“Functional” anything sounds boring—we get it. But in fitness, functional is one of the most exciting adjectives out there. It’s a catchall word to describe the moves and exercises that prep your body for real-life activities. The pandemic forced people away from gyms and led to a surge in outdoor exercise. We quickly realized that our workouts hadn’t exactly prepared us for wild environments. That extra muscle we’d built in the gym only weighed us down on trail runs and hikes. We rolled ankles and injured knees because we’d only trained on perfect gym surfaces and lacked the right combination of mobility and stability. The 72 degree indoor environment hadn’t readied us for temperature swings, the elements, and the general unpredictability of the outdoors. It’s time to make your fitness truly functional again by lifting heavy awkward objects, climbing and crawling and jumping more, redlining your cardio, and engaging in other total-body sweat shenanigans. Nobody knows and appreciates this more than Nate Diaz. Master his lessons in stamina and you’ll have fun getting in the best shape of your life.
Weight-room conversations often focus on muscle and strength, but stamina is the true difference maker. It’s your secret weapon in everything from rec-league basketball games to intense AMRAP workouts. Nate Diaz has understood this for years, which is why his UFC training has long defied convention. A championship UFC bout is five 5-minute rounds of all-out effort—striking, grappling, and kicking for your life. Most UFC training programs mimic this rhythm, pushing you through five-round circuits with kettlebells, battle ropes, and bodyweight. Diaz, 36, utilizes a different approach. Sure, he spends time perfecting his explosive punches and high kicks. But he’s carved his UFC legend—and 21–13 record, including an epic win over Conor McGregor in 2016—by embracing stamina training.
“Endurance has been a big part of my success,” he says. Diaz and his older brother, UFC fighter Nick, learned the virtues of endurance training long before they entered the octagon, competing on the swim team as kids. Diaz fell in love with fighting at age 15, taking jujitsu classes at Cesar Gracie Academy in the San Francisco Bay Area. Soon after that, he was boxing and kickboxing. “And it developed into a fighting career real quick,” he says. Diaz turned pro in 2004. But he never forgot his endurance roots. Five days a week, he and his brother do 75-minute trail runs, mountain bike rides, and swims, building massive reservoirs of cardiovascular fitness.
The extra cardio helps him outlast opponents. Diaz typically sets a savage pace and watches as his adversary wilts. “It’s just like a race,” he says. “You win with the steady pace. So then I’ll turn it up.” Science backs Diaz’s strategy. Researchers in Canada found that having better aerobic fitness—which you build on long runs, rides, and swims—may not only help you recover more quickly from high-intensity exercise, but it also enables you to continue to produce power when you’re tired. Translation: Diaz’s regimen leaves him with energy when it counts.
STRENGTHEN YOUR STAMINA LIKE DIAZ
Diaz has developed his own simple way to test his stamina: a five-mile run. “Since I was training for tournaments when I was 16, I’ve always liked to be able to get a five- mile run finished in 37 minutes,” he says. “If I can do that a couple times a week, I’m ready to rock.” The time isn’t blistering, but honing your endurance isn’t about electric times. It’s about maintaining a steady yet fast seven-minute-mile pace. Try chasing Diaz’s 37-minute benchmark; it’s more attainable than you may think.
Get an Edge
Use this 4-week plan to build the endurance needed to ace Diaz’s test. Each week, repeat that run 3 times.
Run 4 miles; aim for 32 min.
Run 6 miles; aim for 50 min.
Run 5 miles; aim for 40 min.
Rest for 2 days, then go for it.