Club head speed is a hot topic in golf, and it should be. There is a very strong relationship between how much money PGA Tour players make and how far they can hit the ball. Club speed is a skill that gives golfers an edge at every level, and it is therefore heavily sought after. Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka are both known to say that they would rather have an 8 iron from the rough than a 5 iron from the fairway. This is the common mentality on the PGA and LPGA tours.
Because of this, there are many companies coming out with speed products in the golf space, and they are all marketing those products as the quickest and best ways to pick up speed. One of the industry leaders is SuperSpeed Golf, which has more than 650 touring professionals using their tool, demonstrating the popularity of this type of training.
Some of the companies focus on improving technical skills to maximize speed. Others, like SuperSpeed, focus on taking advantage of the nervous system gaps that exist for most untrained golfers and helping them maximize their speed from that angle. They do this by utilizing what has become known as overspeed training.
Technically, this is nothing new, as overspeed has been used and studied in sprinting for years, and the Russians even used it 50–60 years ago for their throwing athletes. Since then, over-weighted and under-weighted balls have become quite the hot topic in baseball and cricket as those two sports’ form of over/underspeed training. Heavy and light bats are a big discussion point when talking about bat velocity in baseball as well.
While there has been zero research published on this topic for golf (at least that I could find while writing this article), there are a number of articles published in the track and field, baseball, cricket, and handball spaces that I took a look at to better understand the context of this topic as objectively as possible. What follows is the result of hours and hours of review of the available literature.
In addition, we have completed two randomized in-house clinical trials at Par4Success, lasting six and eight weeks respectively, and seven years of clinical and strength and conditioning work with thousands of golfers longitudinally at this point. In the interest of this article not being 10,000 words long, I have only included in the citations the articles with the best methods and those directly quoted. The studies I cite below refer to another 50 or so further studies if you really want to dive in. Buckle up…here we go!
Why Care About Overspeed?
The world of strength and conditioning features a number of well-accepted, researched ways to gain speed and ultimately increase an athlete’s power. It is widely accepted that taking any relatively untrained individual and introducing them to foundational strength training will improve their speed, among other desired athletic attributes, including power output. As an athlete increases in strength and skill in their sport, there is the idea that they will reach a point when they are “strong enough.” At this point, the speed of contraction starts to become more of a focus for gains that are most transferable to sport. This is where much of the recent velocity-based training research has been focused, particularly for professional and elite-level athletes.
A lot of this research is still new to much of the field even though early research was done years ago. That being said, during this progression of athletic development, there is also a concurrent focus on improvements in technical efficiency and equipment optimization. At the end of the day, all parts of the puzzle operate with the aim of creating as much power expression in sport as safely and sustainably possible.
Knowing this, you might ask: Why do I even care about overspeed training if I know my athletes will improve in speed and power numbers by sticking to the tried and true? Once they get “strong enough,” I will just jump into VBT, right? Is there really any value in having them swing or throw heavy and light stuff hundreds of times a week? That will increase the load on my athlete’s nervous system and potentially increase risk for injury—is it really worth it? I asked myself these same questions, which is why I am taking the deep dive into this rabbit hole with you.
The specific question we have in the golf world is: “Does overspeed training fit into the context of training golfers to produce more speed with maximal efficiency and safety, and if so, where?” I want to emphasize safety and efficiency here. Gaining speed is easy. Figuring out how to do it efficiently and without injury is the hard part, especially with the presence of high volume protocols, which are accepted as the gold standard in the golf performance space.Does overspeed training fit into the context of training golfers to produce more speed with maximal efficiency and safety, and if so, where? Click To Tweet
You can take any untrained individual, tell them to do anything fast, and they will move faster—this wouldn’t surprise or shock most strength coaches. Research has shown clearly that simply having golfers perform three countermovement jumps before they swing will increase their club speed immediately. Nervous system potentiation is not rocket science, and there is plenty of literature on it. Think “newbie gains” in the gym.
