Strength Coach Phil Daru, Joins Us for Episode #48

In this episode we discuss:

  • Linear vs Conjugated Progressions
  • Working around injuries
  • Communicating with athletes and other coaches
  • Assessing each athlete
  • Preparing for competition
  • Monitoring recovery
  • and more!

Phil Daru, owner of Daru Strong Specialized Training Systems, former Professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighter and author of MMA Strength and Conditioning: Building a Better Fighter. Awarded the 2012 best strength and conditioning coach of the year for the Florida MMA Awards. Certified fitness professional under American Council of Exercise, degrees in Sports Medicine and Exercise Science from Alabama State University where I played division 1 football. I’ve coached athletes ranging from MMA, highschool and college football, highschool and college baseball, track and field also several Olympic gold medalist.  I’ve worked with and continue to train multiple UFC and Bellator fighters along with champions from World Series Of Fighting, and Legacy Fighting Championships. I have the privilege to work with top fighters such as King Mo Lawal, Tecia Torres, Amanda Nunes, Melvin Guillard, Hector Lombard Valerie Letourneau and many more.

Stay in touch with Coach Daru!

Instagram: @Darustrong
Facebook: Phil Bam Bam Daru



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Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Phil Daru

Strength Coach for American Top Team, Phil Daru Talking about his coaching methods for MMA Fighters

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning. I’m on the phone here with the strength coach from American top team Phil Daru. Phil, how are you?

Phil Daru [00:00:08]:I’m good man. How are you doing?

Corey Beasley [00:00:10]: Very good. Thanks so much for joining us. So for sure everybody listed in Phil’s a strength coach out there in Florida at American top team. Phil give everybody a little 2 cent of who you are and what you’re doing?

Phil Daru [00:00:24]:Alright, well basically I’ve been doing this since I was about 14 years old. Been training ever since I got started to get ready for a football since I was in high school, play college football for Alabama State. Then after that my parents actually moved from Fort Lauderdale to Port St. Lucie. That’s when I met up with Dean Thomas, who was an ex UFC veteran first time ever fought in UFC 32. And then so I ended up training with him all the way up until about, I want to say 2014, 2015 actually when he ended up moving down to coconut Creek to be one of the head coaches down there, opened up my own facility in in Port St. Lucie called roof in his performance, started an 800 square foot light box, was just a little storage facility on the side, grew that into a 11,000 square foot facility within four to five years after that I decided to really take it on and do what my passion which was actually train athletes full time. So I got in contact with Dean again and he actually said that there was an opening because the oldest strength coach Bryan Harris actually is leaving. So I ended up going down there and like the first week I trained King Mo Lawal, Tecia Torres, Dustin Poirier and Howard Davis son Dyah Davis, which he’s a pro boxer. And we did that for a week and then they liked me. I asked Colin Saverio he actually knew me from when I was training with Dean and they liked me. They like my program was about and been going ever since. So I’ve been down there for about four or five months now.

Corey Beasley [00:02:12]: So that’s a recent change for you, but it sounds like a good one. You got a lot of good experience from all your years of athletics and then you also fight as well, right?

Phil Daru [00:02:21]: Yeah. I was a pro for eight years under Dean Thomas and basically what happened was a series of concussions taught me and made me actually retire from the sport and it wasn’t really much so MMA more than it was football. I mean, I’ve been playing football since I was nine years old, so the series of concussions kind of put that to a halt. And I had things that I had to look forward to out of business. I have a family. So it was more in my benefit to keep on going with the coaching instead of competing.

Corey Beasley [00:02:52]: Yeah, of course you can’t wear yourself out when you get all that stuff at home, that’s more important. So you’ve been down there, you’ve been training for quite a while. When you walked into American top team, you talking about, I mean, the athletes that you’re working with are very high level athletes. They’ve been doing this for a long time, some of the best in the game. When you walk in the doors, where did you start with those guys?

Phil Daru [00:03:16]:Well, basically I had a run them through basically a full body assessment. I like to see how they actually run, how they move. A lot of the times I’ll have these guys have injuries from past fights and past training camps. So I have to work around their injuries a lot, especially the more experienced guys in the veterans. Just for an example, like King Mo Lawal I mean the guys had about six or seven ACL surgeries. So I mean, I had to really focus on getting him prepared but not injuring him more. So we did a series of like you know, just some squat variations and seeing how far deputy can get because he does have hip impingements and shoulder problems and he cracked his elbow. So, I mean, there’s things that we have to work around on a daily basis, but just seeing them how they move throughout the warm-ups and a basic pushup test, the basic box, step up tests, things like that.

