Junior Golf Fitness - Overview
We answer these important questions in this post:
- Do juniors really need a strength and flexibility training element in their junior golf development plan?
- Is junior golf fitness training really necessary or even advisable?
- At what age should junior golfers start fitness and strength training? The question of whether or not pre-adolescent kids should do strength training is one that is highly debated and will likely continue to be so in future.
- What are some of the best golf exercises for juniors to do?
- How can parents make golf exercises and golf fitness training more fun?
Golf Fitness Programs for Juniors
Studies have shown that training programs are effective in increasing strength in pre-adolescent juniors. However, if not done correctly, ligament or bone damage can occur in younger kids that do not have fully developed skeletal systems, connective tissues and tendons - and thus can be injured with excessive weights or resistance. That said, if your junior gets tired practicing 50 or 100 3-foot putts, then they may be a good candidate for a golf exercises that include some core and lower back conditioning.
The important thing to remember for young juniors is that good instruction, low loads (e.g. body weight or medicine ball exercises) and good form, are critical to a junior golf fitness training program. In general, most fitness and strength development for younger juniors (e.g. pre-teen) should ideally come from fun activities or other sports, rather than a gym workout.
If you do embark on strength and flexibility training, it is highly recommended that you do so with proper professional instruction and wherever possible provide opportunities to generate natural strength and fitness through participating in a variety of physical activities.
Do not be tempted to go the route of single sport specializing at too young of an age. Specializing too early can be detrimental over the long term. Top junior golf instructors and golf fitness instructors can teach an athlete to be a good golfer but it is more difficult to teach a golfer to be a good athlete - and without the fundamental athletic abilities, that usually are learned through a variety of activities, a junior's golf will be limited and they will most likely not achieve elite levels.
Good sports and outdoor activities for junior fitness and physical development
Activities that are complimentary to golf fitness include basketball, tennis, soccer, mountain biking, rock climbing, swimming, running (fun runs are a great family activity), basic obstacle courses, playing catch, flag football, frisbee etc.
Many of these activities not only improve strength and fitness but also improve hand-eye coordination and motor skills including balance and stability, all of which contribute to a solid basis for overall athletic competence. Try to include these fun activities in your junior golf development plan. While not specifically golf exercises, these types of activities will almost certainly improve your junior's golfing abilities.
Older juniors (e.g. teenagers) can start more specialized golf strength training but again, it should be focused on total player development as opposed to isolated muscle training. A good junior golf workout routine should develop muscles and joints in a way that helps them to fire in the right sequence and at the right angles. Golf exercises need to be designed with this in mind.
It is recommended that juniors have a professional orthopedic assessment prior to the design and start of any extensive or specialized physical training program. This can ensure that any existing orthopedic issues are not exacerbated but can actually be proactively addressed as part of a training program.
A good golf workout routine and golf exercises will help prevent injuries that can impact a player's ability to practice properly and play their best in tournaments.
Titleist Performance Institute (TPI)
TPI is an educational organization at the leading edge of studying human body mechanics and fitness as it relates to golf. They have trained over 19,000 fitness and golf professionals in 63 countries through their TPI certification program, which includes the following 5 areas of golf: medical, fitness, power and junior development.
The MyTPI website can be accessed at: www.mytpi.com. MyTPI has many great articles and resources including a TPI junior section that has golf exercises suitable for juniors. They also have certified TPI experts in most cities and have a finder tool that is easy to use.
Junior golf fitness program - general guidelines
A good junior golf fitness program will develop the following in junior golfers:
- Flexibility / Mobility
- Power generation
- Core stability and strength
Tips for junior golfer fitness training and golf exercises:
- Focus on technique first and foremost.
- Ditch gym machines and weighted exercises that isolate individual muscles and rather do exercises that utilize additional stabilizing muscle groups i.e. compound exercises.
- Do not train with friends who have different goals such as "getting big" or training for a very different sport such as football.
- Professional instruction (e.g. by TPI certified golf fitness instructor) for development of a junior golf fitness training program and technical instruction to identify the best golf exercises and correct technique. The TPI website has examples of golf exercises for juniors including flexibility, stretching and shot-making. These can be included in a junior golf development plan.