That being said, the real questions that I will answer here are these:
- Once initial adaptations occur, is there any merit to this type of training long-term?
- Do the initial transferable gains of overspeed training to sport outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?
- Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?
- Are long-term results (1+ years) optimized if we combine overspeed training with traditional strength and conditioning versus using it in isolation or not using it at all?
- What sort of frequency, protocols, or volume should we utilize for maximal benefit, minimal risk of injury, and minimal system load?
- Do any of the potential gains of overspeed training (either long-term or short-term) outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?
Clearly, there are a TON of questions to answer and most of these have been answered, in theory. Few, if any, have answers rooted in scientific truth.
What the Sprint Research Says
Overspeed training in the sprinting world comes from the idea that if you increase speed, you need to either increase stride length or frequency. Every athlete will have an anatomical limit to their stride length, obviously. But, from a training perspective, large gains may be made in the frequency realm.
In their study, Behrens, et al.1 discussed downhill sprinting versus high-speed treadmill sprinting, as well as resisted sled running and hill sprints. Throughout their review, they gave the pros and cons of every popular method, and they pointed out that there is a point of diminishing returns in terms of utilizing too much of an incline or downhill grade, as well as going too heavy on the sled loads. Use just the right amount of slope and get the effects that you want; use too much and you run the risk of changing the technique of the sprinter in question.
These findings are similar to those of a completed Par4Success study showing that, if a golfer swings an implement that is too light or too heavy, their kinematic sequence will dramatically change from what is considered ideal or normal for them under playing conditions (more to come on this later).
If we focus on the overspeed element, Dintiman and Ward3 cited that a 1–2.5% downhill grade was the most a sprinter could utilize without producing a braking effect, while another study by Plisk4 recommended a 3- to 7-degree grade, and yet another study found that 5.8 degrees produced the fastest results. We further see suggested in the research that declines greater than 3% can lead to greater braking effects with excessive stride lengths and without increases in stride frequencies.
So, as you can see, there is a lot of conflicting research on downhill sprinting that presents many discrepancies in recommended gradients to maximize efficiency. The water is a bit murky in terms of the ideal gradient, but it certainly appears that training for increased stride frequency with a downhill gradient produces a positive effect on a sprinter’s speed. That being said, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a sprint coach who only utilizes this type of training in isolation without traditional strength and conditioning methods, which have no question as to their efficacy. I wish the same could be said in the golf coaching world.
What the Baseball Research Says
There have been a number of different studies on over-weighting and under-weighting bats and balls for swinging and throwing in baseball. One study showed that dry swing warm-ups are a more effective means of enhancing bat speed outcomes when performed with a standard-weight bat versus heavyweight and lightweight bats. Another study found that actually hitting a ball in live batting practice produced better results than just dry swings—again, some murky conclusions to be drawn.
When thinking about how the weight of the implement can impact kinematic efficiencies and sequencing, this was the same result seen in the 2018 study by Par4Success. It is accepted that the ideal efficient kinematic sequence is initiated with the lower body, followed by the trunk, and then by the arm and club, respectively.
With a 20% lighter club, each golfer’s arms and club measured with the K-Motion 3D system initiated before their lower body and torso in a significant manner when compared to the golfer’s regular swing with their standard driver. This results in a more upper body driven swing, which is inefficient, but more importantly, the exact opposite of the sequence that many of these golfers exhibited when they swung their normal club.
When measuring the kinematic sequencing while a golfer was swinging a heavy club (10% heavier), there was an increased x-factor (separation between upper and lower body at impact) beyond PGA Tour norms and beyond what was seen with each golfer’s normal club.
As seen with the dry swing study, both heavier and lighter clubs lead to much different results in speed outcomes. You should consider kinematic sequence impact when thinking about prescribing these types of protocols.
DeRenne and colleagues10 and Southard and Groomer7 concluded, in their respective studies, that the very heavy commercial donut ring, a heavy 51-ounce bat, and the very light 23-ounce bat used in warm-ups decreased game bat velocity by 5 mph.