Corey Beasley [00:04:14]: Gotcha. So you get a good idea of where they’re strong, where they’re weak, how they move all that type of stuff. And then from there you know, with the amount of guys that are going and girls that are going through that camp, I mean, there’s a lot of times run into that place. There’s a lot of personalities. There’s a lot of body types, lot of injuries, all kinds of stuff. What’s your week look like? Are you working with these guys one-on-one work with groups? How are you programming?

Phil Daru [00:04:41]:Yeah. Well first when I first got there I used to run a standard linear block progression. The periodization basically was 12 to eight weeks out. We would do more bodybuilding and like hypertrophy type stuff just to build their muscle for stability and things like that. And then eight to six week out, we would focus more on strength and power. And then around five weeks out would be a de-load week. And then on that fourth week it would be straight flight conditioning where we do like three, five minute rounds with like a one minute each exercise type thing. Would it be more sport-specific? But what I was finding was that a lot of these guys take fights on short notice. A lot of them are training three times a day, two times a day. And a lot of them were actually living in a dorm because we have dorms up there now and the 40,000 square foot facility that we have. So it’s their life. And when they come to me and with their four weeks out, our conditioning program is very strenuous. So if they’re doing that for four weeks straight and I see them three times, if not two times a week they’re going to be burnt out, especially to do their other skill set work. Like, obviously the wrestling, they have to get their BJJ and I have to get their kickboxing in the boxing game and they’re spoiling. And I’ll completely and not have them be effective in those workouts. It’s doing them a disservice. So what I came up with was basically a conjugate style of training. Each week I would alter the intensity levels. Now what that basically looks like because of the schedule that they have. And Dean Thomas actually writes up the schedules for these guys. So nothing runs in their, everything is structured. We’re trying to create a program to where it’s ran like an elite protein. So basically what happens is on Mondays, since they have a hard wrestling practice with Steve Mocco, he’s an Olympian. They get ran through the ringer in that class. So for me to go ahead and do like a max effort day on that day it’s a disadvantage to them. So what I like to do is on a Monday they’ll do dynamic effort day and I mean conjugate method was made popularized by West side barbell, which is Louie Simmons, Louie Simmons. Jr was created for power lifters to be strong all year round. So what I like to do and I have a powerlifting background as well. So obviously these guys are not power lifters, but we can structure the plan on that same regimen. So how I do it is on Monday, the dynamic effort day would be, obviously we start off with speed and power. We do more mobility work, some Prehab stuff. Then we’ll get into our RSP day, which is basically explosive box jumps, some hurdles, some of explosive med ball throws and things like that just to get them more speed, strength oriented you lift about 50 to 65% 1RM, a submaximal weight for fast duration, ten second rest and they keep going throughout that time. Now on that day is more of a lighter day, but they’re getting the maximum amount of speed and agility that they can get in a given day on Wednesday. However, on Wednesday is more of a max effort day. So now we’re working on full body strength, maximum strength for that day and Wednesday’s obviously a lighter day for those guys because Tuesdays is a hard sparring day and Thursday’s a little bit of a weaker day. So they have that timeframe in that middle where they can really go in and go hard if they need to. And with that max effort, we do about three to five rep max sets followed by an accessory work for the day. And I follow a lower body push pull format. So let’s say on that day as a max after debit day, like we’ll work our way up to a heavy set of three or five depending on how far they’re at in their camp. After that, then we do some accessory work working on their lower body or posterior change. And then from there we’ll go ahead and go on to our conditioning, our conditioning phases, depending upon what we’re doing that day. Then on Friday is a volume day, which is basically because Saturday and Sunday they have the days off to really rest or if they are a little bit sore they can recover better from one day. As far as the volume goes, we still do our mobility, our Prehab stuff. We really focus on that on that day. Just very low impact and higher volume. Also, our set rep ranges around four sets to eight to 12 reps and we still always go off of a high compound movement in the beginning. And then we do our accessory work after followed by our conditioning. Now that conditioning Oxy is going to go with the, the training that we do that day. So as far as our conditioning for Monday, which is our dynamic day, it would be more aerobic oxidative for working that conditioning system. So what I do there is more like temple runs and just keeping that speed for the entire duration. So then on Wednesday, then Wednesday on that max up or day after you working more anaerobic capacity. So we work more a lactic ATP conditioning systems where we do like fat interval sprints. So it’d be 10 seconds on as hard as you can and then 20 seconds rest. And we coupled that with about 10 rounds of that. So for example, we’ll do like Prowler splints for 15 and then a 22nd recovery or 10 seconds depending on how in shape they actually are throughout the camp. And then Friday for your volume day would be more lactic glycolytic on training for your welding capacity. So that is our three to five minute rounds or five by five minute rounds with that sort of wonders. That’s the tough day. And that’s where they all get butterflies in this moment.

