Brendan Steele: Man of Steel

Brendan Steele had some very interesting and specific things to say about strength, diet and nutrition. He was at the Humana Challenge that starts in La Quinta (Palm Springs), California, this week and whose theme is coincidentally health.

Steele, who won for the first time at the 2011 Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, probably didn’t begin his media session expecting to be talking about physical fitness. He’s a local kid from the town of Idyllwild, California, up in the mountains 25 miles west of Palm Springs. And so the discussion was about how this was a home game for him, how he used to come to the Bob Hope with his dad and his brother and how he used to play desert junior golf. It was a sweet reminiscence.

And then the conversation turned to how he had taken a lot more time off than just the holiday break. He had always played the old Fall Series (Frys.com, Las Vegas, etc.), so without an invite to Tiger’s event or Greg Norman’s event and not being in the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he took a whole six-week block of time off to get stronger: 

I really just worked on my body trying to get stronger, trying to make sure that I was healthy, putting the clubs away a little bit, playing once or twice a week.  And then over the last two weeks or so, I really started grinding pretty hard and kind of addressing a few things and feeling pretty good.  Haven’t seen the workouts kind of tapered down and carry over into the actual game.  Trying to feel like a golfer again.

All of this began last year when he decided to take the next step in working on his game:

Yeah, just taking everything off the course a little bit more seriously.  Before, I was kind of just playing how I played in college, which was just eat whatever I want, do whatever I want, and then just go out and hope that I played well.

I’m trying to just control the things that I can control now.  Diet, exercise, making sure that my body’s in the right kind of shape when I start a tournament.  And there’s a lot that goes into that.  Obviously, sleep and staying injury free and those types of things.

But I’m trying to get stronger to have more speed, to be more consistent, and to prevent injury.  So, trying to do all those things to help me keep up with all the other guys.

And so he has taken the tournament’s core message to heart:

Definitely.  I actually started — I’m just over one full year into this exercise routine, new diet, new everything, and so I’m seeing a nice base from the last year, and I think it’s just going to get better moving forward.

The irony of this is that Steele was a beanpole. No one would look at him a say that he had a diet issue; how much skinnier could he get? Steele learned that looks can be deceiving. He wasn’t eating properly at all:

I [had been on a] kind of the reverse Atkins Diet, I had all carbs and pizza, pasta, you know, whatever.  And just because I was thin didn’t mean that I was in shape.  It didn’t mean that — like my body fat was still high, even though I would look like I was skinny.  So I was, when we first started this I was 175 pounds, but I was 16 percent body fat.  And now I’m 182 pounds and at 8 percent body fat.  So it’s a big change.

I know it probably just looks like I’m still just a skinny guy that could eat whatever he wants, but it is a big change.  And I feel a lot different, I’m probably three times as strong when I’m in the gym.  I’ve seen my speed go up in my swing, seen all my carry numbers and everything go up and I had the healthiest year of my life last year too.  I didn’t really get any kind of injuries, nothing major that happened over the entire season.

When you look at what most players are doing, it’s golf-specific exercises that model motions players make in the swing and then adds reps to gain strength. That’s not what Steele and his coach are doing:

No, we don’t do any golf‑specific stuff.  We are full strength building, like a baseball player, hockey player would.  Like any other kind of rotational athlete.  We just did six weeks of what they call Russian conjugate training.  Which means that you have a heavy day for upper body, a heavy day for lower body, and you have a more of a rep day for lower body and a rep day for upper body and it keeps your body kind of in shock the whole time for big strength gains.

So we just did six weeks of that and then tapered it down into what we call an unloading phase, which means we do less exercises, we cut the sets down, trying to get ready for the tournament.  So you’re not sore and you’re feeling good and your body reacts really well to it.

And the diet is no less stringent:

So I went from basically all carbs and whatever I wanted, it was literally pizza one night, pasta the next, some chicken thrown in there, turkey sandwiches for lunch.

Now I eat more for function.  So I eat a lot of fish, all different kinds of meats, beef, bison, whatever the case may be.  A lot less carbs, I only eat complex carbs and I only eat them at night. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, that kind of stuff versus breads and stuff like that.  I try to stay away from gluten as much as I can. I have a little bit of fruit in the morning, but don’t eat much fruit throughout the day.

What we’re trying to do with the diet is really be stable throughout the day.  Not have the peaks and crashes, especially for such a long sport like golf.  You got to be kind of steady and stable for five, six hours at a time.

His body went through a lot of changes in the last year and the results weren’t just in his swing speed and carry distances:

When I first started this in December of last year, my body went through a lot of changes.  I got a lot thinner, dropping all the fat and had to try to rebuild the muscle.

So going through that was a big change last year.  And now that I’ve got that under my belt I feel like I’ve got a nice base and I just feel better throughout the day.  I’ve got a lot more energy, I can accomplish what I need to in the day, don’t have as many up‑and‑downs.

So I feel like it should be a little bit more consistent and adding the speed and the ball going further is going to help, but not if you can’t keep the mental game where it needs to be and the other parts of the game as well.  So it’s a delicate balance with everything.

Players used to think that going through these kinds of body changes meant some adjustments to what their swings now felt like. Steele didn’t experience that:

It really only feels different when I’m really sore.  So when we work out really hard, like in the off season, I would get done with a workout and go try to hit balls and it’s going all over place, right?  But over the last couple weeks, when we have been tapering everything back, it’s really felt good.  And I felt like, being stronger, I can get the club more in the position that I want to, so I feel like it’s definitely a big advantage.

So what does he now do during a tournament week?

I still work out four days a week.  I do a warm-up in the morning before every day too, so I’m still doing a lot of stuff, staying active trying to keep my body in the right position, but I’m not in there pushing as hard as I was, especially over these last six weeks was really our time to get after it.

And what was it like trying to get used to his new yardages?

Every week that we play the yardages are a little bit different anyway.  The ball’s going to go far out here this week, it’s warm, it’s dry.  And then next week [in San Diego] it might be a little colder, you’re by the ocean so it’s not going to go as far.  And then you go to Phoenix and the ball goes far.  And then you go to Pebble and it gets cold.  So you got to make adjustments every week for elevation and all that stuff anyway.

But there is definitely a little bit of an adjustment period, just to know that you if you got 165 to cover and you could never hit 8‑iron 165 before, you go, okay, this is the right club.  You need to commit to that and just let it go and not try to over do it.

I’m glad I got my Champions Tour Monday qualifying adventures in when I did. It was a different era as to diet and nutrition. With 4:30 AM alarms and no player buffets, I was always on the lookout for a Denny’s, the perpetually open casual dining restaurant. Their Grand Slam breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes and a side of toast would get me out the door and through the rest of the day without eating.

In the afternoon I would go for a four- to six-mile run and then finally have dinner around 7:30. Then straight back to the hotel, a call to my wife, a little Internet time with ESPN on in the background and then instantaneous sleep.

I guess it was the run that made me feel healthy. But it was definitely the Denny’s that made me feel comfortable. Those were the days.

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