(Can this man make you into a world champion? Okay, maybe not you)
When Ricardo Almeida was preparing for his return to MMA at UFC 81 after four years off, he knew who to go to. The same guy who people like top NFL prospect Chris Long went to: trainer Martin Rooney. While most MMA fans might have no idea who he is, he’s quickly becoming a known man among fighters looking to take their conditioning and mental game to the next level.
And who knows, he might even be able to help a poor schmuck like you get into fighting shape.
Rooney has worked with a number of high-profile athletes at his Parisi Speed School, but his experiences training at the Renzo Gracie Academy led him to design sport specific training programs for MMA. Ten years later, it seems like he might have figured out something worthwhile.
Now he even has a book on the subject, “Training For Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout”.
In it, you can learn about things like “Hurricane Training”, the name of which already makes us feel like throwing up, but there’s also a fair amount of space devoted to the mental preparation for an MMA fight.
Rooney says that even with fighters in great shape, he’s seen them lose a fight mentally “just going from the locker room to the ring.”
To help him understand why some fighters choke and gas out in the big fights, even when they’ve got the conditioning to go five rounds, Rooney looked at studies done by the U.S. military about the effect of adrenaline on fatigue and decision-making in combat.
“The studies are out there to show that the adrenaline response and your ability to think coherently and keep yourself under control can really affect your performance,” he says. “There’s kind of a bell-curve with anxiety in a fight. If you’re way too anxious, it affects your adrenaline control, it affects fatigue, it affects your ability to follow commands and stick to a game plan.
“There are ways to control it physically, but there are also ways to control it mentally. When athletes don’t have that control – say they’re new to a fight or put too much pressure on themselves – it can result in poor performance. I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced it. A fighter will leave the fight wondering what happened, unable to remember what went on during the fight.”
This is why, Rooney says, it’s important to have solid conditioning program in place not just to prepare the body, but to instill confidence in the fighter’s mind.
“Without a doubt, how your training goes and the physical shape you’re in is a huge part of your mental preparation. Say you’re in a fight and you know that you’ve got great technique, but you’re only good for about a minute. If the fight goes longer than that you’re going to gas out and you’re going to lose. Then your confidence is gone. Physical prowess is a huge part of confidence and psychological preparation.”
But in his ten years spent developing an MMA-specific conditioning program, Rooney has also had ample opportunity to witness some common mistakes among novice trainers and athletes. Chief among them, he says, is trying to do too much too quickly.
“Everybody’s trying to use the newest, super-advanced programs, but the athletes they’re trying to use them with aren’t prepared for them yet. They see Sean Sherk doing some crazy routine on TV and they want to go right out and do it too. Suddenly everyone thinks they can be a high-level mixed martial artist when it took these other guys ten years.”
It’s a tip worth remembering the next time you see footage of Randy Couture running around in an airplane hangar full of trampolines.