Grip it, then rip it
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy spends six days a week in the gym focusing specifically on strength, power, speed and endurance
April 02, 2015
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
NEW YORK -- Rory McIlroy emerges from the elevator at Canoe Studios -- a sprawling 23,000 square-foot white industrial space divided into five rooms on the 14th floor overlooking the Hudson River in the Chelsea section of Manhattan -- wearing light blue jeans, a gray trim-fitting Nike t-shirt, matching sneakers, down vest and wool ski cap. He is here to be photographed for the May cover story of Men’s Health magazine and has already worked out this morning.
He did the day before, too, spending a few hours at Golf & Body, a plush and modern high-end private country club and gym around the corner from the Empire State Building. Among its accoutrements are seven simulators with TrackMan technology, three chipping and putting greens with SamPutt Lab training systems and an expansive fitness center. “That place is amazing,” McIlroy says as he sits in a makeup chair soaking in views of the Big Apple's skyline on a bright but chilly December day.
McIlroy is a regular-sized guy -- 5-foot-10, 160 pounds -- who can do irregular things to a golf ball. But he has also transformed his body into something every fitness magazine reader aspires to, going from 24 percent body fat to a shredded 10 percent since he began working with Steve McGregor in late 2010.
“If you’re going to be seen by millions of people of course you want to look good,” says McIlroy, who admits to putting in a little extra time in the gym the few weeks leading up to the photo shoot for the magazine (on sale April 14). “I’m more surprised how I used to look then than how I do now.”
Doughy would be the best way to describe McIlroy’s early appearance when he turned pro at age 18 in 2007. The natural talent was nonetheless obvious -- towering drives and crisp ball-striking led to a slew of amateur titles, his first win on the PGA TOUR in 2010 that included a final-round 62 at Quail Hollow and nearly a Green Jacket the following year.
Achievements aside, his body needed work. The first time McIlroy saw McGregor he couldn’t do any sort of rotational movement while standing on one leg, or do a plank for more than 30 seconds. Much of his clubhead speed was generated by his hands and arms, which would lead to inconsistency off the tee. It was also discovered that McIlroy has a degenerative condition in his spine and needed to strengthen the areas around it for stability and to avoid injury.
“What he has done is significantly change the composition of his body,” says McGregor, who has worked with, among others, England's Birmingham City Football Club and the NBA's New York Knicks. “He dumped about 20 pounds of fat and converted that into muscle.
“Over time the arm speed has quieted down but his clubhead speed has increased and his body efficiency has improved. He can practice more, hit balls more and he has been more consistent.”
That he has. Last year, McIlroy ranked third in driving distance, sixth in greens in regulation and first in scoring average. Dig deeper, however, and there’s more to it. He was also sixth in fairway proximity, 31st in proximity to the hole and at the end of it first in strokes gained.
“His misses were wide,” added McGregor. “We needed to tighten that up. As he was going into impact he was going to spray it. As he has gotten more stable so has his swing, and he has been able to add more power and more distance.”
In his 17 starts on the PGA TOUR in 2014, McIlroy finished in the top 10 a dozen times, which included three wins. In his last 15 worldwide starts, he has finished first or second eight times, which included each of the last two majors.
When McIlroy arrives for this year's Masters, he’ll be as lean, fit and confident as he has ever been. He’ll also be trying to do something only six others in the history of golf have: Complete the career Grand Slam. It is something that even months out as he sits in a chair having his curly hair straightened a touch with a flat iron is inescapable. "Yeah, it is hard not to think about," McIlroy admits.
It is a busy week for McIlroy, who is in town for a number of endeavors: Another shoot for one of his sponsors, Bose, and a few charitable activities that include spending a day at the New York Stock Exchange. But he is relaxed and affable, a breeze, unlike some other more haughty cover subjects. There is no entourage, just his manager, trainer and reps from Nike. He will end the week with a trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to see the visiting Seattle Seahawks play the Philadelphia Eagles in Monday Night Football but the time away from golf also provides the opportunity for what has increasingly become one of his favorite pastimes: Working out.
“It’s nice to get six or seven weeks off to focus on training,” says McIlroy, who in his five hours in the studio manages to avoid the pallet of catered food, most of which, with the exception of salmon, eggs and fruit, is off-limits to McIlroy’s now strict diet.
That’s of course not to say he doesn’t indulge every now and again. McIlroy admits that his favorite cheat meal is a burger and fries (instead of pizza). He also reveals during one of the breaks that he has terrible eyesight, enjoys rap and hip-hop and likes to read. He is in that way not a lot different than any other 25-year-old.
His workout regimen is another story. McIlroy spends between 60 and 90 minutes in the gym, six days a week, focusing on strength, power, speed and endurance. Non-tournament weeks he might spend as much as four hours a day over two sessions working out. But he is also mindful of not getting too buff or too big (he once thought about taking up crossfit but wisely decided against it).
“It’s great to look good,” McIlroy says. “But if you can’t swing the way you need to it doesn’t help."
Even during a major he is prone to work out. During last year's Open Championship, McIlroy had a deal with McGregor and coach Michael Bannon that if he shot 67 or better on a particular day he could go work out after the round. He did -- twice.
The gym sessions maintain McIlroy's explosiveness on the course and serve as an outlet off it. “He has really become driven and obsessed with what gives him that competitive advantage,” says McGregor, who adds that four times a year McIlroy visits a performance lab in London to have all manner of measurables tested. The same facility is used by many of Britain's elite athletes. “Golf is a very athletic sport ... six to eight miles walking in a round, which is the same distance a soccer player covers in a game, you flex and rotate and have huge forces going through the body. It’s very demanding.”
Meal time is no different. McIlroy used to eat whatever he wanted. Now he shows discipline. A typical breakfast for the four-time major winner these days might include porridge, fruit, whole grain bread, yogurt and some poached eggs. After that, it’s grilled fish or lean meats with vegetables. Most tournament weeks he also eschews alcohol. In between are more workout sessions and range time.
All of it is done with a focus on improvement and at the requirement of being a modern athlete.
"If you look at my swing, it was long and languid," McIlroy says. "But it’s so much tighter now."
On this day, McIlroy likewise takes direction well from photographer Peter Yang, whose work has been featured in GQ, Rolling Stone and Esquire. Yang has shot everyone from rock stars, to President Barack Obama.
McIlroy is the first golfer to be featured on the cover of Men’s Health. He fits the part: Young, fit, the face of his sport and a normal-sized guy who just happens to have achieved abnormal results.