Developing Effective Workouts for MMA Fighters w/ Coach Phil Daru

Phil Daru is a strength coach in South Florida and trains some of the top mma fighters in the world.  Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Dustin Poirier, King Mo Lawal, Tecia Torres, Jake ‘Brutal’ Bostwick, Ryan Quinn and many others trust Coach Daru with their strength and conditioning plans.  In this episode we discuss developing workouts for fighters.  Whether you are out of camp or preparing for a fight, Phil shares his thoughts and methods that he uses to prepare his fighters for battle.


In This Episode We Discuss:

  • Workout periodization for Fighters
  • What types of workouts to use outside of camp
  • Adjusting training during camp
  • Fine tuning workouts for the last few weeks of camp
  • Monitoring fatigue
  • Coordinating with other coaches
  • and much more!


More Articles from Phil Daru

  1. Use This Unique Squat Exercise to Maximize Strength & Power
  2. How to Build More Effective Workouts
  3. Develop the Art of Training Fighters
  4. What It Takes to Develop Stronger MMA Fighters



Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Coach Phil Daru

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning and I’m on the phone with Phil Daru. Phil, how you doing?

Phil Daru [00:00:07]: Doing good brother. How about you?

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: I’m doing great man. I appreciate you talking to me on the weekend. I know you’re busy boy out there in Florida. So you guys if you don’t know Phil is a strength and conditioning coach down there in South Florida. Works  a lot of guys like, Dustin Poirier, young G Tech and quite a few other killers that are down there in South Florida training. So Phil’s got a ton of information today. Mainly what we’re going to be talking about is programming workout programming and stuff like that, how to change things up for different periods in the training camp as well as outside the camp just to keep his athletes fired up and ready and prepared to walk in that cage and perform at their best. So Phil, I know you’ve got a ton of kind of stuff to talk about. We can sit here and talk for a couple hours, but let’s just jump right into it. And I know we were talking before we hopped on here and we’re talking about different athletes and stuff that your training and some guys and girls, they athletes fight and they have a little bit of time off to kind of decompress and then when they come back in, where are you kind of starting with these guys, what’s your thought process when they’re kind of walking in and getting either a new guy or just somebody else that’s been off for a little bit and coming back into it?

Phil Daru [00:01:39]:Yeah, so first of all, like after the fight, usually I’ll give them a two week break unless you’re Dustin Poirier who wants to start going right after his last fight, he called me up three days later and wanted to get going as soon as possible. I was like, you probably want to take a break. But you know, as far as that goes, I give them an out of camp program that’s structured around general physical preparedness, trying to build up their work capacity, their fitness level, a little bit of hypertrophy to help with joint integrity. And I’ll get them ready and fit for camp once they start. Now once we start camp at about eight weeks out, I’d go ahead and I’ll run them through a full assessment, a full movement assessment and a physiological assessment where we’ll take them to the lab, will get their DEXA scan, we get there vertical jump, we’ll get there horizontal jump, we’ll get there threshold and the VO2 max test. And from there I can kind of correlate the program around their specific needs and also shows me how fast they can actually recover between one minute belts. So from that point of view, then from there, I’ll go ahead and we’ll go ahead and train and then I’ll see exactly in warm ups, you know where their coordination lies. Exactly. You know, what’s deficient if they have asymmetries and balances, things like that, I can pretty much hit on or see exactly what’s wrong with them just from their past experiences and how they came about fighting or starting in martial arts. If they have like a wrestling background or Jiu Jitsu background. I know the dysfunctions and the imbalances that those types of athletes have because of the sports specific demands now like let’s say for instance, you want to NJ check out her last fight when we started our camp for Rose two, she was gone. She was in Poland for a little bit. She was working with the guy that had her doing more Olympic lifts and things like that where she liked to do. So that was something that she took accustomed to, which I have no problem with. As long as you’re technically sound and you have the right capacity to do so and you have the right coach to actually coach you up on it. Now that actually helped her from a full biomechanics perspective to get her stronger and explosive in speech writing skills. But when she came back to camp, we had to start from ground zero again just for the simple fact that she lost a little bit of muscle mass due to the fact that she had to cut that weight. And we all know from the last fight that that last week cut was horrendous before Rose two, Rose one, had some, have some troubles there with the weight cut. So she lost a little bit of muscle mass, a lot of strength. So my goal right then was to actually build up a little bit more muscle, not so much to where she actually grows out of the way class, but to initiate a greater anabolic response to make sure that we’re bringing down a lot of that access body fat or excess body fat to access more hypertrophic gains. But also in the same sense, we’re helping her metabolism so that when we go to cut weight, it’s a lot easier. Water is held in the muscle tissue, not inside. So we wanted to make sure that we were ready and able to have a great weight cut come down and when it’s too time. So for eight to about six weeks we did somewhere around a hypertrophy range of eight to as low as six reps and I made sure that we were working through all ranges of motion, squat, hip hinge, a lunge pattern, push and press and then a carry components so that we can get all aspects of sport-specific demands on. Also along the lines of just getting her body fully capable of doing her skills practice. And then from there, just like everybody wants, we get to about five weeks out, I’ll go ahead and I’ll make sure that they have a structure de-load so that we can get a super compensation effect at the fourth week or four weeks out. This way we can ram at home and she can peak right on time because after about nine days out, they’re pretty much gone. They’re going no to their respective places where they fight. And I don’t see them until after the fight or before weightings. So for that, we want to get them physically ready and prepared about nine days out. So when they start their weight cut, there’s no extra problems. We don’t have to worry about getting them in shape, they’re already ready to go. And there’s no added cortisol because throughout the light weight to the weight after that seven day protocol once a week’s out. So with all aspects, it just really depends on, what that particular fighter needs in the beginning of camp. And then we correlate around either the opponent or the goals that that fighter wants to accomplish from a physical preparation standpoint. That’s where my programming will come down to that.

