Entering his UFC 220 battle against Francis Ngannou, Stipe Miocic was the underdog.
The reigning champ—the guy who had spent the last year two years rampaging through the UFC's heavyweight division—was not favored. Disrespectful? Sure. But Miocic had also never faced a challenge quite like Ngannou. The Cameroonian-French fighter is a 6-foot-4, 263-pound muscle tank with unprecedented knockout power. Ngannou holds the record for highest punching power ever measured by the UFC at 129,161 units. The previous record was 114,000 units. Ngannou's punches hit like howitzers, and his elite athleticism allows him to uncork ferociously fast flurries.
During the first round of the main event at UFC 220, Ngannou came out swinging and tagged Miocic on multiple occasions. For a moment, it looked like Miocic may suffer the same fate as so many of Ngannou's opponents—first-round knockout. But Miocic weathered the storm with excellent technique, and Ngannou was soon exhausted by his own aggressive style. What ensued was an absolute clinic by Miocic, as his otherworldly conditioning allowed him to outlast "The Predator" en route to a unanimous victory. Miocic builds those lungs of steel with a series of excruciating conditioning drills designed to push his body and mind to their limit.
1. Jacobs Ladder Intervals
(3:08 in the above video)
The Jacobs Ladder can get you gassed in a hurry. The design is simple—it's a ladder-like machine angled at 40 degrees that requires users to "climb" its never-ending rungs. The name is a Biblical reference to when Jacob dreamed of a ladder between heaven and Earth. The climbing motion required by the Jacobs Ladder torches calories at a highly efficient rate since it requires constant movement of both arms and legs. It also recruits your core and stabilizer muscles much more effectively than a treadmill. It allows an athlete to perform conditioning work while putting very little pounding on their joints—perfect for a combat athlete like Stipe.
After heavy sparring workouts, Stipe is known to perform 10 one-minute intervals on the Jacobs Ladder. He rests for roughly 30 seconds to a minute between each interval, and he must keep the pace above 100 feet per minute while on the machine. "Of course it's cardio and everything, but it's (also) mental. I just got done with 5 rounds (of sparring), I'd think I was done," Miocic says. "You have to keep it over 100, and I don't want to fail. I never want to fail in the cage, so why would I want to fail on this thing?"
Sets/Reps: 10 one-minute intervals (do not let pace drop below 100 feet per minute), 30 to 60 seconds of rest between each
2. Med Ball Slams
(3:50 in the above video)
Think Stipe's conditioning ends after 10 punishing intervals on the Jacobs Ladder? Nope—his trainers are way too sadistic for that. Miocic is known to follow up those intervals with 100 consecutive Med Ball Slams. Med Ball Slams are a full-body exercise that trains athletes to effectively transfer energy through their core. Their simple, primal nature makes them a great exercise to perform under high stress or fatigue.
"When I get done with the Jacobs Ladder, to put more salt in the wound, they put (me) on this (Med) Ball Slam for 100 slams. That's more insanity—like (my body's telling me) you better get done with this. So I keep a good pace the whole time," Miocic says. "It's just more mental toughness for the fight. There are times where it's going to get terrible in there—things aren't going to go your way right away. Just gotta dig down deep and find it."
Miocic typically utilizes a 25- or 30-pound Med Ball for this conditioning exercise, and you can bounce the ball off either a mini trampoline or the floor.
Sets/Reps: 100 uninterrupted slams
3. Pull-Ups and Punches/Evasion
(1:18 in the above video)
Tired arms can rob a fighter of his punching power and leave himself open to punishment. To ensure Stipe's hands can remain high and fast throughout all five rounds, he supersets Pull-Ups with intervals of punches or evasions.
"We love finishing with Pull-Ups and (then) punches and also evading. So when the arms get tired, his body can still react and do what it needs to do," Bob Kaleal, Miocic's Performance Coach, tells STACK.
Punching power comes from much more than just the arms, and the Pull-Ups challenge almost every major muscle group in the upper body. While it can be an excruciating superset, the fear of giving up his gold always unlocks an extra energy source for the champ.
"When it's all sucky in training and I'm tired and getting beat up, (I look back before a fight) and think there's no way this guy's going to beat me. I worked too hard to get here. I'll drive through whatever I gotta do to get through it. Because I'm never gonna let someone take this belt from me," Miocic says.
Sets/Reps: 3xPull-Ups AMRAP immediately followed by 60 seconds of punching or evasions
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