The Case For Weight Training In Disc Golf | By Dr. Derek Wilcox

The Case For Weight Training In Disc Golf | By Dr. Derek Wilcox
In the history of sports there has never been a sport where athletes suffered from being too strong. There are plenty of very strong athletes who suffer from a lack of skill though. Disc golf is certainly no exception to this and with the rate the sport is growing and evolving recently you will likely see the same shifts coming in the competitive landscape and standards for competition everywhere.

Dr. Derek Wilcox

We saw the same evolution in ball golf when Tiger Woods came onto the scene who combined the skills and talent many other golfers had with an athletic prowess that had never been seen in the sport before at that level. A look at the PGA tour now shows professional golfers that look exceptionally stronger and more athletic than 20 years ago thanks in large part to that revolutionary event. As a strength coach in a top 25 NCAA Golf program, I saw the same trends as all other skill-heavy sports. When athletes have similar levels of skill, the stronger athlete has a much higher success rate. Here is the reader’s digest version of how these principals will apply to disc golf.

Distance! (but not how you think)

This is the obvious benefit when people think of strength in disc golf right? Sure, max distances will have their ceilings raised across the board, but 100% efforts aren’t what make golfers better. I’ve worked with a ton of ball golf athletes from the lowest levels to the pros, and the results are always the same. Their game is drastically improved because the shots that formerly required 100% effort start turning into more consistent and smoother 80-90% effort shots. This is where most of your tournament shots (ideally) are when you're trying to score with smart course management. However, taking all those shots that you could barely reach sometimes and turning them into reachable approaches with more reliable shot making is where the scores really drop.

Benefits of weight training on Putting

One of the most fascinating research articles I came across in studying strength training effects on ball golf was the refinement and improvement of putting stats with stronger golf athletes. No one saw that one coming right? Obviously you need the putting chops to begin with but the neural benefits of weightlifting increase the magnitude of motor unit signalling which brings with it a larger capacity for coordination and finer motor skills. This means more consistent shots with more refined control.

Avoid disc golf injuries

A trend old as time with thinner athletes in many sports is the effects of high torque leading to overuse injuries. Elbows, spine, shoulders and knees all absorb a tremendous amount of force in the mechanics of many disc golf shot techniques. When there isn’t enough lean muscle tissue supporting and stabilizing these areas, injuries of this kind will likely start popping up. Lean muscle tissue doesn’t just produce force, it also is the most effective resource we have physically to absorb forces as well. This is the first line of defense before those forces end up being absorbed by ligaments and joint tissues. It’s at that point that ligaments and joints degrade quickly under the stresses of the sport. Lean muscle also stabilizes joints to protect them from damage.

One of the best predictors of non contact ACL tears in sport for instance is hamstring strength. When muscles are fatigued, the joints they support become less and less stable. The stronger and more mobile the muscles around the joints can be, the less of a factor this becomes for injury prevention.

Feeling strong, feeling confident

One of the most often overlooked enhancements that come from weightlifting are the psychological benefits. The increases in anabolic and androgenic hormones bring with it the benefits of confidence and general feelings of well being. Higher releases of dopamine and serotonin are also associated with this change and provide more feelings of accomplishment and positivity as well.

In my psychology classes the professors often said that if you want to find the happiest people on campus, you go to the exercise science department and this is a really big reason why. On top of all that, who doesn’t just feel better overall in a little better shape?

More Efficient Mechanics

You can think of muscle tissue in another role as an elastic rubber band during the reach back of a backhand or even a forehand shot. The thicker the band the more energy it can store while being stretched, just like in a slingshot. With thicker muscle mass (within reason) you can create the same amount of torque with a much shorter reach back. This means less stress on those ligaments and joints while raising the capacity for higher amounts of potential energy to put into your shots. This happens passively instead of coming from how hard the muscles are actually contracting.

Disc golfers will likely never turn into bodybuilders obviously. There are immediate down sides to an over muscled physique in a sport that requires mobility and quick explosive movements. Lifting weights won’t replace lacking skills either. What it can do is take the traits you have already developed and enhance their magnitude and consistency with the proper application of strength training. This old adage in sport forever rings true, no athlete has ever truly complained about being too strong!

Dr. Derek Wilcox
(PhD Sport Physiology and Performance) is a Sport Science and Fitness Consultant from Charlotte, NC.