Building High-Performance Muscle™

11 Myths of Warrior Training


Martin Rooney wants to change how you think about mixed martial arts (MMA) training.

Considered to be the pioneer of physical training for MMA, Martin has 13 years' experience getting fighters ready for action. He's trained and cornered hundreds of fighters, including several UFC champions.

He's knowledgeable and opinionated, but he isn't above admitting when he's made a mistake. Fact is, Rooney says it's his mistakes — and learning from them — that's had the biggest impact on his development as one of the most sought after coaches in the sport.

Rooney's indoctrination into MMA began in the late 90's in the decidedly non-Brazilian city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Rooney was a member of the US Bobsled team and his roommate was Olympic silver medalist Todd Hays, who also happened to be a pro fighter.

Hays started teaching Rooney a few things on the side and soon Rooney was hooked. Upon returning to the U.S., he quickly joined a nearby Gracie school. Rooney eventually began training the fighters he rubbed shoulders with and the rest as they say, is history.

But not a long history. Although the various fighting disciplines of MMA have been around for centuries, the actual sport of MMA is just a kid; even worse, it's a teenager.

Rooney says that one of the biggest mistakes is the "evolution" of MMA training. Trainers and coaches are continually looking for the latest and greatest ways to improve their fighters, but Rooney says it's bordering on ridiculous.


Myth #1: Training for MMA should be all circuit-style high-volume training.

If you're going to train to be an MMA fighter, you have to perform a bunch of high volume circuits as they test your will, not to mention leave you crazy sore, right?

Not so, says Rooney.

Rooney says that the circuit craze in MMA is a byproduct of the whole macho tough guy attitude that surrounds MMA training. It may look cool and sell magazines, but it isn't effective.

So what's the right way?

If you want to burn fat and improve your conditioning, use circuits sparingly. Think one, maybe two sessions a week, with the remaining time spent on basic heavy lifting.


Myth #2: Fighters need a minimum of 8 weeks to get ready for a fight.       

Rooney says the "8-weeks out" thing all started with boxing, where old school boxers used to go to training camps 2 or 3 months before a fight to get into shape. But Rooney says MMA is not boxing, and current MMA fighters are fighting all the time, sometimes 7 or 8 times a year. Getting out of shape just isn't an option.

Don't take unnecessary breaks. Do something, anything, to keep you in the game. Sure, life gets busy and priorities sometimes need to change ("I can't change Junior's diaper honey, I gotta train legs tonight."), but you should never have to quit training completely. Have periods where you train less and periods where you train more. But never just do nothing.


Myth #3: If I follow fighter X's program, I will be fit like him.

Here's the pitch: Follow Georges St. Pierre's (circuit based) workout for three months and you'll be mistaken for GSP at your favorite nightclub.

Fiction.

It's a good segue to one of Rooney's biggest peeves, and biggest sources of amusement.

Rooney says the goofball training also plays an important psychological role.

For Regular Dudes: Try new things: basic, intelligent training that's tailored to your specific needs — not some celebrity's. That's the smartest option. "I give seminars all over the world, and I always ask the room who has flexibility issues," says Rooney. "Virtually everyone will raise their hand. Next, I ask whoever's working on it (flexibility) to keep your hands up. Maybe one or two are."

Only you know what you need. Do that, not the latest thing.


Myth #4: MMA is tough, so the training needs to be even more strenuous.

This one frustrates the hell out of Rooney.

Rooney says the logic behind it is simple: if a fight is 15 minutes and the fighter gets his or her heart rate up to 160 BPM, why not push the fighter to 30 minutes and 200 BPM?

As for mimicking the conditions of a fight?

For Regular Dudes: We're not saying never perform hard work, but don't make training an ego-driven process. Destroying yourself day after day makes you weak, not strong.


Myth # 5: MMA fighters are supposed to be injured and beat up all the time.       

Rooney says a fighter should feel amazing coming into a fight, not smashed, injured, and looking like he's on death's door.

For Regular Dudes: Recoveryis the most underappreciated variable in training, whether among professional athletes or weekend warriors juggling 60-hour workweeks with family and hitting the gym four days a week.

If you feel run down when you show up at the gym, don't train! If your shoulder aches when benching, don't bench! Regular guys need rehab too — rest, ice, nutrition, and sleep.


Myth #6: Throwing up during a workout means the trainer is tough.            

This is the epitome of macho meathead training, says Rooney.

For Regular Dudes: It all boils down to pursuing positive indicators of training, not fatigue.


Myth #7: Strength work shouldn't be done too often, especially for fighters trying to cut weight.

This stems form the old school myth that lifting weights and building strength will make you gain significant amounts of bodyweight. Rooney blames that on muscle-head marketing and small-minded folks who confuse getting fat with building muscle.

Kettlebells, battling ropes, and sledgehammers are effective tools, but they should be used accordingly. The point is, getting stronger in the basics is the foundation of any smart program.


Myth #8: Fighters can eat what they want since they train so much.

Often the fighters with the best genetics eat the worst, something Martin finds frustrating. He also knows just who to blame:

Rooney says that to have a superior body, you have to feed it the best possible fuel. "I'm huge on whole foods, lots of fresh produce, and plenty of water," he says. "Supplement wise, I'm big on protein powders, vitamin D, fish oil, vitamin C, glutamine, and Biotest Superfood."

