By Myatt Murphy
Before most opponents take a beating by big Ryan Bader, he’s already beaten himself up in the gym. Bader maintains his massive size off-season doing heavy squats and deadlifts, but seven weeks out before a fight, he turns to an anaerobic power program designed to enhance his dominance in the Octagon. His on-season training starts about seven weeks before a fight—like this weekend's UFC 110 in Sydney—six weeks of strength and conditioning, with a week off prior to his fights.
“Ryan does a 45-60 minute workout and follows a three-day-a-week schedule (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays), training on the opposite days of his sparring schedule so he’s always fresh for practice,” says Ryan Johnson, one of Bader’s strength and conditioning coaches (shown at left with Bader). “This routine also allows his body roughly 48-72 hours of rest in between workouts, so his body has enough time to recover and rebuild.”
“I do a lot of quick, explosive exercises that hit all of my stabilizing muscles, train my core muscles and teach every muscle to work with each other,” says Bader, “It’s all functional training that really gets my heart rate up and works my body in the same way I have to fight—in short bursts of a few minutes each, so it’s a lot like fighting a round.”
It’s a schedule that typically elevates Bader’s heart rate between 160-180 per minute. “Once we achieve that point, we try to keep his workouts intense enough so his pulse stays in that rage for at least a half hour or more,” says Johnson.
Bader's circuits are always different, with the exercises changing each session to keep his muscles constantly guessing. Here’s just one typical day in the gym for Darth. For a pared-down version of Bader's training that you can try to start getting into UFC shape, click here to read Johnson's workout.
1. Treadmill sprints
Bader starts his workout on a treadmill, which is set at an 11 MPH speed and a 12% incline. Bader runs as fast as he can until he can’t perform any longer (60-80 seconds). “The goal is to get him completely fatigued in less than 90 seconds,” says Johnson. Once that happens, his trainer supports him from the back to help him power through an additional 15-30 seconds.
2. One-arm Kettlebell Swings (74 pounds; 15-20 reps each arm)
3. Leg Kicks to the side striking a Thai pad (30 kicks per leg)
4. Pull-ups weighted for as many as possible
5. Ring Jumps/Burpees Combo Standing next to the boxing ring holding a medicine ball, Bader will jump up and land on the ring, jump back down, then do a burpee push-up. He’ll go as fast as possible for 60 seconds, then repeat the entire drill two-three times with 30-second breaks in between.
6. Static Pull-ups
In the up position, Bader pauses for thirty seconds
Once he’s finished, Bader is given a thirty-second break, then he repeats the entire circuit three times.
Bader also performs twice-a-week, 90-minute cardio workouts on Mondays and Fridays with another coach. After a quick warm-up, Bader uses a series of different treadmills, each set at a different incline and speed, and bodyweight exercises (such as push-ups or squats) to create a grueling circuit.
One example: running at 8 MPH at an incline of 12% for one minute; jumping to another treadmill and backpedaling for one minute; running again at 12 MPH at an incline of 17% for one minute, then finishing by doing two bodyweight exercises on the floor.
“It’s designed to simulate a full round, and just like any round in the Octagon, it’s always different from day to day,” says Bader, “It’s literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” After the five-drill routine, Bader gets a quick rest, then repeats the cycle between 8-10 times.
Fitness expert Myatt Murphy is the author of the best-selling books, The Body You Want in the Time You Have, Ultimate Dumbbell Guide and co-author of The Men's Health Gym Bible.