By M. Brian Wallace, Ph.D., FACSM, CSCS |
The recent success of Bryson DeChambeau in the US Open Golf Championship has put a very bright spotlight on sports science in general and power development in golf in particular. Bryson has been known for some time for his scientifically based approach to the game of golf and has successfully incorporated a number of unique changes into his own game not the least of which is using clubs that are all the same length – very ahead of the curve. He is the ultimate applied sport researcher albeit on a personal case study basis – which in my opinion is the best kind as it is all about personal responses (see previous article Physiologic Individuality).
Bryson, in fact, attributes his recent success largely to a considerable physique transformation over the last year through training and nutrition (the bulking phase of a multidimensional science based program) which provided for more power in his golf swing while sustaining his mobility, flexibility and touch around the greens. Specifically, during the last year he has gained a total of 45 pounds, currently weighing in at 240 pounds (Dick Butkus numbers) – at least at the time of the Open – though he may still be expanding as we speak since he is now back ‘in the lab’; this has, as you can imagine, made him the subject of considerable media attention.
For arguments (and science) sake, let’s assume he is at a typical 15% body fat (he seems to be going for bulk not ripped…. yet anyway), his physique renovation would translate to only a six pound increase in fat mass (FM) while increasing his lean body mass (LBM) by an impressive 34 pounds much of which is further applied to a powerful and merciless pounding of a ~1.62 oz golf ball – does not seem like a fair fight. However, in the further interest of science, to precisely determine how much of his weight gain is FM and how much is LBM, we use both underwater weighing and air displacement technology (Bod Pod) to determine body density as well as skinfolds and circumferences to determine fat/muscle distribution – which is typically hormonally related and frankly is as, if not more, important – where is all this fat and muscle going anyway.
At the end of the day, all of the work and the dramatic changes to his physique has been validated with a significant increase in his driving distance – now leading the PGA Tour with an average of 321 yards, a 19 yard increase from last year, and more importantly a tied-fourth finish at the PGA Championship – his best major performance at the time until now with the win at the US Open, arguably the definitive test for a PGA Tour pro. So how does a professed science geek accomplish this formidable athletic task. First, of course we all know there is a lot more to increasing power than increasing muscle mass alone. For example, in our strength and conditioning program we explore both the basic and ahead of the curve tenets for developing power in sports in general and (now) golf in particular such as:
- Upper/lower body and core plyometrics and incorporating key principles of power expression including the stretch shortening cycle (SSC)
- Consider that most of the national long drive winners on their downswing use a countermovement (as in plyometrics coupled with the SSC) followed by hip rotation/vertical jump type maneuver – in other words, sitting into it and exploding through and up with the hips and legs
- kinetic link – summation of forces principle to maximize the sequential movement of the muscles (muscle couples, agonists, antagonists, synergists, stabilizers), bones, joints, tendons and ligaments from the ground up like a whip snapping at the end of the swing ( these, among others, may help explain why Ricky can hit 300 yard drives at 150 lbs … yards/pound may become a new metric for the PGA.
- Complex training and PAP (post-activation potentiation) – an increased ability to recruit high threshold, fast twitch motor units needed for expressing power
- Muscle activation techniques (seemingly a favorite of his and his formidable team that helped prepare him)
- Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) techniques for greater strength flexibility – for example, in the backswing think developing strength-flexibility by applying progressively greater stretch/hold/relax/contract system to ultimately develop a John Daly backswing with greater strength at the increased stretch positions or at least greater than you had previously
- bracketing techniques for incorporating heavy and light implement training – training movement specific speed and strength/power
- the always popular power training moves like the power snatch, power clean, push press and push jerk and numerous iterations, e.g., dumbbell instead of barbell, split jerk etc. You don’t have to lift heavy weights to develop swing specific power or speed but that’s another discussion.
- Periodization (based on one’s personal competitive schedule) helping not only to apply these techniques and principles appropriately and in the right doses to peak for specific competitions but also to mitigate overuse injuries and overtraining.
Of course this does not obviate the need for traditional training principles of progressive stress overload-recovery (to get bigger, faster, stronger while avoiding overuse injuries and overtraining), individuality (via creating the athletic profile – physiologic, metabolic, biomechanical – as there is strength in numbers and monitoring changes over time), specificity of training; and all these blending with the drills and practice focus of the center of this world – the golf coach who should sign off on all programs first.
On its face, all this sounds rather complicated but quite fascinating and is the future of the sport and exercise/nutrition/performance connection. It is no wonder the better strength coaches are making the big salaries these days – not just in big time college and professional sports but also personal coaches (from cradle to grave). As the Chair of Sport Exercise Science and involved in all aspects of sports and exercise for the last 40 years, I for one can definitely appreciate Bryson’s titanic and ubiquitous interest in sport science and his fitness-power quest. He will no doubt inspire a whole generation of athletes in general and golfers in particular to challenge the possibilities.
Dr. Brian Wallace is the chair of sports exercise science at the United States Sports Academy.