For Regular Dudes: Although it's as outdated as your dad's 8-Track cassette player, a lot of guys still think you can out train a lame diet. 'I did a grueling circuit today and threw up all over the floor so I can have this Big Mac on the way to work.'


Myth #9: Wrestlers make the best MMA fighters.               

Rooney says that wrestlers are not only very strong, they can also decide where the fight goes. "If I'm good at striking and I know it's a weakness for you, I can use my wrestling takedown defence to keep the match off the ground to where I can use my striking advantage. Obviously, the opposite is true as well."

Rooney describes the process of coming up the wrestling ranks as a giant meat grinder. "Ten thousand guys in various programs competing week after week, until a handful of men emerge as champions."

Rooney adds that wrestlers are also the best weight cutters of them all. "For a wrestler, dropping 25 pounds in a few days is just par for the course. Other fighters can find that really challenging."

For Regular Dudes: Not much to say here, other than if you're thinking of being a great MMA fighter, conjure up the spirit of Albert Einstein, build a time machine, and persuade your folks to enroll you in wrestling as a kid.


Myth #10: The best way to train for endurance is with endurance work.   

This is a popular myth that's desperate for debunking.

Rooney says everyone assumes that fighters and wrestlers have outstanding V02 max scores, but they really don't, at least not in comparison to cross country skiers or the like.

Overwhelming strength can wear you out fast. If two fighters clinch in an isometric hold but one fighter is three times stronger than the other, obviously the weaker fighter will tire first, because at 100% exertion his opponent would only need to be exerting 30%.

For Regular Dudes: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, heavy basic lifting combined with some sprinting and stretching is a near perfect combination for the average guy looking for an above average physique.


Myth #11: You can train MMA and still have your high powerlifting numbers.

Rooney says it boils down to deciding what you want. If you want to have an elite total, great! Go for it. If you want to have veins and abs and bring up your brachialis, more power to you. Just don't think you can excel at those things and excel at fighting.

As the old saying goes, pick a goal and work backwards. It's highly unlikely that if your goal is, "Compete in bodybuilding in 3 years" that, "Submit Ricky from accounting" is one of the targets along the way.

Pick a goal, own it, and become it.


So enough myths, how about some tips? Here are some tips for aspiring MMA fighters and regular guys trying to look like an ass-kicking man:

Schedule recovery first. Recovery is priority number one. Always build your schedule around it, not training.

Clean up the diet. Everyone thinks they eat better than they really do. Peri-workout nutrition is top priority.

Get 8 hours of sleep a night. Humans are the only species that get up when they aren't supposed to and go to bed when they aren't supposed to. You can't perform if you're tired.

 Drink a gallon of water a day. You hear this a hundred times a day, but how many actually do it? Double your water intake and you'll feel better, perform better, and get leaner.

 Add strength training into the program. Circuit training is useless if you're weak. You must develop strength first.

Sprint three to four days a week. Sprints not only lean you out, they build significant hamstring mass and power. Plus, look at sprinters — who wouldn't want to look like those guys?

 Fit circuits in only around the other MMA training. With circuits, a little goes a long way. As the technical demands of MMA training go up, things like circuits need to be scaled back.


The Heavy Stuff — Weight training exercises every MMA fighter and average dude should be doing and why.

"These could be the best exercise going, and definitely the most misunderstood. For fighters and weekend warriors alike, it's extremely functional. What's more functional than picking up a heavy object — like a gassed opponent?"

"Most sports are unilateral. This exercise transfers well to the kicks and takedowns exhibited in MMA."

"Vertical pulls like chin-ups are important, but for MMA, the horizontal pull is crucial. You need to pull your opponent towards you to control him."

  "This is an exercise that's crucial for MMA. If you're on your back, you need good pushing power to get an opponent off you and pass guard."

"Great exercise for developing lower body power. Sets of six reps are ideal."

"To control an opponent, you have to be able to recruit the hamstring by flexing at the knee. Hip extension movements like deadlift variations are not sufficient."

"Trading spinal flexion for anti-rotation and plank variations is the trendy thing to do, but most submissions in MMA require some degree of spinal flexion. It's a mistake for fighters to leave them out completely."

"The neck is the pillar of the body, but nobody trains the neck at all these days. The top guys all have extremely strong necks; to compete with the big boys, neck training is essential."



Martin Rooney spotting a fighter through some advanced spinal flexion    drills.

Martin Rooney spotting a fighter through some advanced spinal flexion drills.

Hardcore variation of the neck harness.

Hardcore variation of the neck harness.

Martine performing a dinosaur DB Row.

Martin performing a dinosaur DB Row.

The Floor Press.

The Floor Press.

Frankie Edgar

Frankie Edgar

Jim Miller

Jim Miller

About the Author

Martin Rooney

Martin Rooney is an internationally recognized athletic performance specialist and author. He is the creator of the Training for Warriors system, COO of the Parisi Speed School, and presents for training organizations, major universities and professional teams worldwide. He has trained athletes from the UFC, NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA, and numerous Olympians. His books, including "Training for Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts" have sold over 70,000 copies. For more information on Martin Rooney and his Training for Warriors DVD, visit trainingforwarriors.com.


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