What weight training does Rory McIlroy do and why is it a problem for his golf?

A look at Rory McIlroy’s workout routine, is it too much?

Rory first entered the weights room five years ago and his transformation has fascinated and inspired in equal measure. It would be fair to attribute his immense power to a strong core, something he has developed through his focus on compound lifting. For me there is no question that weight training has improved his game – and his mindset – bringing discipline to his golf. Some crusty, fat, middle-aged dudes – ahem Brandel Chamblee – have been giving their opinion on the matter and it’s such bullshit. Johnny Miller recently gave his take on Rory’s conditioning and it screams stupidity.

We all know that a professional golfer should focus on ‘core engagement’, we’ve all read the articles telling you how thrusting your hips on a medicine ball is going to add 50 yards to your drive. We hear phrases like ‘Turkish get-up’ or ‘pallof press’ or how about the Russian twist? These all sound like over-priced cocktails you begrudgingly consume instead of beer.

Lifting heavy is the hallmark of a Rory McIlroy workout. That’s not to say he doesn’t include a large amount of core work in his routine, of course he does, but it’s his focus on compound lifts that separates him from the majority.

In an interview for Golf.com his trainer Steve Mcgregor stated that Rory works out five times per week for 90 minutes per day before unhelpfully adding “we don’t give [regimen] specifics — he sees his fitness as part of his competitive advantage.” Uh you bore, that won’t stop me reading between the lines though.

Rory’s obvious commitment to compound movements suggests that he bases three of his five weekly workouts around one exercise, using a strength and power based training approach. This would see him training within a 1-5 rep range perhaps twice a week with a focus on lifting as much weight as possible and without reaching failure. For example, Rory might come in and squat for seven sets of four reps, taking large breaks between each set. This could take up to 40 minutes to complete and might be rotated with bench press, deadlifts, military press or even weighted chin ups, depending on the day. A later session in the week may then focus more on power, here Rory’s number one concern would be a quick concentric movement.

Using the squat as an example, he would lower himself slowly before exploding up to complete the motion, this would require him to lift a weight that was say 40% of his one rep max. Rory weighs 170lbs and we can assume from photos that his max squat is somewhere in the 280-320 lbs range. So exercises like jump squats with 130 lbs on his back might be something he would include on this particular day. It would be important for Rory to train within himself and to keep the volume relatively low when he performs compound movements, there wouldn’t be any crippling ‘leg days’ or 20 set chest workouts, we can be certain of that. You could maybe even go a step further and consider the presence of olympic lifting within his workout, clean and jerks would hardly be functional for golf but the benefit to his core strength would be phenomenal.

Rory has encountered criticism from all quarters of the golfing world, with a number of crusty old pros and coaches wading into the debate. An article in SBNation highlighted the archaic views of some, “I see a lot of pictures of him lifting a lot of very heavy weights and I think, in a way, you can almost hurt yourself in the gym if you get too bulky,” said Butch Harmon, yep I said Butch Harmon. Peter Jacobson contributed with equal lashings of stupidity, “I worry about sacrificing that long-term ability for the short-term success,” he said. “Injury is what scares me about guys that spend too much time in the gym.” Many critics are concerned for the longevity of Rory’s career using the hackneyed “well Tiger Woods worked out and now he’s injured” line, which is impossible to utter without putting on a dumb voice. It would be fair to say that Tiger Woods had a ferocious swing, much like Rafa Nadal’s style of Tennis – it’s aggressive, powerful and cumulatively wearing on the body. I’m not suggesting that Rory is Roger Federer in this analogy, many more majors required for that, but it does illustrate the injury concerns for sportsmen who damage their body through relentless and uncompromising styles of play.

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Exercise would appear to provide Rory with a mindset that improves him as golfer. A few has-beens commenting on a topic they have no idea about should not come into the debate. The need  for Rory to be a consummate professional is necessitated by several developing factors. Pros play on courses that are 800 yards longer than the generation before them, the saturation of talent means the margins for success have been reduced and the rigours of endless tournament golf are issues that make an athletic build a valuable asset for the 27-year-old.

If anything this commitment to the well being of his physique will help with injury prevention, the type of work he does is specifically tailored to ensure he can compete at his maximum capability. We only have to think back to Tiger’s former coach Hank Haney’s comments to consider that perhaps his gym work was not designed for optimal performance, rather vain self-indulgence. In summary, Rory will have access to a support team who will exhaustively research what is best for him and his golf. He’s no fool, so when former players give opinions based on golf they played 30 years ago, it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Gary player sums it up perfectly, you know that guy who is 79, still possess a very convincing swing AND can do one arm push-ups! I mean they call him Mr Fitness.
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Nuff said.