The facts behind resistance and power training for older adults in the sport of golf

PGA National Sports Performance understands that as we age, our body experiences certain physiological changes that have a direct affect on strength and power production. Consequently, we may lose the functional capacity to carry out everyday activities. In addition, it becomes difficult to maintain a high degree of ability in sports such as tennis, racquetball, and golf. Golf is becoming an increasingly popular sport with more and more seniors playing later, and longer, in life. A main concern with golfers is how to get more distance off the tee. It is theorized that resistance and power/ speed training will not only elicit improved functional movements, but also help to increase club head speed even among middle aged and older adults.

The team of sports performance trainers at PGA National Resort and Spa work with mostly recreational golfers who fall within this age category. More often than not, the desire to hit the ball further with the irons and driver is the most frequently given reason for beginning a golf specific exercise program. While flexibility and lower body and core stability are essential and preceding requirements for a powerful and efficient golf swing, let’s face it, the golf swing itself occurs in less than two seconds. We need to produce a large amount of force quickly if we want to hit par 5’s in two, or 4 for that matter! How do we enhance that ability to produce movement rapidly? Through strength and power training!

The Physiology of Aging Muscle

As we age, our ability to sustain skeletal muscle mass and produce power greatly diminish. This drop in the cross sectional area of muscle is referred to as Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can greatly impair physical function and contribute to a look of frailty among older adults. Therefore, it can become increasingly difficult to carry out simple daily activities that require some degree of power, strength and balance.

Recent research has shown that after the age of fifty, men and women lose close to 1-2% of their muscle mass and 3-5% of their power potential per year. Tissue growth can become impaired through age related hormonal changes, such as a decrease in testosterone levels and growth hormones. The loss of muscle mass because of the death of motoneurons within the spinal cord will lower the muscle fiber numbers. A muscle fiber without a neural drive from the brain is like a car without a battery. With the loss of muscle fibers comes a loss in muscle mass affecting our force producing ability.

Muscle power involves a speed and strength or force component. Within the body, type II muscle fibers are responsible for generating quick, explosive movements. They can produce four times the power of a type I muscle fiber. Our trainers utilize explosive and ballistic type exercises to extract the power potential of these type II muscle fibers. Getting type II muscle fibers to activate becomes increasingly difficult as we get older and are affected by age for a number of reasons. First, the tension within the muscle fiber decreases as we get older. This can occur in both type I and type II muscle fibers. This means that our force producing capabilities are reduced. Second, the speed at which the muscles contract in older adults is reduced by about 25%. Third, the electrical signal sent from the brain slows down or can become delayed resulting in reduced excitability of the muscle. This can affect the number of muscles recruited, the muscles’ firing rate, and co-activation of the muscles.

Effects of Resistance and Power Training on Golf Club Head Speed

The sport of golf is widely played by many middle age and older adults and involves a high velocity movement with multiple accelerating and decelerating parts. To control this high degree of force; the body must possess stability, mobility, and balance, all in the correct areas of the body’s kinetic chain. If that chain is dysfunctional, both force and power, found in club head speed, may be sacrificed. In a recent study, eleven middle to older age male golfers’ full golf swing was analyzed for club head speed (CS) and driving distance (DD) before and after an 8-week training program. The experimental group consisted of 6 participants. They each did weight and plyometric training twice a week while the control group, consisting of 5 participants, continued their normal training. The experimental group performed three sets of 6-8 repetitions of a combination of free weight resistance training and plyometric medicine ball work. The control group did mainly cardiovascular work with light machine exercises. After eight weeks, the experimental group showed an increase of 1.5% in CS, which equated to an increase in DD of 4.3 meters. The control group showed no improvement.

The affect of functional training on club head speed among older golfers was also published in a recent report. Eighteen male golfers, mean age of 70.7 years, were randomly assigned to an exercise group of 11 golfers, or a control group comprised of 7 golfers. The subjects participated in an 8-week functional training program including mobility exercises, stability exercises, core exercises, balance exercises, resistance exercises, and power exercises. They were all instructed not to take any golf lessons during the program. The exercise group showed a significant increase in club head speed amounting to 4.9%. Club head speed for the control group showed a slight decrease. In summary, this study detailed the significance of functional and power training behind the goal of increasing golf club head speed.

As with all sports, power is dependant on other factors like flexibility of the muscles, balance of the body and stability within the joints. Golf is no exception, placing a considerable emphasis on core and lower body stability. Since power is produced from the ground up, deficiency in the core area can result in faulty swing mechanics and an altered swing sequence. To elaborate, from the top of the back swing, power is generated by the initial acceleration of the hips, followed by the trunk, followed by the arms, and finally through the hands at impact. Each sequential body part must decelerate to allow for force transfer to the next moving part. This must all happen over a stable base of support. As we age, our flexibility decreases, our joints become misaligned and our muscles become weaker and slower. However, by partaking in a functional training program with an emphasis on power generation, the slowing of this decline may be achieved. It seems that a component of training for power must be included in any fitness program designed for the older population. The PGA Sports Performance Team includes at least one power exercise in our golfers’ training regimen no matter what level of training they are at.

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