Fighters are born, not made.
That phrase was undoubtedly coined by some never-was, a guy nursing a battered ego as he skulked out of the gym looking to rationalize why he doesn't have the stomach or the chin for the fight game.
It's safe to say that Rich Franklin has never uttered this statement. The former UFC middleweight champion is renowned for his punishing weight-room sessions and a hard-nosed work ethic that has carried him past his perceived athletic potential and into the upper echelons of his sport. While Franklin's relentless knife-in-his-teeth crawl to excellence is uncommon, the strength and conditioning protocol he has developed is even more rare.
In Franklin's hometown of Cincinnati lives a father figure to the light-heavyweight fighter, a self-described "gym bum" who has spent 40 years training and coaching in hardcore weight rooms. He doesn't even own a computer. And 2,500 miles away in Washington state resides a man of pure science who exists on the razor-sharp edge of athletic innovation. He puts his faith and the welfare of his fighters in the hands of technology that most trainers haven't even heard of yet.
Together, these men have built what's possibly the best-conditioned athlete in combat sports. It's the past meeting the future. The Heart and the Mind.
It's a Sunday night in the eight weeks leading up to Franklin's next fight in the UFC and he doesn't feel well.
"There are times when I know I'm working out at Mike's [Ferguson] on Monday morning, and Sunday night I'm sick to my stomach thinking about that workout," Franklin says. "That's how Mike's workouts are all the time. It doesn't matter if you're going heavy or [doing] high-endurance cardio, Mike just has this way of making your workouts suck."
Mike Ferguson is the 60-year-old owner of Powerstation Gym in Cincinnati. A Vietnam vet and former state trooper, Ferguson walked into a gym in 1970 and never left. He competed as a bodybuilder and now spends most of his time coaching high-end athletes. The gym seems to be an accurate reflection of its owner.
"Powerstation is a hardcore gym," he says. "It's nothing fancy. It's what I call a 'dinosaur gym.' We have dumbbells that go up to 200 pounds. You can grunt, groan, scream, burp and fart. Chalk is allowed and so is swearing."
Ferguson started training Franklin about seven years ago, a few months before Franklin headlined his first UFC card in a high-profile match against Hall-of-Famer Ken Shamrock. Since then, their relationship has grown beyond that of trainer and client.
"My dad passed away three years ago and Mike has become a second father to me," Franklin says. "He and I have developed a special relationship. He's a big part of my life."
It's a father-son relationship, but not in the modern-day mold of participation trophies and a preoccupation with self-esteem. This father is more concerned with teaching the hard life lessons that'll turn his boy into a man.
Sports conditioning is one of Ferguson's specialties, maybe even an obsession. His gym is filled with six of every piece of equipment. If he finds a hack-squat machine that has a slightly different angle than the other half-dozen hacks in Powerstation, he'll buy it. He'll use sleds, slosh bars, battling ropes, grappler bars or a Wheel Farrow (like a wheel barrow with Olympic-size posts on it to hold weight plates) in an effort to stimulate Franklin's body to adapt to a new challenge.
A Ferguson training session changes from day to day and isn't even formulated until Franklin walks through the doors. Ferguson, who doesn't own a computer and got his first cell phone just six months ago, keeps all the details of each workout "upstairs," safely housed in his own gray matter. Each training session will often be set up as a circuit and could include a Prowler push followed by 500-pound tire flips, then benching 275 pounds for four reps and a bout on the Versaclimber.
"I promised Rich he'd never get tired in the cage, because I'd kill him in the gym first," Ferguson says. "For what I put him through, five five-minute rounds will seem easy. You'll never see him be out-conditioned."
That promise hasn't been broken, and true to Ferguson's word Franklin has stopped a number of opponents in the third round or later. In fact, Franklin often looks like he physically dominates his opponents even though all of his coaches consider him to be more of an endurance athlete than someone blessed with natural strength and power.
"If you look at me athletically, I'm not that strong," Franklin says. "The NFL looks at markers such as your bench press, your squat and your 40 time. If you saw my numbers, you'd say, 'This guy isn't much of an athlete.' But you have to put it all together. I don't have a great 40 time, but I cut really well, have great agility and explode quickly off the line. The point is, when it comes to fighting you start putting things together and I have a God-given talent to be good at this sport."
Kirkland, Washington, is a five-hour flight from Cincinnati, but in that time Franklin travels about 60 years into the future. He first came to Seattle after his second loss to Anderson Silva, when a desire to change up his tactics led him to famed MMA trainer Matt Hume.
Next door to Hume's gym is End Zone Athletics and Joel Jamieson, CSCS. A former athletic trainer at the University of Washington (Seattle), Jamieson is one of the few guys in the country who owns an Omegawave. When an athlete is hooked up to the machine--as he is every morning before training with Jamieson--the Omegawave can tell if he's properly adapting to the prescribed training load. Through heart-rate variability, muscle contraction and a series of other noninvasive tests, the Omegawave can judge if the athlete is primed for a hard day of training or needs to ease up on the intensity. "I'm a math and science guy," Franklin says. "I love gadgets. I'm always interested in new technology, so stuff like the Omegawave really grabs my attention."
