If you want to learn how to improve your golf driving distance, fascinating new research from the U.S. Golf Association gives us insight on nearly two decades of golfing data. The USGA found that the average distance that amateur golfers drive the golf ball comes in at 216 yards for men, and 148 yards for women.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest recent wins in the sport was by Grame McDowell, who won the latest Saudi International Open. McDowell has an average distance of 273 yards. In other words, simply increasing your golf driving distance by 50+ yards over the amateur average could be transformational for your game whether you’re a full-time golfing professional or just a weekend warrior.
There are many different elements that affect your driving distance in golf, such as the ball height, your golf stance, and your technique for ensuring solid, centered contact between your ball and the face of your club. But expensive golf drivers or studying the proper stances can only do so much if you don’t have the mobility, flexibility and strength to swing with explosive finesse.
Today, let’s discuss practical exercises for golfing. Each will target the muscles/joints necessary for a powerful drive, and will build the strength you need to improve golf driving distance.
Table of Contents 1Mechanics of a Golf SwingStance and Body PositioningFactors in Maximizing Contact and DistanceBody Mechanics27 Exercises to Improve Your Golf Driving Distance1. Planks2. Yoga Stretches3. Rotational Lunges4. Weighted Ball Rotations5. Dumbbell Presses6. Dumbbell Windmills7. Kettlebell Snatches3Conclusion
Mechanics of a Golf Swing
Stance and Body Positioning
The biomechanics of a strong, powerful golf swing can be broken down into five distinct phases or stages.
1. The Takeaway
The start of your backswing is simply called the takeaway. This refers to the position of your hands, arms, shoulders, hips and the club itself in order to set yourself up for a clean swing and proper contact with the club (for example, poor wrist position in the takeaway can cause you to open the golf club’s face and slice the ball).
A smooth takeaway is a simple, straightforward takeaway: Your club head and shoulders should form a perfect triangle, and your lower body should be stable and grounded.
2. The Backswing
In the backswing, it’s all about the lower body. To the casual observer, it may appear that you’re twisting and turning your shoulders, but it’s really about shifting from your lower body and maintaining stability in your feet and legs.
The latter point is key, and is easily missed. For better golf driver distance, you need speed. Speed requires rotation, and rotation requires balance. If you are unbalanced, you’ll prematurely cut your backswing, and thus sabotage your driving distance.
3. The Transition
As its name implies, this stage involves transitioning from a backswing to a downswing.
Many golfers, at least when they’re first starting out, focus on arm strength and leading with their hands and wrists. But similar to the backswing, the transition requires continued rotation of the lower body if you’re aiming for confident, solid contact between the club face and the ball.
4. The Downswing and Moment of Impact
The momentum of the three previous phases leads you to this moment, where you finally make contact with the ball. Here, you finally focus on hand positioning, with maximum driver distance occurring when your hands are past the ball before making contact.
To do this requires hand-eye coordination, a relaxed grip (grasping your club too firmly can stiffen your swing) and proper wrist strength.
5. The Follow Through
By now, your golf ball should be soaring through the air. But your swing isn’t over, yet. As your swing completes, it’s important that you let that momentum follow through. The reasons are twofold:
- Trying to prematurely cut your swing short can make you imbalanced.
- How you complete the swing, and specifically where you feel your weight shifting as you complete the swing, can give you clues to your posture (i.e. feeling imbalanced in the follow-through can tell you that your initial starting posture wasn’t correct).
Factors in Maximizing Contact and Distance
Your stance and body position are just a couple pieces of the puzzle. You also need to maximize contact with the ball, use the right grip technique, and have the right technical set up. The perfect swing, with all five phases accurately executed, means nothing without the full package.
1. Ball Height and the “Sweet Spot” of Contact
First is your tee up. Do you know the right height to set your golf ball for maximum impact and thus increased distance?
Some people use the lines on their pinky finger. Others use the marked lines on their tee. And still others just trust their gut.
But the best way to set your ball height is a bit more technical and comes down to the angle of the face on your driver and the weather/playing conditions of the day.
Let’s take the typical driver as an example, which has an angle set at 10 degrees. In general, hitting the ball right at that 10-degree angle is your so-called “sweet spot” where speed and distance are optimized. Any deviation away from that sweet spot in the center of the club face results in an immediate drop in distance.
However, that’s actually too simplistic of an approach. Savvy golfers know that they might occasionally want to adjust where they make contact depending on weather conditions.
