscles (and one arm), but it can also lead to injuries from overuse. So, keeping that in mind, your body needs to be trained so it can handle performing the same motions over and over again.
One of the most important parts of the upper body that you’ll need to strengthen is the rotator cuff. It’s a small muscle group consisting of four muscles that keep your shoulder together and moving. Maintaining a strong rotator cuff is necessary for strong and stable shoulder blades. And while we might be tempted to focus on the big muscles such as the delts, pec, and lats because they look the best when they’re developed, the rotator cuff also needs its time to shine in your routine.
Here are some of our favorite rotator cuff exercises to include in your upper body workouts:
While the upper body is going to be most directly involved with the actual swinging, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the lower body when it comes to strength training.
Strengthening the legs will provide you with the necessary base to perform powerful swings, while also helping you maintain balance throughout the movements. The ankles are the closest joint to the ground and strengthening them is important for stability. If you don’t have strong enough ankles, you can’t expect to properly weight shift during the swing.
You’ll also need to develop strong knees, especially since strong quads are necessary for constantly standing with your knees bent during a golf swing. And to complement the quads, your hamstrings also need to be strengthened in order to help you transfer weight between your legs while swinging.
And lastly, we have the glutes and the hip region. If you want to enhance the force during your downswing, the best way to go about it is to strengthen the glutes. Additionally, strong glutes will also aid in maintaining stable knees and helping you keep balance.
When it comes to ankle workouts, these are the exercises to include:
When it comes down to the lower body, you’ll want to include exercises such as:
While all of these different focuses are good to have, they’re better combined into a single, golf-specific workout that you can do 2 to 3 times per week. It’ll hit all your major body parts and give you a good starting base to begin your golfing workout routine.
However, don’t be afraid to complement this workout with other important aspects that we’ve discussed, such as scapula training and flexibility. A holistic approach to your body’s fitness, especially when it comes to golf, is the best way to go. Here is our full-body workout that’ll hit all the necessary muscle groups:
While weight and strength training is important for the avid golfer (or anyone looking to become fit), another important piece of the puzzle to include is plyometric training.
Plyometrics refers to quick, explosive movements that train your fast-twitch muscles. Things such as jumping can be considered plyometrics, and these exercises often include a lot of jumping. When it comes to upper body plyometrics, clapping push-ups are a good example.
The idea behind it is that your muscles build and store energy while they’re lengthening, and then release that energy. For example, if you perform a squat before jumping, that’s exactly what’s happening. But how does it help us when it comes down to golfing—which doesn’t really have much jumping involved.
Studies have shown that plyometric training increased the power in golfers’ swings, since these exercises effectively trained the athletes to provide quick contractions; thereby increasing power output. While golf does necessitate some endurance in the way of standing all day, bending knees before a swing, and then constantly swinging, it ultimately comes down to those quick, explosive movements during the swing itself.
Including some plyometrics in your routine is a fantastic way to get an edge on the competition—especially if the competition is weight training as well. Upper body plyometrics usually involve passing, catching, and throwing movements with a med-ball—but even push-ups done explosively can help.
The lower body is more associated with plyometrics since they’re usually used to train jumping verticals. These types of movements involve broad jumps, lunge jumps, depth jumps, and box jumps. All of these great exercises will up your golf game.
A successful training program always hinges on a successful diet plan. For the most part, it’s easy—eat healthy, whole foods and your body will thank you. However, when looking at a training program centered around golfing, there will be other considerations to make.
Since the name of the game is flexibility and strength, your diet is going to want to reflect that. You’re going to want high-quality protein to pack on some lean muscle gains, and more importantly, you’re going to want enough of it. Even just grabbing a banana for a snack throughout the day will get you closer to your goals.
If you’re having trouble gaining strength and/or lean muscle mass with your workouts, consider making a protein shake or smoothie with some high-quality whey powder.
On the other hand, you don’t want to bulk up too much either. Although your workouts should be centered around strength training rather than building muscle, there will definitely be some hypertrophy that comes along with the strength gains. While this is beneficial not only for your athleticism but also for your aesthetics, bulking up too much can put your flexibility at risk. It’ll be hard to swing with a full range of motion if your muscles are in the way, after all.
So, you want to stay lean and muscular. That means a lot of veggies, good, complex carbs, healthy fats, high-quality protein—and no garbage foods.
With the proper nutrition stacked on top of the proper workout plan, you’ll be the new king of the golf course.
Remember the principles we’ve outlined above and maybe one day you’ll be able to give Austin a run for his money when it comes to a record-breaking drive.
Along with technique and form, make sure to include strength and flexibility workouts into your weekly training plan. Not only will your golf game thank you, but so will your health, body, and self-confidence. Complement all your hard work with a diet that works for you, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
We began this article talking about the legendary drive by 64-year-old Mike Austin. Well, that’s far from the longest drive ever, at least if you count unofficial numbers. In February 1971, Alan Shepard pulled out a driver he had smuggled onto Apollo 14 and drove two golf balls. The first was a shank. The second, however, went 2 miles.
We’re not saying you should go to the moon for a new drive personal record (or all-time record), but rather that if you do take the basics to heart and perfect them, you’ll be armed with the know-how to make your own mark on how the game is played—whether that’s driving over 500 yards, becoming the next Tiger Woods, or teeing off on the moon.