CB CB Athletic Consulting, Inc. Training Report
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ISSUE #122

1 – The new Get Lean newsletter Issue #1

Lose Fat. Gain Muscle. Get Lean. Lose 100 pounds or lose the last 10 pounds. Get started on losing fat by signing up for the Get Lean newsletter at www.TurbulenceTraining.com.

Inside the premiere issue of Get Lean:

  • Do the Impossible: Lose Fat Over the Holidays
  • The Secrets of Alwyn Cosgrove’s Successful Fat Loss Programs

2 - The Best Mixed Martial Arts Training Interview Ever!

What happens when you put 3 of the top MMA strength coaches in the same room? I don’t know either. But when you email them a list of questions, you get some amazing answers.

I’d like to introduce to you Alwyn Cosgrove, Joe Dowdell, and Martin Rooney, the 3 best strength coaches in North America when it comes to training Martial Artists (in addition to the thousands of other athletes that they train).

If you are at all serious about improving your athletic performance (in any sport), losing fat, or improving your nutrition and training, you must pick up Alwyn and Martin’s training books. Let’s find out a little bit more about each coach.

Alwyn Cosgrove:
Personally I have a Fourth Degree Black Belt and had National, European and World Titles over five different weights in my career. I was fourteen when I got my first degree black belt and started competing in the men’s division. It was competition that got me interested in sports science – which led to my going to college and ultimately my career as a sports training consultant today. I began training other martial artists in 89/90 when I was still competing and had good success.

As for my practical experience with working with MMA fighters and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners -- I conduct all of my instruction at my facility in NYC called Peak Performance (www.peakperformancenyc.com). Several of the fighters that I have worked with or consulted with on their strength & conditioning programs, include Colin O’Rourke (Team Renzo Gracie), Rolles Gracie Jr. (Team Renzo Gracie), Igor Gracie (Team Renzo Gracie), as well as several other Renzo Gracie students.

Martin Rooney:
I have been lucky to be working with many of the top MMA and Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners in the world for the last 5 years (Renzo Gracie, Ricardo Almeida, Rodrigo Gracie, Sean Alvarez, Roger Gracie, and many others). I have set up everything from their physical training, to nutrition, to strategic development, to even help corner them at events such as Pride, UFC, and the ADCC world grappling championships all over the world. I currently am on the editorial counsel for Gracie Magazine in Brazil and write all of their training columns. I am also a 2 stripe blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and am currently training wrestling and Muay Thai as well.

All of the last 5 years of experience have led to my newest book “Training for Warriors: the Team Renzo Gracie Workout” which can be purchased at www.elitefts.com. The book is what I consider one of the most comprehensive training books for MMA. I have spent the last 2 years writing it, and it contains everything our team has done from physical training, to weight cutting and diet, to pre-fight warm-ups and strategic preparation. We are lucky to be training at the 30,000 square foot Parisi Speed School. This state-of-the-art facility boasts everything a fighter could dream of for training.

CB: Everyone has very impressive credentials. You guys are definitely the top guys for MMA training. Let’s talk about the athletes. What are the physical characteristics of a top MMA fighter? How much muscle do the top fighters need?

First of all, physical characteristics can vary from fighter to fighter based on their genetic physical attributes (i.e., limb length) as well as their dominant style of fighting (i.e., grappler, striker, etc.). But, usually, the top fighters excel in several of the following areas:

  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Endurance
  • Quickness
  • Agility
  • Flexibility

That being said, I think the real key is to figure out which area or areas that your fighter is weak in and then improve his or her ability’s in those areas while maintaining their strengths in the other areas.

The really top fighters also exhibit really high levels of relative strength for their desired weight class. So, rather than looking at it from the perspective of how much muscle does a top fighter need, I think it’s most important to look at their relative strength. Furthermore, an increase in muscle mass could ultimately move that individual to higher weight class--where they may no longer be able to dominate their opponent.

Obviously, if you asked me to just list the most important characteristic, that would be impossible, but a few is easier. A top fighter today should possess anaerobic endurance, strength, speed, power, and flexibility.

