By Chris Finn
Look all over social media, at golf courses, and in gyms. You’ll see golfers, golf fitness coaches, and therapists working with bands, cable machines, and medicine balls, particularly for rotational movements. Some will say they are training for power, some for speed, some to increase strength, and some to improve sequencing.
Are some more right than others? How do we know which is best to help golfers and other rotational athletes? Do they even help, or are they a result of trying to make fitness look golf specific? Are they all good, or are some useless while others extremely helpful?
Here at Par4Success, these are some of the questions in our heads and the heads of lots of others in the industry; so we decided to research and see.
If you’ve followed some of our earlier research, you know that we like data and numbers. You also know that we found that triphasic training was 50-60% more helpful than conventional periodization with adult, senior, and advanced training age golfers for increasing club speed. Based on this information and looking at rotary training tools and techniques, we were interested to see what happened if we specifically applied eccentric strength training to our golfer’s rotary plane of movement.
If you’re not familiar with our earlier research, you can download a full report available online for free. In our original two-year study comparing triphasic training vs. conventional periodization, we only looked at the eccentric element of training in the “big 4” movements of push, pull, squat, and hinge. We used medicine balls, bands, and cables for any rotational movements as most in the industry do.
The results were compelling in the triphasic group, which is why I’m writing this article about our follow up. We wanted to dig deeper into this topic over six weeks. To do so, we decided to use eccentric flywheels to look at overloading the eccentric component of the golfers’ movements. We used Exxentric’s kBox4 and kPulley systems for the study because we thought—if they proved helpful to golfers—they would be within reach financially for many gyms, coaches, and individual golfers. To be fully transparent, we were not financially compensated by Exxentric or any other company to complete this study and do not have any conflicts of interest.
We took more than twenty golfers and separated them into three groups. Our control group completed all push, pull, squat, and hinge work with barbells eccentrically (barbell bench press, barbell back squat, barbell deadlift, and barbell bent over row). For their rotational movement, the control group used a Keiser pneumatic cable machine for the entire six weeks.
The second group was the kPulley group. This group completed all push, pull, squat, and hinge work with barbells eccentrically (barbell bench press, barbell back squat, barbell deadlift, and barbell bent over row). For their rotational work, they worked with the kPulley for eccentric flywheel overload during the six weeks.
The final group was the kBox group. This group completed all push, pull, squat, and hinge work with the kBox or kPulley (single-arm standing chest press on kPulley, kBox squats, kBox RDL, and kBox bent over row) for eccentric overload in these patterns. For their rotational movement, this group used a Keiser pneumatic cable machine for the six weeks, the same as the control group.
Bench Press vs. “Functional” Standing Single-Arm Press
The single-arm standing chest press is a favorite among many high profile golf fitness coaches. Some of these coaches are adamant that bench pressing for golfers is dangerous and not advantageous and, therefore, don’t use it with many of the world’s top players. Many in the golf fitness world follow this guidance and way of thinking, including many of the major publications and media outlets where golfers get their information.
Video 1. The single-arm press using a kPulley can train auxiliary stability and anti-rotational strength.
The average golfer avoids the bench press for fear of getting hurt and getting too bulky to swing, as they’ve heard will happen. Instead, they gravitate to the “functional” single-arm press, rationalizing that “we don’t play golf laying on our back, so we shouldn’t strength train laying down.” I can see this side of the coin to a degree, particularly if you’re looking to train anti-rotational strength and stability throughout the entire chain.Single-arm presses limit the load you can place on an athlete due to the high level of stability required. #GolfPerformance Click To Tweet
But there is a limitation: the limited load you can place on an athlete due to the high level of stability required. I tend to side with the camp that uses a bench press to develop max strength and uses single-arm variations to train auxiliary stability and anti-rotational strength. When used with the right individual at the right time, I believe both have a place in golf performance and rotational athlete training.The bench press and single-arm variations both have a place in #GolfPerformance and #RotationalTraining, depending on the individual and the timing. Click To Tweet
Using the kPulley was a great way to move athletes completely off the bench and stand for single-arm pressing movements with legitimate unilateral eccentric overload. As you’ll see later on, the results did not bear an overly compelling case for either side of the argument. It would be interesting, however, to look at this question in a future long term study. Six weeks is too short a time to decide this debate once and for all in the golf fitness world, but it’s certainly a preliminary step in the right direction.
One of the participants’ favorite exercises was the RDL on the kBox because they could “really feel the burn,” as many put it. Many in the industry say the hinge movement is the most important movement for golfers to train. That’s because the hinge is such a dominant part of proper setup, according to many top instructors. The hinge improves the athlete’s ability to access the posterior chain, which is where much of their golf swing’s power and speed comes from.
Video 2. As you can see in the video, the athletes were coached to decelerate the flywheel. Once the bar reaches just below the knee and no lower than mid-shin height, they start to drive up.
As with all of the exercises on the barbells and the flywheels, athletes were coached to move the concentric phase of each rep with as much velocity as possible.
We used the kBox squat for the kBox group instead of barbell back squats with a slow eccentric lowering. Because the flywheel has eccentric overload, we thought it would be interesting to compare potential impact differences on club speed.
