Georges St-Pierre of the UFC: The Epitome of Conditioning

With Georges St-Pierre successfully defending his UFC welterweight title for the eighth consecutive time versus Nick Diaz at UFC 158 this past Saturday, we here at Fitness RX For Men wanted to bring you (via an exclusive interview) a little insight into what he does to keep himself in the type of condition to survive in the Octagon – many times for a full 25 minutes, as was the case in the headline bout at the Bell Centre.

Bouncing Back

The man known by all mixed martial arts fans by his initials has honed his skills in with many years of training and mastering different disciplines. GSP is coming off an ACL injury to his right knee and was sidelined for over a year, making his stamina a possible issue the first time back in the cage. But St-Pierre, 31, doesn’t feel that will be an issue at all.

“It’s as if it never happened,” he said. “I started physical therapy about a week after the surgery and returned to my regular routine six months later. I am fully healed and have been training the same as I did before the injury.”

St-Pierre proved himself right by defeating Carlos Condit last November and now must face the formidable Diaz, albeit with sort of a home field advantage with the fight taking place in Montreal, Canada.

The Shape of Things to Come

Conditioning was never an issue for St-Pierre in the past, and his training regimen is geared around imitating the same time frames that he will have to endure in a championship fight. In the UFC, that means up to a full 25 minutes in the form of five, five-minute rounds. When you are talking about an MMA fight that may as well be a lifetime.

So it goes without saying that a lot of preparation goes into a fight of this magnitude and St-Pierre trains year-round, six days a week, to stay in shape. He uses an eight-week program before each fight that he describes as a “funnel.”

“When I’m far away from a fight, I’ll do a lot of different disciplines,” the 5 foot 11, 170-pounder said. “It keeps changing, but the closer that I get to the date, I concentrate on mixed martial arts training.”

When he arrives at the gym, St-Pierre will do a good warm-up before getting into the meat and potatoes of his workout. And of course what is done— and how it’s done— depends on his fight schedule. “I’ll train with more volume and less intensity until it gets closer to my next match,” said St-Pierre, who was first introduced to karate at the young age of 9 and MMA at 17. “Then I’ll train with less volume but make it a lot more intense.”

Getting yourself ready for an MMA fight is unlike any other athletic competition in the world. Because there are so many different disciplines used in the cage, one has to be well schooled in all of them equally. So that means being astute in boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to name a few.

Mastering even one of those styles can be a huge task, so taking on multiple disciplines will result in a very diverse training regimen. St-Pierre is considered extremely strong in both wrestling and BJJ, so he is lethal when the action is on the ground.

Spending no more than one hour in the gym per day, St-Pierre will touch on many different areas to make the most of his time. He will do each of the following three times a week: boxing (for hand and foot work), wrestling (for takedowns and legs), BJJ (for submissions, positions, ground work and flexibility) and Muay Thai (for kicks, knees and elbows).

But sparring is merely one part of the program for him, and he makes sure to keep improving his strength. “I do some light Olympic-style weightlifting,” said St-Pierre, “such as the snatch.”

To keep himself in top shape, St-Pierre will again utilize the five-minute strategy in a series of circuits, such as working with the medicine ball, stretching, plyometrics and calisthenics. And to keep himself honest, the man nicknamed “Rush” (for his early career quick knockouts) will take a short one-minute rest in between each circuit.

To get his endurance and flexibility improved, St-Pierre has implemented some unique aspects into his training that can be considered thinking out of the box. “I do gymnastics and track and field,” he said while hiding a slight laugh. “I don’t believe that there are any other fighters out there doing either of them, let alone both.”

One day a week, St-Pierre meets with an Olympic track and field coach in Montreal. And another day, he will work with his gymnastics coach. “Doing all of these things definitely helps my reaction time, plus it allows me to break the routine and make it more fun,” St-Pierre quipped.

Perhaps a question that may have come up after ingesting what St-Pierre does in the gym is the lack of cardio, which is usually a given. But not to him. “I don’t do any cardio,” he surprisingly said. “My sparring is my cardio.”

Up and Down

Many MMA fighters are known for a certain style and have an advantage in either a stand up fight or one that is taken to the floor. St-Pierre can handle himself quite well on the mat, but also on his feet striking. He implements a version of full-contact karate called kyokushin into his repertoire and has been able to utilize it successfully. “It is the toughest karate style and involves a lot of kicks to the legs,” he said.

By weakening his opponent’s legs, St-Pierre is setting them up for a takedown and then he can work his BJJ magic. But according to him, his main strength is not striking or grappling, but rather a combination of the two.

“My fighting strength is that although I may not be the very best at any one thing, I am very, very good at almost all aspects of fighting,” St-Pierre pointed out. “That’s my strength.”

Five of his last six fights have went the full distance, so St-Pierre is definitely a patient fighter who will wait out his opportunity, but confident enough in his point-gathering prowess to take the decision. There has been some past criticism of St-Pierre’s style, which has been called non-aggressive, as one that is vulnerable. But that remains to be seen.

A more aggressive fighter may be playing right into St-Pierre’s hands, and one that tries to match his pace needs to be equal to or better than him on the ground. Perhaps the best-case scenario for an opponent would be to wait for a submission hold opportunity while on his back. Not exactly the best pre-fight plan, but one that can be pulled off in certain situations.

Because most UFC fans love the highlight reel knockout, St-Pierre’s methods have not caught on with most, other than the hardcore ones. Yes, he is a big fan favorite (especially in his native Canada) and one of the “faces of the franchise,” but in a different way than Anderson Silva or Chuck Liddell.

No Rush to Retire

Although relatively young for an athlete, St-Pierre has undergone a number of fights that went the distance and that can take its toll in the long run. Plus, MMA is different from baseball or basketball in that its participants take a pounding. So how many more years can one keep up the same pace?

“I love what I do; I’m not even thinking about it,” St-Pierre said when posed the question of when he sees himself hanging it up. “I don’t want to retire.”

At the rate he is going, there is no need to even bring up the word.

Photos by: Per Bernal

Joe Pietaro

Online Editor-in-Chief, Fitness RX For Men