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Golf specific training has become quite the hot topic over the past few years, with an increasing focus more recently on training the female golf athlete.  Note this month’s cover story for Golf Digest. Now some may say that training a golf athlete, male or female, is training a golf athlete.  To this I say “Not so fast.”  The differences between male and female training programs may be slight, or they can be vast.  It depends on the athlete.  Let’s start by looking at one of the most obvious differences between men and women and how that difference impacts training, hormones.  To my female golf athletes I ask you consider this when choosing a trainer to work with…does your trainer view you as another athlete or do they view you as the highly specialized female golf athlete that you are?


(From TPI Fitness Level 2 online training materials)

The effects of hormones on the female body are a great mystery to most men…and often times even to women themselves.  This means that there is a high likelihood that your trainer may not be aware that there are phases of a woman’s monthly cycle where high intensity strength training is not the best option as well as phases where fat burning may be enhanced.  From menses (cycle start) to the follicular, ovulatory, luteal and premenstrual phases the female body is ever changing in how it feels and what it will respond best to, or be at risk for

The first phase of the menstrual cycle is known as Menses and usually lasts 5-7 days.  Its start is defined by day one of the period.  The levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone are low during this phase. Note that estrogen has been shown to be a mood elevating hormone.  It is critical that the female golf athlete have a sound and honest relationship with their trainer and let them know where they are at in their cycle.  During this phase some women have very little issue and can train hard, heavy and often.  However, others may need to have their programs modified as they may have cramping or pain or they simply do not feel well.  

During the second, or Follicular Phase (days 1-13) estrogen levels rise (rapidly in the latter half of the phase) while progesterone levels remain low.   Often times the result is an elevated mood and a general feeling of well being.  This phase is the time to hit your training hard! It is during this phase that gains in muscle size and strength can be made (Do not fear! Gains in muscle size do not equate to big, bulky muscles in most women as the levels of testosterone needed to achieve such growth are simply not present Rather they show as increased muscle tone and definition).  Power work is on the menu here as is high intensity cardiovascular interval training including sprints, shuttle runs, circuits, etc.  By the latter days of this phase leading one needs to be aware that estrogen levels are spiking.  What does that mean to the female golf athlete? Though she may be feeling great, ligamentous laxity becomes a risk.  The dramatically elevated levels of estrogen during this phase have been linked to increased rate of ACL injuries at this time (EM Wojtys, The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1998, v26, no5, p614-619).  Given that, modification of any jumping/landing activities, cutting drills, etc. would be wise late in the Follicular Phase.

Mid-Cycle or as it is more commonly known, Ovulation, is marked by the highest levels of estrogen.  This typically occurs around day 14.  A great level of energy and a very positive mood may be flowing forth from the athlete at this time, but they are not without risk.  Ligamentous laxity precautions need to be adhered to and exercise form is of crucial importance.  Close monitoring of the athlete by the trainer is necessary as the athlete may experience some difficulty with coordination and neuro-muscular control. 

The Luteal Phase (days 15-28) is marked by still elevated estrogen levels and abruptly rising progesterone levels.  Increased core temperature often accompanies this phase so the high intensity work that was being performed in the Follicular Phase may need to be toned down to a more moderate level. The bonus in this phase is the increase in the athletes’ ability to utilize fat as an energy source.  Make the most of this window of fat burning opportunity and add in circuits and lower intensity cardiovascular training.

Finally, the dreaded Pre-Menstrual Phase occurs between days 24-28 and is actually the Late Luteal Phase. While many females identify this phase as the beginning of their cycle, biologically it is the final phase. Recent studies are showing between 50-75% of women having symptoms of PMS. The increase in progesterone coupled with the fall of estrogen are thought to be responsible for the myriad of symptoms including: edema, bloating, breast tenderness, headache, dizziness, back ache, constipation, thirst, weight gain, irritability, fatigue, depression, anxiety, heaviness in the legs and more.  Given the complicated state of the female body in this time, simplification of the exercise program is a must.  While movement is needed, low intensity exercise such as Yoga, stretching, low intensity cardiovascular training and circuits may be best tolerated.  


Not quite as simple as just hitting the gym now is it?  As a female golf athlete not only should you be seeking a trainer who knows your sport and its demands, but also one with whom you can be open and honest with.  As you can see, this relationship is critical to optimizing your successful outcomes.  We invite you to talk with a Fore Fitness professional today and see the difference it makes when knowledge and passion of golf and training meet understanding and friendship!


- Written by Ken Mengel