Fighting fit with Chad Waterbury

By Krista Scott-Dixon

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“When I heard Chad Waterbury was releasing a new fat-loss workout – for both athletes and recreational exercisers – I was intrigued.

Chad’s known for his awesome workout programs; programs that combine intense lifting, high intensity circuits, and low intensity recovery work. Basically all the stuff we recommend here at PN.

However, when I also heard that his new program – called Body of F.I.R.E. – is the exact program he used to help Ralek Gracie defeat Kazushi Sakuraba at the Dream 14 (a big-time MMA event), I knew this workout would be something special.

So, first, I begged Chad to send me a copy of the program so I could try it myself. (One week down and it’s awesome). Next, I asked one of our resident ass-kickers (and MMA enthusiast), Krista Scott-Dixon, to spend some time with Chad, talking training, fighting, and Body of F.I.R.E.  Check out the interview below…” — JB

Introduction

Over 10 years ago, my best girlfriend and I watched grainy VHS tapes of the first Ultimate Fighting Championships. It was an obscure activity known only to martial arts nerds. On weekends, we’d put a few mats down, or strap on the boxing gloves, and go at each other with zero skill but lots of enthusiasm.

Now, that best friend competes internationally on Canada’s grappling team (and works for PN). I’m working on my purple belt and teaching beginner women how to choke each other out. And even your grandma knows what MMA is.

And maybe, like sexagenarian MMA fighter Skip Hall or late-50s brown/black belt owner of Modern Combatives, Lily Pagle, grandma’s working on her kimura skills too.

In the first UFC, then-unknown grappler Royce Gracie choked out Ken Shamrock in under a minute. Since then, the Gracie family has become legendary as the First Family of Asskicking.

Royce’s dad Helio Gracie, and his brother Carlos Gracie, developed Brazilian jiu-jitsu and brought it to the sweaty masses. Now, Royce’s nephew and Helio’s grandson Ralek Gracie is carrying on the family tradition.

In his recent fight with Kazushi Sakuraba, Ralek Gracie won by unanimous decision after three gruelling rounds.

Ralek Gracie
Ralek Gracie

This probably isn’t a surprise, but cage fighting/MMA is hard work. You need the skills to survive both striking on your feet and rolling around on the floor.

Truly, the adrenaline rush of competition is hard enough to manage. It’ll suck your oxgyen before you even step into the cage. Then, once you’re in there, it’s hard to punch, kick, and hold your opponent in any and every position — standing, upside down, tied into a pretzel. And, of course, that person is fighting back!

So, next time you’re in the mood for a hard workout, try sprinting up a hill. But make it interesting. Recruit a raging bear to chase you. Then, throw a guy over your shoulders to increase the resistance. And ask him to punch you in the face all the way up the hill.

That’s the level of intensity MMA athletes experience. And it’s a level of intensity that demands elite fitness. How do you get that elite fitness? Chad Waterbury knows.

He’s the strength & conditioning genius who prepared Ralek to endure the gut-wrenching, lung-busting three rounds. And this week, he’s releasing his new conditioning program, Body of F.I.R.E.

I caught up with Chad and asked about his trade secrets. Here’s what he told me.

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At age 14 I picked up my first weight. From that point on it’s been my passion to find the most effective ways to build and transform the human body. Whether it’s a professional athlete or just a regular person who wants to look better on the beach, it’s been my mission to help people get the body and performance they want in less time than they thought possible.

What’s your general approach to training?

After 14 years as a professional in this field, my approach to ultimate fitness is simple: stimulate the maximum number of muscle fibres in order to generate the highest metabolic cost with each workout.

I use full body workouts, explosive tempos, and minimal rest periods to generate the strongest metabolic and hormonal response that exercise can create. I’ve found that full body workouts with short rest periods yield the best results across the board. I’ve experimented with every other approach imaginable and they all fall short when the goal is athleticism.

What do MMA athletes need?

The key to training MMA fighters is to give them the tools they require to excel at their style of fighting. I don’t train a striker the same way I train a jiu-jitsu person. They require different approaches with different training strategies.

“An MMA fight is the ultimate test of athleticism.”

MMA: The total package

With that in mind, an MMA fight is the ultimate test of athleticism, and that’s why I enjoy the challenge of working with fighters. Other sports generally focus on only one or two fitness qualities. A marathon runner only needs endurance. A powerlifter only needs maximal strength.

But an MMA fighter has to be the total package with high levels of power, endurance, and mobility that coalesce into one machine.

  • Power is built with explosive tempos.
  • Endurance is developed with short rest periods
  • Mobility is enhanced with challenging, full range of motion lifts and body weight exercises.

Individualizing the approach

From a training perspective, a coach must quickly identify where there are weaknesses. That’s why it’s important to put each fighter through a thorough assessment first.

Some fighters are naturally strong. Other fighters have plenty of endurance but lack the necessary strength to excel at the sport. A strong fighter typically lacks endurance and mobility. An endurance animal usually has enough mobility, but lacks the maximal strength he or she needs.

Balancing training & recovery

Managing fatigue is the most important component to a fighter’s training plan. They have to do so much work on any given day that they constantly toe the line between performance enhancement and fatigue.

As a coach, I know that I have a very limited amount of time to develop the fitness qualities a fighter needs. In a best case scenario a strength and conditioning coach will get three intense and productive workouts per week from a fighter.

It’s important to fit as much as you can within those three workouts in the shortest time possible. The last thing you want to do is wear down fighters and limit their technical performance, endurance, or power in their striking and grappling sessions.

