Lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov entered the UFC last year with an impressive record of 16-0, and quickly proved that his skill was big-show level with four consecutive UFC victories in the 155-pound division.
Nurmagomedov’s strength has helped him the former world Sambo champion two Octagon finishes plus two decisions over powerhouses Abel Trujillo and Gleison Tibau. In his most recent bout (against Trujillo, a collegiate wrestler), Nurmagomedov set the UFC record for most takedowns in a single fight, with 21 trips to the mat over three rounds.
"The Eagle" sharpens his skills every day at his home gym of AKA, sparring with the likes of Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold -- but it's not just every 155er who can hop in the ring with the heavyweight champion. Before the fighter's UFC 165 bout against Pat Healy, we talked to Mike Constantino, Nurmagomedov’s manager and corner coach. Constantino tells us how the 24-year-old Russian prospect fits so much power into a compact package.
Emphasize Functional Training
Trendy Crossfit-style tire flips and sledgehammer circuits definitely have a place in MMA training, but they shouldn’t take the place of functional training. “Bodyweight exercises can help keep you fit without bulking up,” explains Constantino. “When you punch a punching bag and you keep your hands up, it works the front delts and shoulders, just like grappling makes you use your core. Khabib does a lot of functional training: standard grappling, wrestling, and sparring.”
"My life consists of training, religion, sleep and meals," said Nurmagomedov, who describes his typical day as running for half an hour in the morning, sparring after lunch and alternating between grappling and striking work in the evenings.
Fellow fighters say that focus on the basics is exactly what will keep him in the win column for a long time to come. "Khabib will be UFC champion one day based on his work ethic, not his muscle strength," says AKA teammate Josh Thomson, UFC lightweight contender and former Strikeforce lightweight champion.
Eliminate Excess Salt
You can’t outtrain a bad diet -- period. While axing processed foods and synthetic sugars is common sense, sodium can become another area of concern. “If you’re eating more calories than you’re burning, you’re bulking up,” says Constantino. “There is a lack of education because there are so many methods out there about diets."
And while what works varies from athlete to athlete, Constantino tells any of his fighters concerned about making weight to change the salt sources. "I recommend eliminating salt from the diet because it retains water," he says. "Don’t cut it out altogether and deplete your body of it, but take it in naturally through proteins.”
MMA Comes First
Pro fighters must be strong and have the endurance to go the distance. But being built like an ox means nothing if you can't land a strike or defend an attack.
“If I told you to go run three miles, do a chest and triceps workout at the gym, and then come spar, you’re going to be fatigued,” Constantino says. “Younger fighters will sometimes come to a martial arts workout fatigued from strength and conditioning workouts. I think it should be other way around: Get the martial arts in first and let the strength and conditioning supplement the martial arts." Constantino recommends three days per week for strength and conditioning.
Andy Hennebelle, NASM-CPT, CSCS, USAW, a TRX Ripped trainer at the UFC Gym in Corona, Calif., agrees. “I’ll tell any athlete this: You can be the best weightlifter or sprinter, but none of that matters if you haven’t honed your skills to the sport itself. In MMA, you need to be good at striking, grappling, core strength -- and those things won’t happen by lifting weights.”
Write Your Own Rules
Hard-and-fast diet and exercise rules are tough for fighters to follow because each person’s body responds differently to specific challenges and stimuli. If weigh-in day scale readings or in-Octagon response times aren't what you were hoping, it's time to revise your rituals -- and be creative.
“It’s almost like [former MLB player] Juan Gonzales’ batting stance,” Constantino says. “Fundamentally, the stance was incorrect, and no coach would teach that. But if someone uses it and they’re hitting great, you don’t mess with it." That's why Nurmagomedov has shaped his workouts to include a lot of running and martial arts drilling where other fighters might spend time powerlifting.
And, says Nurmagomedov, "I like to go to a Russian sauna once a week."
Khabib: Lightweight Body, Heavyweight Power
Hear how UFC 165 takedown tactician Khabib Nurmagomedov fits so much power into his 155-pound frame.