Interestingly, many of the top fighters have different amounts of different styles of fighting technique (striker, grappler, or wrestler) so there is no physical characteristic that I feel is most important. For instance, a fighter can be weaker than another, but have better technique which makes him look stronger. Or a fighter can be less flexible than another and still successful. I do believe that anaerobic endurance is at the base of my ideal fighter. Strength, speed and power all disappear when a fighter is dead tired.

There is no muscle mass amount required to be a top fighter. There are many muscular fighters that are successful (Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Ken Shamrock) and then many less muscular as well (Pete Williams, Sakuraba, Royce Gracie). Interestingly, the fighters I just listed in the less muscular category beat the fighters in the more muscular. What I will say is that top fighters need enough muscle mass to be strong for their weight and need to have a highly efficient nervous system. Hypertrophy is not the key as many would suspect, strength is.

Speed. Power. Flexibility. Strength. Lactate Tolerance. And the ability to develop high levels of these while keeping bodyweight low! Really they have to have it all. To step into a ring against another fighter who is equally skilled is like preparing to go to war. One chink in your armor can make the difference.

They need to have explosive power and speed to attack and defend effectively; they need to be able to have the physical “armor” to withstand attacks. And they need to have the physical and mental endurance to continue to withstand and deliver punishment over several rounds!

Muscle mass is a function of the athlete’s need for this physical armor, and their need for strength with respect to their weight class. Basically the more muscle the better within the weight.

CB: Describe the strength training portion of a fighter’s program. What type, how much, what exercises to avoid, and when in their schedule is strength training performed?

I perform some form of strength training all year long at the Parisi Speed School with the fighters. I have been lucky that my fighters are consistent and we usually do physical training 3-4 times per week. Depending on where certain fighters are physically at is going to determine what I do with them. Since each is on a different level, each is working on different things.

For the most part, easy rules of thumb for my training are that we do general heavier work and eccentric training further out from a fight, and move to light faster, more specific movements as the fight approaches. We avoid super heavy work and eccentrics to prevent the trauma and subsequent soreness that follows.

Typically I only use ground based lifts (deadlifts, cleans etc). I have a great photo of Tito Ortiz in full triple extension – exactly what the Olympic lifts develop. Who says the Olympic lifts don’t transfer to sport?!

We tend to use a lot of offset lifts (i.e. loading in one arm, DB snatches, etc.) to better simulate the lack of balance in a fight.

Prior to any weight training we use bodyweight exercises – a fighter has no business using loads if he (or she) cannot stabilize and control their own bodyweight.

And as far as the lower body goes – a fighter spends so much time in a split stance or on one leg we use a LOT of unilateral work.

As far as typical weaknesses – every ATHLETE I have ever worked with needs more posterior chain work. Fighters are no exception.

The other main thing to look at is that most training programs take place in the sagittal plane. Fighting takes place in all three planes – but particularly the transverse plane. So a training program needs to have frontal plane and transverse plane exercises in addition to sagittal plane exercises.

I avoid isolation exercises unless there is a clear reason to do so (imbalance, injury etc). We periodize the training according to upcoming events – increasing intensity but backing off on volume AND frequency as we approach fight night.

Strength training should be performed all year round with the exception of several weeks of active rest built into the fighter’s yearly training schedule. I will vary the type, duration, frequency, intensity and volume of training depending on the following situations:

  1. The amount of sport-specific training the fighter is performing.
  2. The number of Energy System Development sessions they are performing during the training phase.
  3. Their ability to recover from workout to workout, particularly on multiple training sessions in a day.

As they get closer to a fight, I will decrease their volume & frequency of strength training, but will maintain &/or slightly increase their intensity. As a rule of thumb, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a good exercise or a bad exercise. Rather, I look at exercise prescription from the perspective that one chooses a particular exercise at a particular time in the training cycle either appropriately or inappropriately. Furthermore, when choosing exercises, we must always evaluate whether the benefits of the exercise outweigh the risks.

CB: How can a fighter develop a stronger punch and kick?

Two main methods: By training the core in the transverse plane (all kicks and punches are a result or powerful ROTATION – they are not linear), and by training the ability for the antagonists to decelerate the limb. If you cannot safely decelerate a movement – your body will not allow you to accelerate the movement.

So training forced eccentric loading (lunges, landing from jumps, etc.) and strengthening the antagonists are keys. We also do a lot of release work (dropping and catching a DB at speed) that I picked up from Jay Schroeder’s work.