- A juniors relative age of development (not their actual age) with respect to their central nervous system, muscular development, biological and hormonal maturity, will determine the right application of load, volume and intensity of strength training.
- Don't ignore endurance training. The average distance walked for 18 holes is over 6 miles and can be significantly more when the distances from green to tee are long (like most residential community courses). If it's a hot day (as most golf days are since it mostly a warm weather sport) and your junior is pushing a golf cart or carrying a bag, it can be extremely challenging to maintain not only physical abilities but also mental focus.
- A fit junior golfer will have better circulation and a lower heart rate, both big benefits when they have just walked up that steep hill and have a slippery downhill putt for par. Additionally, as a body gets fatigued, lactic acid builds up and muscles tighten which is not good for a free flowing swing, never mind mental focus, decision making and controlling emotions.
Golf Exercises for Juniors
A general recommendation is to do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio activity a few times a week. Cardio activities can include running, cycling, tennis, swimming, basketball, interval training (supervised), obstacle courses, jump ropes, pickleball etc.
Strength or general fitness exercises can be performed a few times a week. Below are some examples of good cross functional exercises that are appropriate for junior golfers. Many of the exercises outlined below can accomplish both cardio and strength training goals.
We have summarized the exercises detailed in this article, in the two convenient printable charts:
These charts can also be accessed on a the google links below:
Medicine ball exercises
Medicine balls can be used for many excellent golf exercises.
Generally a 4-5 lb medicine ball is sufficient to provide a good work out while being light enough to ensure that good form is maintained. Vary the size/weight of the ball depending on the size and strength of your junior golfer. If in doubt go with a lighter weight.
The following are some good golf exercises to perform with a medicine ball:
- Medicine ball side throws. Two person standing throws to each other from the front and side. If you don't have a friend to throw with, one person can throw against a wall. Side throws should include good rotation and posture.
Depending on the junior's age and strength, start with standing push ups and advance to incline or knee push ups, and finally regular push ups for older juniors. Push ups provide good basic strength for shoulders, arms, back and core. Push ups done with hands on a stability ball are also a great option as it adds a little more exercise for the core.
Single leg deadlifts done with a light or medium weight kettle bell or bar bells are great for lower body and core strength while also improving balance and posture. Be sure to maintain a straight back.
Squats, multi directional lunges and lunges with a twist
Golf exercises should always include leg strength and balance. A good basic leg strengthening exercise to start with is a standard body weight squat.
Once juniors are strong enough to complete a set of 10 regular body weight squats with good form, consider adding an exercise ball (held out in front of them) and then advancing to a light weight set of dumbbells.
A variety of lunges will work different muscles and help improve balance. Lunges can be performed by stepping forward or by stepping backwards. Add a side twist with a light medicine ball for core conditioning and balance.
An excellent variation on the basic squat is the bosu ball squat. This adds to core strengthening and develops balance. A slightly more advanced option is to add a 4-5 lb medicine ball (squat down on the bosu ball, extend the medicine ball in front then overhead, then stand and repeat). Do a couple of sets of 5-10 for starters.
A bosu ball is essentially an exercise ball cut in half with a rigid base so it can be stood on or leaned against while performing exercises. Bosu balls can be used for a variety of exercises and most balls come with a wall chart or DVD of exercises for a total body workout. They can also be a fun variation for juniors as they require the additional element of balancing during an exercise.
Planks and plank variations (such as lifting a leg, extending an arm or doing side planks while keeping good form), are simple but excellent exercises for core strength. Juniors will likely start with no more than 5-10 seconds of planks, advancing to a minute or more at a time.
These are another great core and rotational exercise. The body and legs should form a V shape. Start without a ball until strong enough to maintain good form while using a light weight medicine ball. Progress to rotating to touch the ball on each side of the body. At first it may be difficult for juniors to do the V-sit with feet elevated off the floor. If so, start with the feet on the floor.
Progress to a V-sit with a medicine ball and keeping the feet elevated a few inches, as pictured below.
