Training and preparation are often the difference between earning an octagon win and gasping for air on the mat. A real-deal MMA fighter doesn't just waltz into his gym and start punching bags without purpose or direction. He prepares for each bout by training with precision and intensity.

UFC light heavyweight Ryan "Darth" Bader is a skilled fighter. He's also a strong, well-conditioned athlete. Put the two together and you have a guy who trains hard, hits harder, and wins bouts. His win on the Ultimate Fighter Season Eight and his 19-4 record are proof enough, but can do you one better. We can show you how he trains.

You may not be interested in testing yourself in the octagon—hell, we're with you—but you can still learn something about fitness from Ryan Bader and his coach Aaron Simpson. After all, it's their job to win fights.

Here's a dynamic warm-up, workout, and even a diet from Bader's fight camp.

The Warm-Up

Ryan divides his warm-up into three parts. He does dynamic stretching first, then an agility ladder, and finally a circuit. When he's getting ready for a fight, he'll actually use the warm-up as a standalone conditioning workout.

This warm-up was created to prepare your body for intense training. You'll be warm and ready to roll by the end. It will also prepare the central nervous system. As Bader puts it, "It doesn't matter if you're a professional MMA fighter, a bodybuilder, or just someone who's trying to get in shape. A good, hard, dynamic warm-up will help your flexibility and help your strength."

Part 1 Dynamic Stretching

These stretches are called "dynamic" because you'll be moving the entire time. Dynamic stretches prime the muscles for heavy work better than traditional static stretches.

Exercise 1 Knee Hug and Twist

10 reps per leg

Bring your knee to your chest, hug it, and then step forward into a lunge position. From there, twist your torso toward that front leg.

Exercise 2 Backward Lunge

10 reps per side

Reverse lunge by putting your right foot behind you. From a lunge position, reach back with your right arm toward the opposite side of your body. This stretch activates that hard-to-reach lower back.

Exercise 3 Drop Lunge

10 reps per side

This exercise works like a backward karaoke walk that includes a squat. Drop one leg behind and across your body and then squat down. Walk laterally in one direction, and then back in another.

Exercise 4 Backward Toe Touches

10 reps per leg

Walk backward and kick a leg up behind you. As you kick your leg back, reach forward for your front toe with the opposite hand.

Exercise 5 World's Greatest Stretch

10 reps per leg

Lunge forward and bring your elbow to the floor on the inside of your front leg. Hold that position for a second, and then lean back and straighten the front leg. Reach forward and grab the toe for a good hamstring stretch. Alternate legs.

Exercise 6 Shoulder Stretch (Pass-Throughs)

10 reps

Grasp a very-light bar or PVC pipe wide enough so you can get it over your head until it touches your butt. Then bring the bar back over your head until it rests on your thighs.

Part 2 Agility Ladder

"You don't have to do the exact ladder drills that I'm doing," Ryan says. Mix and match, add your own, and have fun with it. Ryan likes the ladder because it's a bit of a cardiovascular challenge. Ryan also explains that the ladder gets his "body sweating and the core warmed up. It's great for fast speed, motion, and concentration. It just works well for me being a fighter because it helps with my foot work."

Ryan also explains that a physical ladder isn't always necessary. "If you don't have an actual agility ladder, you can make one out of tape or pretend there's one. It's better to actually have squares so you can stay in an actual box, but you'll still get the activation and warm-up without them. Go about 20 feet and you'll be good."

The ladder is great for fast speed, motion, and concentration.

Exercise 1 Running

two feet in each box, end of ladder and back

This exercise looks like you're running. Place both feet, one at a time, in each box all the way down the ladder. Start slow and progress your speed.

Exercise 2 Lateral running

two feet in each box, end of ladder and back

This works like the first exercise, except now you're moving laterally. Place two feet, one at a time, in each box as you move up and down the ladder.

Exercise 3 Hopping

two feet in each box, end of ladder and back

Now, instead of putting two feet in the box one at a time, you'll hop forward with both feet in each box at once.

Exercise 4 Lateral hopping

two feet in each box, end of ladder and back

Side hop and place both feet into each box at once.

Exercise 5 Ickey shuffle

down and then backwards on the way back

Start on the right side of the ladder. Step into the first box with your right foot. After you've place your right foot in the box, bring your left foot in and move your right foot to the outside of the ladder on the opposite side that you entered from. The pattern should be: right in, left in, right out, left in, right in, left out. Repeat up and down the ladder.

Exercise 6 Lateral Ickey shuffle

down and then face opposite wall on the way back

Same as the above exercise except you'll face a wall instead of looking down the ladder.

Part 3 Strength Circuit

This strength circuit will activate your glutes, shoulders, and prime your bigger muscle groups. It's a great way to start a workout. Do one exercise for the prescribed number of reps and then move directly to the next exercise without resting. Rest for 60 seconds and then go through the circuit one more time.

Exercise 1 Single-leg glute bridge

15 reps per leg

Put your upper back on a bench and spread your arms out. Put your weight on one heel and put the other leg in the air. Thrust the hips upward and then bring them back down. Squeeze your glutes at the top.

Exercise 2 Ts and Ys

10 reps per position

Lean back while holding TRX or blast straps. Widen your arms into a "T" shape and push your chest forward. After you've done ten reps of "Ts," fly your arms into a "Y" shape and push your chest forward. Do 10 reps.

Exercise 3 Hanging Knee Raise

10 reps

Hang on a bar and then pull your knees to your chest 10 times. Be sure to lift your hips so you don't rely entirely on your hip flexors to do the movement.

"Darth" Bader Sample Workout

A fighter needs to be able to use his whole body. Instead of building his body for size, Ryan trains for speed, power, and mobility. See if you can fight through this grueling sample session.

Speed, Mobility and Power
2 sets, 5, 4 reps (first set warm-up)
3 sets, 3 reps (using 205 pounds)
+ 6 more exercises


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