This result is similar to what Par4Success found in golfers in their 2018 study when looking at only completing overspeed training with a heavier golf club. The golfers in this randomized group also saw a decrease in their swing speeds.The research is similar to a 2018 Par4Success study where golfers who only completed overspeed training with a heavier golf club saw a decrease in their swing speeds. Click To Tweet
Montoya et al.9 reported that swinging a light (9.6-ounce) or “normal” 31.5-ounce bat produced the highest bat swing velocities compared with a heavy (55.2-ounce) bat in the on-deck circle. Furthermore, Southard and Groomer7 reported that after warming up with two heavy-weighted bats of 34 and 56 ounces, respectively, bat swing velocity significantly decreased, while moment of inertia significantly increased.
The results with a 6–10% lighter club in both the 2018 and 2019 Par4Success studies, which produced speed gains, seem to support these findings. Montoya, et al.9, however, did find a different result with the significantly lighter club compared to the 2018 Par4Success study. Montoya saw an increase in speed, while Par4Success saw the group that only trained overspeed with the 20% lighter club lose club speed, on average.
Southard and Groomer7 concluded that baseball batters should warm up with their respective standard game bat and using a bat with a larger moment of inertia will reduce bat velocity and change the batter’s swing pattern. Montoya, et al.9 also suggested not to swing a heavy bat in the on-deck circle because it produced the slowest bat swing velocities. These results and conclusions support, in part, the findings of DeRenne and colleagues10, which suggested that players should warm up by swinging bats that are ±12% of their standard game bat weight (30 ounces) before game competition.
In summary, the big takeaway findings from much of this research in baseball are from Szymanski, et al.14 In terms of the take-home points, the “big hitters” were:
- One-hundred swings daily for three times a week will increase bat speed in untrained individuals.
- Swinging a bat that is within 12% of the game day bat’s weight will increase a player’s speed, while swinging one that is too heavy or too light will hurt a player’s speed.
- The players with the greatest strength, power, and lean body mass had the greatest bat swing and batted ball velocities.
I will get into the reason these points are important for golf. But first, there were a couple other interesting studies in handball and cricket.
What the Cricket and Handball Research Says
Cricket and handball have also had a few studies looking at over-weighted and under-weighted balls in the past few years. One of the earlier studies in cricket by Petersen, et al.13 looking at fast bowlers found that a 10-week program of modified implement training was not effective at increasing the bowling speed in its test subjects. However, this study was performed on senior-level club players and did not include any strength and conditioning measures. The likely question here is: “Did these subjects have enough strength to begin with to benefit from overspeed training?” This is a common question in the golf sector as well.
In the more recent study by Wickington12, they followed a similar approach and did not include strength and conditioning. Their conclusion was that modified implement training “might” be productive in producing speed increases—not very convincing. But again, we are viewing these results with blinders on and not assessing any other aspects of the athletes.
Finally, a four-week study on elite-level handball players by Ortega-Becerra, et al.11 found no significant improvement in velocity after a program focusing on throwing balls with different techniques and weights. This suggests that with higher level athletes (the average player in this study had 11 years of experience), doing only an overspeed and underspeed training program was not sufficient in that short amount of time to produce the results desired.
Similar to track and field and baseball, it is difficult to pull out stone-cold scientific facts from this research. There has just not been enough convincing work done with large enough samples to have a definitive answer. That being said, there are a number of common threads and they should be extrapolated to golf.
Answering the Initial Questions for Golf
There are a number of common questions asked about overspeed training in golf. There are also a number of important ones that I need to address that aren’t necessarily at the front of people’s minds. Here are some of the more common and important ones.
Once initial adaptations have occurred, is there any merit to overspeed training long-term?
None of the studies that I was able to find discussed longitudinal improvements or the causation of those improvements. This is the hardest type of research to do, which points to the lack of evidence. If you speak with most strength and conditioning coaches, it is relatively accepted that periodizing athletes throughout the year with higher and lower amounts of neural stress clearly works for long-term improvement, and you cannot constantly train high neural load all year, every year.
