For many, staying fit is a journey full of ups and downs, or dramatic transformations, but for elite athletes such as MMA legend Rich Franklin, staying at the top of your game on a consistent basis is essential if you want to continue laying claim to being the best of the best.
When M&F sat down with Franklin to discuss the essential elements that make for phenomenal striking power, ahead of a ONE Championship event last year, it became apparent that while the retired fighter may serve as an executive in that fast-growing martial arts promotion, he’s still just as likely to mix it up in the dojo as he is to toss around ideas in the board room. At age 48, and no longer in active competition, there’s no pressure for Franklin to still be at the top of his game, and yet his love of the process keeps him hungry.
So, hoping to learn more about the mindset and factors that keep Franklin fit, we caught up with “Ace” once again, to see if there are any tips from this superathlete that can be shared as inspiration for us mere mortals.
“I guess, kind of growing up, I was a huge Muscle & Fitness fan,” shares Franklin. “So, when I finally was able to grace the cover (January, 2011), I was really excited.” Looking at recent photos on his Instagram, more than 12 years removed from that issue of the magazine, Franklin is still cover ready, and here are some of the ways that he continues to push his limits.
Rich Franklin Loves to Leave HIs Comfort Zone
Before we begin with the training and the nutrition, let’s first understand that for Rich Franklin to achieve a UFC middleweight championship, he had to start believing that hard work would be met with reward, and for him, that meant leaving a financially stable job as a math teacher, in order to hone his craft. “The thought of being able to make money in MMA, in that point in history, just didn’t really exist,” recalls Franklin. “My dad saw what I was doing and felt that I was completely throwing away my education, and he was unhappy with me. So, come full circle and my father was able to see me fight in Las Vegas. He went to my title defense, when I fought Loiseau (in March, 2006) and one of my friends pointed out how proud my father must have been, because I was named after my dad, and so it was his name that he saw in lights, on the strip of Las Vegas.”
As you begin tighten your grip on your own sporting or fitness goals, you will undoubtedly be met with doubters who question your choices, but while not all of us can validate ourselves by having our names displayed in lights, there will still be obvious signs that your mental and physical changes are serving you well, and this will be proof enough that you are headed in the right direction. “I get chills now, telling that story,” shares Franklin.
Rich Franklin’s Progress is Driven my Numbers
While the scintillating striker may have left his teaching job behind, he still used his skills with numbers to make sure that he tackled Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and MMA with the same clarity that he would rely on in math class. “I am a left brain, analytical numbers junkie,” Ace says. “Everything in my training was, and is, numbers driven. I have journals that track the number of calories eaten in a day, all the macros, the breakdowns, how much of which supplements I was taking… What I weighed when I woke up in the morning and what I weighed, when I went to bed at night. How much water I was drinking? Everything was numbers driven. Then, in my training, and this was before HRV (heart rate variability tracking) was really a known ‘thing’, we were doing a lot of heart rate tracking, we were doing interval training where we were maximizing my heart rate and then bringing it down. We had markers for where I wanted to be, come fight time.”
The process of tracking your progress in fine detail is not something that only the elite can pursue. With the health and fitness market now flooded with awesome wearable technology, you should make sure to track your own heart rate, calorie intake, and recovery in order to maximize your own potential. Following in Franklin’s footsteps by focusing on the numbers is a great way to make sure that you don’t waste your valuable training time.
Rich Franklin has No Time for Alcohol or Sugar
Here’s something that you probably don’t want to hear, but alcohol does nothing to help you with your fitness goals. Now, if you want to drink in moderation, then few people would criticize you for wanting to indulge in a beverage here and there, but if you have ambitions to be the best that you can be, and you want to learn from the elite, then you may have to face up to the hard truth that alcohol is a terrible training partner.
“Just for the record, I’ve never had a beer in my life,” says Franklin. “This is a lifestyle that I live. I remember, when I was in high school, I attended a pre-season track meeting and our coach just made the comment: ‘If you are going to be an athlete, you need to eat and drink like an athlete’, and this quick little comment that he made really stuck with me, and I started making changes to my nutrition at that point. I went in for school lunch the next day and I got regular milk instead of chocolate milk because it has less sugar, and little by little I started changing my nutrition.”
Rich Franklin Eats Enough, but Never Too Much
When you begin to track your daily calorie usage, as Franklin does, you are able to look at the numbers and make judgements with your head rather than your stomach. Those that hit the gym in the new year may feel hungry due to the additional physical demands that they are placing on their body, but without checking your individual requirements and sticking to them, it becomes easy to overestimate the amount of fuel that your body needs in order to function, and this will lead to increased body fat.
“The calories that I put in my body are specifically driven by what I need from a nutrition standpoint, on a daily basis,” says Franklin. “If I’m working out harder, I might need more carbs for the day to refuel that, particularly on leg days for example. Whereas on a different day, I might go a bit lighter on my carbohydrates.”
Rich Franklin Still Trains with Intensity
While Franklin is no longer enduring fight camps, he still implements many aspects of those camps into his regular training routines, such as drills and jiu-jitsu technique. “Ace” tells M&F that he still eats north of 4,000 calories per day because of the intensity with which he trains, and loves to push his heart rate up by sparring. “Whether I’m at the gym lifting, or sparring, I’ll trash myself,” he says. “The difference is, at this age, when I was 25, I could go in and trash myself in the morning session, come back in the evening session, and then come back in the afternoon session… trash myself again and then come back and help my buddy move his couch from one apartment to another! Now, if I trash myself in the morning, I’m going home and I’m taking a 2-hour nap because the body just doesn’t recover as quickly at this age. I’m very smart about the way that I train now, maintaining an intensity so that if I step on the mat to grapple, I’m in decent shape.”
Whether you intend to dominate in martial arts or simply lose a few pounds, you could do a lot worse than follow the lessons learned here from Franklin. Busting out of your comfort zone and making a conscious effort to live by the numbers, and ditch hangers-on such as alcohol and sugar, while training with intensity and finding time for recovery, is a sure-fire route to success.
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