With their globalization, expansion in marketing, higher profi le ad sales, and publicity, the UFC has hit the scene as hard as an Anderson Silva knee to the face. But while the sport and its most successful promotion learn to adapt as they grow, so are the fi ghters who are pushing the sport to these higher levels.
Nowhere is this trend more prevalent than in the pre-fi ght, ten-week camp headed by the UFC’s new Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar. In waging war against the legendary Randy Couture, Lesnar and his people decided to ramp up his preparation. He turned to a solution that is beginning to pick up more and more steam throughout the MMA training centers across the country—a performance/ rehab coach. Enter Luke Richesson.
The strength and conditioning coach for the University of Wyoming’s wrestling team before holding the same post at Arizona State, Richesson is now the lead dog for NFL players at Athletes’ Performance Institute, in Tempe, Arizona. In the last two years, Richesson and the team at API have produced a ridiculous number of fi rst-round picks, something foolish like 25. These kids hit API and Richesson’s expertise often earns them riches beyond their wildest dreams.
Years ago, Lesnar met Richesson when he was attempting to become a pro football player. The strength coach made such an impression that Lesnar reached out to him again when he made the move to MMA. Prior to working with Lesnar, Richesson helped Gray Maynard with his strength program for wrestling back in 2000, but didn’t branch out into MMA until C.B. Dolloway came calling after being connected by a certain bald, incredibly handsome broadcaster/writer.
Lesnar and his coaches decided that, for a fi ght this huge, the more help the better. Richesson was brought in to complement Morgan and Nelson by focusing on the practical conditioning and regeneration of the body.
“A lot of people focus on the training part, but they forget the rehab part of it. I bring in the conditioning and make sure everything is dialed into a certain program with chiropractic, soft tissue, and daily rehab. It used to be all about strength training, but if a guy isn’t conditioned enough to dial it in for the length of a round or fi ght, that strength is useless.”
While Lesnar already possesses unrivaled physical strength for a UFC fi ghter, preparing for a 25-minute war was new. For this, Richesson established a conditioning and rehab plan that complemented his submission wrestling, boxing, and MMA training, from week ten down to the evening of the fi ght.
“We put together a periodized, well-thought-out week-byweek plan that was designed to ramp him up and take him to peak at the right time,” said Richesson. “Some athletes just do what they’re used to doing, or what they think works by watching or learning from others, without taking their own bodies into consideration. Brock is a big, big guy, so we didn’t want to put any stress on his back by having him do long runs on pavement or stadium steps. Everything was done on a bike, elliptical, or stair climber, something that wouldn’t cause a lot of mileage on the frame.”
First, Lesner and his team determined a baseline heart rate as his starting point. The entire workout was based upon that. Richesson would have Lesnar spend some periods in the 140 to 150 range on some days while others red line him in the 180s, and yet others would drop to the 160s.
“We wanted to make sure we hit each and every energy system in a fi ght,” he said. “Early in camp, we built his aerobic base with longer workouts. As the weeks progressed, we’d work up to the mid range, in the upper 160s, keeping his heart there for fi ve minutes at a time. As more weeks went by, we’d get him into the 180s. But, eventually, we tried to mimic his heart rate in his actual fi ght, his heart rate from clinch to fl urries to going balls out, back to clinch.” Lesnar’s strength program was also designed to mirror his fi ghts.
“The great thing about Brock is his mental aspect,” Richesson said. “Anytime the mind is brought to the table, Brock excels. We’d put him through fi ve 5-minute strength training sessions—a killer, but he loves that. In those fi ve 5-minute rounds there was no stopping. Round one consisted of plyometric movements like medicine ball and rapid response training. Round two was lower body, three was upper, Round four was core, and fi ve was total body movement.”
In addition to conditioning, Richesson also worked on recovery. He went as far as putting together a daily hot tub and cold plunge regiment that was to be followed as strictly as his workouts. “He had a hot tub and cold plunge pool built right next to the mats. I’d set the protocol so he could come right off the mat and go right into the hot and cold water. We’d complement that with movement prep, a phenomenal massage therapist, and a great chiropractor.”
Just as those in mainstream sports have used performance training centers to take the extra step in their careers, it appears the same phenomenon is beginning to hit our sport as well. “Prepare for all scenarios, be surprised by nothing,” said Richesson, summarizing his philosophy. “Brock and I have watched that fi rst round together several times. He was a little ticked off by the announcers saying he seemed fatigued. He fought that fi rst round at 70 percent, believing he needed to manage his energy for 25 minutes. He wasn’t fatigued at all. And we’ve just started this thing.”
The more fi ghters learn about the advanced, scientifi c training that can be used, the more explosive our fi ghters will be and the longer they’ll actually last.