Train Like a Cage Fighter

MMA fighters don’t pull punches (or kicks) in the caged octagon.

“…What’s a nice house with a good roof if there isn’t a strong base beneath it? It’s a house of cards!”

Kenny Florian

Want to be a mixed martial artist? You’re not alone, given the rise in popularity of the sport, lead by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) over the past few years.

But if the idea of getting punched and kicked in the head, ribs, legs and kidneys until you submit or get knocked out doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, then you might want to keep your day job.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t train like a UFC fighter like Jujitsu / Muay Thai fighter Kenny Florian, who has a few tips of his own to bring out the ultimate fighter in you. Much like Rocky Balboa had his Mickey, Florian, 31, has Kevin Kearns, who has a few words of advice of his own on how to turn your body into a wrecking machine.Kenny Florian

Train like you mean it.
When it comes to training, Florian’s motto is, “There is no off season,” an idea instilled in him by Kearns, after Florian lost a match for the UFC lightweight championship to Sean Sherk.

“Kenny used to eat a lot and gain too many pounds after a fight,” says Kearns, “I told him we needed to start from the ground up and strengthen those basic muscles (abdominal, lower back, glutes, hips) that people often neglect. Because what’s a nice house with a good roof if there isn’t a strong base beneath it? It’s a house of cards!”

The Boston-born Florian agreed that his fitness regimen needed an overhaul, saying, “Ever since I lost that match to Sherk, I started training six days a week, two or three times a day.”

However, Florian doesn’t recommend that you train yourself to near exhaustion when you first get started. He doesn’t even think you necessarily have to join a gym.

“You really don’t need a hell of a lot of equipment,” says Florian, who makes frequent use of push-ups and squats. “People are always saying, ‘join a gym, join a gym,’ but a lot of it is just building up your muscles, and you can do that in a lot of ways.”

Kearns, creator of the fitness program and website, is famous among UFC fighters and other Mixed Martial artists for his various techniques using cables, a medicine ball, and a person’s own body weight to build strength and endurance. Previously, Kearns has trained MMA fighters, such Jorge Rivera and Kru Mark DellaGrotte, and has also worked with Dr. Michael Turnoff at Tufts Medical Center to help rehabilitate patients’ muscles.

“Body weight was all mankind had before dumbbells,” says Kearns, who believes that a fighter like Florian needs to maintain functional muscles all over his body, rather than in strictly isolated areas. “We don’t train like normal people. We train in an entirely functional way.”

It’s these functional exercises that have helped Florian rehab numerous battle injuries. “During our training, I’ll get Florian do twists with a medicine ball,” says Kearns. “My job is to make Florian stronger, more explosive, and give him more gas in the tank.”

Eat like you mean it, too.
You’d be surprised that a 155-pound man eats much more in a day than your typical 220-pound guy—Florian does this for two reasons. First, he wants to maintain an even blood sugar level so that he has a sufficient amount of energy for his training. And second, he trains anywhere between three and six hours a day and needs the caloric intake for energy and recovery. “I have about 6 to 7 meals a day,” says Florian.

According to Kearns, who closely monitors Florian’s diet, Kenny usually has a protein shake with frozen fruit for breakfast or five egg white omelets with veggies. His snacks are protein bars, and his lunch usually includes either chicken or fish with a lot of veggies. “On an average day, which includes lots of training, Kenny will consume about 2500-3000 calories,” says Kearns.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an occasional cheat day or two, though. “His favorite cheat food is his wife's or my wife's oatmeal raisin cookies,” says Kearns. “Generally, after a fight when we’re back in Boston, we recap over a pizza at The Upper Crust.”

Kearns’ Key Exercises

  • One-legged squat thrusts
  • Overhead lifts, using a 50-pound spring water jug
  • Changing your footing mid-workout so you’re always off balance and have to adjust to whatever weight you happen to be handling at the time

Know your limitations.
Florian suggests being careful not to over train, because it cause damage to joints and muscles in your body which aren’t used to a stressful workout. “Kevin has something he calls prehab instead of rehab, as these are exercises to do before you get injured instead of afterwards, so you don’t get injured so often.”

Kearns maintains that balance training is the key to avoiding injury. “Most injuries happen rotationally or laterally, such as when you’re twisting or when someone cuts into you or you’re getting hit from the side, so I do something called stability limited training—you train in an unstable environment, you become much more balanced in a stable environment.”


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