If you take four years off of anything, you’re bound to require a little extra work to get back into fighting shape. Take four years off of fighting — as UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre did prior to his historic comeback victory last month, when he earned the UFC Middleweight championship by defeating Michael Bisping — and, well, it takes a ton of work to get back in the ring (or octagon, as it were).
The champ went seven years without losing, from 2007–13 (indeed, he hardly endured a close contest) before stepping away from the sport entirely. His comeback fight went as well as he could’ve hoped with St-Pierre choking out Bisping in the third round of their match, a dominant return that has only increased anticipation for his next bout, a title reunification fight with interim champ Robert Whittaker. (Time and place TBD, as GSP is recovering from a neck injury sustained in the match.) Such was GSP’s return to form that the Canadian even received felicitations on Twitter from his countryman, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
We sat down with the fighter to find out how he trained, how nutrition impacts his fitness and how he balances exercise with recovery to get into championship form.
TRAINING AND NUTRITION
GSP compares training to sharpening a knife: Do too little, and you’ll be dull in the ring. Do too much, and you’ll damage the blade, leaving yourself overtired on fight day. Finding the right balance is key. How does he know when he’s achieved that balance? His coaches help, as does experience. “I’ve seen many athletes leave their career in the gym,” he says. “Because they make war in the gym [instead of in the fight].”
As for nutrition, it’s important to know GSP wasn’t just coming back from four years away from his sport. He was also moving up a weight class. To do this meant keeping a close eye on what he ate. Pre-workout, that included a BCAA (branched-chain amino acid) drink to help build muscle mass. Post-workout, his go-to was a protein drink with blueberries and almonds to help build lean muscle mass. All, again, to help him gain weight — the right kind of weight.
We caught up with St-Pierre during his final week of workouts, so he was already taking it a little easier to save himself for the fight. His routine is essentially a six-week program. During the first week, he starts with four 200-meter dashes, broken up by 90-second intervals of rest and then a 30-meter dash. Then, the next week he does three 200-meter dashes and two 30-meter runs, with 30 seconds of rest.
While a UFC fight is seriously intense, GSP only runs at about 85% to keep his legs fresh. He also does an extensive warmup routine. “Warmup has to be a lot longer than the actual workout because of the high risk of injury in track and field, because you’re going so hard,” says Mark Cerrone, one of GSP’s trainers. Keeping GSP’s body temperature and heart rate up, while keeping his muscles stretched out, is the key.
MUSCLE ACTIVATION THERAPY
At 36, GSP isn’t as young as he used to be. (Who among us is?) That’s why he goes in for muscle activation therapy once a week during training. It’s a unique form of preventative treatment where his muscles are massaged to smooth out inefficiencies that might cause GSP to overcompensate in his training, leaving him vulnerable to injury or a less-than-stellar performance during the match. “The body finds ways to move even if it’s not the right way to move,” says John Squicciarini of Montreal Muscle Activation, where GSP receives his therapy. If, say, GSP were to tweak his quad without noticing, his body would find a way to compensate, and that would be detrimental to his health and performance. Squicciarini helps make sure that doesn’t happen. He helps connect the muscles back to the nervous system, so they fire as they should. After an MAT session, GSP says “I feel more awareness of my body,” an awareness that ensures he stays in peak condition.
Never underestimate the power of fear. “I perform the best when I’m under pressure,” says St-Pierre. “When I’m scared, and I’m on the edge. And now I feel very pressured, and very scared, and that’s good for me. If I didn’t have that fear, I should retire. It would mean that I don’t care. I care. I put a lot into this. I want to win. I cannot lose. I have to win.” And win he did…
A HALL OF FAME TRAINER NEVER HURTS
Freddie Roach is considered by many to be the greatest boxing trainer of all-time, and he’s recently translated his success to the octagon, training several top UFC fighters. Still, this was the first time he was actually in a fighter’s corner during a UFC bout. Asked his opinion on GSP’s skills, Roach says “Georges is a little further along in boxing than most MMA fighters. But Georges isn’t just a boxer — he’s a complete fighter.”