Corey Beasley [00:06:21]:Cool. So I mean, you’re talking a lot about when guys are out of camp and those athletes or fighters are out of camp and you’re talking about increasing their fitness level, their GP, general physical preparedness can you kind of break that down and give to everybody an example of like what that means, what kind of workout or how that might look when they’re in the gym?

Phil Daru [00:06:44]:Yeah, so we’re trying to get full on work capacity. So the amount of volume is critical and frequency is very critical. So in all that sense I don’t mind my guys actually on a state of overreaching because we can afford that problem. And I honestly don’t want to actually induce any type of recovery methods at that point in time because we want that seamless adaptation. We want them to actually kind of be a little sore after workouts and things like that. So we can actually get that adaptation of muscle building and joint integrity and just an overall fitness and aerobic base. So the standard approach would probably be anywhere reps between 10 to even 12 reps, high volume sets. And then also, like I said, we’re going to be doing full body workouts. So it will be something of a, of a carry, a squat, a hip hinge, press and a pole and always some core anti rotational work. But the reps will be high in the overall work capacity we’ll be high too as well. So a standard day or a standard week would be four days a week and they’ll be getting in a lot of different movement patterns just to get them introduced to each specific movement or exercise. So it’s nothing really new to them when they start camp. And we’re just kind of adapting to that situation at hand as far as your Aerobic capacity. I want them to develop a high Vo2 bring up that lactic threshold. So making sure that once they get into camp that skills training and all the other high-frequency things that they’ll be doing within their tactical and technical training, they’re able to do so without getting sore out, without over-training and things like that because their fitness level is high. So we can develop like a high Aerobic through LSD work, keeping the heart rate around one 30, one 40 and nothing too strenuous but you know, just want to make sure that we are inducing more aerobic endurance at that point in time. And that’s where I want done primarily about three to four days a week. Now also, I do want them to do this away from their strength training. So if they would do, maybe like a morning run around 6:00 or 7:00 AM it doesn’t matter if it’s faster or not. I’m not too worried about that. But one of them to do their run and then you know, later on in the afternoon or in the evening, go ahead and do their weight room work and that’s what they would do throughout the entire week. It doesn’t matter if they like to run, I tell them to go ahead and do your road work. If they like to swim and they’re efficient in swimming, then go ahead and do your swimming, rowing, anything that’s going to help induce that Aerobic capacity, I’m fine with.

Corey Beasley [00:09:23]: So that’s kind of outside of camp. You’re just kind of building them up, getting their ability to handle a lot of work, kind of squared away. And then once camp starts ideally they got a little bit of time. Not everybody’s got time to eight weeks’ notice. Some guys have a little shorter notice, but for this example, let’s just say weeks. So that employee, I said, okay, cool. Hey coach, I got fight and we’re eight weeks out. How does the workouts change? You went from real high volume, a little bit lower intensity, what happens at that eight week?

