Golf and Unstable Surfaces

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Q&A rant that deserves a newsletter of its own…

Q: I have received a golf fitness program designed specifically for my injury history.  This program came from the <Insert Noteworthy Golf Trainer’s Name Here>.  I have concerns about this program.

Some of the exercises I am concerned about involve:

1. mimicking my golf swing on an unstable surface

2. performing one legged golf stance with my eyes closed

3. hollow my stomach for 30 second holds

4. upright rows

Correct me if I’m wrong but your advice on various T-Nation articles and your #6 Newsletter go against these practices.  Should I look elsewhere for my golf fitness program?

A: Where do I even begin?  That’s simply atrocious!

I’ve “fixed” a lot of golfers and trained some to high levels, and we’ve never done any of that namby-pamby junk. In a nutshell…

1. I did my Master’s thesis on unstable surface training, and it will be featured in the August issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.   Let’s just say that if the ground ever moves on YOU instead of you moving on the ground, you have bigger things to worry about than your golf conditioning; you’re in the middle of an earthquake!

2. There is considerable anecdotal evidence to support the assertion that attempting to replicate sporting tasks on unstable surfaces actually IMPAIRS the learning of the actual skill (think of competing motor learning demands).  In a technical sport like golf, this is absolutely unacceptable.

3. Eyes closed, fine – but first show me that you can be stable with your eyes open!  Most golfers are so hopelessly deconditioned that they can’t even brush their teeth on one foot (sadly, I’m not joking).

4. Abdominal hollowing is “five years ago” and has been completely debunked. Whoever wrote this program (or copied and pasted it from when they gave it to 5,000 other people) ought to read some of Stuart McGill’s work – and actually start to train so that he/she gets a frame of reference.

I’m sorry to say that you got ripped off.  The fact of the matter is the overwhelming majority of golfers are either too lazy to condition, or too scared that it’ll mess up their swing mechanics (might be the silliest assumption in the world of sports).  So, said “Performance Institute” (and I use the word “performance” very loosely) puts out programs that won’t intimidate the Average Joe or his 80-year-old recreational golfer grandmother.  For the record, Gram, I would never let you do this program, either (or Gramp, for that matter).  On a semi-related note, Happy 85th Birthday, Gramp!

In short, I’m a firm believer in building the athlete first and the golfer later – and many golfers are so unathletic and untrained that it isn’t even funny.  Do your mobility/activation to improve your efficiency, and then apply that efficiency and stability throughout a full range of motion to a solid strength training program that develops reactive ability, rate of force development, maximal strength, and speed-strength.  Leave the unstable surface training, Body Blade frolicking, and four-exercise 3×10 band circuits for the suckers in the crowd.

Yours Cynically,