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UFC Performance Institute VP on how Conor McGregor tried to ‘change his physiology’ for boxing

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LAS VEGAS — Conor McGregor’s transition from MMA fighter to boxer is not just about going from being able to kick, grapple and wrestle to only being allowed to punch. It’s about altering his cardiovascular conditioning.

In MMA, the UFC lightweight champion has to fight for five rounds in five-minute bursts. For boxing, in this mega fight with Floyd Mayweather on Saturday night, McGregor is facing 12 rounds at three minutes per round.

To prepare for such a gigantic change, McGregor has been training at the UFC Performance Institute here on the promotion’s gorgeous new corporate campus. In addition to the work McGregor has done with his martial arts trainers, like John Kavanagh, Owen Roddy and others, he has been utilizing the technology available to him at the Performance Institute to alter his cardio.

Late night work in the altitude chamber.

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“It’s kind of common knowledge through social media and things like that, Conor has used our altitude chamber extensively,” UFC Performance Institute vice president of performance Duncan French told MMA Fighting. “Ultimately what he’s trying to do is change his physiology somewhat. If you look at the work-rest ratio of boxing, it’s about 3-to-1. If you look at the work-rest ratio of a UFC fight, it’s about 1-to-4. It completely flips the physiology on its head, right? Which means Conor has kind of adapted his physiology to 12, three-minute rounds rather than five, five-minute rounds.

“Things like just doing the interval work that he’s been doing in the hypoxic (altitude) chamber is gonna try and help his physiology to support that. He’s used the altitude chamber extensively. A lot of his workouts are based on heart-rate assessment and looking at high-level threshold training.”

The way French, who has experience with the University of Notre Dame athletic program and Great Britain national boxing and taekwondo teams, explains it like this: A two-minute interval is half aerobic exercise and half anaerobic. Aerobic means with oxygen, while anaerobic means without oxygen. Anaerobic is the kind of exercise, like weight lifting or sprints, where you get out of breath quickly due to the intensity.

Reaching new heights every day

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As the length of time increases, French said, those percentages lean toward aerobic. Three minutes is 60 percent aerobic and 40 percent anaerobic, he said, and six minutes would be more like 75 percent aerobic and 25 percent anaerobic. In other words, McGregor has been focusing on those intense, short bursts — or anaerobic exercise — to simulate the shorter rounds in boxing.

“That’s a big piece of it,” French said. “You’ve gotta to switch up the nature of your interval work that you do, high-intensity efforts for short work intervals and the emphasis not so much on some of the strength work that goes with grappling and wrestling and the ground fighting in MMA.

Also in the lead up to this fight, McGregor has touted his F.A.S.T. Conditioning program, which emphasizes “both high intensity interval type (H.I.T.) training and longer aerobic type workout sessions which are done at specific heart rate zones,” per its website. The UFC lightweight champion has been able to implement that plan at the UFC PI.

McGregor, 29, tore his ACL in a fight against Max Holloway in 2013 and injured it again before fighting Chad Mendes two years ago. So running outdoors — road work in training parlance — might not be the best fit for him, from a medical standpoint. That’s where the UFC PI, and its underwater treadmill, has come in. Being able to run under water takes the stress off an athlete’s tendons, ligaments and joints.

Endurance work on the underwater treadmill. #UFCPerformanceInstitute

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“It’s common knowledge that he has had an ACL injury in the past and he’s not a big fan of road work and running,” French said. “He likes cycling and rowing, in particular. But what we were able to do is using the buoyancy of our underwater treadmill, he felt really confident in doing that cardiovascular workout … without the stresses and the rigors normal running would place on his body.”

For recovery, McGregor was a frequent user of the UFC PI’s cryotherapy technology and its laser light therapy pod. French said he used both “extensively” over the last six weeks that he’s been in Las Vegas after coming off the MayMac World Tour.

“Combat sports are a race to recover, right?” French said. “So in a six-week training camp, it’s about how you not only train and optimize your training, but that recovery speed means you can come back the next day and train hard again. That’s been a great tool that he wouldn't have otherwise had in his usual training facility in Las Vegas.”

Intense late night work with the team on the @conormcgregorfast conditioning program.

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If McGregor and Mayweather booked a fight earlier this year, McGregor would not have had use of the brand new Performance Institute, which only opened in May. French believes McGregor’s time at the UFC PI will manifest itself in the bout in a meaningful and positive way.

“We hope it does and we surely believe it will,” French said. “And I think that comes back to capabilities. The UFC Performance Institute offers Conor capabilities that he wouldn’t have otherwise have in his regular training facility. He’s embraced those. He’s an athlete that’s very in tune with his body. He’s in great shape, he’s ready for the fight of his life. And he’s prepared effectively and used every piece of our capability that he wanted to to help him in this process.”