Mike Tysons training routine to prepare for a fight is on another level. While everyone sees the troubled nature of a very misunderstood athlete and human, the truth is that Tyson was one of the hardest working, intense athletes of all time. It’s not by chance he won the heavyweight championship in just 6 years, at the age of 20.
Tyson began training with legendary trainer Cus D’amato at the age of 13. Tyson was a troubled teenager, getting arrested 38 times by the age of 13. As a child, Tyson was overweight and was often bullied at school. This led him to be a bit of a loner, and perhaps is what ultimately led him to the gym at 422 Front street.
Tyson showed an immediate affinity for boxing. D’amato had already produced several heavyweight champions, and saw the potential of Mike very early on. Tyson was his ultimate prodigy.
Tyson believed that punching power had nothing to do with weight lifting. Therefore, most of his training revolved around calisthenics, heavy bag work and sparring. Tyson himself stated that his punching power came mostly from hitting the heavy bags. Specifically, a 300 pound heavy bag. He claimed that heavy bag work trained a fighter to develop power from the hips.
Tyson hit so hard that D’amato eventually had him use water bags to protect his hands. Iron Mike’s legendary punching power came from relentless technique training, heavy bag work and certainly some natural athletic ability. (D’amato believed that no one was “born” with punching power.”
Mike Tysons Training Schedule
About 5 weeks before a fight, Tyson would begin training 50-60 hours a week, 6 days a week. Sunday’s were a day of rest and extra sleep. This routine began when he was only a teenager.
Daily Body Weight/Calisthenics training spread throughout the day:
2,000 sit ups, 500 dips, 500 push ups, 500 shrugs. (divided up in 10 sets throughout the day)
Mike Tyson’s Daily Workout Routine
4:00am – 3 mile jog
6:00am – Shower, sleep
10:00am – Breakfast (Protein, Oats, Juice, Fruit)
12:00pm – Sparring – 10 rounds without headgear. 3 rounds body weight/calisthenics routine
2:00pm – Lunch (High Protein, High carb, lot of water, vegetables)
3:00pm – 4 more rounds of sparring. Bag work, Mitt work, body weight/calisthenics routine, 1 hour on the bike
5:00pm – 4 sets of body weight/calisthenics routine, slow shadow boxing and focused technique training…mastering one or two techniques
7:00pm – Dinner. (again high protein, high carb, lot of water, juice)
8:00pm – 30 minutes light recovery cardio on the bike
9:00pm – Study fight film, go to sleep
Next day: – Repeat!
Diet and Nutrition
Much less was known about Diet and Nutrition strategies for athletes during this time. However, D’amato was ahead of his time and had his athletes eating a steady high carb, high protein diet full of steaks, vegetables, and other carbohydrate rich foods. Tyson was well known to love ice cream and did sneak in a lot of sugary cheat foods during his training.
Should You Train Like Iron Mike?
As a trainer I would never advise someone to follow the training schedule outlined in this article. Most people would be beat down before one week was over. But it does fill me with motivation reading about how hard he trained. It’s the stuff of legends, and would certainly be interesting to see what would happen. It could be an experiment that would make a pretty interesting blog post..but I think I’ll save it for another day.
Mike Tyson is known by most as a troubled human being, and the media has a way of only showing the worst of people. But Tyson has always been one of my favorite athletes of all time. He was possibly the most dominant heavyweight fighter of all time, and the way he trained was legendary. In conclusion, I hope this article sparks something in you.. to step up your training and get a little closer to being legendary yourself!
Brief overview of the aerobic system as the foundation of conditioning
How to improve and build the aerobic engine
High and Low intensity methods/benefits
You have to decide.. Do you want to have a Charger SRT Hellcat engine, or a 4 cylinder prius? Powerful conditioning is within your grasp, if you’re willing to educate yourself and do the work, training smarter AND harder. Conditioning for MMA athletes must have a foundation, and this article will focus on that.
Powerful conditioning could be the difference between having your hand raised, or your opponents.
Strength and Conditioning for MMA athletes can be a slippery slope. Most mistakenly believe that, since the sport is explosive in nature, high intensity training is all that is needed. This is a failure to really examine the energy demands of the sport. Fighters gas out all the time.. and conditioning is at the heart of many victories and defeats.
Profile of an MMA Fighter
Ideally, the following is what I’d want to see in an MMA athlete from a strength and conditioning perspective:
Resting Heart Rate in the high 40’s to low 50’s (aerobic fitness)
High level of mental toughness under stress and fatigue
Body fat under 12%
High Peak Power/neuromuscular ability. Especially in the lower body.
