Randy Hetrick is a former Navy SEAL Special Ops Commander who created the TRX Suspension Trainer, those yellow-and-black straps that have become extremely popular training tools over the past few years. And they're now gaining momentum in the golf world. Fitness has become an essential component of both professional and average golfers, but there are still quite a few misconceptions of how gym time can improve a golfer's game, and which exercises help golfers most, says Hetrick. We caught up with Hetrick to talk about how fitness is changing golf, and how golfers can prevent injury.
How has fitness evolved in the game of golf?
"If you look at the top golfers now, they are really athletes. I mean they are professional athletes and that is a relatively new thing. Even guys like Jack Nicklaus weren’t really known for fitness. He was always lean and mean, but you also had guys out there in the old days that hadn't seen their way to the gym ... maybe ever.
"Then there was kind of the weird period where Tiger was doing some stuff that was maybe not productive. He’s now swung around to doing much more functionally oriented, core-focused training rather than just going into the gym and just doing bench and cleans and kind of more traditional power-lifting stuff.
"At the elite levels, it is about inching out another couple inches of performance, but for all the normal folks, it's more about 'Hey if I can do this into my 80s or 90s, to stave off any pain associated with golfing and improve my game a little along the way, then that's a win."
When did TRX become involved with golf?
"I brought the product to market in 2005 and it was around 2006 when Greg Rose [founder of Titleist Performance Institute, now TPI] reached out about doing a program with TRX and TPI, so we actually built our first DVD with TPI back in 2006. We let the TPI guys do the introductions to golf pros and trainers who had an interest in golf. It’s been a slow organic penetration of the space and now there’s Rory McIlroy posting things on TRX on a pretty frequent basis.
"Phil Mickelson was just on Dan Patrick recently and it was like a TRX infomercial. It was the coolest thing I've ever heard. Phil launched into this whole routine about how he doesn't like to lift weights and everything he does for strength is on the TRX suspension trainer and went into explaining why it's so cool. Jordan Spieth has been a diehard forever, and in addition, we're seeing the same in much of the younger set, like Lydia Ko, who has grown up on TRX."
Where does TRX fit into the golf fitness arena—and how can it help average golfers?
"One of the things that I think has helped us find our place in golf is this combination of convenient access—you can literally take a suspense trainer to the golf course and use it as a dynamic warm up before you go out hitting balls—and how it can help avoid hurting your low back. We have programs and exercises around basically making you a more balanced athlete by working your off-side as well as your dominant side. That combined with the convenience I think is what has made us really break out in the world of golf, especially the elite levels of golf.
"Really, our niche is that combination between mobility and core strength for golfers. We can help mobilize their spines, hips and shoulders, strengthen all the little muscles that hold those bits together at the joints and then really strengthen the glutes and abs. That’s where all your power from a drive should come from. We don't have to make claims about how we'll make your swing better, that is for a swing coach to do.
"Where we have found our space in the world of golf fitness is helping golfers in a combination of ways through strengthening their core and working both sides of the body. Obviously golfers tend to develop very one-sided movement patterns because there are very few people hitting off-hand. I don’t know that I've met any golfers that ever go to the driving range and hit off-hand, they just don't do it. So that means over the course of thousands and thousands of swings, you're only working one side and that's a really easy recipe to end up with low-back and shoulder issues."
Why shouldn't we be strengthening our dominant side?
"People think that functional movement should mimic the movement that you are doing in the sports [you are training for]. That can be true, but what we generally find is that the dominant movement is already being performed so much, that you can almost be counterproductive if you then also go into a training room or your home gym at home and do the same thing. It's like too much of a good thing.
"We can create a movement that makes all the drive muscles on the exact movement of driving a golf ball, but that's not where the real utility is. The real utility is doing the opposite. So it is working on the muscles that, for instance, come into play at the end of the swing. You have to decelerate the golf club at the end of a swing, which means you have to decelerate the whip of your body and that is where people usually get hurt."
What exercises can help?
"Golfers Rotations. The reason we call them that is because they look just like a golf swing, except you are allowing your body to swing through using the (TRX) straps as a guide, and you're doing it equally to your dominant and your non-dominant side.
"It feels really good and it activates all the muscles on both sides of the body, as if you were training both your right-handed swing and your left-handed swing. It basically mobilizes the core so that as you do your correct pivoting through on both sides, you're allowing both hips to be equally mobilized and your spine and all the way up to be equally mobilized. Then we would do a movement like, a back fly, where you’re strengthening those muscles that you're not using on a golf drive, but they're important and to have to be strong to avoid injury to your back.
"Some of the exercises and mobilization movements that are a part of TRX's methodology are just almost tailor-made for golfers trying to increase that range of motion through the thoracic spine and up into the upper back and shoulders. A lot of the lower body and core stuff that we do as a part of all our athletic programs, is perfect for giving golfers, both power through their glutes and their abs on the rotational access, also making them more durable, again so they don't hurt their backs.
"One of the great things about the suspension trainer, is its almost a good way to trojan horse a broader set of strength training into your golfing routing, that you would otherwise never do."