Dan Lawrence is telling me about the conversation he had with his client, friend and WBA Continental Welterweight champion Conor “The Destroyer” Benn in the lifts going down to Benn’s last fight against Sebastian Formella.
This, according to Benn’s promoter Eddie Hearn, was to be the young fighter’s “coming-out fight”, his chance to show that he’s a real contender in boxing’s welterweight division. But in his conversation with Lawrence, there was no talk of the fight or his opponent. Instead, they were reminiscing about Benn’s preparation for a fight three years earlier, when his pre-match diet had included burgers and curries.
“We laugh about it now,” says Lawrence. “Now we can’t even fathom this, as everything we do is mapped out specifically for him.”
In the past three years, Benn has gone from a boxer with little experience but lots of potential to an elite-level talent. That, in no small measure, is down to the remarkable physical transformation he’s gone through too, which for the most part has been overseen by Lawrence in his role as Matchroom Boxing’s head of performance.
In some ways though, this isn’t a typical Men’s Health transformation. There have been no mammoth drops in weight, and there are only 2lbs of difference between Benn’s before and after photos. But, in other ways, Benn’s journey has a lot in common with other transformations we’ve covered. In just three years, he’s shifted his mentality from ordinary to elite, gone from eating burgers before a fight to working with performance nutritionists and swapped his ‘bro sesh’ workouts for Lawrence’s tailored gym programmes.
The proof is in the pictures in how much Benn has accomplished in that time. Now, Lawrence has revealed to Men’s Health how such a dramatic change was actually achieved.
This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Lawrence and Benn began working with each other just after Benn’s touch-and-go win over Cedrick Peynaud in December 2017. In our Men’s Health Weekenders interview with Benn, which you can see in the video above, he himself admits that having been knocked down twice in the first round, it was a fight that made him consider whether boxing was even for him.
Lawrence says at that point in time, “He didn’t probably understand what was required to really be an elite-level athlete.”
Benn’s fight against Peynaud proved he had heart and he had gusto, but Lawrence wanted to see what he had going for him physiologically, so he was put through a battery of performance tests. Vo2 max testing was undergone so Lawrence could see the size of the engine he had to work with, while Benn was put through a DEXA scan to determine things like lean muscle mass and bone mineral density.
The scan revealed that there was some scope for Benn to build muscle while continuing to fight in the 147lbs welterweight division, which Lawrence admits is, “A luxury that we don’t normally have with fighters… trying to elicit more of a hypertrophic stimulus, because normally it’s just all about making weight”.
Putting on muscle was attractive to Benn, who prior to working with Lawrence had been doing more bodybuilding, bro-sesh static exercises, including seated shoulder presses and seated chest presses. “He likes the whole Mike Tyson – the neck, being jacked – he wants to look good on the scales,” says Lawrence
What Lawrence told him was that over a number of camps he would be able to help him build the size that he was looking for, but he would also be able to help him achieve his ambition of being an explosive fighter too.
“Explosive for me is run fast, sprint, jump, change direction quickly and land that knockout punch,” says Lawrence. “To Conor, I think it means all of the above, and it would also mean that he wants to be a powerful fighter.
This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Fast forward a few years, and a ten-week Conor Benn training camp now looks a lot different to how it did prior to Lawrence’s involvement, at least in terms of strength and conditioning work. Benn’s camp is now split into a few sections, so he will begin by going through a stage of general physical preparedness (GPP), which can be longer or shorter depending on how long he’s had off between fights.
Some boxers, says Lawrence, might not have lifted a weight for two or three months since their previous fight, and although that’s not normally the case with Benn, he also requires some build-up to big lifts.
“We know that after lockdown when we’re back in the gym, we don’t then just go and do a 5×5, 200 kilos back squat because we’re going to crumble,” says Lawrence. “Same thing applies. We’ve got to gradually start climbing the mountain and earning the right to progress.”