Phil Daru [00:10:00]:Like I said, this is going to be all subjective to the individual and what they actually need and where we can go with the training from the campaign perspective. Now as far as like a Dustin Poirier, he has a high VO2 to begin with. His aerobic capacity is top notch. It’s almost over the Olympian how great his VO two max is. And his recovery is outstanding as well. So for me our whole goal was to get him athletically sound to have him moving a lot more efficiently from a full multidirectional on perspective and also getting absolute strength and strength endurance along with explosive power throughout five rounds, which is where he usually is fighting. But let’s say for basic perspectives from all around, I would say starting eight weeks out, we’re just going to go ahead and do just a standard block periodization model where we’ll do eight to six weeks out. We’ll be working on higher strength endurance or strengths. I’m straight aspects, so six to eight reps somewhere around there. And the same concept would be a squat hip, hinge, push, a pole and carry and some type of core work. And in that same timeframe, we’re going to be working more anaerobic conditioning to where we can work on short bursts of energy and be able to recover as fast as possible. And that will be around eight to six weeks out. And then from there I’ll go ahead and have that structure de-load off that fifth week where we’ll be taking down the intensity and volume. We’re going to take down the volume about 90%. And then the intensity around actually switch that intensity is going to be a 90% and the volume will be 60%. And then from there once I get that done and they feel better and this is usually supposed to decay fatigue at that fifth week. So hopefully that’s usually what the case is. And then after weeks out, then we start to ramp it back up. And now we’re working on more contrast type training where we do a strange highly straight movement into an explosive power movement where we can incorporate French contrast training or any type of any type of post activation potentiation where we’re working on maximum strength into an explosive power movement to recruit motor units and muscle fibers to help with that explosive power and rate of force development. So that’ll be it for about four to two weeks out where we’ll begin to taper and I’ll bring it down. And then the Eve, if they’re around four, that last week, it’s all mobility work using FRC principles and also some agility and speed work just to keep their central nervous system fired up and to eliminate any type of cortisol that can be built up from the way cut and things like that.

Corey Beasley [00:12:42]: So basically what’s happening is as these guys and girls are out of camp, you’re just building up their systems and helping them become more efficient in the weight room, right? So you’re trying to get them stronger and more powerful from a general perspective. Building up that aerobic capacity a little bit. And then once they start camp, I mean the general principles, it’s becoming more and more intense as camp goes. And then the volume is also going from high to low. So the intensity might go up with the volume goes down with it to keep those guys really fired up and hitting on all cylinders am I right?

Phil Daru [00:13:35]:Yeah. So you have to take into account also the hierarchy of training principles. So for us the physical preparation specialists or for strength and conditioning purposes out of campus where we’re at the hierarchy of the pyramid, right? Once we get closer to the fight, then there’s skills, tactical and technical training become more of the importance. So we have to kind of take a back burner and we have to bring down that entire volume. So what that they’re not getting overstrained due to the high amount of volume and frequency that there’ll be doing in their skills and tactical training, which is wrestling, grappling, BJJ, kickboxing, boxing, sparing, all that stuff that has to come into play. And they’re doing rounds on rounds with that. And that’s also giving them a conditioning base there too as well. That’s why I don’t want to on Aerobic conditioning in camp because at the end of the day they’re getting a ton of that in their skill specific practice and nothing is better to get in shape than actually doing the sport itself. So I don’t mind my particular goal in campus to make sure that they are physically healthy we’re reducing that risk of injury and we’re getting them on strong and stable enough to withstand any type of blows or contact, that they will be getting in practice and along into the fight. So that’s really what the primary basis of the program is about. Because like I said, if you don’t have a plan, your plan to fail. If you don’t have a plan so it’s not going to work out very well for you and you’ll be running your head into the time and time again and it’s just not going to end up being well, you’re going to go ahead and over train and overreach and eventually you either get hurt or your performance will lack. So my whole goal with the whole periodization thing is to make sure at the end of the day, at the end of the end of the camp, when the time comes, they’re physically ready to fight and fight at the high level. And I don’t care what you do in the gym, like nobody really cares what you’re doing in the gym. If you don’t perform when time comes, then who gives a shit.

Corey Beasley [00:15:18]: Absolutely. So when you’re talking about, you’re working with athletes, how many days a week?