Obviously, not all athletes will possess all of these qualities, but this is an ideal profile of an elite MMA fighter with high-level conditioning.
The Aerobic System is Your Foundation
The Aerobic energy system uses oxygen along with fats and carbohydrates to create energy. MMA fights are characterized by explosive bursts mixed with periods of less explosive activity. The aerobic system is what refuels your ability to repeatedly be explosive throughout a fight. It clears out waste products and restocks energy. If your aerobic system is lacking, you will fatigue over the course of a fight.
“Although, according to the duration of an MMA bout, the energetic demands derived mainly from the aerobic system, it should be noted that the outcome of the match was often decided by explosive actions, which were based on anaerobic pathways.“
It doesn’t matter how powerful you are.. If you can only be explosive for the first round, you are going to run into problems.
How Do You Train and Build the Aerobic System for MMA Conditioning?
The Aerobic system needs a high frequency of stimulation (4-6 days/week), and a variety of different training methods to improve. This calls for a mixture of high and low intensity methods to really build up the aerobic engine. Conditioning for MMA will require various methods to be utilized for maximum adaptations and benefits.
Cardiac Output Method (Low Intensity)
Increased volume of blood pumped per beat (Stroke Volume)
Increased size of the left ventricle of the heart (eccentric cardiac hypertrophy)
Improved capacity for recovery (you can recover faster)
Lower Resting Heart Rate
Increased Heart Rate Variability
30-90 minutes, 4-5 days/week with Heart Rate between 130-150 bpm
Can use any activity; cardio equipment, shadow boxing/drills at low/moderate intensity, or a combination of activities
Use a heart rate monitor to keep yourself in the proper range
Start with 30 minutes and build up over time.
Measure your resting HR when you wake up in the morning to track improvements. Use HRV tracking to get a deeper look.
Swimming is a great, low impact/high reward option for this method.
Lower intensity sessions will result in improved aerobic abilities resulting from a multitude of adaptations down to the cellular level. The Heart will pump more blood per beat, and your body will be able to utilize oxygen more efficiently. Lower intensity sessions also stimulate recovery, which is huge in such a demanding sport.
High Intensity Aerobic Training.
Obviously there is also a need for higher intensity training in MMA. These sessions should be limited to 2 times per week, and sparring would ideally take up at least one of these sessions.
The Goals/Benefits of high intensity aerobic training are:
Increase in VO2 Max (Aerobic Power) The maximum amount of oxygen your body can use
Increased ability to sustain high intensity effort for longer durations
Increased power at threshold: You can work harder at the point where anaerobic energy processes start to take over.
Faster recovery between rounds (Heart Rate Recovery)
Power Intervals are the most intense form of aerobic training. The term “intense” means you’re training at close to your max heart rate.
Drive the heart rate up to as close to maximum as you can get, then keep it there for 20-30 seconds.
Immediately stop the activity and rest for one minute.
Use active recovery (very light activity) for 1-3 more minutes, then repeat for 3-5 total reps.
Can use various implements; inclined/hill sprinting, sparring, circuit training, etc..
High Intensity Continuous Training
Get your Heart Rate up to 155-160 bpm and keep it there for 10-20 minutes. Repeat 1-2 times. This should feel difficult but not max intensity.
Keep a consistent pace/effort for the duration. Treadmill/Rower/Machines are best for this purpose.
You should be training right below your anaerobic threshold. You’ll know if the intensity is too high because you will feel like you cannot maintain the pace for the duration.
High Intensity Interval Training/Sprinting
Use 400m Sprints or full body circuits with a 1:1 work to rest ratio (rest the same amount of time as the work interval). Aim for 3 minute work intervals.
Decrease Rest/Increase Work periods periods over time
Use full body movements: Clean/Press, Pull Ups, Explosive movements
Shoot for 20-30 minutes total.
Max Effort during the work intervals
“High Intensity” refers to any training session where you’re training at greater than 90% of your max heart rate. Get a heart rate monitor and use it. Elite athletes are doing it, why shouldn’t you?
Programming Your Training
Part 3 of this article will cover programming your training in depth. For now, focus on building your engine and break it down something like this:
2 days per week of High Intensity Conditioning. This can include high intensity sparring sessions.
3-4 days per week of low/moderate intensity Conditioning
The intensity of any method can be made higher or lower by increasing or decreasing the volume, total sets or reps.
