Tim Kennedy, left, fights Trevor Smith in their middleweight bout during a Strikeforce event in January in Oklahoma City. (Esther Lin / Forza LLC via Getty Images)
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Tim Kennedy is a lot of things: Afghanistan and Iraq veteran. Classical piano player. Multitabbed special ops ninja. All-around MMA monster.
OFFduty caught up with Kennedy during his training camp in Albuquerque, N.M., where he’s prepping for what he’s hoping will be “a real dogfight.”
But you don’t have to be an MMA demigod to jump into Kennedy’s workout. Even if you’re just getting started in mixed martial arts — or any athletic pursuit — you can scale down most of his drills to mere mortal level.
You better be ready to sweat, Kennedy says. Here’s how:
Warmup: 35 minutes
■Foam roller (10 minutes): Roll out injuries with foam rollers for what’s calledmyofascial release. This eases pain and restriction of motion from heavy workouts by relaxing contracted muscles, increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage, and stimulating the stretch reflex of muscles and overlying tissues.
“If I have a sore leg, groin, hamstring, lats, shin, whatever it is, we get in there and roll it out for about 10 minutes. So, if your hamstring is sore, you put the roller up along the hamstring and then put your other leg up on top of that leg and roll your body back and forth over the roller. You’re basically massaging yourself with a foam roller.”
■Lacrosse ball (10 minutes): Targeted more for working things like knots in the shoulders and hips. Put it on the floor and then roll over these tight spots with your body, which increases flexibility and opens up the muscles. “It’s a lot more specific and precise. Where the roller is like a full-body massage, the ball is deep-tissue, trigger-point stuff.”
Active stretching (15 minutes): “Unlike static stretching where you’re, say, trying to do splits, active stretching is actually going through athletic motions,” Kennedy says.
He has a rotating go-to list of about 20 different drills and usually does eight per workout.
“This is preparing you to do some big anabolic movements without hurting yourself. It’s increasing your range of motion, your flexibility while also working on stabilization and balance. Do not neglect the movement prep. If you put effort into getting good at that, you will become a faster, stronger athlete. If you just go through the motions, that’s a complete waste. Focus getting your foot even higher, your posture even straighter.”
Do each of these for 10 meters and then turn around and do the next one, all just a little faster than a walk. “Almost skip speed. You’re not blowing through them, but you’re not going slow and controlled, either. We’re now athletically warming up. You should be sweating by the time you’re done with these,” he says.
■Elbow to instep: From a standing position, take a long right-legged lunge forward and then bend over to touch your left elbow to the inside of your foot. Then take elbow off instep and rotate so your chest is pointing toward your feet. Hold for a few seconds. From there, go to a bent-over reverse lunge, rocking your hips back and then standing up straight again. Now switch it out, stepping out with your left leg and repeating with your opposite elbow.
■Goose step: Just like the German troops in those World War II videos, keep your leg straight and step out, kicking your foot up as high as you can.
■Hurdles: With eight to 10 waist-high hurdles — which can be real or imaginary, “if you’re disciplined about it” — and spaced 1 meter apart, bring your knee up, pivot your hips off to the side, take the leg over the hurdle, foot down, other leg over, pivot hips back.
■Reverse hurdles: Same as regular hurdles, but walk it backward “for a little bit different activation of the hip.”
■Single-leg, chest-down Romanian dead lifts: From a standing position, head pointing forward, take a step forward with your left leg, plant it and while keeping straight, bend over, hinging at the hip, while you swing your right leg behind, pointing your toes back. Stand up, take step forward, now with your right leg, and repeat.
■Heel-to-butt: Kick your left heel straight back to your butt and grab your toes. Drop it down, take a step, repeat. “A lot of people do this wrong, where they grab the foot and pull it up.”
■Shin grab: Lift your left leg with one hand grabbing the top of your foot, the other grabbing your shin as your heel comes to the front of your hips and your knee is pulled up toward your chest. Drop down, step and repeat on the other side.
