Real talk with Josh Emmett: what it takes to be an elite mma fighter in the ufc
Josh Emmett on his preparation going into his next big fight against #10 ranked Shane Burgos on June 20th, 2020.
It's a full-time job with overtime every week. Eating, training, recovering, and resting is all I do during camp. Usually 15 hours plus per day, 6 days a week. A typical training day for me includes a morning session with my strength and conditioning coach Darren Drabin. We do stretches and anaerobic work. Our primary goals are to build strength and remain explosive, but not build mass. When we do heavy lifting, we make sure to maintain long rests between reps. We always super set the morning session with some explosive movements or plyo (exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time) in order to remain explosive and powerful. We finish off with sprints or tabata (high-intensity interval training that involves fast-paced exercises) to try and emulate a fight scenario.
After the morning session, I work with my wrestling MMA coach, Danny Castillo. Doing high-intensity drills mixing in Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling for about an hour. I'm using my wrestling to look for submissions and ground-and-pound. Depending on my opponent, the drills will include some of the tactics that they may use in the fight.
After the morning sessions, I typically do some recovery work. Depending on how banged up or how I’m feeling, I will get a massage at CMT Sports Therapy, do some cryotherapy at US Cryotherapy in Roseville, see my chiropractor at Elite Spinal or do a floating session at Capitol Floats. These are my go to recovery spots. I also use Josh Manuel as my mind coach to help me visualize and prepare my mind for battle.
In the afternoon, I head back to the gym to hit mitts with my boxing coach Joey Rodriguez. We go for about 90 minutes and work on everything boxing - focusing on staying technical and things that my opponent may do. During each session we refine our fight game plan and continuously work on my heart rate. We usually start light and escalate intensity to peak heart rate.
Monitoring heart rate is also an important part of my training. When sparring and getting into exchanges like a take down, a scramble, or a flurry - monitoring my heart rate helps optimize my performance at different beats-per-minute (BPM). My heart rate can spike up to high 170 BPMs, or like today, I got up to 183 BPM. This helps me develop the proper pace to remain optimal for the entire fight. There are a lot of energy systems that guys use and in order to be successful, you have to have one.
Not every day is the same, but we try to stay consistent. We will mix in Jiu-Jitsu with my coach Chris Holdsworth, as well as organized practices. I’lI do some MMA sparring in the middle of the week with the great fighters from Team Alpha Male and on the weekend some box sparring with pro boxer Ruben Torres.
After a long day I head home to eat and rest. I might do an epsom salt soak to get some magnesium and/or red light therapy treatment before going to bed. I’m typically out before 10pm and I wake up and do it all over again the next day.
Well, since I have to make weight, my diet is very strict. I get up around the same time every day and have a light breakfast. Every day I make sure I have all my meals and snacks that I'm going to need between training sessions. Everything from my food, my clothes, and all my gear is packed and ready to go so I can maximize my training time.
In between training sessions, I eat some snacks to gain a little energy. Then for lunch I have protein, veggies, and carbs. Once done training, I head home and have a small dinner. Yeah. That’s pretty much it.
Usually the last 5-10 lbs. during fight week are the hardest.
Before my match on June 20th was confirmed, I went into camp mode as soon as the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown. Coronavirus has been a blessing in disguise for me. Before the quarantine, I was waking up at 188 lbs. Since, I have logged hundreds and hundreds of hours in anticipation of a matchup and so I'm in great shape; I’ve already lost a ton of weight and remain on the right pace. On June 19th I will weigh 146lbs. or lighter and that’s only for a brief second when I’m on that scale. As soon as I get off the scale, I hydrate, eat, and can shoot up 30 lbs. Usually on fight night, I fight at 168 lbs. to 170 lbs.
I’ve been cutting weight since I was a kid wrestling and so I’m pretty used to it. The good thing about the UFC that is different from wrestling is that I usually get at least 24 hours to recover, whereas in wrestling tournaments I only had 2 hours. Now, I still have a hard cut. In fact, it is one of the biggest cuts in the UFC. When I went to the UFC’s performance institute and they did a DEXA scan to measure bone density and muscle mass, they were impressed by how much I‘ve been able to successfully cut. Some guys start camp 15 lbs. to 20 lbs., but I'll start well over that. Bottom line is that I have it down to a science and I work with a great group of experts that help get there.
When you cut as much as I do, it’s just hard. You really have to know what you’re doing or you can get in real trouble. The first and only time I’ve missed weight in fighting or wrestling, I got a 3 week notice call and I was sick on antibiotics. I started training at 185 lbs. and got all the way down to featherweight but missed it by 2.5 lbs. This was with me trying and trying. I would work out in plastics and sweats. I’d be running for hours and would not break a sweat. It's so bad on your body. It felt like I was getting stabbed in the brain, my kidneys would hurt like crazy, the inside of my stomach and organs were on fire. I thought everything was shutting down. In 3 weeks I lost 42 and 1/2 pounds. It was nuts. While I ended up wining that fight, getting into camp on short notice definitely made the cut that much harder and dangerous. Something I am always now more conscious of.
In the end, I’ve always considered my strongest attribute to be my mentality. I feel like no one is going to mentally break me. I know that I can do things that most other people can't. What I put myself through to make weight, 99% of people would just give up or quit. This mentally prepares me for the fight.
When you’re losing and cutting weight your immune system is weaker and more susceptible to getting sick, so taking supplements helps me avoid that. I usually take a multivitamin and fish oil for omega-3s. I take Sky Naturals CBD to help with inflammation, managing stress, and improving sleep. CBD is the everything supplement for me. I always take about 100mL before bed and I usually do a 75-100mL throughout the day. I also make sure to get plenty of amino acids and electrolytes. In terms of protein, I like to get most of my protein from regular food, but at night I do like to take Recovery Pro by Thorne. This has some protein and other supplements like Gaba.
This camp, though, I’m working with my dietician, Paulina, from Perfecting Athletes to change things up a bit. Basically not taking any supplements for 3 days to establish my baseline levels and ensure I’m not slowing my metabolism. Ideally, I’m getting all my nutrition from food and that’s where we are focusing our efforts first before adding in supplementation. And I have to admit that it is the best I have felt during any camp.