Leading up to UFC 257, with the world in turmoil, Dustin Poirier was focused on one of the biggest fights of his career, a rematch against former two-division champ Conor McGregor. There by his side was long-time strength-and-conditioning coach Phil Daru, who was tasked with creating a program to get the mixed martial artist in top shape for Fight Island. (We got a sample circuit workout from the trainer, which you can try below.)
“For Dustin, this headline event wasn’t about getting back at Conor,” says Daru, who’s been working with Poirier for five years. “This was about showcasing where he is in his career and what he’s capable of.” Despite his history with the fighter, even he was shocked by the finish. “I knew he would put him away, but had no idea it would be that early with that shot.”
The proudest moment for Daru? Not the unrelenting leg kicks, but Poirier’s ability to muscle McGregor around the Octagon. “I wanted to give him the power to hold Conor down and against the cage,” Daru says. “That’s exactly what he did, and you can see how draining it was to his opponent.” The exhausting physical dominance eventually led to the knockout punch, which came in the second round.
The match was over in eight minutes, but what viewers didn’t see was the months of preparation that led up to that moment. “Dustin likes to start his camps earlier than most,” Daru says. “And because we’ve worked together for a while, there’s a solid foundation already developed. That baseline allows us to target sports-specific training and fatigue management.”
Poirier believes the training introduced by Daru is a refreshing way to incorporate strength work into his fight prep. “Phil has really advanced my explosive movements,” says Poirier. “Bringing torque into training in a whole new way—holding onto weight and mimicking fight-oriented movements like throwing a punch.” The circuit workout below is the perfect example of that.
Going into a fight, the sessions with Poirier are more light-hearted than you’d imagine. “Being in a training camp is serious business, so I think breaking that up during our work is helpful,” Daru says. The trainer occasionally finds himself the target of jabs from the fighter, verbal ones at least. “I don’t need to motivate Dustin, he’s an ultimate self-starter, so there’s room for us to have fun. Once it’s time to get down to business, he dials in.”
Their final workout together before Poirier flew off to Fight Island was just like that, a mix of raucous energy and deadly focus. Daru wrote up a few routines the fighter took with him on the road, including a bodyweight program he could perform during his mandatory quarantine before the event. The trainer admits it was dramatic watching the showdown at home thousands of miles away, and when the knockout punch came, he woke up his entire household.
“I know if you put Dustin in a dog fight, he’s going to walk away victorious,” Daru says. “I’ve seen it time and time again—and now the world has seen it.”
This Explosive Circuit Workout Made Dustin Poirier an Absolute Weapon
Daru utilizes a wide range of sport-specific exercises that appeal to Poirier. “I competed in MMA myself, so I know it can be lower on the list of priorities when going into a match,” says Daru. “There’s a lot of effort that goes into fight drills and sparring, so I need my workouts to be both useful and engaging.”
As mentioned before, Daru also prioritizes movements that mimic what Poirier will dole out and receive in the Octagon. There’s special attention paid to the hips, obliques, and transverse abdominis. That also means lots of explosive movements at high capacity—with repetition quickly after execution to replicate the demands of five-minute rounds.
Since elite fighters are paid to take a walloping, this circuit is designed to be physically challenging without causing undue hardship. “It’s all about optimizing performance without overreaching,” Daru says. “Getting to that point of positive adaptation and supercompensation.”
Directions: This circuit workout is a pared-down version of a typical day in the gym for Poirier. Perform the exercises one after another for the prescribed number of reps, taking 45 seconds rest after each. Complete 5 total rounds. If you’re looking to really test yourself, shadow box for 1 minute in between exercises as an active rest, then give yourself 1 minute of true rest between rounds.
1. Med Ball Rotational Throw x 5 reps each side
Select a medicine ball at a challenging but controllable weight and position yourself so the right side of your body is perpendicular to a wall. Assume a split stance, feet shoulder-width apart, right foot forward, left foot back. Hold the medicine ball in both hands, arms extended, then twist at your waist to pull the ball toward left hip. Explosively heave the ball underhand into the wall at full force, rotating your hips in the process. You want the power to come from your core. Catch the ball after it deflects off the wall, then repeat. After 5 reps, switch sides so left side of body is perpendicular to wall—left foot forward, right foot back. You’ll draw the med ball toward your right hip on this side.
2. Med Ball Overhead Throw x 5 reps
Using the same medicine ball, come into a split stance, feet should-width apart, but face the wall. Bring the medicine ball overhead, allowing elbows to bend slightly for maximum power. Explosively throw the ball at the wall as you step forward with one of your feet to counterbalance the force. Picture yourself shoving an opponent across the room, following through the motion fully.
3. Med Ball Slam x 5 reps
Hold a heavy medicine ball in both hands and stand with feet hip-width apart. Simultaneously bring the ball overhead, arms extended, as you rise onto the balls of your feet. Hinge at the waist to bring your torso down and forcefully drive the ball into the floor. Picture yourself body-slamming an opponent down onto the mat.
4. Landmine Push Press x 5 reps
Position yourself at a landmine station. If you don’t have one, wedge a barbell into the corner of two walls, using towels to protect the surface. Poirier usually loads the barbell with 55 pounds, but find a weight that’s manageable for you. Stand at the station with feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, holding the barbell with both hands, elbows bent, in front of your chest. Bend your hips slightly, leaning forward against the load. Powerfully push the barbell straight up until arms are fully extended. Once at the top of the movement, engage your core, and hold for 2 seconds. Bring the weight back down in a controlled motion, returning to the start.
5. Rack Pull x 5 reps
Set the stopper pins of your squat rack at your shins. Place loaded barbell on top of the pins. (You should be able to lift slightly more weight than you’re used to for a traditional deadlift because the weight is elevated off the floor.) Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then bend at knees and hinge at hips to grab the bar with a mixed grip. Keep a flat back as you drive through floor, straightening knees, and pulling the weight up until you reach a body lockout. Hold this position for 2 seconds. Bring the barbell back down with control by bending knees and lowering torso.
6. Zercher Good Morning x 5 reps
Position yourself at a squat rack with stopper pins just over your waist. Pull the barbell off the rack by putting it in the crooks of your elbows, both hands in loose fists. Step back from the rack and position yourself with feet shoulder-width apart, soft bend in the knees. Hinge at hips and bring torso forward until it’s parallel to the floor, keeping the barbell locked in your elbows. Return to the starting position in a powerful movement, driving through hips and engaging glutes. Picture yourself driving an opponent into the walls of the cage with double underhooks.
7. Finisher: Side Plank x 30 seconds (each side)
Come onto your right side on the floor with body fully extended, left leg stacked over right. Prop yourself up by bringing your right elbow under your right shoulder, your hand in a fist, forearm perpendicular to the rest of your body. Engage your core and bring your hips off the floor so weight is maintained by your right arm and right foot, keeping your body in a straight line. Repeat on opposite side.
Outside of the Octagon, Poirier is putting admirable work in with The Good Fight Foundation, which McGregor donated $500K to ahead of their UFC 257 match.