I find that a fighter can usually develop a stronger kick &/or punch if they improve their core strength. In particular, they usually need to improve their strength and stability in the transverse and frontal planes.

At my facility, I have a high speed-low inertia device that I will have my athletes perform exercises such as a Reverse Wood Chop, Resisted Hip Flexion, etc. By utilizing this apparatus, they can safely explode into the movement without having to deal with a flying weight stack. I also like to utilize medicine ball drills because they allow the athlete the ability to release the apparatus as well as force them to learn how to decelerate an object.

First off, I would say get a great coach and practice your technique. When I began training Muay Thai, I found out I was a 200 pound guy punching and kicking with the power of a 140 pound expert fighter. Even though I was more physically powerful than these guys that were much less strong, they just had impeccable technique. So first learn the technique inside and out.

After your technique is awesome, then build strength and speed in specific areas. The hips and legs are the most important for both powerful kicks and punches followed by the core. This is where we spend most of our time training, when the athletes are not focused on technique. We perform a lot of squats, deadlifts and single leg movements. Heavy bar lunge walks are a killer in this area.

CB: How do you improve a fighter’s fitness with intervals, cardio, sprints, and other creative methods? What works? What doesn’t work?

First of all, you need to look at the breakdown of the fight. How many rounds is the fight? How many minutes per round? Will there be an additional round in the event of a draw? How many fights will they have in a single night? Etc.

Once you have this information, you can determine the appropriate work to rest intervals for your fighter. Generally speaking, I will utilize many different methods of training (and tools) including the following:

  • Sprints
  • Hill Sprinting
  • Stadium/Stair Sprinting
  • Rowing
  • Rope Skipping
  • Sled Dragging
  • Farmer’s Walk
  • Super Yoke
  • Circuit Training

Again, it really goes back to what they need and what energy system they are weak in. For example, do we need to improve the capacity of their Anaerobic Lactate System or do we need to improve the power of their Anaerobic Alactate System?

This is probably our most dreaded aspect to train. Our workouts have become legendary in the fight community. Over the years we have done sprint work, high speed treadmill work, stadium stairs, extended sled pulls, advanced weight circuits, kettlebells, sandbag lifts and drags, isometric sessions, obstacle courses, and many others.

At first, I tried to be too specific, working kicking, punching and ground work into the training. I have had better results (and less injuries) keeping them separate. My advice would be to leave the physical training and fight technique apart.

I have found that sprints mixed with Olympic lifts for my advanced athletes have been great. The 20-minute straight sled pulls are also a mental challenge. Overall, the key is to have everything mapped out, but add great variation to the training to keep the fighters excited and keep it interesting.

Interval sprints, sled dragging, circuits – anything that trains the fighter to tolerate maximal effort work and lactate build up will work. We use DB matrix work, combination lifts, complexes, bodyweight circuits, and speed ladder drills, all to take the heart rates through the roof and tolerate the lactate.

Ideally the more specific the energy system work the better, so doing bag work, pad and shield drills etc in an interval manner is usually a more effective tool than running or cycling.

Always have the fighters wear a mouthpiece when doing any endurance work – you’ll be wearing it in a fight and it does restrict air flow somewhat – so you have to prepare for that. It’s also important for fighters to learn to keep their mouths closed, and breathe through their nose as much as possible – an open jaw is a lot easier to break than a closed one!

One more thing that most trainers won’t think of is training muscular endurance and in particular isometric work. In a MMA match, submissions and defending submissions are often completely isometric.

What doesn’t work? Anything that is just aerobic in nature – anything that’s long slow distance type of work really doesn’t help. The sport is too fast and too intense.

CB: Thanks guys. I’m sure the readers, MMA fighters or not, are pumped to start training like the champions you produce. And that’s only half of the interview. In the next issue, Alwyn, Joe, and Martin will cover:

  • Ab Training
  • The Importance of a Dynamic Warm-up
  • Martial Arts Training Myths
  • How to Train Female Martial Artists

Resource Box:
The information on cbathletics.com is for education purposes only. It is not medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health-care professionals. Consult your physician before beginning or making changes in your diet or exercise program, for diagnosis and treatment of illness and injuries, and for advice regarding medications.

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Toronto, Ontario M6S 5A5

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