Corey Beasley [00:10:57]: Well, I’ve heard that from a lot more coaches these days. As you’re kind of learning how to coordinate with a lot more to skill work because there’s so much work that’s involved, especially with MMA. Like you said, there’s boxing and kickboxing and Muay Thai and there’s all that Jiu Jitsu and wrestling and there’s all these different aspects. What are the athletes are getting taxed and then for us, from a strength coach perspective and then we need as well as the skill coaches coordinate and vary the intensity so these guys don’t fall apart. I think a lot of these older guys just grinded. And then I think that’s why they’re also beat up.

Phil Daru [00:11:35]:And that’s the thing. Like, I got to sometimes pull these guys back a little bit. I just started training Daniel Straus who is the featherweight champ for Bellator. The guy broke his hand like three months ago and he wanted the deadlift heavy yesterday and I had to pull them back, so what I did was you can work around injuries of course. So he did searcher squats instead. It’s still working. The hips still work in the posterior chain work in his core, but we always can work around an injury. But if it’s to an extent to where I know it’s not going to benefit them and we just don’t even bother with it because my main focus there is to get them performing well, get them to be a better athlete and then what the skill coaches are there for to get them to be a better fighter. So we have to kind of separate ourselves from that. We’re not there to show them different moves and stuff. We want them performing better and being healthy and maintaining health throughout the full year, that they’re going to camps and like I said, MMA does not have a season. It is 24 hours, 365. It’s all day, so we want to make sure that we maintain a good level of health and so they’re progressing each day so when they do get a fight on short notice, they’re ready. They don’t have to get ready.

Corey Beasley [00:12:59]: I think that’s good insight, especially when you are experienced in all the different athletes that you’ve worked with recently and then over the years even, I mean, that’s the reality of the sport a lot of times, especially for the young guys that are coming up and there’s a hell of a lot more of those guys trying to make it to the ranks. Then the guys that are at the top who maybe it is a little bit more structured and organized and they know ahead of time when they’re going to fight. But the other guys you’d see it, it’s a last minute thing a lot of times.

Phil Daru [00:13:26]:So yeah. I got another thing I want to talk about when it comes to like linear progressions, you say about people that know about their fights coming up in the big names do have that let’s say like Amanda Nunes is fighting, we should take in UFC 200. I don’t have to conjugate her message because I can structure a plan to peak on that day. And what I do with Amanda is I actually when we have somebody on a high profile fight like that, we will train them either with one other person or by themselves just because we can focus on what they need to accomplish for that fight. But like I said, mostly I do a lot of groups. I do a lot of team training. So it’s about five to six guys on per hour. And the reason why I also do this is to maximize our time efficiency because I’m training guys on the hour every hour. So we want to make sure that we’re getting into maximum that we came with the time that we have.

Corey Beasley [00:14:32]: I mean, you have to do that at a point you’re going to run out of time and effort. So I got the other thing I was wondering about you have a very unique situation with most of the coaches and all of the coaches being under one roof. How much do you guys coordinate throughout the week?

Phil Daru [00:14:50]:We keep a good level of a relationship between each other when it comes to the fighters because of the fact that, we don’t want to outdo each other. It’s not a contest of who can beat them up the most. So we structure out our days and our workouts, depending on what they’re doing throughout that day. And Dean Thomas is kind of like that glue that holds us all together in a sense when it comes to that. Because of the fact that there is so many guys and so many high level coaches in one roof is actually way better from me as a strength and conditioning coach because I can converse with these guys on a daily basis on how these guys are working inside their skill work and back and forth with them too talking about how they’re doing in the strength and conditioning. So we do make sure that we keep that level of conversation is together.