When it comes to conditioning for MMA, your foundation is the Aerobic system. It is your engine. You have to decide if you want the SRT or the Prius under your hood. Take the time to develop your aerobic engine and make yourself a machine!
On high intensity days, train even harder. On lower intensity days, take the time to back off a little and get specific adaptations from your body by training intelligently and with a purpose. Recover, get better… build the engine! Then, when you don’t have to worry about gassing out… your opponents will be in trouble!
“Train smart at all times and do your best to avoid injury. Training Smart is more important than training hard.”
-Georges St. Pierre
No matter how great you think your conditioning is, the water can be extremely humbling. It is unforgiving, but offers big rewards to those who smartly choose to incorporate some pool workouts into their training. This is as true for combat and tactical athletes as for any other sport requiring a high level of aerobic fitness.
As a Combat or Tactical Athlete, you no doubt put yourself through some brutal training. The high intensity training you perform puts a lot of stress on the joints, as well as on the nervous system which is constantly trying to recover from these sessions.
Swimming offers 4 invaluable benefits that will be highly complimentary to your training and performance, all while being low impact on the joints. I’ll also list a few workouts you can incorporate right away to get started.
One of the most beneficial attributes for a combat athlete (or most athletes), is strength-endurance. It’s great to be strong and powerful, but if you cannot continue to express your strength beyond the first round, then it is essentially useless. Swimming offers a constant resistance, as you must continue moving against the resistance of the water or you will go under. Build up to Swimming 1000 meters at a nice slow pace, then work on doing it faster or add distance.
Performing low to moderate intensity training can help push the body into a parasympathetic recovery state. Instead of hammering away at your body when you’re already in a recovery-debt, try doing some long, slow distance (LSD) training in the pool. This can be done as one long session (30-45 mins), or in intervals. low intensity cardiovascular training helps the body get rid of waste products created during high intensity training, and pushes blood flow into the joints and muscles.The result is faster recovery between sessions.
If you’ve never worked out in the water before, the first challenge you’ll encounter is keeping control of your breathing and fatigue level. You cannot breathe under the water, and so cannot take a breath whenever you need to. You need to establish a rhythm and learn to be comfortable with limited breaths. This can have a dramatic effect on your ability, as you may quickly reach exhaustion and panic as you feel you are reaching exhaustion and cannot breathe. Obviously, controlling your breathing and energy output are critical skills for any athlete, none more so than a fighter. Lose your breathing in the ring, and you are in big trouble. Learn to slow down and stay in control, breathe, move, relax… Drive your heart rate down.. You can control your fatigue while still moving. This is known as “Dynamic Energy Control,” and is a mandatory skill for an athlete to possess.
Focus Under Fatigue/Mental Toughness
Swimming will force you to constantly be focused as you must continue to breathe and move under constant exertion. This can be immensely beneficial to an athlete, as you will enhance the ability to control your breathing and energy output without panicking. Training sprints in the pool can enhance this quality even further. You WILL want to stop moving as you accumulate fatigue and your lungs are begging for more air. Being able to overcome this can have a dramatic effect on your lung capacity and your mental toughness under fatigue.
Some Workout Examples/lessons on how to swim
LSD (long-slow-distance) swim – Swim at a low intensity constantly for 20-30 minutes.
LSD swim – Swim 1000 meters at a low intensity, gradually build up to and beyond 1000 meters.
Sprints – Try Swimming some 100 meter sprints, with rest between sprints equal to the duration it took to complete the 100m. (1:1 work/rest). Gradually add more volume to the sessions and work on moving faster.
Mixed Sessions – Do 10-20 pushups outside of the pool, jump in and swim 50 meters, repeat. Try 3-5 sets of 3 reps of this to start, with 1:1 work to rest ratio. Gradually increase the volume of the sessions over time.
It’s best to use a mixture of these methods, as swimming likely isn’t your primary sport and you are using it as a low impact recovery/conditioning method. Once a week would be fine in this scenario.
Which Stroke should you use?
I personally love the Combat Side Stroke. I learned it by watching videos on youtube, and you can too. You can also use a freestyle stroke. Be patient if it’s new.. You will get it!
Remember. If you’re using swimming as a method of enhancing recovery.. keep the intensity low to moderate for longer durations. If you want some higher intensity conditioning without the added stress to the joints, use sprints and work on decreasing the rest periods between reps.
Hope this was helpful, leave a comment and let me know!