I recommend a well-rounded approach to training using both strength and conditioning, along with nervous system-focused exercises. Constantly completing overspeed training throughout the year without periodization to focus on strength building or nervous system recovery would seem to be inappropriate if we look at other forms of nervous system training. That being said, we have seen it be very useful, particularly in the 40+ population, to employ overspeed training in conjunction with the conversion to power phases or other phases focused on speed generation to produce swing speed gains year after year, well into a golfer’s 70s.
Do the initial gains of overspeed training outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?
Talking specifically about golfers, look at the Par4Success studies from 2018 and 2019 and compare the speed gains in these time frames to Par4Success’ longitudinal data when golfers were involved in a strength and conditioning program for golf but not using overspeed training. When we look at these numbers, there appears to be a bigger jump with the addition of overspeed training than solely with strength and conditioning, by almost threefold. In six and eight weeks, respectively, the average gain was just around 3 mph, which is three times the average gain of 1 mph for adult golfers over a 12-week period with just traditional strength and conditioning.
The reason for this is likely that, neurologically, many golfers underperform what they are physically capable of, and the acute spike in fast, golf swing movements “wakes up” their systems. When I look at our database, I see that the golfers who tend to do the best with overspeed training are initially the ones who perform much lower on their speed percentiles relative to their power percentiles that are correlated to club speed. These are the golfer who you see add 10 mph to their club speed in 12 weeks.Golfers with lower power percentiles relative to their swing speed percentiles aren’t ideal candidates for overspeed training as they don’t have the strength base to benefit. Click To Tweet
Golfers who have lower power percentiles relative to their swing speed percentiles are not ideal candidates for overspeed training, as they do not have the strength base to benefit. These are the ones in the Par4Success database who fail to improve at all or significantly beyond what would be expected with traditional strength and conditioning.
Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?
No—emphatically, no. It would be irresponsible to use overspeed in isolation to train golfers for increased speed. First, increasing how fast someone can swing without making sure they have the strength to control that speed can set someone up for injury and failure. Secondly, if overspeed training is appropriate for a golfer (they have full rotational mobility and their power percentiles are greater than their swing speed percentiles based on their age and sex), you need to be sure to increase their strength as their speed increases. Failure to do so will put the golfer at risk for potential injury if their speed is allowed to outpace their strength.
Like all nervous system training tools, if you utilize overspeed training in the right scenario with the right person, the gains can be quick and impressive. I have seen 10+ mph in under 10 minutes in the right situation. This leads to a lot of hype and excitement around it in the social media training world and, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation, which I hope this article helps to clear up.
Are long-term results (1+ years) optimized if overspeed training is combined with traditional strength and conditioning versus in isolation or not at all?
It appears that combining overspeed training with traditional strength and conditioning increases speed gains compared to either modality alone. This conclusion is based on the results I have seen with our longitudinal programs that use overspeed training periodized with an athlete-specific strength and conditioning program and sport-specific training (i.e., technical lessons, equipment, etc.—not medicine ball throws or cable chops).
In order to keep decreases in club speed to no more than 3–5% during the competitive season (as is the normal amount in Par4Success’ data), it is imperative to keep golfers engaged in an in-season strength and conditioning program focused on maximal force and power outputs. By minimizing this in-season loss, it assures that we see gains year over year.
It is unclear if overspeed training in conjunction with strength and conditioning during the season further decreases this standard loss due to nervous system fatigue, but this would be a great area for future research.
What sort of frequency, protocols, or volume should I utilize for maximal benefit and minimal risk of injury?
Most of the studies specifically on swinging that I was able to find looked at about 100 swings at three times a week (baseball). The SuperSpeed protocols that are the most popular in the golf world follow a similar volume recommendation. It is a concern, especially with untrained individuals, that adding 300+ maximal swings per week might increase the risk of injury due to the incredible increase in load. This is especially true for the amateur golfer who only plays on the weekends and does not engage in a strength and conditioning program, as this is a significant volume increase from their baseline.
