You may know me from the fitness world and from being a regular contributor to Men’s Health, but what you may not know is that I used to fight professionally.
I say “used to,” but the truth is I am out of retirement. You see, I recently appeared on season 30 of the UFC's The Ultimate Fighter series, and there’s something unique about my appearance on the show. I'm 43 years old, the oldest competitor this season—the oldest competitor in the history of the series. Before the show I hadn’t fought professionally in over 12 years.
I have a memory of fighting in the UFC in my twenties. I have a memory of the training. A memory of the sacrifices I made to get and stay at the top level, and a memory of aches, the pains, and the bruises. So naturally I thought the process of fighting and training again would be like riding a bike. I’d go through a couple of training sessions and I’d be right back where I was years ago.
That was not the case at all. Being on this show was one of the most physically grueling things I have ever gone through. Here’s the thing: A man can be as fit in his forties as he was in his twenties—but one factor that changes dramatically is the ability to recover, and frankly, the ability to take a beating day after day after day.
Bruises last longer. Aches and pains last longer. I feel things in my knees, and my back, and my neck that I have never felt before. If I am really honest with you, some days it’s hard to get out of bed. Every one of us 40 year olds knows what that’s like. We have all been there.
As we age there’s wear and tear. It’s a part of the process. But it doesn’t mean we need to stop or even adjust our activities. What we need to do is pay more attention to self care, recovery, and maintenance. In fact, I would argue for any athlete of any age this kind of work is of the utmost importance—but sadly most of us don’t pay attention to it until our later years when we are trying to hang on.
Bobby Maximus' 3-Tier Recovery Plan
There are some tools that I have found work best when it comes to recovery. They worked for me to manage training twenty hours a week in one of the most physically brutal sports on the planet.
- Use the Power of Cold
Every single day, I take some type of cold plunge. I am fortunate enough to have a fancy cold plunge at my house, but if you don’t have one there are other ways you can engage. Go to the store and buy 50 pounds of ice. Put it in a bath tub with cold water and jump in. If that’s not an option, you could always opt for a cold shower. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a warm one. In terms of time, there are a million different protocols—but don’t make it too complicated. Just 5 to 10 minutes a day in the cold will work wonders for you.
When I used it: There were a few training days in the house that were exceptionally difficult. There was one in particular getting ready for my fight against Eduardo Perez where Zac Pauga and I were really grinding. I pulled something in my groin and I needed to heal quickly. Immediately after practice I jumped in the cold pool and continued to use it twice daily until I felt better.
- Use the Power of Heat
People have been using saunas for years to heal their muscles, improve recovery, detoxify their skin, and increase their testosterone. I am in a 180 degree sauna every day. That said, the dose I recommend to others is 4 sessions a week of 20 minutes each. If you don’t have a sauna, it’s something I thoroughly recommend getting, or finding access to one. Either one for your house (relatively affordable these days) or join a fitness club that has one.
When I used it: Sometimes in the morning in The Ultimate Fighter house it was hard to get moving because of the previous days work volume. A sauna for 20 minutes would warm me up, get me moving, and allow me to hit the gym hard again.
- Take a Recovery Day
This is a lesson I have learned the hard way over the years. Not every day in the gym needs to be a hard one. Sure, I believe in exercising every day, but some days when I was beat up I could still work on technique, or rather than run sprints, I could work on my cardiovascular base by running slow and working on my breathing. There’s always something you can do. It may not seem like much at the time, but the work adds up and compounds.
When I used it: A few days before my fight I felt really run down. So I took a day. I did some technique, some easy movement and just by taking a slight step back I felt brand new the next day and in a great space for my fight.
With these three strategies I was able to make it onto Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter. And as long as I’m on top of these techniques, there’s no reason why I can’t continue to fight at the highest level in the world at age 43. The key is to stay disciplined by prioritizing smart training and recovery principles as much as the big moments in the cage.
Don’t just use these principles to respond once you're already flagging or worse, injured. Use them proactively. You can’t do too much of them. And remember, there’s no reason that you can’t be the best you can be no matter what age you are by throwing these in your daily routine. Make time for them.
Many people preach to just train more. Sometimes, recovery is more beneficial.