Get in fighting shape with tips from the UFC Performance Institute
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is filled with fighters whose conditioning, stamina and toughness make them among the world’s best athletes. While most of us will never step into the octagon, we can still learn from their training and discipline. For advice on how to get into tip-top shape, we spoke with Duncan French, Ph. D, (pictured below) the VP of Performance at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas.
What you do doesn’t matter as much as how you do it. “Your heart and lungs don’t know the difference between exercises,” French says. “They just know intensity and volume.” Fighters gravitate toward jumping rope, track work, swimming, assault bikes, and vertical climbers, because they tend to use both the upper and lower body.
Try: Jumping rope, especially double-unders (where the rope passes underneath the feet twice with every jump). Work up to 3-5 three-minute rounds of unbroken jumps with a minute of rest in between.
“You don’t get fast by training slow,” French says. “It’s all about activating the nervous system maximally.” Athletes utilize a variety of methods to increase speed, including plyometric work like burpees, jump squats, ladder drills and hill runs.
Try: Doing Tabata-style sprints on an assault bike or treadmill to build up your stamina. Go eight rounds with 20 seconds of max effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
The key to gaining weight in a healthy way is a balance between exercise and nutrition. “The challenge is finding the right combination of gaining lean tissue, without getting fat,” French says. “The best bet is a combination of resistance training and fueling it with lean protein and amino acids that create the building blocks of muscle.”
Try: Multi-joint movements like back squats and deadlifts, which recruit the most muscle fibers and trigger more growth hormone. Also, a pre-bedtime shake of slow-release protein will give your body a steady stream of muscle-building nutrients while you sleep.
“We preach a balanced diet,” French says. “All the food groups, all the macro nutrients.” Avoid white flour, highly processed food and simple sugars, while stressing the importance of nutrient timing. “Make sure you have a full tank going into a workout and that you refuel right after the workout.”
Try: Making a shake that contains fast-absorbing carbohydrates and protein. Drink half before your workout and half immediately after. Try orange Gatorade with a scoop of vanilla whey protein. It tastes like a Creamsicle.
The UFC Performance Institute advocates food first as the basics of a solid diet. “The thing to remember is that they’re called ‘supplements’ for a reason,” French says. “They’re designed to supplement a balanced diet.”
Try: Fish oils and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as protein powders and multivitamins.
“Sleep is the most important form of recovery,” French says. “Perhaps the most underutilized tool there is.”
Try: Sleeping 8-10 hours every night.
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