Interview with Michael Carroll of Fit For Golf Cork
Art: Michael, delighted you agreed to be interviewed for the CityGym Blog. I know you well from our Sport and Exercise Science days but for those who aren’t familiar with you, can you give a brief outline of your background in Sport, what led you into the field of Strength and Conditioning/Physical Preparation for Athletes, your qualifications etc.?
Michael: Firstly Arthur, thanks to CityGym and yourself for asking me to contribute to your blog.
In terms of sporting background I tried a lot of different things growing up. GAA, soccer, golf, and athletics being the main ones. I went through spells of emphasising one or the other throughout my teenage years. Jack of all trades, master of none would be a pretty accurate description!
I knew from about 16 that I would be interested in working in training or coaching to some degree. I loved the process of breaking down the sport you are competing in and thinking about how you could train to try and improve it. At around this time I joined a local gym called Fitnessworx, where I ended up working after first year in college. (I am still based there). Fairly quickly I could see a link between improved strength and power in the gym and performance on the pitch, golf course, or track. I genuinely enjoyed training and used go pretty regularly before school in 5th and 6th year. I would see the trainers in Fitnessworx training people and thought it looked like it was a great environment to be in. At around this time my older brother also started studying Sport and Exercise Science in UL. I can remember reading some of his assignments and notes and finding them really interesting and it grew from there.
BSc in Sport and Exercise Science from the University of Limerick
UKSCA accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach (ASCC)
Titleist Performance Institute level 2 Golf Fitness Professional
Art: Before we get into the Fit For Golf, I’d like you to share some of your experiences from your internship at Cressey Performance, Florida, A World Renowned Strength and Conditioning Facility. I acknowledge it was a few years ago now so the experiences maybe aren’t as fresh in your head anymore but what really stuck out for you about the place? What is it that makes them so successful and highly regarded?
Michael: In 2013 I spent 3 months interning at what is now known as Cressey Sports Performance. Three things that immediately stick out about the facility are, the culture and community feel they have in place, the huge attention to detail when it comes to coaching, and the professionalism of the staff and clients training there. It was a great place to work, the coaches were all excellent at what they did and you were dealing with extremely motivated athletes for 7 hours a day. It’s basically like a coaching boot camp. With their internship program you get thrown in at the deep end which is great as you are exposed to a huge amount of coaching. The full time staff and owners there were also always extremely helpful with any questions you might have. It wasn’t until I came home and started coaching again I realised how much more I was seeing when I was watching people.
I believe they are extremely successful because they are excellent practitioners working with very much a niche market. 90% of the athletes training there during my internship were baseball pitchers. Most Irish people who haven’t spent time in America don’t realise just how big baseball is in the US. When word spreads about the quality of service that is provided coupled with the fact you have an extremely specific market I think a business can really gather momentum. This has proved to be the case with Cresseys’ as they have opened a second gym since I came home.
Art: Ok now onto the Fit Fir Golf Cork. This was a project you started up on your own. What is it? What does it entail and who is it for? What motivated you to setup the service?
Michael: Fit For Golf is a strength and conditioning / physical preparation service for golfers. Essentially I try to help my clients increase their golf potential by giving them a better physical starting point. If somebody is in very poor physical condition and has a body that is not able to perform relatively athletically it makes the game very difficult. Most people are familiar with football or hurling teams having a coach that looks after the physical element of training. Fit For Golf does the same thing for golfers.
I am currently working with all levels of golfers from high handicaps to club professionals in both individual and group settings. The process is quite simple. Everybody’s first session is an assessment and screening which involves a chat about how their body is currently and how they think it might be hindering their golf. We also go through a physical screening to see what level and what specific areas we might need to start with. Quite often I liaise with the players golf coach (if they have one) to get some information from them in regards to what they see from a physical standpoint during the swing. The Titliest Performance Institute (TPI) screening protocols have been useful in this regard.
After we have the initial screening and assessment done and a plan of attack has been made there is a number of different training options available to the client.
Art: How important is non-specific strength training (i.e. Squats, bench presses, rows, deadlifts, chin ups, power cleans etc.) for golf performance?
