The man who made Westwood swap chocolates for chin-ups
Fitness guru taught Briton to work on certain muscles and to eat and drink sensibly. By James Corrigan
While Lee Westwood – aka "the best golfer on the planet" – may truly believe his lucky number is one he will clearly not be the only member of his team to benefit from his ascension to the top of the world rankings. The Englishman's fitness coach is also seeing his stock rise still further as the reports continue to emerge of the expert with the power to rebuild the multi-million dollar man.
Except labelling Steve McGregor a mere "fitness coach" is a bit like calling Ross Brawn "a mechanic". As Westwood himself points out, what McGregor preaches has "a lot more to do with science than sweat". Since his moment of self-realisation on a range four years ago – "I looked at Tiger, Ernie, Phil and Retief and said 'I am way too heavy'," – Westwood has been transformed, shedding almost three stones and seven inches off his waist. The scientist judges it in different terms.
"In the four years we've been working together he's probably lost more than 50 per cent in body fat, which is a big mass," McGregor told The Independent yesterday. "But more importantly is the muscle he has replaced it with. People always said you didn't want too much muscle in golf as it reduces the flexibility, but that was wrong. Some of the most muscular athletes are gymnasts and they are also the most flexible. The thing is to make sure you are working on the right muscles."
So what were the right muscles? McGregor began working closely with Westwood and his swing coach, Pete Cowen, to discover what needed strengthening. "He knew everything about bio-mechanics but not about the golf swing," said Westwood. Yet McGregor soon understood and when he first put Westwood through his tests he found out his maximum point of velocity was occurring short of the ball. "The key for Lee was generating power in both the upper and lower body," said McGregor. "So he embarked on a lot of Olympic-type lifting. He is 'power-cleaning' more than 180 pounds and he is 'power-squatting' maybe twice that much. It's all about replicating the explosive effort Lee wants to make in his swing."
Although McGregor is constantly updating the training schedule, there are some ever-present exercises which included rotational squatting on "wobble cushions". The typical three-hour session sees Westwood start off with 30 minutes of cardiovascular, warm-up exercises; then an hour or so of the heavy stuff, then work on whichever specific issues he might have. This might involve dumbbell work to strengthen his wrists or more recently work to the ruptured calf muscle which has blighted the middle of his season. Rather incredibly, on his "weeks off" Westwood will complete this arduous schedule daily.
"Yes, in those weeks at home he probably will be spending an average of two and a half to three hours a day in the gym," said McGregor. "But then when he's at a regular tour event, like say this week in Shanghai [for the WGC HSBC Champions], he will be doing light maintenance work which might consist of two one-and-a-half hour sessions in the gym. Then at the majors he will do no gym work. That's because we base his work around peaking for these four tournaments. It's all mapped out when we look at his schedule in the year. I change his plan approximately every eight weeks."
Westwood has taken it upon himself to follow the plans, just as he has listened to McGregor's nutritional advice. While it will be misleading to claim this once burger muncher is now a health fanatic, he has "cut out crisps, biscuits, chocolate and doesn't drink much alcohol". Under McGregor's tutelage he knows all about carbohydrates and protein, as does his wife Laurae. The couple's enthusiasm for the new lifestyle has made McGregor's job so much easier.
"The hard thing about working with a golfer is that they are their own boss," said McGregor. "With a football club you can set out a training plan and say to them, 'This is what you will be doing and this is when you will be doing it'. Obviously with a golfer it is not like that. They set out their own schedules. So all I could do with Lee is advise him and it is all to his credit that he has made such a change.
"With his eating habits all I could do is tell Lee what a 100 per cent dedicated and obsessed professional who was leading a monk's lifestyle would do. They would never drink and would eat the most appropriate meal at the most appropriate time. Now Lee has been quoted as saying that he doesn't want to spend four weeks playing in the FedEx Cup play-off series in America because it would mean missing his family holiday and he would miss spending the time with the kids. The same applies to certain meal times. It might not be perfect to eat say at 6pm, but he wants to have tea with the kids. Lee has had to take my advice and apply it as he sees fit. But he is very structured and dedicated and you can tell that from the changes to his physique."
The evidence that the partnership has been a success is not only written on the inside of his belt strap but also high up in those world rankings. For McGregor the alliance came at the ideal time as after five years working full-time in football he was looking to broaden out and use the experience he had gained as one of the Premier League's first sports scientists.
After leaving the academic life at the turn of the century – he completed a PhD in Exercise Physiology at Loughborough University and also earned a Masters in Physiotherapy and attained chartered physiotherapist status – the Liverpudlian was persuaded by Brian Kidd, David O'Leary's assistant, to become the sports science manager at Leeds United. It was an unprecedented appointment which was greeted with some cynicism but now, a decade on, each and every club has sports science departments.
As the pioneer, McGregor is in demand and has recently began consultancy work with Manchester City. No doubt they were impressed not only by his work with Westwood but also with the two years he spent overhauling the fitness regime at Birmingham City. So much of sports science is about avoiding injury and the fact Alex McLeish was able to select the same starting XI for a record nine games in succession, became the talk of English football and beyond. "He did a tremendous job. He has great expertise and is the leader in his field as well as being an extremely likeable fellow," said McLeish yesterday.
McGregor has only just returned from a stint with the New York Knicks basketball team. His CV is beginning to creak – rather like Westwood's trousers once did.
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