Corey Beasley [00:15:49]: I mean that’s a huge advantage because so many guys are bounced to gyms, gym for different skill sets and they’re just all over the map and people don’t coordinate. And I know it’s ended up being a train wreck for a lot of times when guys are just getting run into the floor. Now, are there anything you guys are doing to monitor their recovery between all these things I using any heart rate monitors, HRV, omegawave or anything like that?


Phil Daru [00:16:13]:I mean I would love to have in an omegawave I think every strength coach, the woods. But as of right now we don’t have the luxury to do so. So what I like to do is basically just see what they’re doing, see what their like and then I can pretty much kind of talk to them and really get to know what’s going on with them. If I see like their performances is down and the coordination is off, then I kind of know that they are definitely your D trained. I will ask them, ask them also with check the heart rate in the morning. Chester checked their resting heart rate in the morning and then also check their grip strength in the morning if it’s weaker and we’re probably overreaching at that time.

Corey Beasley [00:16:56]: Yeah, for sure. I mean there’s high-tech ways of doing that stuff and there’s little 10 ways there that are efficient as well. It’s just a matter of just keeping tabs on it. And like you said, even just talking with them, you can get a good feel for where they’re at in that day?

Phil Daru [00:17:10]:Yeah, I’m in a good thing is like I keep a good relationship with all my fighters. We are all on a message board together when it comes to being a strength coach, being a strength conditioning coach. You’re seeing these guys a little bit more often than the rest of their coaches because of the fact that they will come to you for nutrition advice. They’ll come to you for rehab advice, they’ll come to you for recovery advice and you want to keep that level of trust within your athletes on a daily basis. So I do talk to them on a constant daily basis and all my fighters can attest to that and I made sure that we do keep that trust between each other so they can come to me whenever they feel they need to.

Corey Beasley [00:17:52]: That’s good man. So you are talking about recovery techniques and nutrition and stuff like that. What are some of the things that you’ve changed maybe over the last year or two with monitoring or monitoring your intensity levels. You talked about that, but also then recovery techniques and nutrition and sleep and all that type of stuff. What are some of the pillars of that that you’re telling your guys to do? Making sure they’re hitting it?


Phil Daru [00:18:21]:Well, I mean, basically sleep is everything if they can get at least seven or eight hours of sleep. And I know its tough being young kids too on a lot of these guys are 20, 25 years old, the young prospects and they think they can go hard 24/7 and they don’t have to recover. But the fact of the matter is that that’s going to end soon. They need to get their recovery. They need to rest, they need to get the proper fuel and organic greens have high quality proteins and obviously more quality food. A lot of these guys are eating fast food and things like that and we just got to get to meet the quality foods and they need to fuel their training all the time, if not two to three times a day. I mean, that’s enough to where you’re going to need some oatmeal. But basically just the structured if a guy comes to me and asked me for diet, then I’ll recommend them to do these things and to give them nutrition advice. But most of the time they have it on point, the recovery process. We do have an ice tub in the gym. I told them to do about 30 minutes post-workout. Go ahead and hit the ice TOB and then they’ll go ahead and do a 30 on 20 on in the sauna. So they’ll go 30 for ice tub in 20 in a sauna and they’ll do that for three rounds and now we’ll help them just recover all their muscles with, with inflammation and things like that.

Corey Beasley [00:20:01]: So Phil, as you’re getting your guys ready for competition, you’ve gone through maybe eight to 12 weeks, hopefully if not even training hard consistently up until that point, but you get called three weeks out. How do your work outside or how does the training change leading up to a fight for those guys?

Phil Daru [00:20:21]:Well, like I said, we are always prepared. So the conjugated method of that is just obviously alternating throughout that week. But when it fighter is less than two weeks out, then we start to bring it down and de-load them until about one week out. And then they’re just doing mobility work going through there just standard skill work that they need to and very low impact stuff. And as far as conditioning goes, I like to get them in the pool. I’m swimming a couple laps, things like that, very low impact, but always keeping their heart rate up for a sustained amount of time. But other than that, after two weeks you want to start to dial that back down. But like assume that the rest of the camp is all kinds of gated and everything is being hit throughout that week. If you do have a fight in two weeks or in six weeks, you’re ready regardless.

