Since Tiger Woods burst onto the golf scene displaying the sport as one requiring the ultimate combination of power and finesse, golf is no longer viewed as a sport for the weaker athlete. Golfers are finally seeing themselves as athletes first and golfers second. And as a result, the number and variety of Golf Specific Fitness Programs being offered has increased substantially. While this is obviously having a positive influence on the sport of golf as a whole, it could potentially have negative consequences for the golfer.
Golfers all over the world have begun fitness programs and they're getting in great physical condition with respect to muscle tone, body fat percentage, flexibility and cardiovascular health. However, only a small percentage of these golfers are actually improving their golf games. In fact, David Duval's golf performance since developing his new, muscular physique (over the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 golf seasons) proves that the type of physical condition that pleases the eye doesn't always support a high level of golf performance.
While his efforts in the gym clearly produced an impressive physique, they seem to have produced negative results in several key areas of golf performance for several consecutive years and a few injuries as well. Phil Mickelson on the other hand, whose physical appearance is considerably less athletic than that of David's, has steadily improved in nearly every area of golf performance over the same five year period.
The bottom line is, achieving a higher level of physical conditioning, with respect to muscle tone and body fat percentage does not guarantee a higher level of golf performance will follow. Unfortunately, bodybuilding is the only sport where the winner is determined by those standards of measurement.
Now, the intention here is in no way to portray David or his approach to fitness in a negative light nor is it to promote Phil Mickelson. Besides, David probably knows more about fitness than any golfer on tour. The dramatic transformation of David's physique is the result of tremendous physical and intellectual effort and the physical results were apparent. But when you compare David's physical development to his golf performance over the past five years (in chapter four), it's clear they've gone in two different directions. While his physique was steadily improving, key areas of his golf game were slowly falling apart. So David's experience in this regard simply provides us with the best opportunity to help golfers understand why pursuing good physical condition with respect to muscle tone and body fat percentage, i.e., an awesome physique, can very easily have a negative effect on their golf performance.
First of all, golfers (and their fitness trainers) must realize their Overall Fitness Level and their Golf Specific Fitness Level are two entirely different types of fitness, measured by completely different standards. Golfers have unique physical and athletic design specifications, as do football players, bodybuilders and sprinters. If a golfer's fitness program doesn't prioritize their critically interdependent golf related areas of physical conditioning and athletic ability, it can actually hinder their golf performance, regardless of the physical condition it helps them achieve. For this reason, measurements in muscle tone, body fat percentage, flexibility and cardiovascular health cannot be depended on to evaluate golfers physically and athletically, nor can they be used to determine the value of their fitness programs.
Secondly, just about any fitness program that includes aerobic exercise, flexibility and resistance training can potentially improve your golf game, especially if you're in poor physical condition when you begin. But most fitness programs affect far more than just strength, flexibility and endurance. In fact, every effort you make to improve your fitness level affects your golf game, either for better or for worse, by altering your golf related areas of physical conditioning and athletic ability.
Unfortunately, most of the fitness strategies associated with general fitness programs (and many of today's so-called golf specific fitness programs) typically enhance one golf related area of physical conditioning and/or athletic ability, while hindering (and often destroying) several of the others. We at Playfit Enterprises refer to this as the "chemo effect" and it's extremely common among health conscious golfers. Remember, chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells, but when administered it also kills healthy cells and causes a number of negative physiological changes as well. In order to avoid the "chemo effect," fitness strategies that target one golf related area of physical conditioning or athletic ability must be carefully modified so they do not hinder the others. The only way to accomplish this is by measuring the influence your fitness program has on actual golf performance, as opposed to its influence on your physical condition.
The standards of measurement used to evaluate a golfer's fitness level as it relates to golf performance are called Golf Performance Indexes. By monitoring fluctuations in the Golf Performance Indexes, you can (more accurately) evaluate your golf related areas of physical conditioning and athletic ability and thereby determine the value of your golf specific fitness strategies. This is the process by which you develop an effective golf specific fitness program—one that actually improves your golf game, not by measuring strength, muscle tone, body fat percentage, range of motion (ROM) or cardiovascular health.