To find his way to the top of MMA, Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader first had to learn to take his foot off the accelerator.
Since he started wrestling at the age of 7, Bader has only known one training path: 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. The results spoke for themselves. Bader was twice All American at Arizona State University. When it came time to switch to MMA, however, Bader quickly learned that his setting full throttle, although hugely successful on the wrestling mats, would initially work against him in the MMA cage.
"As wrestlers, we have the problem of doing everything all the time," admits Bader. “When I came to MMA as a pure wrestler, it was all attack, attack, attack. And first I put myself in positions where they could tap into me because I didn't have a basic understanding of the positions. I had to learn to be patient and learn when to explode. And that helped me with MMA and BJJ. "
Whether you're looking to lose a few pounds or win a world heavyweight title, the formula is pretty simple: set a goal, plan out an effective strategy, and execute it. However, in real life situations – family, career, injury, attrition – a slick-looking map can become confusing and rocky terrain of trial and error.
For Bader, adapting to a new environment was one of several keys to moving from competitor to Bellator champion. As he prepares for his April 9 rematch against Lyoto Machida at Bellator 256 (streamed live on Showtime), the Kill Cliff Fight Club member shares the first episode of the Five Training Principles of Muscle and Fitness' Winning Strategy, which led to Bellator titles in two weight classes and a solid standing as one of the best fighters in MMA history.
1. Make training consistency your goal
My aim is to work towards goals. I've been an athlete since I was seven, from wrestling to high school soccer to really good college wrestler. If you look at my MMA career, the main reason I was successful and you can ask my coaches about it is that I was consistent. When I'm not in a fight I'm still in the gym, but with a different mindset. I am here to help others. I don't have to allow my body to come down or feel the need to get too hard. However, as soon as you find your name on a contract that says you will fight Lyoto Machida on April 9th, a switch in your brain will be turned off. Everything is booted up. They try to marginalize themselves every time. It doesn't mean you are throwing balls against the wall all the time, but you need to keep that attitude until the fight.
2. Find your fitness program
Routine means everything to me because I want to know what I'm getting into every day and I want to prepare my body. At the beginning of my MMA career, I found myself in a few situations between (full-time) coaches that I showed up and we all said, "What are we doing today?" and we'd just end up doing a few rounds of grappling or sparring or whatever. I don't work well that way. I now have a team of coaches who are part of this routine as far as we're going to work on it, so I'm already showing myself prepared.
The same type of regimen also goes into my diet. I eat very clean and only whole foods. I also take certain supplements. For me, it's about keeping your body healthy and ready for action. This is where Kill Cliff comes in. I like caffeine, but I don't do pre-workouts. I'm going to drink Kill Cliff Ignite. If I was lifting I would be taking as much caffeine as I can. But on fight day, my routine is to drink half a can before we go to the arena – no more and my body feels a little weird. And if you fight another man in a cage, you may end up with a little squirrel.
3. Rest requires discipline
We go hard on Mondays and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, but on Wednesdays I completely retire from the gym. Saturday, we'll be a running day, then I'll take Sunday off and maybe take an ice bath to relax.
It's hard for me not to do anything. I still have the go, go, go wrestling mentality and when I'm tired, go harder and for more rounds. I have a great group of coaches that I've had for a long time and sometimes they have to tell me, "Hey, you're doing absolutely nothing today." I need this because I get hurt sometimes and coaches get angry because they say, “You don't do anything all week” and I say, “Well, I did one a few miles on the bike. "
The biggest thing I've changed is that I'm finally listening to my body. I know when I'm rested and going into a tough training session I feel great. But when I've been tough all week, I see diminishing results. After more than 30 professional fights, we finally made it. This is how I feel best.
4. Learn to listen
One piece of advice that I unfortunately didn't follow was my fight against Anthony Johnson (UFC on Fox, 2016). My coaches kept telling me to go out and think about the first 10 seconds, the minute, the round instead of the overall fight. Don't look like a five round fight and you have to get this guy fast. In other words, be patient.
Instead, I was whatever. I went in there and totally threw the game plan out the window and made a bad shot and got TKO’d. If only I had followed advice to be patient – win an exchange, then the next, the next 30 seconds, the next minute, I would be the round and I think the fight.
In my next fight, I followed her advice (a second round knockout of Ilir Latifi at UFC Fight Night 93 2016). It worked perfectly. I'm finally getting better at listening to the people around me. I have them here for a reason so I'll listen to them.
5. Embrace and enjoy the process
I know it's a cliché, and I give this advice to younger fighters, but if you want to be in Bellator, the UFC, you have to do the work and be consistent. It's really true. There is no such thing as a magic pill. It's the only thing I've done in my entire career. I don't take my time, except, of course, when I am injured. I keep going to the gym, walking lightly and working on your craft. You won't get any better if you don't train or practice there. As simple as that.
Great advice I once received from my coaches was: don't make it a bigger business than it is. That meant I had the opportunity to do something that not many people do. So enjoy it. Don't stress yourself out. I didn't take it after the Johnson fight. But after that I picked it up and went out and had fun. I wasn't too stressed and then ran great.