Plan your Training Programme with these 9 Principles

By on 24th February 2016
Golf Training

The Principles of Training

The principles of training are outlined so that you can benefit from the accumulated wisdom of experienced coaches and the research findings of sport scientists. Players and coaches who apply these principles make definite progress and continue to do so in all sports, not just in golf. It must be realised that they are not short cut solutions-rather they are the best available signposts to ensure that you get to your destination. Short cuts inevitably lead to cul-de-sacs where progress is blunted.
Here are some of the key principles which can be used in planning your programme.

1. You adapt to whatever stress you impose on yourself.

Let me illustrate this for you. The marathon runner runs. He or she builds training around completing a lot of miles. In general he or she runs at the same pace over ever increasing distances. The muscles of the legs, the heart and the blood all get better at enduring the running action. However, this training does nothing for improving the marathon runner’s ability to play golf. In fact excessive running training will adversely affect the golf swing! Why? Because the muscles will be used in a different way in running compared to golf. The Golf swings, in particular wood and iron drives, are speed and power rotational coordinated actions. Running a marathon is all about slow and steady rhythms in a forward movement with little, if any, trunk rotation. In addition, the arm swing in both is in a different plane.
So what does this mean for you, the golfer? Well, simply put, if you run or cycle, you will become better at running or cycling: it will improve the health of your cardiovascular system and help to lose body fat and get you around the course. Yes, there are some indirect benefits for your golf – for example by losing some body fat you might be better able to cope with the demands of 18 holes of golf and you may feel better. Because you feel ‘fitter’ you may play better golf. However, don’t expect too much transfer to your golf swing from running training. Running and cardiovascular training, if needed, should be seen as a foundation upon which to build a more golf-specific programme.

2. Follow the principle of sequential training

Ever wonder why top golfers always look so smooth when they swing? Well the answer lies partly in their sequencing. By sequencing we mean that there is an order of movement about the parts of the body resulting in a sequencing of body part and joint movements during a golf swing. From the address position where the body is readied to start the back swing the torso moves with the shoulders and arms following. On the down swing the hips start the movement, followed by the torso, upper back, shoulders and arms and club. This sequence can be practiced. With time and practice it is possible to hone this technique such that the swing is much smoother. Also, if dynamic exercises, such as those completed in a warm-up and in fitness training, adhere to the sequential pattern of the golf swing then a transfer to the actual swing is more likely to take place.

3. In extremes lie dangers

This principle centres on the fact that fitness improvements should be grooved in to your swing gradually. If you get more flexible quickly it may be that it does your swing a disservice. Being able to rotate through a greater range of movement does not necessarily mean that you will have a more powerful swing. Getting stronger is important for improving your ability to apply greater force and speed to the down swing. The key point is that the development of flexibility and strength must take place synergistically with your swing mechanics. By this I mean that the message centre must be well tutored before strength and flexibility gains can be applied to your swing. In simple terms, you must learn how to apply new strength and mobility. Strength should be developed gradually and steadily in conjunction with golf swing practice. Honing new strength into a proper sequence over time will really transform your golf.
The key point is not to hide in the gym for weeks on end in the mistaken belief that your new found strength will be directly imparted to an improved swing. Combine the two – physical preparation and golf – for a better result.

4. “Progress slowly”!

This actually follows from the last principle. If you keep the principle of ‘Hasten Slowly’ in mind you will not go far wrong. Making dramatic changes in fitness can make a big impact on your swing – either positively or negatively. Focus on making small changes to your fitness programme or to your practice routine and this will ensure that you do not negatively affect your performance. Be wary of implementing too many changes at one time. Don’t expect to drive the ball 30 metres further after one day of Foundation training. Be patient, gains can be made by subtle changes as opposed to major surgery. For example if a player has a weakness in keeping his lead leg firmly planted throughout the down swing, it may be a physical or conditioning difficulty he has in firing his glutes to stabilise his foot. Therefore before he practices he might waken his glutes so that he will have greater stability in his lead leg and this will thus ensure that all cylinders are firing throughout the down-swing in better sequence.

5. Principle of individual needs

Just as no two players strike the ball in the same way, no two players have identical needs in terms of their conditioning. Significant gains can be made through small and subtle alterations to general conditioning exercises that will have greater impact on one player than another. The smart golfer will have his unique needs assessed – the chapter on Needs Analysis will help identify the physical needs of the golfer in a practical manner. This is very important as it pinpoints your strengths and weaknesses. It is important then to address any weak links (such as tight or weak muscles) found with appropriate exercises.
Interestingly, sports science literature tells us that Foundation training for the beginner through to the low handicapper will result in significant gains.

6. Apply the principle of quality is better than quantity

Most of us have a threshold of concentration that allows us to give excellent attention to the task at hand but only for a limited time Work over this threshold and you then work in a fatigue environment Exercising during fatigue causes you to engage different nerves and muscles. You are essentially confusing your neuro-muscular system and your precision and efficiency is lost. So how do you know how much training or practice is enough? A simple method of gauging what is enough is to plan only short but quality practice. You will need to warm-up the right ‘feel’ for your practice. But when you find that it is slipping, well then you have probably done too much. A good guide for training is to limit the time spent at each fitness session as follows:

  • A resetting or flexibility session limited to 10 or 15 mins
  • A fitness only session limited to 30 mins – A combination of fitness and practice limited to 45 mins.

Any one of these can be fitted into a busy daily routine at lunch time or early morning.

