June 22, 2020 10 min read
The fastest victory in UFC title fight history at 13 seconds. The first fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight divisions at the same time. The wealthiest MMA fighter in the world. The most pay-per-view buys in history for a mixed martial arts event. It’s the one, the only, Mr. Notorious, Conor McGregor.
Recently ranked as number 8 in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings, number 4 in the lightweight rankings, and one of the best trash talkers in recent memory, the Irish fighter is a force of nature. While we don’t want to get into an argument with anyone by calling him the G.O.A.T., the way in which he’s captured the public eye as a fighter is indisputable.
Which, obviously, leads a lot of people to ask, “How did Conor McGregor become, well, Conor “The Notorious” McGregor?” How did he climb so far? But more importantly, how can we do it too?
For that, as with most things, it comes down to what you put your body through, and what you put inside of it. We’ve looked at quite a few athletes and celebrities in the past which is useful when it comes to seeing how the elite train in their disciplines and for their goals—whether it’s strength, functional fitness, or aesthetics.
While McGregor shares many similarities with others in the upper echelons of fitness, there are also a few things that differentiate him that are worth looking at. While not as forthcoming as others when it comes to what makes him tick, it’s this relative mystique that allows us to focus more on the philosophy and drive behind his actions, rather than the mechanical movements themselves.
When asked about his most important skill, physically speaking, McGregor has one answer: Balance.
Preferring bodyweight exercises, McGregor practices yoga along with a number of different martial arts that keep him on top of the ball. Yoga him loose, flexible, and on his feet in the octagon.
And when it comes to his actual workout routine, the only thing that’s important to keep in mind is that it’s varied. While McGregor’s bad boy image has earned him a lot of love and hate since he first showed up in the mainstream, the way in which he approaches training is very unlike his public persona.
The same guy who’s gotten arrested multiple times and has a knack for running his mouth is also the dude who’s always “on” when it comes to training, is extra methodical about how he trains, but also has a very holistic approach when it comes to overall fitness.
His mindset and one-track-mindedness whilst retaining flexibility are what’s catapulted him into such high ranks—and it’s a difficult thing to replicate. But while he’s always been good, McGregor has gone on to say that it was his lost fight to Nate Diaz which revamped the way he trained.
Like we mentioned above, McGregor is all about variety. He uses a lot of free weights for strength and power, but also for building balance. Exercises such as pistol squats and single-leg deadlifts help in both of these respects. But McGregor also has a very diverse knowledge of a number of martial arts which he can use to add variety to his workouts.
Not only does he hold a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he’s also trained in the fighting styles of Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and Capoeira. If you don’t know this last one, do yourself a favor and check out a video. Combining elements of dance, acrobatics, and music, Capoeira is (as unlikely as it might sound) a great metaphor for McGregor’s overall mindset when it comes to training.
Flexibility, variety, and balance.
Another of McGregor’s principles is to not over-train. This might sound ironic coming from someone who’s always focused on training and keeping in shape, but it has real roots in his loss to Diaz. McGregor’s said in the past that one of the reasons he lost was because he over-trained in the weeks coming up to the fight.
Since he needed to bulk up to welterweight, McGregor began eating and training without much of a routine, and that caught up to him on match-night. Much like a fighter is rationing food in the weeks before a fight, they’re also meant to ration energy in order to preserve it for the fight.
Without a focused level of training, and by eating more than normal in order to get up to the weight, McGregor lost discipline and ended up losing the fight. So, take it from the world’s best, rest is critical for proper gains.
McGregor is also a big fan of bodyweight exercises, even though he’ll focus on the free weights when training for power. Bodyweight exercises help him to stay mobile and balanced as well. And while the man doesn’t really get into specifics when it comes to his workouts, there is some information on basic exercises he does along with the stretches.
In line with the tattooed animals on his body, McGregor takes a lot of inspiration from the ways in which animals move. When it comes to big animals like tigers or gorillas, their power and energy can almost be felt beneath their hyper-fluid motions and stable footing.
In this vein, many of McGregor’s stretches take after their animal counterparts. Not only does it emphasize power and bodyweight exercise, but it also is a boon in preventing injuries—which is a huge deal if your job is literally fighting.
The examples below are broken down between static and dynamic stretching. The former is a deep, slow stretch, that has you doing a singular motion held in place for at least 10 seconds. Static stretches are best utilized if you’re aiming for a higher level of flexibility or are just learning how to properly stretch.
On the other hand, we have dynamic stretching. This is a series of motions that you do repeatedly, with the aim that the stretch is felt further with each motion. These don’t necessarily have to be deep stretches, and they’re often done to prevent injury or loosen up the body before a more difficult workout.
A good stretching routine that utilizes both will give you a holistic advancement in your flexibility and mobility. More than that, it’ll even put you on the same track as Mr. Notorious.
Dynamic Stretching and Flexibility Routine: Each of these should be performed for one minute.
Static Stretching and Flexibility Routine: For the static stretches, hold them for at least 30 seconds before moving onto the next one.
Locomotion Conditioning: Locomotion, essentially the ability for someone to get from one place to another, is another interesting aspect of McGregor’s training. There are a number of different exercises under this school of training, ranging from beginner to advanced. Not only does locomotion training purport to improve your strength and mobility, but also develop your muscles and lose fat.
Duck Walk: A great way to combat knee pain, the duck walk is begun in a staggered squat sit, where one of your feet is in front, and the other in the back. Your back foot should be balancing on the ball of the foot, with your butt resting on the heel (or as close to it as you can get).
