Is Tiger Woods’ back injury the result of his training?

An article on Yahoo Sports today quotes Tiger Woods’ caddy suggesting his injuries have been because of his dedication to gym work: “I guess when [Tiger] looks back, he might question some of the activities that he did, some of the gym work that he might have done that, you know, had all these injuries escalate“. I suppose that’s possible, but is it likely?

Maybe it is more likely that this level of injury is normal for someone who has golfed for hours each day for 38 years? The 40 year old Tiger was doing the talk show tour showing off his golf skills when he was 2. In golf age, he is much older than 40. Is this perhaps a sign that early specialization eventually takes its toll, even on the exceptions who make it big?

Maybe there is something about his swing that makes him both excellent but also vulnerable? There’s a theory in the golf rehab world that his current back problems stem from a 2008 post-knee surgery swing change. Elite performance can come at a price to the body.

Maybe it is because he is in his 40s. According to this Golf Channel article, “Less than 10 percent – just 20 of 216 – of all majors were won by players 40 and over. It does happen, especially at the British Open (the last three British Open champions were all 40-somethings). But since 2000, only one golfer – 41-year-old Vijay Singh – has won a Masters, U.S. Open or PGA Championship.

Anything is possible, and thus it is possible that Tiger Woods’ back woes are the result of his training. But the limited body of evidence related to training and golf suggests otherwise. A Sports Health review of the scientific literature on golf injuries notes that “the majority of injuries sustained by professional golfers relate to overuse“, and that “simple modifications reduce the incidence of injuries, such as using a bag cart and performing a 10-minute warm-up before game play. Other studies have identified that increased hip flexibility can be helpful as well. Additional factors that increase the risk of sustaining a sports-related injury include decreased static trunk strength, delay in trunk muscle recruitment, and limited trunk endurance.

Given the body of evidence on training and golf, and the statistics on golf performance and aging, the more likely scenario is that the caddy is wrong.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who is not a huge fan of people making unsubstantiated (and likely untrue) statements in the media.

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2 thoughts on “Is Tiger Woods’ back injury the result of his training?”

  1. Lots of interesting thoughts there. I do wonder how much he was actually doing. Do you know he was doing 5 to 6 days per week? I agree that is a lot, but context would be relevant. And did he do that in-season? I agree with much of what you say conceptually, but I think we have to be careful to not mix up our philosophy with evidence. Things like this: ” I would have suggested that he do more bodyweight exercises, rather than so much weights, so that the training was more functional and less likely to lead to muscle imbalances” I don’t think there is evidence to support a claim that bodyweight exercises are better than using weight, or that it is more functional.

  2. I think the caddy might have more information than we know. I did some research into Tiger Woods’ training. His personal trainer felt that there was no support for the idea that you should only do strength training 2 or 3 times per week. So Tiger trained 5 or 6 days per week. Tiger did a lot of very high rep work with weights. 25-60 reps. That is very high. And Tiger did a lot of long distance running. So, he was doing a large volume of work, without much rest. And I didn’t see anything about active rest, such as yoga or contrast baths. And I didn’t see anything about him doing prehab work, to prevent injuries. He did vary his training, using weights, machines, balls, pulleys, etc. And on top of his conditioning work, he obviously played golf a lot. Golf does involve a lot of twisting of the torso. Twisting in the lower back can cause back injuries. Tiger has been plagued by various injuries for years. I would have suggested that he do more bodyweight exercises, rather than so much weights, so that the training was more functional and less likely to lead to muscle imbalances. And to do fewer reps to build strength, rather than more reps to build endurance. Strength helps prevent injury. And to do prehab exercises to prevent injury. But most importantly, I would have advised him to only do the strength and conditioning twice a week or at the most 3 times per week. And to do some active recovery, in the form of yoga or contrast baths or swimming. And less distance running. Some sprints would be fine for cardio, but the long slow endurance runs can lower your power. And power is crucial in golf. Basically, Tiger over-trained. He should have done less conditioning. Recovery is very individual and some people can do strength and conditioning 5 or 6 days per week. But that is rare. Most people do better with 2 or 3 days per week, and some do better with one day per week. He clearly overdid it. The body needs to recover between workouts and he didn’t have sufficient recovery. Tiger is very driven and he just overdid it.

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