"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights." Few people have summed up the painful reality of a pre-fight training camp more accurately than Muhammad Ali.
It's a stark reality that Joseph Benavidez, UFC's #2 flyweight fighter, knows all too well. Since 2011, Benavidez has been grinding in the UFC after cutting his teeth in the circles of World Extreme Cagefighting and Team Alpha Male – a hustle that's seen the 35-year-old win the coveted 'Performance of the Night' award from the UFC three times over with an equally impressive scorecard. Across 34 bouts, Benavidez has secured 28 wins and only six losses.
In the latest instalment of our 'How I Build My Body' series and at the UFC's Las Vegas Performance Centre, Benavidez took us through his functional workout that he deploys for fight night strength and fitness. It's far from your normal workout, with Benavidez deploying full-body movements that translate directly into his fight. Here's how it looks.
Medicine Ball Throw
Starting with medicine ball throws, Benavidez faces side-on to a target wall and, using a medicine ball in a punching motion, slams the ball sideways onto a designated target to help replicate the power needed to punch, grapple and, as Benavidez puts it, to "knock a dude out". It's the perfect whole-body move that requires maximum effort, strength and aggression without worrying about hurting a training partner.
Alternate Arm Sand Bag Pulls
It's hard to replicate the strength needed to grapple a full-grown man by using dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells. This is where sandbags come in. The dead weight of the bag is ideal for mimicking the odd object strength that's required for Benavidez to get the jump on his opponent. By pulling, dragging and grappling the sandbag, the UFC flyweight also works on his balance and explosiveness once he's grounded.
"We're used to working on our feet and it's easy to keep our motion and our explosiveness, but to keep your balance on the ground is just as important when you're grappling," he explains.
"Everything is about balance. [You're] moving around and moving a person, so we take the sandbag and mimic that not only sideways, but frontwards and backwards." By dragging the sandbag in different directions, Benavidez builds balance and strength in his core, plus the explosive upper-body power that's vital to the decision of the fight.
Burpee to Sled Push and Sprawl
Love them or hate them, there's no denying that burpees are the best bang-for-your-buck exercise that conditions the body quicker than any other move. Plus, in the case of Benavidez, it helps him maintain multi-directional strength while transferring from the ground to an upright position. "We're going from two feet to the ground and changing levels. We're getting up and being able to explode right away while changing levels at any time, since we're boxing, shooting and grappling"
The conditioning move, which redlines his heart rate, is also beneficial when it comes to switching between fighting stances — a must for any MMA and UFC fighter. "I can explode from both stances as a fighter," explains Benavidez. "I can get up into my southpaw, give one good jab, sprawl, then get up into my orthodox, sprawl, go into southpaw an jab."
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