The Par4Success studies in 2018 and 2019 found no significant difference in swing speed gains between high volume protocols and a lower volume protocol, which required only 30 swings two times a week but also required a two-minute rest between every 10 swings.
There need to be more studies looking at this beyond just these two. I would recommend, specifically in golf, not to engage in high volume protocols, as they appear to increase the load on the athlete significantly without increasing speed gains. Having utilized this lower volume approach beyond the two randomized studies, we continue to see similar results.Specifically in golf, I’d recommend not to engage in high volume protocols, as they appear to significantly increase the load on the athlete without increasing speed gains. Click To Tweet
Do any potential gains from overspeed training outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?
This is a hard question to answer, but based on the golf-specific findings and the other findings across all of the sports mentioned, it would not appear that overspeed training is superior to any one training method, but rather a tool to use in conjunction with other proven methods. The key here is to assess your athletes and look to implement this type of training in golf when you know that mobility is not an issue and their physical ability to produce power is higher than their ability to generate club speed. In this scenario, overspeed training can be a game-changing tool. In the wrong scenario, it can be a nail in a golfer’s coffin.
What This Means for Golf
As you digest all of the research, you start to see how murky the waters really are around these ideas. It is no longer surprising why there tends to be so much heated discussion around these topics. With minimal science-based fact, there is a lot of room for emotional beliefs to take hold.
In the end, I think Szymanski, et al.14 hit the nail on the head with their highlight of the clear relationship between the fastest bat speeds occurring with the stronger and more powerful players. We need to help golfers become stronger and more powerful with traditional strength and conditioning techniques to maximize performance and longevity and reduce injury likelihood. From here, overspeed training can become an amazing tool to implement at different times during the year at lower volume and system loads than are currently being used industry-wide.We need to help golfers become stronger and more powerful with traditional S&C techniques to maximize performance and longevity and reduce injury likelihood. Click To Tweet
To be clear, it is my opinion that overspeed training works in both the high volume and low volume protocol formats based on the available research and my firsthand training experience of more than 1,000 golfers. There is statistically no difference in outcomes between high volume overspeed protocols and low volume ones. Because of this, high volume protocols are unnecessary and a waste of golfers’ time and energy when they can see the same results with 66% fewer swings. High volume protocols also put unnecessarily high amounts of maximal stress on golfers’ bodies, putting longevity at risk, especially when they are carried out in the absence of a customized strength and conditioning program for golf.
A “properly designed golf performance plan” does not only include one single element of overspeed training or solely traditional strength and conditioning. It is a plan that is periodized throughout the year for an individual golfer that includes soft tissue care, mobility, stability, strength, speed, and power development, both in general athletic and sport-specific terms.
The golf swing is an incredibly powerful movement and requires significant rest in between swings for physiological recovery to occur. Because each swing happens in seconds, the glycolytic system is one of the major energy systems required for the athlete to be explosive. The problem is that this energy system requires a LOT of rest between bouts in order to recover fully. If you don’t allow for full recovery, each swing becomes a maximal effort of 90%, then 80%, then 70%, and so on. Effectively, you trade quality for quantity, and each subsequent swing is less effective than the previous one.Based on available research & my experience with more than 1,000 golfers, I believe overspeed training works in both the high volume and low volume protocol formats. Click To Tweet
In order to combat low-quality reps, it is necessary to take rest breaks with 5–10:1 rest-to-work periods. If these are not adhered to, the effectiveness of the training suffers. This is another reason why low volume protocols would be preferable to high volume ones. To take these necessary rests, a high volume protocol would take more than an hour. With the lower volume protocols, you can still keep the work time to 10 minutes.
In summary, the golf world needs more randomized control studies that expand on this study to further validate and improve the science available to the greater golf performance community.
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