Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Different Practice Methodologies for golf

I am often talking to my players about developing their practice sessions more. Often, they just turn up and beat balls, or they turn up and beat balls with a single focus. Whilst this can be beneficial sometimes, you will stagnate eventually because you need to mix things up. This is not just for novelty purposes, each different type of practice will teach you different skills.

“Different types of practice?”, I hear you say. Yes, there are different ways to practice which will develop you as a player in a unique way. Just like a strength athlete sometimes needs to do some conditioning work to improve their strength (even if it doesn’t directly relate to strength in itself), a golfer will need to do training sessions with a certain mindset and goal in order to improve the other skills they are looking to get better.

So I will briefly go through the different types of training sessions here. In future articles, I will explain a more detailed view of each session.

Warm up (click to see a more detailed description)

This is the most basic practice session, and its purpose is to simply warm up the muscles and joints, allow you to get a feeling for the rhythm of your swing for the day, note shot patterns. I also tend to focus on strike, although you can pick a single focus yourself.

Don't forget to do some light stretching

This is not the time to make radical changes to your swing. Just note down the shot pattern you are hitting and make small tweaks to it if necessary. I would complete a full body warm up, going through some compound movements (like squats/twists) followed by easing into your shot hitting with shorter clubs first – working your way up to the longer clubs.

The session should last about 10 minutes, and you should hit about 20-50 balls or so. Simple

Technical  (click to see a more detailed description)

Some people love this part, some people hate it. But it should be a part of almost everyone’s plan if they are to see consistent improvement. Just don’t let it be the sole focus of every session. These sessions are, self evidently, designed to improve the technique of a player – whether that is club movement or body movement.

The goal of a technical session should be almost entirely to change the movement pattern. What I mean by this is, don’t mix your focuses by trying to change your swing AND hit great shots at the same time. If great shots occur – great, but they shouldn’t be the goal. In fact, I recommend taking away the result in some way shape or form (hitting milk bottle caps instead of balls, or hitting into a net).

The advantage of these sessions is that technique can improve much more rapidly. The disadvantages are that it can sometimes cause a lot of disturbance to a player’s playing skills.

Experimental (click to see a more detailed description)

During these sessions, the goal is to explore variants of ball flight and swing shapes/movement patterns. This improves your co-ordination skills, and allows you to learn new skills and push boundaries of learning.

Ever see Phil Mickelson hit that flop shot over his head from the bunker? Did you ever hear how good Seve was the bunker with a 3 iron? Ever see Tiger do his ball volleying/hit trick, or Rory Mcilroy hit balls from his knees? These are no coincidences that they are able to do them – they have practiced them.

Your experimentation doesn’t have to be so wild though – it can be as simple as trying to hit the biggest fade you can, followed by the biggest draw, or playing the ball from the front of your stance and see what happens, followed by putting it way back in the stance. Have fun exploring the infinite variables of golf. Even if you never use some of the things you practice during these sessions, you learn a lot of transferable skills.

These sessions really foster creativity, and should be an important part of every player’s practice regime at some point. Don’t be frightened that you will ‘mess up your swing’ by doing this – there is a lot of research out there showing the benefits of this type of variable practice on desired skills – it is more likely to benefit you and aid you into becoming a complete player.


I don’t need to tell you about this, you already do it. This is standing on the range and hitting shots, using the knowledge you gained from the technical and experimental sessions to develop a stock shot. This could be a 5 yard fade, or a 15 yard draw. Players tend to try to calibrate straight shots, and this can be your goal too, if you wish.

Most people spend way too much time in this area of practice though. Whilst I deem it an important element, use it wisely and sparingly.

The advantages of these sessions are that they can build your confidence through the Block Practice nature, and they can also help with the consolidation of a skill/speed up learning of a new skill. The disadvantage is that the skills learned in these sessions often struggle to come out during play (maybe you’re the player who plays great on the range yet can’t reproduce this on the course).


Routine work is basically calibration, but you are using a full, on course routine. You can also do a little bit of experimental work with this -for example, trying to hit a fade with your full routine preceding it, followed by a draw shot.

The goals of a routine session should be to build a solid routine which is consistent, and to work on the best pre-shot preparation to allow yourself maximum chance of controlling your ball flight. Thinking about technique directly should start to be minimized here - although you could utilize your Golfer's Toolbox

Although this type of practice tend to be more difficult (due to its Random Nature – see ARTICLE ON RANDOM PRACTICE HERE) transference of skills to the course tends to increase. It also tends to put more focus onto a neutral or external stimuli, which has been shown in studies to help performance. This is attributed to the increase in the brain’s ability to access the desired movement pattern. The main disadvantage of this type of practice is that technique changes can be slower, as you are not concentrating on your technique as much directly.


With a performance session, you will utilize good feedback through certain tasks/games/tests. The aim is to increase your score in a certain skill (such as hitting an imaginary fairway on the range), whilst minimizing thoughts of technique.

Your full routine should be used for this, and if possible, testing should be random in nature (e.g. hit a drive followed by an iron), although block type practice is also acceptable. These sessions are designed to improve the mindset of the player and switches focus to improving playing ability over swing technique directly.

These sessions have the same advantages and disadvantages as the routine sessions, although there is also the added benefit of putting even more focus on the external.

Take home notes

So you can see, there are different types of practice sessions available for you to try, each with varying benefits. Whilst most people mix sessions, I prefer some dedicated time in each area. For example, don't go to the range and try to work on your swing mechanics and performance at the same time - you will end up getting the worst of both worlds. If you are changing your swing, give 100% focus to making the moves you want to do. If your mind is too concerned with the result, you will just struggle to make any change in your swing. If I held a gun to your head and told you to do with the club/your body what you are trying to do, you would be able to do it for sure (barring physical limitations). Hold this mentality for your technical sessions (as an example). 

I would recommend going out and trying each of these sessions and seeing how you feel from them. In an ideal situation, we would use periodization principles to design an ideal program for you to develop all your skills.

Some sessions would require more technical focus and a higher level of concentration, which may have the undesired effect of being detrimental to your performance. For this reason, periodization is vital if you are to simultaneously improve your swing and your playing skills. This becomes even more vital if you are a tournament player.

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For more information on how to design an optimal training program for yourself, contact me at Adamyoung@yahoo.co.uk , and we can discuss how to create a plan for your season.


  1. Adam I have a tendency to make a change and see some instant +ve feedback, but then as I continue to practise the change it all falls apart, often in the same session certainly the next time.

    Some times forgetting or loosing the feel, as I like to feel my positions.

    How do you recommend keeping the change.

    also is the loss of the feeling, the fact its getting ingrained more and more?

    On a side note, when it does fall apart, I still try and keep the change, even though shots are very frustrating. Because I've seen how the change improved the ball flight at the start.

  2. Hey Jasper,
    I used to have similar things happening in my practice. You have to just have faith that it will all come together eventually. Read my article on the ups and downs of learning (http://www.adamyounggolf.com/2013/04/the-ups-and-downs-of-learning.html) to help you understand a little more.

    Also, to see the bigger picture, read this link on delayed gratification (http://www.adamyounggolf.com/2012/08/delayed-gratification-and-long-term.html). All of these idea's have helped me grind through when the going gets tough - and eventually reap the rewards.


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