We decided to use the hip strap for this study. That decision, honestly, came as a function of logistics and the ability to get participants on and off the box promptly to complete the workouts in the small group setting that we operate our classes.
Video 3. We used the kBox for squats so we could compare potential impact differences on club speed.
It would be interesting down the road to look at differences in outcomes and loading characteristics of the hip belt compared to the full shoulder and hip harness. For the average amateur golfer, however, we thought the hip harness had the most practicality and the potential for mass adoption if it proved to be superior.
kBox Bent Over Row
We used this hinge-dominant exercise because of the belief that the hinge movement is important to golf performance. Since the golfers had to maintain a solid hinged position with spinal stiffness while completing the row, they were forced to fight excessive anterior pelvic tilt throughout the movement.
Video 4. With the kBox bent over row, we had to give significant cues to the participants to ensure they used the posterior chain correctly to stabilize during the exercise.
Flywheel Limitations and Advantages Compared to Barbells
For the four big lifts, one of the limitations we found with the kBox and kPulley compared to the barbells is also one of the things we liked about using them with adults. When an athlete was tired and lazy, they lessened the overload due to their decreased effort. With barbells, we knew their load exactly at all times.
With the Bluetooth kBox app, when fatigue was the limiting factor, we had the advantage of modulating the resistance to avoid injury and make sure our athlete was training within the range we wanted by focusing on the speed or power outputs. Coaches ultimately become the critical piece to the successful implementation of eccentric flywheels in their athletes’ programs. We considered this similar to velocity-based training (VBT), and it’s why we approached using flywheel training like we use VBT.Coaches have a critical role when implementing eccentric flywheels successfully in their athletes' programs. #GolfPerformance #RotationalTraining Click To Tweet
We have not seen great results with flywheel training in newbie or untrained junior golfers where movements are not consistently competent and when athletes may just be going through the motions. But when we use flywheel training as a supplement to traditional training and with athletes as they become more experienced, it’s a great addition to our toolbox.
The Silver Bullet for Rotational Power
Hopefully, any coach worth half their salt rolled their eyes at this section’s title. But Exxentric’s flywheels are silver, and when you see the results that rotational eccentric flywheel training bore compared to traditional cable training, I hope you’ll consider adding it to your arsenal.
Video 5. There was a 73% difference in club speed gains in the group that used the kPulley for their straight-arm rotational work (see table below).
All of the groups in the study completed this same move; the only difference was the type of resistance they used (flywheel vs. pneumatic cable machine). The coaches cued the athletes to:
- try to stop the rotation
- change directions back to the exercise’s finish position once they returned to the start position with square hips and shoulders, which was when the arm closest to the flywheel was straight out in front of them
- most importantly, change the direction of the bar back to the finish by driving through the instep of the foot closest to the flywheel (trail foot) and finish with a vertical drive through the lead foot
As I’ve discussed in other articles, how you coach an athlete to use the ground in a rotational exercise is critically important for transference to the actual sport. In golf, the most common kinetic sequence used is horizontal then torsional and then vertical. Depending on the angle of the line of pull, the attachment used (bar vs. rope vs. strap around the body), and the cues, we’ve found you can significantly influence the type of ground force sequences you train based on real-time force plate data.How you coach an athlete to use the ground in a rotational exercise is critically important for transference to the actual sport. #RotationalTraining Click To Tweet
In the future, it would be interesting to study long term outcomes when training different planes of rotation (high to low vs. low to high for, example) as well as the impact different ground force sequences and cues have on eventual outcomes in sport.
The complete study with workout design, reps, loads, etc. can be found in the full report. The average age of golfers in the study was 49 years old.
|Subject Group||Sample Size||Avg. Change in Club Head Speed (mph)||Avg. % Change in Club Head Speed (%)|
When we take data from the larger database we have at Par4Success of over 700 golfers, we find that, in any given twelve-week period, a 40- to 50-year-old golfer can expect to gain 1.8 mph on average without eccentric rotational training.
As shown in the table above, the group who used the eccentric flywheel training for the rotational component of their program had a 69% increase in their club speed compared to that larger average in half the time. Compared to the other groups in this study that did not train rotation eccentrically, the kPulley group saw an even larger raw increase.Golfers who focused on rotational eccentric strength training doubled their gains in raw club head speed. #GolfPerformance #RotationalTraining Click To Tweet
It’s notable that participants increased club speed by 69% in half the time of the larger data sample average, even though the study’s results are not statistically significant due to the small sample size. The study also showed double the raw speed gains when the participants focused on rotational eccentric strength training. While this is a preliminary study, there are extremely important takeaways for golfers and those in the golf performance field.
What About Medicine Balls?
Medicine balls are among the most commonly used implements for training rotary athletes. Unfortunately, because of their ease of use and relatively low risk of injury, it is extremely common to see them used just to fill time. There’s often minimal, if any, periodized planning for medicine ball training, and the goals are poorly defined.
Medicine balls are often too light to realistically create meaningful overload. So what do they do? Do they even work?