Phil Daru [00:15:29]:In camp it’s usually around two and maybe three, depending on the person, depending on, what the level of experience lies. Like King Mo will be with me for three days a week instead of two because at this time and point in his career being physically fit and being physically prepared is more important than actually doing his skills work because let’s face that he’s been doing this for decades. So obviously there’s always something to learn always have a white belt mentality, but at the same time, he asked to have physical conditioning and strength to withstand any type of training that he does because let’s face it, he’s not a spring chicken anymore. You know what I’m saying? But I love that guy. He’s like brother to me, but that’s why he’s with me more than all the rest. The rest of the guys the same thing as [Inaudible 00:16:20] who’s reaching 40 years old right now and he fight still at a high level. He’s a heavy weight in the UFC and he’s with me three days a week because you need it physically for that particular person. Now a young kid, maybe a new prospect or like a kid like Jordan Young fighting Bellator a young 22 year old kid who’s like full of piss and vinegar ready to rock and roll. You know what I mean? At that time maybe I’ll only need him twice a week and we can get good at stimulus adaptations with that and make sure that he’s with me three or four times a week on the out of camp because we can build up that base a lot better. And he can actually maintain that level of fitness throughout cam because he’s just younger, you know what I mean? And once you get older after 30th, like almost downhill when it comes to athleticism and testosterone and all that other stuff. So it’s a more of I guess a necessity to be with me a little bit more once you’re a little bit older for sure.

Corey Beasley [00:17:25]: When you’re working with these athletes and then you have your plan of attack. So you’re ramping up the intensity, you are manipulate and volume where it needs to be. But as far as they kids also have a lot of skill and you know, tactical technical training that you’re doing. And how are you coordinating with those other skill coaches to make sure everybody’s on the same page?

Phil Daru [00:17:47]:Yeah, so luckily for me get to work in and be around all those skills coaches in one house at American top team where a lot of strength and conditioning coaches don’t have that luxury for me I would say, for the guys that aren’t, that don’t have that same luxury, I would say get in touch with the skills coaches, make sure that you have a schedule plan and make sure that you’re coordinating and communicating with the skills coaches as much as possible. So that there is no clashing of intensity, levels of duration, of volume and also that you’re not working the same old realities at the same times where you can throw the organism in two different areas and actually digress or regress the performance aspects of his whole, definitely you want to have a good lines of communication with the skills coaches, knowing the schedule of the fighter. It would be more important than anything. And also making sure that you’re talking and communicating with the athlete and the fighter itself making sure that you’re asking them constantly how they’re feeling, what they’ve done that day, what are they doing later, what are they doing tomorrow, what they did yesterday. All of that should be constant questions that you ask your fighter or athlete, whatever the case may be. Throughout the entire training camp or whatever you’re training them.

Corey Beasley [00:19:04]: Now for you, as an example, let’s just say you’re five weeks now, I imagine the camp is pretty intense, right? These guys get all ramped up close to, they get to the fight, the more intense to get typically. Everybody’s excited, they’re focused or they’re dialed in. What are some mile markers or flags or questions and things like that that you’re looking for or asking about? To make sure everybody’s on the right track?

Phil Daru [00:19:38]: Yeah, so that’s where the art of coaching comes into play for me. I’m making sure that you can read your athlete is very important watching them in their warm-ups, seeing if their coordination is off, if they’re not really physically there, if they’re kind of dozing off, if they look tired. If they look weaker they look like they’re being a little lazy at times. Also, you can also check their grips rate in the morning. That’s a big indicator of over-training. Over-reaching also, if they have an elevated resting heart rate in the morning, that’s also a good indicator of overreaching over training. And then if you really want to get technical with it, we can go into the technology side of things and get an HRV monitor and nationally measure out heart rate variability to see exactly if they’re in a sympathetic or parasympathetic state that day so that we can bring it down or wrap it up if need be. But usually at the fifth week that’s in especially, where I’m at American top team, I can actually watch these guys spar and grapple. So I have that luxury, so I can actually physically see them do their skills, work along with my own training to see if they actually need a break. And then also, like I said, lines of communication with the skills coaches and seeing how they are the fighter react during sparring during grappling. And usually that’s usually the case. What happens is that I’ll get a skills coach that actually tells me, he’s not looking, he’s looking a little tired today. He told me he’s not feeling too well. He’s a little banged up and that’s when we’ll ultimately decided to bring it down. Especially even if it’s not five weeks out, even if it’s only like seven weeks out or six weeks out they had a longer camp. If they’d been there for 12 weeks, you know, and been grinding it out or they had a fight push back. You know, sometimes you’d get a guy as eight weeks out, but then the fight gets canceled and it gets pushed back three weeks. So now they’re in camp for 12 or 10 weeks, whatever the case may be. And so that raises the flag and you want to make sure that you’re auto regulating whenever you need be. And you know, those signs are usually good indicators of having to bring it down and once you bring it down and bring out the ball and bring down the intensity a little bit, have them do some movement drills, mobility, some active recovery. Usually they’ll bounce back pretty quick cause they are in shape. It’s not that they’re not in shape in the end as long you’re in shape the quicker you can recover as long as you get proper rest and good nutrition.

