How UFC’s Alexander Volkanovski Built His Body

Luke Benedictus
·3-min read
Photo credit: Men's Health
Photo credit: Men's Health

From Esquire

It’s 8am and Alexander Volkanovski is already soaked in sweat. He punches out trap-bar deadlifts and launches into explosive squat jumps with a medicine ball clutched to his chest. He grimaces with effort. As he rattles through a set of barbell hip thrusts, it’s clear that Volkanovski doesn’t have the wiry physique of your standard featherweight.

While he may fight at 67kg, his build is undeniably stocky. Prior to UFC, when Aussie Volkanovski played semi-pro rugby league for the Warilla Gorillas as a rampaging prop, he weighed up to 97kg. And while he’s now conspicuously leaner, much of that front-row power remains coiled within his 1.68m frame.

“Alex is super-strong,” says strength coach Chris Jaffrey. “There’s no one stronger in his division.” Back then, he wasn’t just 30kg heavier: he was also hobbled by chronic back issues. Bulging discs and sciatica restricted his training and could sideline him for weeks at a time. As the flare-ups intensified, he even feared the problems might eventually leave him in a wheelchair.

Weight gain, a bad back – these are familiar problems for many men of a certain age. But Volkanovski was determined to regain control of his life.

Convinced that fighting at featherweight would give him the optimal chances of success, he overhauled his diet to stabilise his yo-yoing weight in the low-70kg range. There was no quick-fix formula, Volkanovski explains, just a strategic regimen of clean eating and a shed-load of cardio, with strict adherance.

Photo credit: Giles Park
Photo credit: Giles Park

Cutting out all processed food, he steadily dropped through the weight classes. Fixing his back was far trickier – one specialist even told him to give up MMA for good. But Volkanovski kept researching alternatives until, in 2018, he found Jaffrey and the team at the BaiMed Performance Centre. There, the trainers worked to improve his hip mobility and build up his leg strength to take the load off his back when wrestling. The results were immediate. Suddenly, Volkanovski was able to train with far greater consistency. No longer fighting with the handbrake on, he could finally hit the accelerator.

Since then he has sped past José Aldo who is, in Volkanovski’s words, “the greatest featherweight of all time”. That and subsequent back-to-back title-winning victories over Max Holloway prove that Volkanovski’s epic body rebuild really was worth its weight in gold.

Upper-Body Staying Power

1/ Single-Arm DB Row

3 sets of 6 reps per side

With your back flat and a dumbbell in your right hand, hinge at the hips and support your weight with your left hand on a bench (A). Row the weight up to your stomach (B), then lower slowly. Switch sides.

2/ Power Press

3 sets of 8 reps per side

Stack some plates on a landmine and face it. Lean into the weight slightly and hold the end at your collarbone (A). Press the bar above you explosively (B). Lower under control. Repeat on the other side.

3/ Cable Face Pull

3 sets of 10 reps

Set the pulley on a cable machine to eye height. Stand tall and hold the rope with arms extended (A). Drive your elbows back to bring the rope to your face (B). Return slowly.

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