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The Science Behind Why You Lose Speed and Distance with Age

May 16, 2022

Golfers know as we age, our swing speed decreases and we lose distance! It's something a lot of us just come to accept as the inevitable. But what if I told you it didn't have to be? What if there was a way to combat that by understanding what causes it in the first place? 

It's true! By understanding the mechanisms that underlie this drop off in power, it becomes much easier to apply appropriate training interventions. 

 

 

 The Effects of Age

 

Decrease in Muscle Activity/Neural Drive


The Central Nervous System activates motor units to carry out a movement. Motor units consist of a motor neuron (nerve) and the muscle fibers that it innervates (controls). The more motor units that are recruited and the faster signals are sent to recruit units, the stronger and faster our movements can be. As we age there is a loss in motor units and loss of ability to recruit them. 

 

Muscle Fiber Type 


We have fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers are capable of much quicker and stronger contractions and are vital for explosive movements, like the golf swing.

As we age, fast twitch fibers decrease in size and amount. They start to convert to slow twitch muscle fibers. Interestingly, slow twitch muscle fibers don’t degrade anywhere near as much with age.

 

Sarcopenia


Sarcopenia is defined as the involuntary loss of muscle mass/size and strength due to aging. Muscle power loss has not received as much attention, though is vital to sports like golf. Due to selective atrophy and loss of fast twitch fibers, muscle power is actually lost at a rate ~2x as fast as strength.

 

So what can we do about it!? TRAIN!

 

 

While what we just discussed seems hopeless and inevitable, there is HOPE. The central nervous system and our muscles respond well to being trained. Being active, completing recreational activities, working on cardio, or completing exercise classes are beneficial and keep us in good shape overall.  But that isn't enough. We need to specifically train for speed and power to see improvements with swing speed and distance. We can reverse and certainly delay the aging process with specific strength, speed, and power training. 

 

Strength Training

 

The goal of strength training is force production. Specifically lifting heavy loads for only a few reps. To achieve best results, we need to be lifting 70-90% of our 1 rep max for 3-6 reps. 

 

Power/Speed Training 

 

The key difference between strength and power is TIME.  We want to maximize our Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD is a measure of explosive strength or simply how fast an athlete can develop force. The golf swing is an explosive movement that only takes about 1-2 seconds to complete. We need to train with explosive exercises and movements like the golf swing! 

 

What the evidence and research tells us: 

 

Study #1

 

Study #2


These results are impossible to ignore! We can reverse and delay the effects of aging by increasing the size of fast twitch fibers, increasing the number of fast twitch fibers, and improving the speed at which we can recruit them! 

 

The Bottom Line —>  You have two choices: 

  1. Don’t train for strength and power, allow yourself to get weaker and slower over time and gradually hit the ball shorter and shorter, making golf harder and harder. 
  2. Take ownership in your training!  Strength and power can be significantly improved! It has been proven. Regardless of fitness level or age! 


Thanks for reading!

-Dr. Dan

1 Kings Creek Circle, Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971

(302) 217-3212

11022 Nicholas Ln, Unit 9 Ocean Pines, MD 21811

(410) 589-0202