Half an inch above the sweet spot, you’ll find an angle just under 13 degrees. And half an inch below the sweet spot, you’ll find an angle just over 7 degrees. So you really have three options to use, and thus three ball heights to consider.
On a calm day with great weather, you’ll want to set the ball high, where the middle of the golf ball is as high as the top of your club face. When teeing higher like this, you’re swinging up at the ball, which gets the ball higher in the air and reduces spin (the more spin, the lower your golfing distance!).
However, teeing the ball lower might make sense on very windy days, because a lower trajectory closer to the ground helps minimize the speed-reducing effects of strong wind.
2. Stance and Angle
Maximizing contact with the golf ball also requires adjusting how you position yourself, and the angle of your swing.
For a strong swinging foundation, you want a wide stance where your feet are wider than shoulder width apart. This ensures you have a stable pose as you launch into the backswing.
Likewise, take a look at where you are in relation to the ball itself. If you want to make proper contact between the club face and the ball, you want to stand so that the ball is closer to the inside of your forward foot.
Standing too close, too far or too centered to the ball can cause you to strike the ball at a downward or sideways angle, resulting in speed-reducing rolls and spins.
One way to ensure proper face angle is by adjusting your grip. The weaker your grip, the harder it is to control the club so that you’re making impact right where you want to.
When gripping the club, look at how your hands are positioned. Your gloved hand should be rotated so you can still see a couple knuckles on it, and the thumb of that hand should be aligned with your opposite shoulder.
A golf swing is “a complex movement of the whole body to generate power to a golf ball to propel the ball great distances with accuracy,” reports a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM). “This movement relies on the coordinated sequence of muscle activation to produce a fluid and reproducible movement.”
If you want to improve golf driving distance, it’s critical that you build strength and mobility in the muscle groups involved in a strong swing. The BJSM study analyzed golf swing movements and found the following:
- Back swing: The most active muscle groups as you move your golf club back and up are the upper and middle trapezius, as well as your core and obliques (required for rotation) and spine.
- Forward swing: As you drive the club downward and forward, you’re activating the rhomboid (the muscle between your shoulder blades), your trapezius muscles and your chest.
- Acceleration: This specifically refers to the energy required as you transition through the final part of the down swing just before your club makes contact with the ball. The pectoralis major (chest) is the most important muscle group for accelerating the speed of your swing.
- Follow through: As the club crosses your body, your chest remains the primary muscle group involved. Because it involves rotation, you also begin to depend on your serratus anterior (the core muscles running along your rib cage).
7 Exercises to Improve Your Golf Driving Distance
As you can see above, a strong swing and proper acceleration for increasing your distance depends heavily on upper body strength, specifically your core, your chest, your arms and your upper back.
Use the following exercises for golfing to build up the strength and mobility of each important muscle needed for improved distance.
Watch the video specifically at 4:35 and 6:20
Core strength and flexibility is essential. Without a strong, healthy core, you might not be able to get the right turn in your swing, and you might have difficulty getting your driver back far enough for proper acceleration and impact when hitting your golf ball.
Planks work the entire core, from the deep muscles near your spine to the serratus muscles on your torso. With regular use, planks can build up core strength and endurance, giving you extra torque when you swing and helping you drive that ball to new distances.
Get face down onto a yoga mat or another comfortable, yet firm, surface. Your entire body should be suspended in the air, balancing only on the balls of your feet and your forearms. If you were viewed from the side, the back of your head, your neck, your back and your glutes should form a straight line. Avoid sagging or arching your back, which compromises your plank and can lead to injuries.
Hold the plank for 60 seconds, take a couple minutes of rest, and repeat two or three more times. If you can’t maintain the pose for that long, work your way up in 10-second increments.
If you don’t find the plank difficult, add variations to increase difficulty:
- Balance on your toes instead of the balls of your feet
- Add a medicine ball or similar weight to your back before getting into a plank
- Raise an arm or a leg into the air while maintaining the plank pose
2. Yoga Stretches
Watch the video at 2:30 and 21:40- 23:10
Lisa Vlooswyk, an eight-time Canadian long drive national champion, tells SB Nation that shoulder mobility is far more important than most amateur golfers realize. She notes that many people over-rely on their arms to compensate for poor shoulder mobility and strength, and this can cause their swing to suffer.
Yoga stretches that specifically target the joints and muscles involved in your golf swing can help with not only shoulder mobility, but also torso torsion, hip flexion and more.
Improve shoulder mobility with a standing shoulder stretch. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. With your hands clasped behind you and your shoulders pushed back, exhale and bow forward while pushing your hands up into the air. Maintain for five breaths, then stand.