While there are studies that show improvements in speed after using medicine ball training vs. not using it, the mechanisms of “why” the improvements occurred are anything but explained in the plethora of studies out there. Since they don’t apply load to the system, the results likely are due to either improved coordination (kinematic sequence training) or neuromuscular benefit from working on the speed side of the strength-speed continuum. Even after sifting the large body of research, the answer is still honestly quite ambiguous.
So while medicine balls are beneficial to training rotational athletes, the how and why still needs to be better studied to understand the mechanisms of how to best use and program them. We also need to make sure that we are putting as much attention to the periodization of medicine balls as we do to the main lifts, rotational strength training, sprinting, and jump training.
This leads us to traditional band and cable training.
Should You Sell Your Bands and Cables?
It’s naturally your next question, as it was ours. Should we use bands and cables at all?
This study shows us that there may be a more efficient and effective way to train golfers for performance gains. I love using bands for patterning and activation activities. They’re also favorites when we want variable resistances in very dynamic activities. Bands challenge the concentric movements by forcing athletes to control the movement, and they’re often a great hack into the nervous system to coordinate stability. They also travel incredibly well to fill gaps for athletes when they’re on the road.Bands limit increasing the eccentric load challenge needed to build rotational strength and power effectively. #RotationalStrength #RoationalPower Click To Tweet
The limitation comes as an athlete returns eccentrically in movement. The load decreases in the band, limiting the effect it can have on increasing the eccentric load challenge and thereby limiting its value as an effective strength builder. It’s also harder to quantify, measure, and progress with bands in strength and explosive output because of the variable resistance. Compared to eccentric flywheel training, bands initially appear to be less effective training golfers to improve their rotational strength and resulting power, according to our research results.
Cables offer a more measurable and consistent resistance level than bands for the average golfer and golf performance professional. Machines like the Keiser have computers built in to measure power output on each repetition to improve measurement and output. Based on the study’s results, however, even this appears to be initially less effective than eccentric overloading.Golfers leave yards in the gym when using a strap attached to a traditional cable machine compared to equipment that drives more eccentric loading. Click To Tweet
There has been an uptick on social media showing golfers using rotational harnesses and strap variations when training on cable machines to better train rotation. This is a bit misleading. These variations definitely train more torsionally and free up the arms. Our research suggests, however, that golfers are leaving yards in the gym when that strap is attached to a traditional cable machine compared to equipment that drives more eccentric loading.
In many cases, coaches should pay closer attention to the device that the strap is attached to. Perhaps more important is paying attention to how the athlete is coached to produce the desired forces. It’s very easy to pull horizontally against cable machines and the kPulley even when wrapped in a strap.
Video 6. We often see athletes produce an upper body lunge laterally as opposed to the desired kinetic sequence that’s ideal for golf.
Video 7. Instead, we would like to see the lower body and upper body working together in a kinetically and kinematically efficient manner, as shown here.
While we did not specifically test this, we noted that during training, there was a significant increase in speed and power output when golfers were coached to increase vertical and torsional forces on the kPulley (which measures peak speed and power outputs) as opposed to just “spinning” with a large lateral lunge.
We had similar results when using the Assess2Perform Ballistic Ball, which is a medicine ball with an embedded accelerometer. When an athlete is cued to increase vertical drive, we’ve seen speeds increase by up to 75%. These increased speed and power outputs are probably due to improved rates of force development and improved overall ground force creation, as we’ve noted in several concurrent force plate trials.
These subjective and objective observations offer an interesting basis for future research. It would be incredibly helpful to examine how ground reaction forces are used in training to improve the effectiveness of medicine balls, cables, and eccentric flywheels. With the birth of “power profiles” for golfers, understanding how to train specific kinetic forces will likely play a large role in the future of golf performance training.
We should note that one of the limitations of this study is the small sample size due to subject dropouts from vacation, sickness, and not completing the minimum necessary workouts. The six-week length also limits the ability to draw conclusions for long term results.
I want to emphasize that we are in no way recommending that all rotational athletes stop using medicine balls, cable machines, and bands. All tools have their place in a comprehensive training program, and it’s up to the expert professionals working with golfers to intelligently select what tools to use and when.Eccentric flywheels offer rotational athletes more effective and efficient ways to gain speed safely than the popular equipment they're using. Click To Tweet
We hope that the golf community and the greater rotational power community take note of these findings. These preliminary results appear to demonstrate there are more effective and efficient ways to gain speed safely than are being used by most athletes and coaches currently. There are many accepted training practices, protocols, and products in the golf performance world that are not legitimately scientifically tested. And while case studies should not hold the same weight as randomized clinical studies, unfortunately, this is often glossed over in marketing materials.
If we, as a golf performance community, can continue to further our questions and answer them with additional higher quality studies instead of case studies, our profession and our game will continue to grow and at a faster rate than ever.
At Par4Success, we’re are always excited to speak with golfers, golf instructors, and golf fitness and medical professionals about what we’re doing, our findings, and our training programs. Please reach out to us at our Par4Success website if you are interested in having a conversation or learning more about our programs and research.