Dustin Poirier focused on UFC 257 when the world was in turmoil and focused on one of the biggest fights of his career, a rematch against former two-part champion Conor McGregor. There by his side was the longtime strength and conditioning trainer Phil Daru, who was tasked with creating a program to get the mixed martial artist in top form for Fight Island. (We received a sample circuit training from the trainer that you can try out below.)
“For Dustin, that headline wasn’t about being back with Conor,” says Daru, who has worked with Poirier for five years. “It was about showing where he is in his career and what he’s capable of.” Despite his story with the fighter, even he was shocked by the goal. “I knew he was going to put it down, but had no idea it would be this early with that shot.”
The proudest moment for Daru? Not the relentless kicks, but Poirier’s ability to train McGregor around the octagon. “I wanted to give him the power to hold Conor down and against the cage,” says Daru. “That’s exactly what he did and you can see how much it drained his opponent.” The strenuous physical dominance ultimately led to the knockout punch, which came in the second round.
The game was over in eight minutes, but what the crowd didn’t see was the months of preparation leading up to that moment. “Dustin likes to start camp earlier than most,” says Daru. “And because we’ve worked together for a while, a solid foundation has already developed. This baseline allows us to target sport-specific training and fatigue management.”
Poirier believes the training introduced by Daru is a refreshing way to incorporate strength work into your battle preparation. “Phil really pushed my explosive moves,” says Poirier. “Bring torque into your workout in a whole new way – hold the weight and mimic combat-oriented movements, like throwing a punch.” The following circuit training is the perfect example of this.
The sessions with Poirier are more carefree than you can imagine. “Being in a training camp is serious business, so I think it helps to break that open as we work,” says Daru. The trainer is occasionally the target of thrusts from the fighter, at least more verbally. “I don’t have to motivate Dustin, he’s the ultimate self-starter so we have space to have fun. As soon as it’s time to get down to business, he dials in.”
Their last training together before Poirier flew to Fight Island was just like that, a mixture of raw energy and deadly focus. Daru wrote down some routines that the fighter took on the street, including a body weight program he was able to do during his mandatory pre-event quarantine. The coach admits watching the showdown at home thousands of miles away was dramatic and when the knockout blow came he woke his entire household up.
“I know if you put Dustin in a dog fight, he’ll run away victorious,” says Daru. “I’ve seen it over and over – and now the world has seen it.”
This explosive circuit workout made Dustin Poirier an absolute weapon
Daru uses a wide range of sport-specific exercises that appeal to Poirier. “I’ve participated in MMA myself, so I know it can be at the bottom of the priority list of a game,” says Daru. “There’s a lot of effort put into combat exercises and sparring, so my training has to be both useful and engaging.”
As mentioned earlier, Daru also prioritizes movements that mimic what Poirier will hand out and receive in the octagon. Particular attention is paid to the hips, obliques and transverse abdominis. That also means lots of explosive, high-capacity moves – with repetitions quickly after execution to repeat the demands of five-minute laps.
Because elite fighters are paid to walloping, this route is designed to be physically challenging without causing undue difficulty. “It’s about optimizing performance without going too far,” says Daru. “Getting to that point of positive adjustment and supercompensation.”
Directions: This circuit training is a reduced version of a typical day in the gym for Poirier. Perform the exercises one after the other for the prescribed number of repetitions, then rest for 45 seconds each. Complete a total of 5 rounds. If you really want to test yourself, shade a shadow box for 1 minute between exercises as an active break and then give yourself a real break for 1 minute between the rounds.
1. Med Ball rotation throw x 5 repetitions per side
Choose a medicine ball with a challenging but controllable weight and position yourself so that the right side of your body is perpendicular to a wall. Split your stance, feet shoulder width apart, right foot forward, and left foot back. Hold the medicine ball in both hands with your arms outstretched, then twist it around your waist to pull the ball towards your left hip. Use your hand to explode the ball into the wall at full force while twisting your hips. You want the power to come from your core. Catch the ball after it is deflected off the wall and repeat the process. After 5 repetitions, switch sides so that the left side of the body is perpendicular to the wall – left foot forward, right foot back. On this side, pull the Med-Ball towards your right hip.
2. Med Ball Overhead Throw x 5 reps
With the same medicine ball, stand in a split position, feet should be wide but facing the wall. Bring the medicine ball over your head so your elbows can bend slightly for maximum strength. Explosively throw the ball against the wall as you step forward with one of your feet to balance the force. Imagine pushing an opponent across the room and fully following the movement.
3. Med Ball Slam x 5 reps
Hold a heavy medicine ball with both hands and stand with your feet hip-width apart. At the same time, bring the ball overhead with your arms outstretched as you rise onto the balls of your feet. Hinge at the waist to bring your torso down and force the ball into the floor. Imagine hitting an opponent on the mat.
James Assistant & Therese Sommerseth
4. Landmine Push Press x 5 reps
Position yourself at a land mine station. If you don’t have one, clamp a barbell in the corner of two walls and protect the surface with towels. Poirier typically loads the barbell at 55 pounds but finds a weight that is manageable for you. Stand at the station with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and hold the barbell in front of your chest with both hands and bent elbows. Bend your hips slightly and lean against the load. Firmly push the barbell straight up until your arms are fully extended. Once you are on top of the motion, attack your core and hold it for 2 seconds. Bring the weight back down in a controlled motion and return to the start.
5. Rack pull x 5 reps
Place the stop pins on your squat rack on your shins. Place the loaded barbell on the pins. (You should be able to lift a little more weight than you are used to for a traditional deadlift because the weight is lifted off the floor.) Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then bend at your knees and fold at the hips to grab the bar with a mixed grip. Keep your back flat as you ride through the floor, straightening your knees, and pulling the weight up until you reach a body lock. Hold this position for 2 seconds. Bring the barbell back down by bending your knees and lowering your torso.
James Assistant & Therese Sommerseth
6. Zercher good morning x 5 repetitions
Position yourself on a squat frame with stopper pins just above your waist. Pull the barbell off the rack by tucking it loosely in the crook of your elbows with both hands. Step back from the frame and position yourself with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent gently. Hang from your hips and bring your upper body forward until it is parallel to the floor. Hold the barbell in your elbow while doing this. Return to the starting position in one forceful motion, going through your hips and attacking the glutes. Imagine driving an enemy into the walls of the cage with double hooks.
7. Finisher: Side plank x 30 seconds (each side)
Come to the right side of the floor with your body fully stretched out. The left leg is stacked over the right. Support yourself by placing your right elbow under your right shoulder, your hand in a fist, your forearm perpendicular to the rest of your body. Reach into your core and lift your hips off the floor so your right arm and foot are holding the weight and your body stays in a straight line. Repeat on the opposite side.
Outside the octagon, Poirier does an admirable job at the Good Fight Foundation, to which McGregor donated $ 500,000 prior to her UFC 257 game.
Subscribe to YouTube for access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more!