Interview with Golf S&C Coach Robbie Cannon

Robbie Cannon is a strength and conditioning coach working primarily with golfers including PGA professional Shane Lowry. A highly successful amateur golfer himself, Robbie is currently based out of Santry and recently graciously took the time to answer some of my questions.

ES: Hi Robbie, thanks a lot for taking time out of your busy schedule and agreeing to take part in this interview.

To begin can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, how you got into strength and conditioning and your current work?

RC: Hi Ed, thanks for inviting me and apologies about the delay in getting back to you. We have been trying to get this done for a while! My main background is golf and this is how I was fortunate to be introduced to Dr. Liam Hennessy by my golf coach John Kelly. I had trained for numerous years but trained poorly for my sport. Liam put me on the right track training wise and my game went from strength to strength. This is when I realised what I wanted to do with my career. So I went back to college part time first getting my diploma in physical fitness and conditioning then my degree in strength and conditioning and currently doing my masters. I felt I could make a difference and that I could help prevent young golfers making the same mistakes that I had made in the gym early in my golf career. Most of my work is with golfers from all ages and all levels right through club level to the PGA tour.

ES: Can you give us an insight into your normal process beginning with a new athlete and what you might use? E.g. Screening, testing etc.

RC: First session with a new client is always a screening to determine the training needs of the athlete. Golf is such a technical sport and physical limitations can really affect the golf swing. Identifying and normalising these limitations can ensure the player can swing the golf club as efficiently as possible.

ES: How important is a solid foundation of strength in Golf?

RC: Its crucial. First and foremost it will help prevent injury. If you’re injured you can’t play golf. That can be tough both physically and mentally for a talented golfer. So for injury prevention alone it’s worth the many hours in the gym. As for improved performance there is no doubt building a solid foundation of strength can make you a better player. You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe after all. Better strength and stability can improve distance and accuracy. One huge factor that new clients tell me after a couple of months of strength training is the new found ease of hitting the ball out of heavy rough. Before they trained it was a lob wedge hack out to the fairway. No they can advance the ball further and sometimes on to the green. It’s saving them shots. That’s improved performance right there.

ES: What is your preferred method of power development for golfers?

RC: It all depends on their training age and at what level they are. Some of my athletes who have been with me for many years will do some Olympic lifts during the off-season. I’m a big fan of vertical med ball throws with my lesser experienced and younger athletes. Jumps (vertical and horizontal), plyometrics, med ball throws and sprints are all excellent means of power development for any athlete not just golfers. 
 I will also get more golf specific trying to increase club head speed in my golfers with speed training using light golf clubs and also baseball and discus style throws to increase arm speed.

ES: What is your preferred method of periodization (if any) and can you give a brief example of the various goals/points of focus your training will have throughout different periods of the year?

RC: The typical golf season for amateurs in Ireland is April to September and during that time it can be hard to get in good blocks of training. So the bulk of the training is done from September to March. That gives plenty of time to get a lot of really good work done. I start off with screening and testing and from there a block of anatomical adaptation / Normalisation. From there we generally do a strength phase October thru to December focusing on building up strength and putting on some muscle in the right areas. January to march would be more power-based training. We would also concentrate more on speed training during those months with the ultimate aim of increasing club head speed in the players swing. When the season starts its all about maintenance. Over the season they would still train but it would be more movement based and less weights. It’s different for the tour players that I work with as they are on the go almost all year round. Their off season is very small so periodisation for them is even harder. I have seen trends of good performances when players do a hard weeks training and go play a good tournament the following week. So on weeks off we train hard and during a tournament week its very light and movement based.

It’s important to look for trends not occurrences when it comes to tour players to figure out what works best for them.

ES: What are your preferred conditioning methods for golfers?

RC: I’m a big fan of getting out on the pitch or the track and doing some sub maximal runs with short recoveries. Two favourites of mine would be 3-4 sets of 3 x 100metres on grass with a 50-metre walk between the 100s as recovery. Also 8 100-metre sprints on grass with walk back as recovery. We do a full warm up before them!