The front foot is used to initiate the movement, with you transferring your weight to the ball of the front foot. As you do this, move the back foot into the front, engaging your hamstrings as you do so.
Horse Walk: The horse walk helps develop hip mobility and groin strength. You’ll want to begin in a horse stance—a wide stance with your heels pointing out as far as you can. Your thighs should be at least parallel to the floor, and you should go lower if you can. From here, shift your weight onto one foot, while letting the other foot slide forwards—retaining the stance the entire time.
While a simple movement, it can be quite trying on your groin and hips. Make sure to keep the proper form throughout.
Lizard Walk: This movement uses many of the same muscles as the old school push-up, but it requires significantly more shoulder mobility and stabilization, along with greater core control.
Begin the movement in a high push-up position, with your arms just slightly bent and feet out behind you. Choose a hand and move it forwards, along with the foot on the opposite side of your body. Your leg that’s moved forward should be bent at the knee, and resting on the ball of the foot, slightly rotated outwards. Perform a push-up, reverse the movement, and then take the other hand and foot forward.
If you want to increase the difficulty, try doing this while remaining as close to the ground as possible. You’ll want to have your elbows bent and your waist should be close to the ground without any arching going on.
Ostrich Walk: This movement is meant to increase your posterior-chain flexibility—your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
For those of us who don’t stretch as much as we should, brace yourselves. You want to begin the movement by stretching down and touching your toes, preferably. Move your hands slightly in front of your toes and keep them there. While remaining in this position and keeping your knees locked, lightly “bounce” or kick forwards with one of your feet so your toes touch your hand. And then repeat on either side as you “walk” forwards.
If you want to add some difficulty to this move, stretch down lower until you can get your fingers to the floor—or even your palms fully touching the floor.
Bodyweight Circuit: Each of the exercises should be performed for one minute while also trying to increase the number of reps during each set. 5 sets should be completed in total. This circuit is a perfect exemplification of McGregor’s focus on the body’s own weight as a tool in conditioning.
If you want to add a challenge to the below, try to make it into a superset in order to train up that muscular endurance. The main point to remember, however, is to push harder and further in each subsequent set.
If you’re really serious about looking and feeling like McGregor, you can always opt into his online training program, for a fee.
This is another aspect of McGregor’s training which was borne out of his loss to Diaz. In his first fight with him, McGregor wasn’t training and eating with the proper focus. This lead to him running out of energy and hitting a brick wall at a certain point since he wasn’t used to being that weight.
The FAST program is a response to that one-off failure since it attempts to bridge the gap between the anaerobic and aerobic systems.
The aerobic system is the slowest acting system in our body, but it’s responsible for creating most of the energy that we exert. It’s the most important system for any exertion that takes over 2 to 3 minutes, up to hours and sometimes even days. On the other hand, the anaerobic system is a faster-acting one which lasts up to 2 to 3 minutes with moderate to high exertion.
Placing an emphasis on heart rate ranges and keeping within certain levels, McGregor’s training system aims to bridge this gap and have people gain a much higher level of endurance, with the treadmill taking center stage. Not to mention that it ended up helping him beat Diaz in the rematch.
Much like his workouts, McGregor opts for simplicity and variety when it comes to how he fuels up. Like we mentioned above, McGregor has expressed how he didn’t bulk up properly before his fight with Diaz.
That’s apparently all changed since McGregor eats super clean now. While not necessarily working within the constraints of a certain diet, McGregor has been associated with the sirtfood diet. This diet is based on the sirtuins, a group of 7 proteins in the body that regulate a number of functions. This includes, but isn’t limited to, inflammation, metabolism, and lifespan.
Nevertheless, McGregor isn’t one to box himself in when it comes to how he treats his body with a diet plan. While he eats clean and a lot, he always remains conscious of what he’s putting in his body and what its effects might be. For example, he actively avoids fast foods. Below is an example of some of the foods that he might eat:
When it comes to meal planning, this is an example of what a typical day could look like for McGregor when he’s training:
Snack #2 (Pre-Workout):
Snack #3 (Post-Workout):
And while he allegedly has a sweet tooth, you won’t catch him diving into the cheat day “calories don’t count” mantra. Especially since there are other ways to get that dose of sweet stuff.
With the amount of cardio and general workouts that McGregor does on a daily basis, he’s probably sick of eating to keep up with his protein and caloric needs. Which is why he uses protein powder in order to boost his gains in the gym.
Not only will protein powder maximize gains without leaving any on the table, but it can also taste absolutely amazing—satisfying anyone’s craving for a cheat meal.
For his post-workout, McGregor is also known to take BCAAs. These are three amino acids that benefit you in terms of muscle growth, especially in the recovery period of a hard workout. Not only will you look amazing, but you’ll also be able to work out with shorter recovery times.
While a lot can be gleaned from the way in which McGregor interacts with fitness, one common thread is his ability to adapt.
He’s said in the past how the mental game is just as important as the physical, especially in the octagon. And similarly, while his success is definitely due in large part to his tenacity and drive, it’s also the methodical way in which he approaches fighting.
Part of the reason his workouts are so varied is that he’s training for his next opponent—specifically, for their strengths and weaknesses. If there’s anything to take away from McGregor, it’s that keeping your eye on the prize is the single most essential ingredient to notoriously good well-being.