In Benn’s case, this GPP stage would usually include two to three weeks of lifting low to moderate loads for high reps. Exercises used at this stage include things like landmine squats, dumbbell floor presses, split squats, as well as upper-body pulling exercises and core exercises. This stage usually also includes a cardio exercise like a farmer’s carry or some time spent on an assault bike, but, says Lawrence, “If they’re falling off the cliff and you’re prescribing an assault bike then, unfortunately, the second, third and fourth sets are just going to go downhill, so you’ve got to gauge where your athlete’s at.”
Once Benn’s completed a few weeks of GPP, he can then go into either a hypertrophy training phase, which isn’t common because time’s tight during a ten-week training camp, or he can go straight to a strength and power training block. At this stage, Benn will start to do some big lifts.
“We do trap bar deadlifts a lot,” says Lawrence. “We’d go three to five repetitions above 85% of one-rep max, so Conor will be lifting around 170 kilos for three reps. That’s Conor’s top load. To put that contextually, at the time he’d be weighing around 11 stone when he’s been ripping that up, so that’s like 2.4 times body weight.”
On top of Benn’s strength and conditioning work, he obviously also has boxing and conditioning sessions to do too. These can take the form of road or track runs or sparring. On the days that where he’s not got a gruelling sparring session to get through, a typical day for Benn would begin with a 7am run, then he’d work on technical skills with his boxing coach Tony Sims at 1pm, and only after he’s done those would he work on S&C with Lawrence at 5pm.
Obviously, Benn’s impressive physical transformation is down to the work he puts into his gym sessions, but it’s also down to how he fuels his body. Performance chef Dan Sargeant (DS Performance Chef) is the man currently in charge of Benn’s fight week and post-weigh-in nutrition, with beetroot brownies and chickpea blondies replacing burgers and curries.
As a team, they’ve also devised a little hack to make Benn look as intimidating as possible — as Tyson-esque as possible, perhaps — when he hits the scales. “We make our weight in a certain way that we can allow a little bit of carbohydrates the day before,” says Lawrence, “so he gets that feeling of fullness on the scales.”
During training camps Conor trains hard and can consume around 3000kcals a day. None of those come from meat because as Lawrence explains, “Conor is pescatarian and consumes a variety of fish – salmon, prawns, sea bass, tuna steaks plus vegan options like tofu and tempeh,” he says. “He also loves halloumi and feta, though we try not to have these as frequently.”
‘Cheat’ days don’t exist for Benn during camps, but Lawrence does give him 21 days after fight night to go for meals, enjoy time with friends and loved ones and eat foods that are off the menu in camp. Allowing these cheat weeks means that Benn will inevitably put on weight because, as Lawrence says, “when you’re tracking all of your calories and expending high amounts of energy each day, to then reduce 90% of your expenditure, stop tracking your nutrition and eat out at restaurants you’ll naturally put on weight.” To avoid Benn getting so heavy that it impacts the beginning of the next camp, an upper limit of 12 stone has been set, and if Benn reaches this, they know it’s time to look at Benn’s energy input (nutrition) or energy expenditure (training).
2021 could be big for Benn. A run out in March could be followed by a huge, and long-anticipated, domestic showdown with Josh Kelly later in the year. The work he’s put in over the last three years with Lawrence and his boxing coaches means that he’s undoubtedly ready to face those challenges, but, physically, he’s not the finished article. Not by a long shot.
“I think we set the bar, but the bar keeps moving,” says Lawrence. “If I’d have said Conor would be doing 165 to 170 kilo trap bar deadlifts for three reps at a velocity of 0.32 to 0.5 metres per second when we started…I’d have laughed in your face and said not a chance. We weren’t there. So, it’s gradually got better over time and with that our expectations keep moving, so there is no we cracked it, we’ve reached the pinnacle, we’re at the summit of the mountain right now. The summit keeps moving. If we get to the summit of Kilimanjaro you better believe we’re onto the next mountain, and the next one’s higher, and then we’re going to keep climbing that one.”
Sign up to the Men’s Health newsletter and kickstart your home body plan. Make positive steps to become healthier and mentally strong with all the best fitness, muscle-building and nutrition advice delivered to your inbox.
For effective home workouts, uplifting stories, easy recipes and advice you can trust, subscribe to Men’s Health UK.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io