Corey Beasley [00:21:57]: Yeah, absolutely. So as you kind of going in we talked about from eight to about two weeks out. We talked about just doing that the agility and mobility type stuff. Just the week of just to keep their nervous central fire and keep them healthy during that weight cut or that fight week. And then I think that there’s just so much information that’s out there on that, on the internet and books and opinions and old school coaches doing what their coach used to do. And there’s just so much information. I think a lot of people are just overloaded and not sure what to do. They don’t understand the sets and reps and intensity and rest and volume how much they need to do and when and how to program all this stuff out. And I know you developed a new program called fight strong that we’re pretty excited about launching here pretty quick and can you tell everybody a little bit about what that is and why you did it?


Phil Daru [00:22:56]:Yes. I want to give the chance of almost people that want to get in shape like a fighter. I took what we use from a modality standpoint, from an exercise standpoint and from a periodization standpoint and put it into a formula or a format that regular people can actually train. And train like top level fighters like I do at American top team. But this is a full on six month time span where we actually be going through the entire long-term block periodization model to where they’re actually going to build a solid base, a very solid base of hypertrophy into absolute strength and then leading on it to explosive power. So it’s going to be primarily a lot of different exercise variations, but you know, it’s structured to where you’re actually going to adapt to the stimulus and then you’ll get obviously that de-load and you’ll get that super conversation and be able to keep on moving forward and progressive state. And then from there, we’re just trying to drive home as much strength as possible. At the end of that program, you should be as physically strong and as big as possible to do whatever you feel you want to do from an athletic standpoint. So it’s for everybody. It’s really not just for the fighters, is not for grapplers whoever is for the average guy that actually wants to actually train like a top notch fighter and get what they say quote unquote hybrid training where you’re actually going to get all encompassing athletic ability.

Corey Beasley [00:24:36]: So basically just take somebody from the ground up somebody that might not have an experience in the gym or maybe they did bodybuilding programs, which is super common bodybuilding power lifting maybe. And then I think that’s kind of what’s dominated the marketplace for the last 30 years, other than that the Cross Fit boot camps kind of boom, where everybody’s just doing death circuits and stuff like that. So this is very different I guess from a lot of the stuff that’s on the market, right?

Phil Daru [00:25:07]:
Yeah. I would say that I’ve seen anything like it, you know what I mean? I put this system in place just for the people that, like if I were to take them into my gym and actually train them the way I usually train my clients. And this is usually how it goes. You know, we made sure that we get, we develop a good technical efficiency with each lift, develop maximal hypertrophy with joint integrity, making sure that they can with stay in any type of load that are put upon them. I start them off with standard exercises that they can actually master and to get easily. And then from there we start to develop more intense or more advanced exercises to actually drive home new stimuluses’. And that’s basically what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get them better each and every week without running themselves into the ground or doing the same thing over and over again, which is you get stale at times and people just don’t want to do it. So that’s exciting. It’s something that you always be challenged each and every week, and then once you feel like you can’t get it, it’s almost too much, then we drop you down, we reload you, you feel good the next week after, and you’re ready to ramp up and go again. And that’s why I decided to do it like this is to make sure that you’re not we’re peaking and we’re reloading at the right times so that you can keep on progressing. And there’s no stagnation, which is awesome.

Corey Beasley [00:26:33]: So for the end user, for this the average Joe that might be missing a fan of the style or whatever, this is really just going to take them from a bodybuilders kind of mindset or Cross Fit kind of circuit type training to really just the meat and potatoes that are getting these elite athletes really strong and powerful and durable enough to survive this type of training. Right?

Phil Daru [00:27:01]:Yeah. So like let’s just say I didn’t have a fight going on every other week and I didn’t have fighters fighting every six weeks or every two months or whatever the case may be. If I had a fighter that I could actually bring up from the ground level and I had a year to do it. This exact plan is what I would actually do to actually build them from a non-athlete to an outstanding athlete ready to fight in octagon, which is pretty much what this whole program is about is it take somebody from ground zero all the way up to an athletic level that they thought they never could be at.

Corey Beasley [00:27:38]: Cool. Well guys, certainly super excited about that program. You know, fight strong is the name of it six months training program that you guys can follow step by step. And I think it’s going to be a killer resource for anybody that’s interested in taking their strength. And their power and all that stuff to just a whole new level and just really transforming your body. So Phil, I appreciate you sharing with us and always willing to share information and educate people and traveling around the world, doing your workshops and stuff like that. You’re doing a lot of good stuff.

Phil Daru [00:28:13]:I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.