Twisted lunges boost hip and torso flexibility so you can generate more power at tee time. Step your right foot forward and get into a lunge. Put your hands together in a prayer position. Exhale and twist up and to the right to hook your left elbow over your right thigh while looking up to the sky behind you. Pause for five breaths, then gently get out of the pose. Repeat once more on the opposite side.
Strengthen your core, open your shoulders and back, and improve hand-eye coordination with bird dog. Get onto your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Suck your belly in toward your spine and stretch your left arm out in front of you while, at the same time, lifting and stretching your right leg out behind you. Hold this pose for three or four breaths, then return to the center and repeat for the other side. Do eight to 10 reps on each side.
3. Rotational Lunges
While swinging your golf club for a long-distance drive depends primarily on upper body muscles, the backswing, transition and downswing phases do recruit some lower-body muscle groups, such as your quadriceps and glutes.
Rotational lunges help open your hips for better twisting while also strengthening your legs and glutes and improving core flexibility.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms held straight in front of you. Step forward with your right foot and get into a lunge position where both knees are bent at 90-degree angles.
Using your core strength, twist to the right while keeping those hands held in front of you. Rotate back to neutral and stand up.
Now, step forward with your left foot and rotate to the left. Repeat, aiming to do this in a fluid motion with no breaks between each step and twist.
Do three sets of eight to 12 lunches on each side.
4. Weighted Ball Rotations
Watch starting at 6:00
Also known as medicine ball trunk rotations, this golf exercise improves the strength of your core, shoulders, chest and arms. It also includes twisting motions that open up your joints for improved swing mobility and range of motion.
Lie down on an exercise ball. Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor and your upper back should be resting on the ball.
Holding a weighted ball above your chest, slide slightly to the left while twisting. Your feet should not move, and all the action should be occurring from the hips up.
Return to the neutral starting position and repeat for the right side. That completes one rep. Do two to three sets of five to seven reps.
5. Dumbbell Presses
Watch starting at 1:13
A dumbbell bench press is one of the best ways to strengthen every upper body muscle group involved in your swing, from your rhomboids (shoulders) to your pectorals (chest).
Lie down on a weight bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Press upward until your arms are straight and the dumbbells are held high in the air. Each dumbbell should be in alignment with your wrist, arms and shoulder.
Return to the starting position and repeat. Do three sets of 10-12 reps. If you find that you can do more than that, increase the weight of the dumbbells.
6. Dumbbell Windmills
Watch starting at 3:00
Windmills are part strength-building, and part stretching. While you’re strengthening your upper body and core, you’re also helping to stretch and increase the mobility of your core, hips and hamstrings, which is helpful in the final phases of your golf swing.
Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width. Turn your left foot to the side at a 90-degree angle while holding a dumbbell up over your head with your right arm.
While tightening and bracing your core, bend at the hips and reach with your left hand down towards your left foot while keeping your right arm upright. Pause, then push back into the starting position.
Repeat for six to eight reps before switching sides. Aim for two to three sets on each side.
7. Kettlebell Snatches
Watch starting at 2:10.
Kettlebell snatches help to train your hips and leg extensions. While that might not seem important for your golf swing, improving these areas leads to improved spine strength and stabilization, which in turn helps with the twisting and torque of your swing.
Stand with your feet hip width apart, and hold a kettlebell with your right hand. Keep the weight at shoulder height and your right elbow pressed in front of you so your right forearm is parallel to the floor and facing upward.
Pushing your chest high and squeezing your shoulder blades back and together, push the kettlebell up in the air while straightening your right arm.
Lower the kettlebell back to your shoulder level, then lower your forearm down and let momentum carry the kettlebell down to the ground.
As the kettlebell falls with control, bend at your hips and let the kettlebell lower slowly between your legs. In this phase, it’s critical that you keep a long, stretched spine and flat back while tightening your core.
From this bent position, explode upward and back to the starting position.
Do eight to 10 reps on one side before switching. Aim for three sets total.
To the untrained eye, a golf swing appears simple and straightforward. But as you dive into the biomechanics and technique of a swing, you can see that there’s far more than meets the eye.
Physical fitness plays a paramount role in your ability to drive that ball the distance. Mobility work to improve the flexibility of your shoulders and torso helps with your backswing and rotation. And core work and upper-body strength training, specifically for your chest, shoulders and arms, ensure you can swing with maximum energy output.
When you combine these simple golf exercises with proper technique, a balanced stance, and the right tee time strategies, you’ll improve your golf driving distance and add yards to your average stats.