Junior Golf Fitness

junior golf fitness medicine ball throw

Junior Golf Fitness - Overview

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.

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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 juniors 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 workout routine that include 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 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.

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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. 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 will help prevent injuries that can impact a player's ability to practice properly and play their best in tournaments.

Titleist Performance Institute (TPI)

titleist performance institute

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. 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:

  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Flexibility / Mobility
  • Power generation
  • Endurance
  • Core stability and strength
  • Coordination

Tips for junior golfer fitness training

  • 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 - e.g. football).
  • Professional instruction (e.g. by TPI certified golf fitness instructor) for development of a junior golf fitness training program and technical instruction on correct technique. The TPI website has examples of exercises for junior golf fitness, flexibility, stretching and shot-making that 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 if your junior is playing a residential course where the distances from green to tee can be quite long. 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 4 footer 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.

Fitness exercises for junior golfers

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 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 set out below into the 2 convenient charts which can be printed or saved.

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golf exercises

These charts can also be accessed on a the google links below:

Medicine Ball Exercise Chart

Legs, Core, Upper Body Chart

Medicine ball 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 good exercises to perform with a medicine ball:  

  • Medicine ball side throws. Two person standing throws to each other from the front and side - or one person throws against a wall. Side throws should include good rotation and posture.
  • best golf exercises

    Medicine ball side rotational throw

  • Medicine ball slams - into the ground - or against a wall in front and above the junior. 
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    Medicine ball slams

  • Sit up and throw to each other or sit up and throw/catch against a wall.
  • best golf exercises

    Medicine ball sit up and throw

  • Medicine ball chop or sideways pass to each other from a half kneeling position, bouncing to the other person approx. 5 paces away. 
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    Medicine ball high to low chops with squat

    Push ups

    Depending on the junior 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 against a stability ball are also a great option as it adds a little more exercise for the core.

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    Incline push ups

    Deadlifts

    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.

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    Single leg deadlift with kettlebell

    Squats, multi directional lunges and lunges with a twist

    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 set of light weight set of dumbells.

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    Squat press with medicine ball

    A variety of lunges will work different muscles and help 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.

    golf workout program

    Lunges with a twist

    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.

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    Bosu ball squat

    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

    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.

    golf fitness

    Planks with extension

    V-sits

    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 ball. Progress to rotating to touch a medicine 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.

    golf fitness

    V sit-ups with medicine ball and twist - feet on the floor

    Progress to a V-sit with a medicine ball and keeping the feet elevated a few inches, as pictured below.

    golf fitness

    V sit-ups with medicine ball and twist - feet elevated

    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.

    core golf exercises

    Stability ball kneeling

    Battle ropes

    Battle ropes are currently very 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. 

    core golf exercises

    Battle ropes workout

    TRX workouts

    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.

    core golf exercises

    TRX squat row combo

    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. 

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    Box jumps

    golf strength and conditioning program

    Standing long jumps

    Jump ropes

    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. 

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    Jump 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.

    junior golf fitness

    High knee skipping

    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.

    Golf fitness

    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.

    junior golf training

    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.

    Conclusion

    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.

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