■Inchworm: From a standing position, drop down into a pushup position. Bending at the waist, walk your hands back to your feet and then out again. Stand up, take a step and repeat.
Strength and conditioning (40 minutes)
■Line sprints: Sprint 25 meters, side shuffle 25 meters, karaoke 25 meters, backpeddle 25 meters.“We usually go through this two to three times,” Kennedy says.
■Ladder drills: Six exercises — single foot in every box, single foot going backward, two feet in going forward, two going back, two feet going in lateral, two feet going out lateral.
■Kettlebell box jumps: Do a 24-inch box jump with a 25-pound kettlebell in each hand. Then step off the box, go down into a squat, drop the kettlebells, and jump as high as you can back up onto the box and then step down. Do four sets of three reps. “The initial jump is very controlled so there’s some muscle development there. When you step off the box and you’re decelerating and controlling your descent and going down into the squat, it’s like doing negatives on the bench press, so you’re still developing muscle. When you let go of the kettlebells, it’s a very surreal feeling when you jump again, because now you’re 50 pounds lighter and feels like you’re floating. You just explode into the air. You will not have little legs if you do these things. This will give speed, endurance and power.”
■Medicine ball situp toss: Starting in the “up” situp position, hold a medicine ball over your head and lean back down so the ball hits the floor over your head. Sit up and toss it at your workout partner or against a wall directly in front of you. Do three sets of 10 reps, with about 15 seconds between sets.
Super Set Exercises
Do these straight through, without rest between sets or recovery between exercises.
Super Set 1
■Medicine ball grabs: Place two medicine balls designated No. 1 and No. 2 on the floor in front of you about 5 meters apart. Get in a fighting stance, moving feet and shadow boxing. When your partner yells one of the numbers, explode to that ball, grab it and throw it to him. Return to fighting stance and repeat six times, varying randomly between the two balls.
■Barbell floor press: With a weight that’s 70 percent of your max, do three to four sets of eight reps. “Stay super light, on a barbell, lay on your back. Lift the bar off the rack, come down slowly with the barbell. As soon as your elbows hit the floor, explode your hips up as you push the weight back up.”
Super Set 2
■Side plank with medicine ball: Prop your feet beneath a weight bench, with your left hip on another bench and upper torso suspended out in side plank and your partner standing at a 45-degree angle in front of you. “So, you’re doing a chest pass to him with the medicine ball as you’re suspended in the side plank.” Do two to three sets of six to eight reps.
■Barbell Romanian dead lifts: Again, using 70 percent of your max weight, do three to four sets of eight reps. “Keep your legs fairly straight, but as you go down there’s a slight bend, and as you come up, your chest is up and you’re popping your hips forward as if you’re defending a takedown. It’s very explosive, not heavy.”
Energy sustainment development (10 minutes)
If you want the secret to Kennedy’s legendary endurance inside the cage, this part of the workout might be it. He varies it to keep it interesting, but it’s always “very high intensity cardio, anaerobic exercise.”
On this day, he did “five-minute tabatas on the rower and then five-minute tabatas on the treadmill.”
The tabatas (short bursts of high intensity) were 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. That’s 20 seconds really hard — about 400- to 500-watt pulls — and then 10 seconds of rest, a total of 10 times, followed by 60 seconds of recovery. On the treadmill, it was an incline of five, speed set at nine and the exact same thing — sprint for 20 seconds, step off for 10.
Cool down (15 minutes)
Static stretching, such as lying on your back and pulling your knees up to your chest.
“It’s the kind of stuff that most people do before PT. That makes no sense,” Kennedy says. “When you do this after the workout, you’re warm, your muscles are completely relaxed and exhausted, so you’re going to get more out of your stretching, more flexibility. Also, when you stretch a fatigued muscle you’re actually still working that muscle out.”
The increased circulation that comes with static stretching also means faster recovery, Kennedy says.