Corey Beasley [00:21:18]: I mean it’s good to hear because I think that there’s I’m starting to hear and talking with different coaches that there’s a common theme and people are really starting to think that through. You’re probably the fifth person that I’ve talked to that’s used in a varying intensity throughout the week to coordinate with the skill work, which I think is very smart. Now from your experiencing the industry as a fighter, but also as a coach, what are some of the big mistakes that you see athletes making before you guys get in and get them dialed in?

Phil Daru [00:21:51]:Big mistakes. Usually with the more advanced guys and the more experienced guys it’s actually a level of trying to keep them from over-training in a sense. And with the younger guys, it’s not getting them to push it hard enough. I don’t know if it was like a time change or something like that or it’s the new generation, but depending on who you have, like I said, it’s all subjective. It’s all what that person is and that person is a grinder and you’ve got a wrestling background and loves to go hard every training session. But that’s going to be advantageous to their growth and progression and you have to pull them back and really structure a plan to help them stay consistent without overreaching. Now with a lot of younger guys, that’s probably never been in any other team sports or anything like that. They don’t know how to push it in this realm of activity. They not to push it in kickboxing, know how to push it in BJJ and wrestling when they’re, when they’re training for their specific sport. But a lot of guys are afraid to lift weights. I’m seeing, and a lot of guys are afraid to get stronger and bigger it’s not about getting bigger a lot of them are afraid to get out of their weight class, which I understand. That makes sense. But you have to build muscle in order to stabilize your strength in order to stabilize your body. It’s injury prevention. It’s not bodybuilding. A lot of guys definitely have to get away from that notion and that old boxing mentality of don’t lift weights, you’re going to get too big and too stiff. We are now getting into the realm of being athletically strong and being, having functional muscle.

Corey Beasley [00:23:45]: Yeah, absolutely. And I tend to think is there’s all these different aspects of fitness, and I talked with a few people about it. There’s is stability. There’s power lifting, there’s bodybuilding, there’s and let the question, your speed, agility and quickness and plyometrics and all these different things. And I think when people tend to do is they tend to gravitate towards one aspect of it and they call it their own right. And then their lash, while everybody needs to do this, all this mobility work and movement training because of whatever. But there are different tools for different reasons, right?

Phil Daru [00:24:21]:Yes, for sure. And one thing about me that I’ve played at a high level in football. I’ve been in mixed martial arts pro fighter, I’ve done body building, I’m competing in powerlifting now. I’ve done strong man training, I’ve done all these modalities and they all have a purpose and they all have their place. And this is why I like to structure it all the way through. There’s not one way to skin a cat. We have to make sure that we’re getting all modalities in and getting the best of it. We’re taking what’s needed and what’s useful and we run with it. Everything else can go through wayside.

Corey Beasley [00:25:02]: Yeah, for sure. And there’s just time and place for each part of it. Just depending on who stand in front of you?

Phil Daru [00:25:07]:Exactly. And different fighters need different things at some points.

Corey Beasley [00:25:12]: So guys, everybody is listening to this. I mean this is just, hopefully you’re hearing some things repeat from different coaches that are out here training some of the best guys that we watch on television and you know, hopefully you’re picking up some of this stuff and you’re going to be able to apply it and it simplifies a lot of the noise that’s out there in the fitness world because I mean there’s just tons of stuff out there for sure. But Phil, I think you dialed it in pretty tight. I think you gave us some great things to think about. And if people wanted to learn more about what you’re doing, what’s the best place for them to reach out?

Phil Daru [00:25:48]:Okay, sure. You can get me on my website Also, you can add me on Instagram @Darustrong. I’ve got all my pictures and videos up there, and then you can email me too @Phil and I’ll answer all your emails.

Corey Beasley [00:26:06]: And guys, I’ll put those links down below the podcast, but Phil, thanks so much for sharing with us and taking the time. I know you’re busy man, but awesome info, man. I look forward to talking to you more.

Phil Daru [00:26:17]:Not a problem. Thanks for having me.