In this exclusive feature, Neil Tappin joins Rory McIlroy for a full training session. What goes in to the Rory McIlroy gym routine and how tough is it?
Rory McIlroy Gym Routine
Over the years, golf and fitness have had a rather uneasy relationship. The stars of years gone by have sometimes been, how can I put it… larger athletes? Their ability to play the game was founded in skill and mental aptitude over pure physical prowess. For the non-believers, this meant golf was less sport and more hobby.
Not any more. Just take a minute to cast your eye over the current top 10 players in world golf: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia. Unlike some of their predecessors, this lot spend far more time in the gym than in the pub and they would look just as at home on an athletics track as they do on the golf course.
With Tiger Woods leading the way, professional golfers have largely transformed themselves, buying into and committing themselves to the power of the gym. Whilst the distance they hit the ball is not the only measure, it surely helps illustrate the effect of all this hard work. In today’s professional game, if you aren’t able to carry the ball 300 yards, you’re a weakling, disadvantaged by your lack of club head speed.
Of course, the finished product is clear to see but the hard work takes place behind closed doors. This summer, I was given the chance to see, first hand, exactly what that work involves. Nike was launching its’ new training club app (more about that later) and the global sports star they had chosen to demonstrate how it worked was none other than Rory McIlroy (a sign of the times indeed). But instead of watching from the sidelines, I was asked to take part myself. Under the instruction of one of Nike’s leading fitness gurus, I would line up alongside the Northern Irishman and go through a typical work-out devised by Rory’s fitness coach, Steve McGregor.
My own fitness status would be more in line with professional golfers of the 80s. The occasional period of trying to be fit – running or attending the gym – is interspersed with phases of utter lethargy, where even a walk up a steep hill brings on a slight sweat. There was no doubt, this was going to be embarrassing.
It started with a light jog around the gym to get the heart rate up and the blood pumping. We then went through a series of lunges – extending the front leg until the back knee hits the ground. At this point you raise both arms in the air and move your torso from side-to-side. After some simple groin stretches, we ran through a series of rotational squat jumps. This involves jogging on the spot, then dropping into a squat. From there you jump up and quickly turn your body to face either right or left.
Rory McIlroy Gym Routine – Progress report: To be honest, I thought the workout had started once the initial jogging finished. At this point I was thinking that I might survive unscathed.
Main Workout: Part 1 (repeat 3 times)
Holding a dumbbell in each hand (as heavy as you feel is comfortable), you stand upright and then drop into a deadlift position (imagine a weight-lifter before he lifts the bar to his chest). Repeat five times, retaining your posture throughout.
Hang from the pull up bar and lift yourself up five to 10 times.
Now run back to the mats and drop into the plank position (this involves lying horizontally on the ground with only your toes and your forearms in contact with the ground). From here lift each leg alternatively, keeping it straight throughout and preventing your hips from turning or lifting.
Rory McIlroy Gym Routine – Progress report: The surprise for me here was the emphasis placed on leg strength and by the end of the first phase I could already feel the strain in my legs. The pull-ups were, literally and metaphorically, the low point of the whole experience for me.
Main Workout: Part 2 (repeat 3 times)
After a short break, the next exercise involves more lunges while holding dumbbells. This time you perform the lunges while walking backwards, again, keeping your posture as strong as possible throughout.
Dumbbell Plank Row
Now drop to the floor as if you are about to start performing press-ups but instead of your hands spread out on the floor, they should be gripping the dumbbells. Lift each arm up alternately, 10 times.
Lateral Duck Walk
Get into a squat position so your quads are parallel to the ground, then move your right foot to the right (keeping your body facing forwards) and then move your left foot next to your right. Make 10 steps in each direction.
Rory McIlroy Gym Routine – Progress report: By this point I am starting to wonder how much more I can take. Surely the end is nigh! Thankfully Rory has broken into a sweat by this point… But only just. I can sense Steve McGregor watching me carefully now to make sure there’s no cheating!
Grab a medicine ball and take an athletic stance. Lift the ball above your head and rotating to the side, throw it hard into the floor and catch it on it’s way back up. Repeat this 10 times on each side.
Progress report: Whilst there were some exercises I could barely perform without strange involuntary movements appearing, this wasn’t one of them. Perhaps my years on the golf course had prepared me for this moment (shame about the 30 minutes that preceded it!).
The warm down started with some hamstring stretches and then a hip stretch that involved placing your foot on the opposite knee. Next, drop down so that your back knee touches the ground and drive your hip forward and hold the stretch for a few seconds. Finally, staying in the half kneeling position repeat the stretch but turn your torso 90 degrees.
Rory McIlroy Gym Routine – Progress report: The sweat and relief were pouring out of me in equal measure.
Rory McIlroy Gym Routine – Summary
When I first started speaking to Nike about the possibility of joining Rory McIlroy in a workout, I thought I’d be given something of a taster session. A few golf specific exercises and a representative sample of the reality of what goes on, I thought. But this was the real deal. It was a sportsman’s workout filled with specific moves to help build stability, strength, flexibility and speed. It may have only lasted around 35 minutes in total but the intensity was enough to make even Rory breathe a little harder. As for me, well it certainly activated muscles that had been laying dormant for some time.
As a golf magazine dedicated to helping our readers play better, there is no doubt we concentrate our efforts on the specific details of the golf swing. But for those at the very top of the game the work in the gym is one of the differentiators. Can you stick to a consistent workout plan that helps you find more speed, control that speed and keep injury at bay? The gains on the course might only be small but I guess that’s the point. The best players in the world can all hit every shot in the book under pressure. If you want to etch your name into the history books and elevate yourself to become one of the greats, a small edge is a big advantage.
Interestingly, once the workout finished, Rory was required for a series of photographs which involved more dumbbell lunges and pull ups. That he was able to carry these out in perfect form was very impressive. The letters on his chest say it all.
Nike+ Training Club App
Rory McIlroy was running through one of his specific workouts as part of Nike’s promotion of a new app. The Nike+ Training Club app is designed to help different people reach their own specific fitness goals. Whether you are looking to train for an upcoming triathlon or simply want to improve your core strength for a more stable golf swing, there is help at hand. With over 100 workouts and visual guidance from experts, the app personalises training to your needs and adapts as you go. It also makes it easier to share your workouts with friends.
Neil met Rory in June 2016.