Michael: General or non-specific strength is extremely important as it provides a vital base for progressing onto exercises that might have a greater transfer to the sport. If someone isn’t strong in basic movements it is unlikely they will be benefit very much from more specific exercises. One of the key determinants for club head speed (a very important playing variable) is the ability to rapidly push a lot of force into the ground through the legs. Obviously this is determined by lower body strength and power so this can be a good place to start!
The way I program training for golfers varies massively depending on their current strengths and weaknesses. For example Arthur, imagine tomorrow that you came to me for help training your body for golf. As you are already very strong in general exercises like deadlifts, squats, single leg variations etc there would not be much point in us training to improve these. You would likely benefit more from work in lateral and rotational patterns, and from learning about the optimal sequencing used in the golf swing. On the other hand, I currently train a golfer in their 60’s, who at their best had a handicap of +2 (2 shots better than scratch). This person has seen huge benefit to their game from getting stronger on “non-specific” exercises because their baseline level of strength was so low.
Art: How important is rotation (and even anti-rotation) training for physical preparation in golfers?
Michael: Training rotation is extremely important. Once an athlete has decent basics in posture, mobility, stability, sequencing etc there are two main areas I try and get athletes stronger and more powerful in. These are vertical or ground reaction force (which is governed by lower body strength and power), and rotational force. If you can push your feet into the ground hard, and rotate hard you won’t go far wrong in terms of training power for golfers. Simple examples of these would be squat jumps, and rotational med ball throws.
In my opinion anti rotation is useful to train but I wouldn’t say it’s a necessity to train directly. In a simple, properly executed program I think the client gets enough work on stabilizing their pelvis. I usually tackle this with exercises like renegade rows, single leg deadlifts, plank variations etc.
Art: When I hear the phrase “Functional Training” I cringe and probably die a little inside as I envisage idiots doing squats on a swiss ball or simulating a punching action while holding dumbbells, but what does the phrase mean to you?
Michael: Speaking of functional training I actually wrote this answer while balancing on a bosu ball while pressing my tongue into the left side of my pallet and sucking my bellybutton to my spine J.
On a serious note though I think there is a basic misunderstanding of the terms “Functional Training” “Sports Specific Training” “Core Strength” etc. It seems a lot of coaches are completely on one side of the fence with limited critical thinking on their own part.
On one side you have the “functional strength” guru who tries to make everything as complex and gimmicky as possible, with “exercises”that often look impressive to the uneducated eye but have little merit in the program. Squatting or swinging a golf club on a swiss ball are perfect examples. Just because they are hard does not mean they are worth doing. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with people training balance or doing the odd fun game at the end of a training session as long as it’s safe and not completely ridiculous. Sometimes people lose the plot completely though and have a very poor understanding of how to breakdown a sports movement and what modes of training are likely to enhance it.
On the other hand you have “strength coaches” who believe that getting stronger in barbell lifts and chasing numbers is the holy grail. Taking everything said on t-nation as gospel is a perfect example of this.
There needs to be a balance. Athletes aren’t powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters, nor are they circus performers so they shouldn’t train like them. Analyse the movement, analyse the individual on an ongoing basis, always think of the transfer the training will provide.
To get back to the question, “Functional Training” to me means training that is fit for the purpose it is being done for. For bodybuilders this might be bicep curls, for a sprinter it may be jumping.
Art: If you could go back in time and give a younger Michael Carroll a bit of advice in relation to training or coaching, what would it be?
Michael: Without doubt I would say that most coaches concentrate way too much of their study time looking up exercises, diets, special programs etc. While learning these things is important to I think most coaches will make better long term progress if they realise that they are dealing with humans.
Study how humans learn new tasks. Ie motor learning and skill acquisition
Study how humans interact and behave. In coaching you come across a lot of personalities, if you don’t find ways to get on with someone it’s irrelevant how good your program is and you will lose business quickly.
Practice coaching in as many different settings as possible, young, elderly, elite athletes, desk jockeys, disabled, annoying clients, enjoyable clients. Get as many different perspectives as possible.
Look the part – Image and first impression are key, you need to look like you train and be able to demonstrate things, wear appropriate attire, etc.