The trickiest part of training fighters is learning to manage fatigue, and dealing with their injuries. Fighters are constantly pushing the envelope of recovery, and they’re always tweaking joints. So there’s a delicate work/rest balance that you must find very quickly.

Additionally, being well-versed in soft tissue treatments and proper joint mechanics are crucial when working with fighters. I use many therapy regimens such as muscle stimulation, active release, and volcanic clay packs, just to name a few.

Bodybuilding vs sport conditioning

Bodybuilding is about developing specific muscle groups to unnatural proportions without regard for anything else. A fighter, on the other hand, must develop his or her entire body in balance so it performs as a single entity.

One of the biggest differences between training for show versus training for sport is rest between exercises. My fighters don’t rest during their entire workouts with me. If a fighter can only do ten minutes worth of continuous work, that’s how long the core of the workout will last at first. From there, I’ll build up the fighters’ work capacity until they can train at a high intensity for 30 minutes without rest.

Fighting requires non-stop, full body effort. Therefore, a fighter’s strength and conditioning program must follow suit.

With bodybuilding, or general fitness, such extreme levels of non-stop activity aren’t required, so there’s no reason to focus on it.

However, I think it’s wise for a weekend warrior to mimic many of the training principles I use when training a fighter. Why?

  1. First off, most people want to lose fat. When you train with short rest periods and fast tempos, you’ll burn more calories and fat during and after your workouts. Research supports that statement.
  2. Second, full body workouts will generally yield the best results for fitness buffs. Training that way induces a larger hormonal response because you’re creating a big metabolic cost by stimulating all of the major muscle groups at once.

How I got into MMA training

For two years I designed and implemented the strength and conditioning program for Rickson Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Center in Los Angeles. While there I developed good relationships with many top fighters and instructors. Word travels fast and one of the instructors, another MMA fighter, told Ralek that he should hire me to train him for his fight against Sakuraba.

Before I started training Ralek, I honestly didn’t know much about him, since he’d had only two professional fights, both in Japan. So I watched his fights to get some perspective of what I’d be working with.

I noticed two things right off the bat. First, he has incredible jiu-jitsu skills. Second, he was very weak. That’s typical of many jiu-jitsu fighters who avoid strength training for fear of becoming slow and stiff.

In essence, Ralek was like a Nascar driver who was trying to win the Daytona 500 with a Honda Civic. He had all the skills to excel, but he needed a machine with more horsepower. Nevertheless, I could tell that he had a solid physical structure, and given his age, I knew he’d respond well to the program I had in store for him.

Chad training Ralek
Chad training Ralek

My challenges

It was a challenge to prepare him for Sakuraba because I only had 8 weeks from the time we started. Generally, a 12-week program is necessary for the proper development, peak, and tapering. But it worked out well, even with the time constraint.

After the fight, Ralek said that it’s the first time he felt like his body could do what he wanted it to do. But this is just the beginning for Ralek. Wait until you see the power and explosiveness he has for his next fight.

I enjoyed the challenge! Eventually, any expert in his field wants to be challenged. For me, the ultimate challenge is developing an MMA fighter because every fitness quality must be developed to an elite level.

It’s easy to develop high levels of endurance, and it’s not too tough to make a guy super strong if he doesn’t need to do anything else. But when you must develop supreme levels of explosive strength-endurance with tons of athletic mobility, it poses a significant challenge.

That’s why I enjoy working with fighters. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s next on my “fight card”

I’m very excited about my latest project. It’s a complete training and nutrition program that burns fat and builds athleticism faster than any other program I’ve ever designed.

It’s called Body of F.I.R.E. and I’ve had everyone from average folks to elite athletes like Ralek Gracie use the program with incredible results. The fastest way to burn fat and get in shape is with full body, intense, resistance exercise, hence the acronym.

Chad’s fit fighter workout plan

Step 1: Prehab and mobility

A typical fighter workout starts with mobility drills and foam roller exercises. First, fighters will jump rope for a few minutes to stimulate blood flow, then they’ll mobilize their ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders with joint circles.

Next, they’ll foam roll whatever is tight — typically, the hips, IT band, glutes, and thoracic spine. This entire sequence takes about 10 minutes. Now they’re ready for training.

Step 2: Explosive power and speed

The training plan will start with explosive body weight exercise combinations to build speed and power. For example, fighters will do a circuit of jumping jacks, split jacks and burpees for five minutes straight without resting.

Step 3: Build strength and suck the oxygen

Next, they’ll do a circuit of strength exercises while wearing a weight vest.

They’ll do pull-ups from rings followed immediately by dips on the rings followed by leg raises on the rings.

Then they’ll do some kettlebell swings followed by a short sprint 40 yards down and back.

As soon as they return, the circuit repeats. Generally, they’ll keep repeating the circuit for around 15 minutes without resting.

Step 4: Cooldown

At the end they’ll do stretches for his ankles, hips, and shoulders. These are particular areas of concern for grapplers and strikers.

I also want to move away from one-on-one training in order to open up time in my schedule so I can help MMA schools develop and integrate more effective strength and conditioning programs. Schools are popping up all over the world, but many old-school training philosophies are holding back fighters from developing their ultimate potential.

I’m thrilled to be part of this growing sport, and happy to embrace the new challenges it offers to me as a strength and conditioning coach.To check out Chad’s new program:

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Learn more

To learn more about making important improvements to your nutrition and exercise program, check out the following 5-day video courses.They’re probably better than 90% of the seminars we’ve ever attended on the subjects of exercise and nutrition (and probably better than a few we’ve given ourselves, too).The best part? They’re totally free.To check out the free courses, just click one of the links below.