Muhammed Ali Quote

An Experiment In The Sweet Science

In January, my roommates came home one night with a poster for the annual Toughman Tournament. “You should do this!” they encouraged, “We will help you train for it…it’s only a month away!”

I thought, “I need some excitement in my life, I have experience boxing…what do I have to lose?” I signed up the next day and began designing a plan for success. The toughest part was going to be the weight cut: 25 lbs in 30 days! Being the first week of January, all the holiday madness was still taking its toll on my body; it was going to be hell jumping from holiday sweets and 30,000 calorie days to a mere 1,500 calorie-per-day regimen.


Slow-Carb Diet Infographic
A quick slow-carb diet guide

The backbone of any training program is what you put in your body. The body really is a machine and output is directly correlated to inputs. My nutrition plan consisted of a modified diet derived from Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body “slow-carb diet“: cut out all sugars (fruits included), all white carbs (pasta, potatoes, bread, rice, cereals, etc.), and eat the same few meals all the time. My staple foods became chicken and baby spinach, but my entire diet for 30 days consisted of the following:

  • Chicken Breasts (1 to 2 per meal)
  • Baby Spinach
  • Low-Sodium Tuna
  • Whole, Unsalted Almonds
  • Coffee
  • Sugar-free Green Tea
  • Red Wine

I consumed 3 meals a day, snacking on almonds in-between. Each meal was either chicken or tuna with spinach, plus an array of spices and Siracha. Throughout this time I was tracking every meal and activity using the incredible Lose It! app, which really helped gauge my perspective on the input-output functions of the body.

When eating at restaurants, which I tend to do at least 2 to 3 times per week, I would order a salad with no dressing or a plain, grilled chicken breast. I had no trouble keeping my regimen while going out with friends, associates, and family, although booze was off the table completely.

Tim Ferris is a proponent of the “cheat day” with his diet, where any food is fair game. I did observe a “cheat day” the first 2 weeks of my diet, but I found that I was still really conservative on these days and that it broke my willpower to have something delectable like pizza or ice cream in the midst of all my “diet food”.

The last thing I wanted to do was to not make my weight class. The “heavyweight” class is from 185lbs to 400lbs, and I was walking around at 220. There was no way I was fighting a 400 pound behemoth! But on the flip side of that weight coin, I was not going to focus all efforts on weight loss and neglect the fighting skills; after all, I had not been in the ring in seven years.

I was inspired by Rocky to train hard and never give up

The final plan that was constructed, with the help of my roommate, consisted of early morning cardio and evening Crossfit-style timed workouts. Below is a sample of a typical workout day:

  • 06:30 – Wake up, stretch and start layering clothes for morning run
  • 07:00 – Hit the road for a 3 mile run (some days were for speed, some days were timed intervals)
  • 08:00 – Breakfast and first cup of coffee
  • 10:00 – Small snack
  • 12/13:00 – Lunch
  • 15:00 – Snack
  • 18:00 – Workout of the Day (WOD) consisting of 5 to 6 different moves, completed in a series of circuits for time (time never exceeding 50 minutes). All moves were bodyweight exercises, including:
    • Mountain Climbers
    • Lunges
    • Squats
    • Box-Jumps
    • Pushups
    • Situps
    • Tricep Dips
    • Jumprope
  • 19:00 – Cool-down and Sweat-out (workouts were performed with several clothing layers that were left on for up to 10 minutes after the workout to ‘sweat out’ any remaining water weight)
  • 19:10 – Evening weigh-in
  • 20:00 – Dinner
  • 24:00 – Bed

I alternated the above workout schedule with “boxing days,” where the WOD would be replaced by rounds on the punching bag, punching mits, and fighting live opponents. The actual fight was scheduled for 3, 1-minute rounds; knowing this, I would time each training round for 1 minute, to simulate the real fight. One of the most beneficial things to the training was gathering 5 or 6 friends in the basement and fighting a fresh opponent every minute. Nothing really prepares you for taking punches until you are actually in a fight.

Getting Tough for Toughman

Me on Fight Day
Me on fight day, getting pumped up

By the end of my 5 week regimen, I had met my weight goal and was in the best shape of my life. At the fight, I weighed-in at 179 lbs and could not have been happier just to be there. Let it be stated that they do not call it “Toughman” for nothing; you have to be really mentally tough to get out there and take punches. I thought I had great cardio and was going to outlast my opponent. My strategy was to look for an opening to knock the guy out. However, the first punch I took made me realize that no amount of training can prepare you for a person trying to knock you out. My goal instantly changed from trying to win the tournament to just making it through the fight.

In the end, I was knocked-down in rounds 1 and 2, losing  the fight by points. My friends that watched all the fights that night said mine was one of the most technical fights (most of the guys were bar brawlers that just blasted each other sloppily). Probably the most rewarding thing was going out for a well-deserved beer after the event, black eyes and all. The day after the fight, I went out to lunch and consumed 20,000 calories in one meal, then bought a six-pack and got drunk for the first time in a month; it was glorious!

If I did it again, I would do nothing but fight guys in the basement as training. The winners were guys that had power, energy, and could stand and blast for a solid minute. I had formal boxing training and was anticipating a sport fight, but Toughman is setup like a bar brawl, and it seems that brawlers do quite well in that arena. I will not rule-out another Toughman event, however, I started training in jiu jitsu 2 months after the big fight and will be competing in that sport as my next training endeavor.

Fight Club Quote
“After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down.”

In all, I pushed myself to extremes and learned a lot about my body in the process. The whole endeavor upped my metabolism almost permanently, and I keep to the mantra that if you train like you’re a fighter, you can take any punch the world has to throw at you.