Rob Whittaker is heading to the Octagon in Melbourne this October, to fight in front of what’s billed as the largest crowd for the UFC ever, anywhere. Men’s Fitness had a candid chat with the middle-weight champ about his general fitness, his diet and training and mental preparation of what will one of the biggest days of this family man’s life.
- Born: December 20, 1990
- Lives: Sydney
- Height: 183cm
- Weight: 84kg
- Reach: 187cm
MF: Can you give a detailed overview of your weekly physical training at the moment? What’s your strength conditioning routine?
RW: My daily routine at the moment is spit up over weeks blocks. My performance coach manages a lot of my loads and works out how the sessions are structured so that I don’t hit peaks, or I don’t go too hard or redline too often. We’ve structured the daily workout to a 9-5 workday. I start at 9am with my strength and conditioning, boxing, grappling consecutively and then I’m finished by 5pm. I spend nights with my family. I have dinner with them, I put the boys to sleep and I can relax a little bit. It’s a little hard on the body at first, but you get used to it.
Lucky for me I have a guy that manages the loads so that some days are easy, some days are light – we work on that. Tuesdays is usually grappling, I get a break between the sessions, then I do my kick boxing. We alternate the routines, so Tuesday I’ll do the grappling/ boxing, then I’ll do 9-5. We work it like that.
MF: We know you’re in camp at the moment. What’s your cardio look like inside camp compared to outside camp? Do you use your grappling or pad work for cardio or do you run?
RW: We don’t structure training in camp per se. We keep a steady training regime throughout the whole year and we keep that running every day, every month of the year. The loads and the small details of the training change when we have opponents lined up – for example, we might have a high cardio block and a high sparring block and that’s managed by my performance coach.
In general, when I hit the pads I’m working cardio, when we do wrestling I’m working cardio, when we spar it’s a cardio session. We do have a dedicated cardio day on Sundays where we hit the sand dunes or the hills out in Wollongong for specific road-work or cardio specific exercises like running or swimming.
MF: What’s the most important element of your training regime and why?
RW: There’s no one important element to how I train I guess, especially in MMA. The way I feel is that if you focus too much on one thing, like striking or wrestling for example, your ground is going to suffer, and that’s where you’re going to get exposed. And vice versa. With that in mind, we try and make sure we focus on an equal number of sessions during the week to ensure we are ticking all the boxes.
MF: You can tell with your fights that you’re a real all-rounder. It seems the crowd don’t know where the fight is going to go?
RW: I enjoy striking. Anyone can see in all of my fights I truly enjoy it. But I really do work my grappling a lot. People haven’t seen my grappling game yet but that’s because I haven’t wanted to take the fight there. But that’s not to say that I won’t. Who knows what I’ll reveal later on?
MF: When you talk about grappling, is that sport specific to MMA? Do you like putting the gi on?
RW: We do a lot of gi work; we do specific wrestling. I went to specific freestyle competitions for wrestling and I also enter jiu-jitsu competitions just so that we can hit those targets.
MF: Do you follow a specific diet?
RW: No, I don’t follow a specific diet. My wife cooks for me, which is great. I try to eat well and I follow the “everything in moderation” rule. I eat greens every day, I avoid fast foods and sugar. As the fights get closer and I need to lose a couple of kilos, I start to clean up my diet and so I avoid things like breads and eat foods closer to the source like potatoes and rice. I also try to clean up the meat, so I’ll shift to white meat, fish and up my grain intake. I follow the 80/20 rule, and I’m not going to say I won’t eat a chocolate bar now and then.
MF: Do you track your calories?
RW: I don’t. My wife starts to track my calories when the fight gets closer and that helps her prepare what I’m eating, but for me personally, nope I’m not a calorie counter.
I record my weight and RPMs (the loads) of the sessions for every camp, every fight. Because I’ve done it for such a long time, I can get a good gauge of where my weight is by just how I feel in the morning, how my weight reflects on the scales, how I’m performing in the sessions. Those things combined give me a pretty accurate guess of what I should be eating and what I should be doing. Plus I keep a log, so I can look back and see what my weight was X amount of weeks out from last fight so I can compare.
