Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Training for Warriors

by Martin Rooney
published March 2008
320 pages

Training for Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout is a book on, what else, strength and conditioning training for MMA. The author, Martin Rooney, owns and operates the Parisi Speed School in Fairlawn, NJ, which has schools nationwide.

The book is divided in three parts. They're covered one by one below.

Part I - Mixed Martial Arts - serves as an introduction to the book and to mixed martial arts (MMA) in general.

This section is fairly short - 26 pages, many of which are pictures of MMA athletes. Ironically, although this book is new, these pictures feature many fighters in their IFL (International Fight League) team jerseys. The IFL folded in the past year and a half, shortly after the book came out. So it seems oddly dated for such a new book.

The section gives a brief overview of the evolution of MMA, with the usual story arc - grapplers beat strikers, then wrestlers pound grapplers, then everyone become well-rounded. It also includes MMA 101 - pictures and brief descriptions of MMA positions and techniques. If you don't know the mount from the guard, or a hook from a jab, this is where to start. The best part is that it's all mixed up - strikes, positions, and submissions are all mixed together with no easily evident sorting criteria. That helps drive home the idea that it's all aspects of one sport, not "striking" versus "grappling." The book doesn't provide any instruction in the technical/skill aspects of MMA, however. It's purely a book on strength and conditioning, as well as nutrition and some fight-related topics like cutting weight and injuries. Don't pick up this book expecting to learn technical aspects of the sport.

Part II - Warrior Anatomy - is the meat of the book.

It contains 13 chapters. The first, The Warrior Mind, just focuses on the mental traits a good MMA fighter will need. It's filled with inspirational quotes, but it's mostly just a list of traits.

The next 12 chapters all focus on specific aspects of MMA conditioning. It starts with the Warrior Warm-up - which is a long circuit of mobility drills and bodyweight exercises - and works bodypart by bodypart across the whole body.

Each of the exercises features a picture or series of pictures demonstrating its execution, as well as a short but sufficient series of instructions on proper form. While the exercises lack cues to help you execute them properly, the combination of the pictures and text is quite good.

The exercises are largely compound exercises, and place a heavy emphasis on standing exercises. You won't see a lot of seated presses or machine work. Just barbells, dumbbells, cables, sandbags, and plates. Apparatuses like a 45-degree back extension and glute-ham raise are used as well; so are plyo boxes for jumping.

There is also an impressive amount of partner drills - partner situps, partner puships, partner squats, partner bridges, and so on. If you've done a lot of judo or Japanese-style MMA training these will be familiar to you. If not, they are an interesting addition to group classes!

The various weigh-plate exercises are also interesting - it's often overlooked how good of a workout you can get with just a 25 or 45 pound plate gripped in your hands. This book makes good use of these kinds of exercises.

The "Warrior Heart and Lung Training" section is also very good. Rather than a "cardio" section, it's a mix of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise, heart-pumping drills (sledgehammer swings on a tire, ladder agility drills), sled dragging and sled pushing, and a 12-part barbell complex which (rather unusually!) includes bench-based lifts. The author refers to this as "hurricane training" and mixes fast treadmill sprints with drills, sparring, lifting, dragging, and pushing to make for some very tough-sounding workouts. They focus on using a heart-rate monitor so you can check both your intensity and how long it takes you to recover.

One interesting thing: you won't find any back squats in the book. Front squats, even zercher squats, but no back squats. Back squats are generally a staple of training, so it was a little unusual to see it missing. But then again, very few of the lifts included require a rack, so it doesn't seem like an oversight, just an omission.

The body-part division also results in some odd categorizations. For example, tire flips are listed in "Warrior Arm and Hand Training." Your arms will get a workout flipping a tire, but try it with tired legs or a sore back and you'll see how full-body they really are. Same with the Sandbag Lift and Carry (also in the same section) or the "decreased finger chinup." That's a chinup with less than a full hand, even down to one finger per hand. It makes the back section, but towel and gi pullups make the hand section. It's not that these are bad choices, it just goes to show you that categorizing exercises by their body part can result in some weird hairsplitting. It might have been better to double-list them, with a full description under the prime movers (the back muscles for chinups and pullups) and a pointer to the exercise under the related body parts.

The section closes out with 23 stretches/flexibility movements to do after each workout. Well, it says to do them after every workout, but the actual workouts (see below) break them up a little more. They are a combination of classic stretches aimed at improving your flexibility, done post-workout to avoid interfering with your strength and conditioning work.

Part III - Warrior Programs - deals with nutrition, weight cutting, injuries, and the workouts themselves.

The nutrition section is well done. There is a solid emphasis on whole, nutritious foods with some side help from supplementation. Meal plans are provided, along with a lot of selections so you can grab-and-go a meal plan yet still customize it based on your personal preferences. These include diets for 2000, 3000, and 4000 calories. The whole nutrition section, while short (16 pages) and chart-filled, is well written and solid. It's not the end-all be-all of MMA nutrition but it's an excellent basis from which to proceed.

Similarly, the weight cutting and injury chapters are basic but solid information. If you've never cut weight, this is a good overview...and it comes with the important advice to try cutting before you need to. That's always important. Don't make your first weight cut just before your competition . . . try it out and see if it works for you, and what negative effects it has on your body and your performance (if any). Similarly, the injury advice covers how to train around injuries - do what you can, don't worry about what you can't. It has anecdotes of injured fighters training, and it's not train-through-pain macho bs, either. It's "broken foot so more ground training and biking instead of running" kind of stuff. Nice, because pre-competition you can't slack off but you must heal.

The workouts are tucked right at the end of the book. This is the only real layout problem with the book - you'll need a LOT of page-flipping if you want to use them right out of the manual. You'll need to flip to the proper section for each exercise, then back to see how many sets and reps. Each of the weeks has an upper-body focused day, a lower-body focused day, and two "hurricane" sessions. This is in addition to your MMA training, and advice is included on handling twice-a-day sessions (say, lifting and MMA, or a hurricane and MMA). The workouts are complete, from warmup to post-workout stretching. Most of the exercises are done in the 3 x 6 or 4 x 8 rep range, but they can vary from timed sets for more endurance-focused exercises or lower reps for strength-focused ones or power focused (such as 5 x 2 for box jumps). Again, the workouts are complete, interesting, and well-balanced. If you follow them you'll get a full-body workout, plenty of intense cardiovascular training, and movement and flexibility training as well.

Additionally, the author has a Youtube channel with lots of "TFW" ("Training for Warriors") videos. They aren't linked directly to the book, but rather expand on the idea. Martin Rooney was also recently interviewed by T-Muscle.

Content: 5 out of 5. Covers the subject thoroughly although not exhaustively.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Excellent pictures, exercise pictures are helpful and accurate, easy to read. Not a lot of cruft.

Overall: If you're training MMA, this book is worth the read. It's got a lot of material you can use, and it's centered specifically on the demands of fighting. If not, it's still a good read and you can mine some good ideas for it. If you're looking for generic fitness, this is going to be tough - it's built on the premise you are looking for fight-specific strength and endurance and nothing else is covered.

If I have one personal objection, it's to something typical of MMA training books - the idea of the MMA fighter as a "warrior." I just can't wrap my head around me being a warrior, just because I compete in a combat sport. A Marine, a soldier...they are warriors. We're athletes. I'm amateur and the guys featured in this book are pros, and a wide gulf exists between us. But it's a matter of degree not kind. I just can't equate myself to a warrior, a gladiator, a soldier - and I can't equate the pros to them, either. We're not fighting to the death, or for a cause, but for success or failure in a sport. But this semantic argument doesn't detract from the value of the book. It's really good stuff.

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