Does Weight Training Benefit Golfers?

In Fitness and Physical Therapy, Physical Therapy Articles by Jim Porterfield1 Comment

The authors suggest that Heavy Resistance Training (HRT) with Ballistic movement patterns negatively impacts performance on the golf course.

In the past 10+ years, many elite golfers have succumbed to the notion that increasing strength and muscle mass improves performance on the golf course. We think not!
There are a host of professional golfers on extensive weight training programs who have seen a significant decline in performance.

How is that possible? Primarily because of two factors: changes in muscle girth, i.e., increased lean body (muscle) mass, and associated neurochemical adaptations in the brain and peripheral nervous system.

The SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) principle is widely accepted in physical science. Simply stated, the body specifically responds to the stresses placed upon it. For example, the calluses on the hands and feet are directly related to the skin’s response to overload, and overload stimulates growth (anabolism). Weight training stimulates changes in muscle size and strength, and biochemical changes in the central and peripheral nervous systems. It is estimated that one can increase strength as much as 20% in less than six weeks.

The nervous system adapts rapidly to resistance training, especially with heavy resistance weight training and resisted ballistic movements, like jump squats and rapid end-range forceful movements.

A similar response to stresses affects the nervous system by the process of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections throughout life. This reorganization within the brain is directly related to how the body ages and the consistency of physical and mental stimulation. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and rapidly adjusts their function in response to new situations, like exercise (particularly weight training), improved nutrition and absorption, and managed stress management.

Many experts believe that heavy-load resistance training, resulting in significant increases in body mass, can hinder body mechanics, including range of motion, motor control, and movement pattern changes particularly important to a coordinated golf swing. Heavy weight lifting changes motor learning, coordination, and body composition. Consider hitting a 90-yard wedge into the green with two added inches of muscle to the chest and upper back. That swing is not the same as before the added mass.

Motor control and coordination are also affected. Inappropriate exercise regimes change communication and motor sequencing patterns required to make correct ball contact, resulting in poorer performance.

Injuries compound the problem of bio-mechanics and a coordinated swing through the body’s self-protection reflex known as “protective guarding”, which alters movement patterns in an effort to reduce overloading the injured area.

So, put on muscle mass, have a few surgeries and it’s no wonder that the golf swing changes. Rather than aggressive strengthening for these injured golfers, we’d suggest a more nuanced fitness program that focuses on balanced and consistent nutrition, maintaining lean body mass, improving the quality of sleep (rest & recovery), and refraining from heavy weight resistance exercise and explosive/ballistic movements.


The results of heavy resistance, ballistic movement exercise training methods create increased muscle mass and alterations in motor control, coordination and timing, which negatively influences precise smooth movement patterns required to insure consistent ball striking.

Further Reading

Voluntary Exercise Induces a BDNF-Mediated Mechanism That Promotes Neuroplasticity
Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, Zhe Ying, Roland R. Roy, Raffaella Molteni, V. Reggie Edgerton
Journal of Neurophysiology Published 1 November 2002 Vol. 88 no. 5, 2187-2195 DOI: 10.1152/jn.00152.2002

Regulation of fiber size, oxidative potential, and capillarization in human muscle by resistance exercise
H. Green, C. Goreham, J. Ouyang, M. Ball-Burnett, D. Ranney
American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology Published 1 February 1999 Vol. 276 no. 2, R591-R596 DOI:


Jim Porterfield, PT, MA, ATC
Physical Therapist with 40 years of outpatient experience, Masters in Exercise Physiology, athletic trainer and co-author of Mechanical Low Back Pain, Perspectives in Functional Anatomy

Richard Mostardi, PhD
Human Physiologist, Researcher, and esteemed University Professor – Akron University


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James A. Porterfield, PT, MA, AT(ret) is the Owner of the Rehabilitation and Health Center, Venture Practices Services, LTD, a rehab specific medical billing company, and CEO of Acadaware, a software rehab-specific software design company.

Jim received his undergraduate degree in Comprehensive Sciences from Ash-land University in 1972. He completed his PT degree from the Mayo Foundation School of Physical Therapy in Rochester, Minnesota in 1974. Jim is a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and holds a Masters degree from Kent State University in Exercise Physiology (1986). Jim has presented nationally and internationally on numerous occasions and has presented over 300 workshops on the topic of functional anatomy, spine function and dysfunction, physiological adaptations to exercise and human performance. Jim has published in Spine, Journal of Occupational Medicine, Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, and Physical Therapy. He has also written numerous book chapters and and co-authored, with his colleague Carl DeRosa PT, PhD, three textbooks: Mechanical Low Back Pain: Perspectives in Functional Anatomy (Volume I and II) and Mechanical Neck Pain: Perspectives in Functional Anatomy, and Mechanical Dis-orders of the Shoulder: Perspectives in Functional Anatomy, Elsevier. These texts are currently being used in many physical therapy schools and available on line at within the Acadaware Education Institute (AEI).

As recognition of his significant contributions to the field of Physical Therapy and musculoskeletal science, Jim received the Alumni of the Year award from the Mayo Foundation School of Physical Therapy in 1993 and, that same year, received the “Physical Therapist of the Year” award from the Ohio Chapter American Physical Therapy Association. The Ohio Physical Therapy Association recently awarded Jim with the 2015 Meritorious Award for his service to the profession. Also for his work in “developing PT specific management software for Physical Therapy,” the Private Practice Section of the APTA awarded Jim the “2000 Practice Award.” Jim is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Private Practice Section of the APTA.

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  1. Well-stated. Risk of injury also occurs when we don’t have the eccentric strength to maintain balance during the rotational motions of the swing. I suggest lite, plyometric eccentric strengthening with gradually faster motion while varying the standing balance, stability and contour. I, too, am a PT with 45 years of clinical experience and a 5 handicap golfer.

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