MF: Is there any fuel that you use to help with training and recovery, particularly when you fight?
RW: Having the right supplements at the right time alongside healthy eating is really important. Sometimes people get misguided into thinking they need a heavy meal before training to feel good, and it can make a tiny difference, but it’s more important to eat clean the day before, and get enough sleep the day before – that will have more impact on how you feel than what you consume on the day of. I have to make sure when I know I have a hard session coming up so I’m eating the right food and get my eight hours’ sleep, because that will affect how I feel tomorrow.
MF: What is your go-to cheat meal?
RW: I don’t have a specific cheat meal. If I’m feeling in the mood for chocolate it will be that or it might be lollies and chips
MF: When you win UFC 243 how will you celebrate, diet wise?
RW: I’m keen to try this hectic dumpling place in Melbourne. To be honest, whether I win or lose, I’ll be there smashing dumplings
MF: How do you mentally prepare for a fight?
RW: My performance coach manipulates my training and implements a lot of stuff he feels can help me towards a certain component. I try to leave the fighting at work. When I’m at the session I give it 100% but when I’m home I try not to think about it – I go home play with my kids and chill out with some video games. You have to learn to switch it on and off.
MF: If things get dire in a fight, are there certain things you tell yourself to get through it?
RW: Fights happen so fast, there’s not a lot of time. I believe that if you’re going to have a mental monologue with yourself within the fight, then [laughs] it’s either over or it hasn’t begun yet. I’ve been in dire situations in fights and I don’t remember having a mental monologue. I believe instinct and muscle memory is a big part of fighting.
MF: Do you have a favourite quote that inspires you?
RW: I really like the Musashi quote, “How you do anything is how you do everything”. I think it’s a solid thing to live by.
MF: Do you read motivational books or listen to podcasts?
RW: I’ve read a lot of books on philosophy, I don’t mind listening to audio books, I haven’t seen any motivational speakers. I’m blessed with the fact that fighting is pretty straightforward; I don’t need much pep talk to do that. I hit the sessions, and at the end of the day it’s just me and him, and I don’t need motivation to beat him ‘cause I’m locked in there with him. It’s pretty straightforward.
MF: Do you think that’s because you’ve had such a successful career? If you think about a fighter who has gone through two or three losses, he would be different. They’d be looking for something that maybe they thought was missing. But because you’ve been so successful, perhaps it’s not something you’ve felt you needed to find?
RW: No, I’ve definitely needed to find myself before. I’ve had two losses back-to-back, and at that point I needed to find out who I was. I think people try to find themselves their entire lives. I believe it’s just a process you have to go through – you have your ups and your downs and you lose yourself a bit, then you’ve got to find yourself. That’s life. The thing with fighting is you can not find yourself and still win, but follow the wrong path. That’s the trap of the game.
MF: With the two losses you mentioned, did you change anything in your training? Was it a mindset thing, or did you introduce something, read something that helped you get back on a winning streak?
RW: It was a process. At the time, I was away overseas a lot, spending a lot of time away from my wife and my family and everything that made me “me”. I had to really sit down and have a look at who I was as a person and where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there. How you are outside of the Octagon directly affects how you perform inside the Octagon. So I had to make sure I had my foundations under me so that I could excel.
Why do it?
“Everything I do is for the success of my family. I’m not one of those people who’s driven by fame. Everything I need, I have. It’s now about me fighting to keep what I have and to make what I have better – that will make my family prosperous. It’s this that drives me.”
How will it go?
“I’m at my best. am healthier and stronger than I have ever been. We’ve been working every day and I’m really looking forward to it.”
What does it mean to you?
“The way the last fight went left a bitter taste in my mouth. To go back to Melbourne on a larger scale means the world to me. One of my career goals is to defend the belt at home, and I still haven’t got there yet, but we are heading there in October and I’m hungry for the fight.”