Stability ball (swiss ball or physio ball) kneeling
This develops advanced levels of balance and can be a fun exercise for juniors to perform, especially when they are in a group. The first challenge is being able to get onto the ball, the next is to see how long juniors can stay on the stability ball. Aim for 20-30 seconds. Do this on a soft surface and make sure you have adequate room as this exercise is designed to test stability and balance. If juniors find this very difficult they can start with kneeling on a Bosu Ball and graduate to a stability ball. Most stability balls come with some decent instruction on other exercises that can be done with them.
Battle ropes are popular as they are fun and provide a great full body exercise including legs, core, shoulders, arms and back. The one downside is that you will need a relatively large space to perform a battle rope routine. Many good gyms will have a battle rope area. Since they are easy to set up, they can also be used outside, weather permitting.
TRX has been popular for a number of years and consists of a basic strap and handle system with many great exercises. A simple one is the incline pull up or the "squat-row combo". This is a nice article with a few easy beginner TRX workouts. TRX training kits can be purchased for a very reasonable price compared to other total body workout fitness systems. A full workout can be done in 20 minutes.
Explosive type exercises
Juniors can do explosive exercises to develop power and speed. These include exercises such as sprints, box jumps (start with a low box jump platform) and long jumps. These are fun to do in a group as they can be somewhat competitive. Juniors may like to keep track of their "records" so they have something to aim to beat.
Jump ropes are a fun exercise, especially once juniors get good them and can start doing double loops, cross overs and one foot skips! Jump ropes have been used by high performance athletes for years and are great for juniors in developing mobility, strength, coordination and endurance. The correct length of a jump rope can be measured by having the handles between the belly button and the chest as they stand on the rope.
High knee skipping without a rope (e.g. down a court or field) is also a great fundamental skill to develop as it teaches disassociation of the upper and lower body which is very important to the golf swing.
Other good cross functional exercises
There are many other excellent cross functional exercises that can easily be built into a workout including burpees (a fantastic but tough exercise - start with just a few), bear walks, mountain climbers, crab walks, jumping jacks and seal jacks.
Making Junior Fitness More Fun
Playground structures can serve as fun obstacle courses including balance structures, climbing apparatus and monkey bars. If you are lucky you might even live close to a park with outdoor exercise stations where kids can meet with their friends for a fun workout like the one below at Howdershell Park in Hazelwood MO.
Kids also love outdoor activities that involve challenges and games. An open field or playground plus a good frisbee (not one of those cheap light weight ones that flips over in the wind, but rather something like the ones used for frisbee golf discs), or a reaction ball, are some fun activities. Reaction balls can be made into a game by lining up a few juniors and bouncing to them or simply rolling to each other and counting the number of successful stops or catches.
Agility ladders: are great for cardio, balance and coordination. We see a lot of junior golf programs using agility ladders and cones in their training schedules. A simple forward, backwards and side-step fast move through the ladders focusing on co-ordination and speed is a great exercise.
Other fun exercises and games like sumo-wrestling and tug-of-war can be found on the TPI website.
If you live near water, Stand Up Paddle (SUP) is a great exercise for all over body conditioning (remember that juniors need to always wear personal flotation devices (PFD's) at all times). Inflatable SUP boards are convenient and very popular.
Best of all, make time to do family activities such as fun runs, rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking etc.
Don't specialize (i.e. one-sport training) or isolate muscle development too early. Make it fun and encourage juniors to play other sports (even if just recreational) and do other physical activities such as fun runs, mountain biking and rock climbing. These will help develop fundamental movement skills that are essential to the long term goal of developing sports specific skills.
A junior golf strength training schedule should focus on compound or functional exercises as opposed to isolating the large fast twitch muscles. The golf swing relies on fluid coordinated movement of many muscles, joints and tendons which cannot functional optimally if large muscle groups like the chest or biceps are trained in isolation.
Junior golf fitness should not just be a seasonal activity but rather a year round practice. Make sure to build in both strength and endurance aspects of a fitness regime. Pay attention to good posture both on and off the course.
Regardless of age, remember that the fittest athletes will tire and lose concentration if they do not have the proper nutrition and hydration. Therefore, always make sure to focus on healthy eating and drinking plenty of water before and during a junior golf tournament.
For more information refer to the excellent book by Dr. Drabnik, “Children & Sports Training” and also the many resources on the MyTPI website.