7. Variety is the spice of life

This principle stresses the importance of avoiding monotonous routines. Some years ago, sports scientists showed how athletes became stale when they followed the same training programme for several weeks. They simply could not perform to the same level after the training programme as they could at the beginning of the programme. Why? Because their programme consisted of the same few exercises all the time. This is a typical occurrence in team and athletic training – monotonous training or repeating the same exercises over and over again. When your body is given the same work for any significant period – it gets bored – much like we all do if we have to eat the same meal over and over again. Your body will cease to adapt if it is not challenged. This monotony of training is common. Include variety in the training plan. It will keep you progressing and stimulated.
Planning Variety into your training and practice routine will bring huge benefits in terms of consistent progression. Using the principle of variety means that you should vary your training and practice. For example, you can apply the Variety principle as follows: spend time strengthening your core muscles and then practising your putting, all in the one session on Monday. On Wednesday you can train your foundation fitness and learn some new exercises followed by a short cardiovascular workout, all in one session. On Friday you can spend some time on the driving range and then do your resetting programme, all in the one session. On Saturday or Sunday you might play a round of golf. What you are doing is varying the type of stress that you are imposing on your body and mind.
In this regime neither the same exercises nor practice routines were repeated consecutively. However all the practice and exercises were relevant to the game, and provided great variation in activity and sequence. Your mind, nervous system and body will be stimulated differently over those three sessions by varying:

  1. The golf swing practice – putting and driving
  2. Conditioning of the body – core training, foundation training and resetting.

As a result, your mind and body will become conditioned to expect the unexpected and so be constantly stimulated.
Variety also guides you in the order of the exercises that you complete. Always follow a push exercise with a pulling one. By this we mean that if you exercise your chest muscles then make sure that the next exercise is a back exercise. This will help maintain balance in your workout and will help prevent developing an imbalance. This is a frequent problem in sport where too many athletes and players overemphasise one exercise which may lead to imbalance as opposed to.
Remember use variety in your exercise or training programme. It will ensure that you minimise the risk of developing the syndrome of monotony in exercise or training which is surprisingly very common in many sports.

8. Use it or lose it!

This principle refers to our sedentary lifestyle once again. Most of us travel by car, sit at the desk, watch TV and sit for 6- 8 hours every day, believe it or not. More worryingly our children are doing even more sitting around than we are! Inevitably, for the golfer who is otherwise sedentary he or she is likely to promote inactivity in many of his or her key muscles by this high level of sitting and inactivity. Even normal movements about the house, at work and in everyday activities will not be as efficient due to our inactive lifestyles. For example, it is estimated that 80% of the population in general have some form of poor posture. Note the rounded shoulders in your friends. Well this is typical of our modern lifestyles. We do not have the opportunity to strengthen the muscles of the middle and upper back and through prolonged sitting whether it is watching TV, driving, desk work or even poor standing posture. In other words we lose our muscle strength in the back. If we don’t regularly strengthen this area of the body through a routine of physical work or exercise we will lose our ability to straighten up. This is not good for our golf and certainly not good for our well-being.

9. Recovery is as important as work – Plan it into your routine

You will all have heard that the great players work hard at their game. You will all have read the stories of the hours spent at practice on the range, in the gym and on the course. You will all be aware of the drive and motivation that many top players display. Remember they are professionals and have the time to work – but they also have the time to recover. Their daily routine is not loaded with other work-related chores.
The balance between work and Recovery is for all crucial. From this point of view the saying ‘More is better’ is not appropriate. A simple guideline that works very effectively is always to plan a recovery strategy after a hard or demanding practice or round of golf. This simply means that if you play for 3 hours on a Saturday take an alternative form of exercise on the Sunday or before your next day on the course. Yes this could mean that you complete the Resetting programme outlined in this book, you could visit your Health and Fitness Club and take a swim or cycle – taking a different form of exercise will restore balance through recovery. We recommend using the Resetting programme. It is an excellent method of restoring the flexibility and strength into the muscles that have been overworked during the 3 hours on the course. Top players from several sports use this as a recovery method and benefit from it.
Recovery should also be seen in a more general way. You need to ensure that you replace lost fluid and fuel as well. How many of you have been out on the course for 3 hours without your water or sports drink? You will lose a significant amount of body fluid over half an hour on the course. If you do not restore this fluid regularly on the course you can expect to fade over the latter stages of the back nine. Dehydration occurs on Golf courses. From science we know that even a 1% body weight loss due to dehydration will diminish your ability to concentrate.


The Principles of Training outlined above are intended to help you plan and manipulate your programme so that you ensure consistent progress in your game. There are no short cuts to improvement. Reflect on these principles every so often – especially when you may not be making the gains you think you should.

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Dr Liam Hennessy

Academic Director at Setanta College
Dr. Liam Hennessy is fitness coach to three time Major winner Padraig Harrington and a member of the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Advisory Board. Liam is a former international athlete and world renowned S&C coach, working in top level European soccer, international rugby, and the Olympic Games. Liam is currently the Academic Director with highly regarded global sports institute - Setanta College

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About Dr Liam Hennessy

Dr. Liam Hennessy is fitness coach to three time Major winner Padraig Harrington and a member of the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Advisory Board. Liam is a former international athlete and world renowned S&C coach, working in top level European soccer, international rugby, and the Olympic Games. Liam is currently the Academic Director with highly regarded global sports institute - Setanta College

One Comment

  1. Lily

    9th May 2016 at 1:54 pm

    These pieces really set a standard in the inusdtry.

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