If outside is not an option I like to do some conditioning circuits in the gym. Tabatas on the rower or bike I like too.

Robbie coaches professional Shane Lowry who recently won the prestigious WGC Bridgestone Invitational
Robbie coaches professional Shane Lowry who recently won the prestigious WGC Bridgestone Invitational

ES: Golfers have a long and travel-heavy season making recovery a key variable. What strategies do you prescribe for your athletes?

RC: I’m actually co-writing a blog on that subject this week with a friend and colleague Dr. Bhrett McCabe. He is in the field of sports psychology and it is really interesting to hear his views on this. So watch out for that.

One of the advantages I have in my chosen field is that I still play this game at a high level and I know what the guys are going through. I’ve made some mistakes over the years when it comes to recovery and at times played too much golf and not taken enough time off, leading to a burnout both physically and mentally. So the best strategy is to try and prevent burnout. It’s a good idea to sit down at the start of the season and try to plan out a really good schedule that the player can try to stick to as best he/she can. The players golf coach and team members are a vital part of this process. But sometimes they player will have to play several weeks in a row and travel a lot. I’m a big fan of compression clothing on flights. Lots of sleep and good nutrition. The better players will have their own sports medical professional and that’s huge for helping them recover.

ES: In relation to amateur golfers, in your experience, what are i) the most common mistakes amateur players make in their training and ii) the most important aspects these players need to address to set a good foundation in their training?

RC: Starting a training program without the help of a qualified coach is the number one mistake. Sometimes people can think they know a lot about training from watching videos on the Internet. The see some cool looking videos like swinging a golf club on a bosu ball and then try it thinking it will help them hit the golf ball further!

They soon find out that this is not the correct way to train. Some sooner than others. Before anyone starts to train and that includes any sport at any level they need to go see a qualified strength and conditioning coach who will assess their ability to train. The coach will then be able to get them on the right path. It’s not that expensive to see a coach once every 4-6 weeks. Actually doing this will probably save money on physio expenses over the years and send the player on the road to better training practice.

ES: What coaches would you say have been most influential on you from both literature and personal experience?

RC: I’m very lucky and privileged to have Dr. Liam Hennessy as a mentor and friend. He is without question the smartest person I’ve ever met. You have no idea the respect the man has from leading strength and conditioning coaches the world over. I would not be the coach or person I am today without his mentoring and friendship. I’ve always said twenty minutes with Liam is like reading four or five books with the amount of priceless information you would get. The coaches and lecturers at Setanta have been a great help and influence. Ciaran Keogh in particular has been great especially over the last year. Des Ryan and Damian Young also. Liam has built a super team of smart people at Setanta College and they have been a huge help over the last 6 years.

I have also learned a lot on how to coach from golf coaches that I’ve been to over the years. I’ve learned a lot from Dr. Shane Lawlor also. A very smart and fantastic medical professional for a guy so young.

ES: What are three books you would advise any coach to read (strength and conditioning related or not)?

RC: In no particular order and all must reads in my opinion. Each one will inspire you to be a better person and coach.

How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie
The road less travelled by M Scott Peck
No limits by Michael Phelps

ES: You have deservedly become a highly respected coach in the field, working at a high level. What pieces of advice would you give to aspiring coaches who are still completing or recently finished their studies?

RC: Thanks for that Ed! I think I’ve been very lucky to work with some great people who are very talented.

The best piece of advice I can give to people is to keep learning. I try to go to at least 2-3 courses a year to gain more knowledge which will help me become a better coach which hopefully help my athletes become better players. 
 Try and set 30 mins each day to read also. You would be amazed how much you can learn in 30 mins.

ES: Finally Robbie for coaches who want to learn more where can they find more information about your work? 


RC: Website is http://www.cannonperformance.ie
I’m on twitter @robbiecannon
and Instagram @cannonperformance.
Robbie cannon on Facebook.

ES: Thanks a lot for taking time out to answer these questions Robbie, I really appreciate it and best of luck in all your work.

RC: 
Enjoyed it. Thanks Ed

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