Franklin came to Seattle with the intention of moving up a weight class, from middleweight to light-heavy-weight. Jamieson could see that he had superb conditioning but needed more strength and explosiveness.
"We took a step back and began using longer rest periods. It killed Rich at first because he was used to very short rests and is always go-go-go," Jamieson says. "That may work for conditioning, but it doesn't do much to improve your power and strength."
Besides the Omegawave, Jamieson employs sensor-laden jump mats to measure his clients' wattage outputs and a computerized Tendo unit that attaches to an Olympic bar and gauges squat speed. Heart-rate monitors are a constant presence. But it wasn't just the technology that was different for Franklin. Having an MMA coach and a strength coach under the same roof was a valuable safeguard against overtraining.
"Matt and I have a very unique and effective approach to getting fighters ready for camp," Jamieson says of the one-stop-shop arrangement he has with Hume. "The way we're able to monitor recovery, put together a game plan and integrate a program to achieve that, I don't think a whole lot of camps are doing the same things."
Jamieson points to Rich's fights with Matt Hamill and Dan Henderson as proof of their training methods. Those fighters are considered two of the strongest in the weight class, yet Franklin appeared to be the more physically dominant and by far the better conditioned.
"I think you can also attribute the [Chuck] Liddell knockout to what we've been doing the last two years," Jamieson says. "I think working on his strength and power played a big role in that."
Bouncing between trainers can be a recipe for chaos, but Franklin's team has made it work despite the UFC superstar's family obligations and business opportunities that provide obstacles to regular training. It's a testament to the lack of ego. If Franklin can spend only four weeks in Seattle, then Jamieson will send the unfinished training program to Ferguson, who will implement it and vice versa. Jamieson is even working on an iPod application that can replicate some of the Omegawave's capabilities so he can track Franklin's adaptation when the fighter's in Cincinnati. But even without the vaunted machine, the stress on Franklin's system is closely monitored.
"I don't know how, but I can tell when Rich is on top of his game or if he's overtrained," Ferguson says. "It's just a sense I get from the way he moves his body, how he walks into the gym, how he warms up, the look in his eye. I can't explain it, but I know when he's close to overtraining and I know when he has peaked."
It's the best of both worlds for Franklin, like having John Henry and the steam engine on your coal-mining team. It's the wisdom of a father and the brains of a scientist working together. It's the Heart and the Mind working in unison.
"For both of those guys, their individual goal is my success. Joel is very careful about not stepping on Mike's toes, and Mike doesn't care. He just wants me to win," Franklin says. "Both guys are focused on the goal rather than on who gets credit. That works the best. I have two trainers who are both interested in my success."
The Jacob's ladder
The one exercise that makes Rich Franklin say, "Oh, s--t" when his coach calls for it Named after the biblical ladder to heaven, this machine is like a treadmill but with wooden rungs set at a 45-degree angle.
* THE WORKOUT
The following is a routine designed by Joel Jamieson to help Rich Franklin increase strength with a particular focus on his posterior chain. Franklin will rest 3-4 minutes between sets and perform 5-6 minutes of active rest (shadowboxing, jumping rope or jogging--anything to keep his heart rate above 140 bpm) between the first three exercises. After his main work sets, he'll perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps of accessory exercises.
EXERCISE SETS/REPS WEIGHT/SPEED
Squat with chains 6/3 @ 5RM > 0.5 meter/sec.
Squat Jump 3/6
Romanian Deadlift 4/6
Pull-Up (1) 4/5
Barbell Row 3/6
(1) often performed with extra resistance such as a weight vest or
weight plate attached to a belt
ACCESSORY EXERCISES: kettlebell swings, reverse hyper-extensions, core training, neck exercises and rotator-cuff prehab work
For more info on Joel Jamieson and his training go to 8weeksout.com or look for his book Ultimate MMA Conditioning.
The Ferguson Grip
Rich Franklin clubbed this particular way to wrap your hands around the bar on a deadlift. ("I actually learned this from John Parrillo more than 30 years ago," says Mike Ferguson, deflecting credit in his usual style.) Ferguson eschews using straps with deadlifts as a viselike grip is crucial to a fighter. For a strong strapless grip, wrap your hands around the bar, and bring your thumb around and place it over your index and middle fingers. "I've picked up 500 pounds with just those two fingers of each hand locked in," Ferguson says.
Pro record: 28-5
Number of KOs: 15
Appearances in the UFC: 17
Trivia: His only losses have been to champions
130 THE NUMBER OF HEARTBEATS PER MINUTE THAT RICH FRANKLIN'S TICKER MUST REACH WITHIN 60 SECONDS OF BEING AT 180 BPM FOR THE FIGHTER TO KNOW HE'S IN SHAPE
BY MIKE CARLSON | PHOTOS BY IAN SPANIER
Carlson, Mike. "Heart and Mind: former UFC champion Rich Franklin has put together a unique strength and conditioning team in his quest to capture the light-heavyweight title." Joe Weider's Muscle & Fitness Jan. 2011: 94+. General OneFile. Web. 18 Jan. 2011.
Gale Document Number:A245303159
Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Heart and Mind: former UFC champion Rich Franklin has put together a unique strength and conditioning team in his quest to capture the light-heavyweight title.(Interview)(Cover story).
Fighters are born, not made.