Martin Rooney

Martin Rooney on UFC Conditioning and Coaching Greatness – Ep 10

Today’s guest is Martin Rooney. Martin is a pioneer in Strength and Conditioning for the Mixed Martial Artist. He has coached some of the most well known names in the UFC including Forrest Griffin, Jim Miller and Frankie Edgar. Martin is a best selling author and the founder of the Training for Warriors system.

His latest book “Coach to Coach” has been a hit in the coaching community with over 10,000 copies sold within the first few months.

Today we discuss “Coach to Coach” and Martin’s career as a Strength and Conditioning Coach within the UFC.

Key Discussion Points

Me and Martin started the episode with a humorous discussion about his pet pig. Due to a dog allergy, Martin has never had the opportunity of owning a pooch of his own but Miss Zuri is a beloved member of the Rooney household with growing fame across social media. We also discuss the possibility of Martin coming to Wales in the future.

In 2020, Martin wrote Coach to Coach. He creatively took his decades of experience and brought it together in a beautifully written novel. Having read the book myself (at least four times), I can confirm that it is riddled in nuggets of wisdom on coaching. Martin confirmed that a story will be more engaging and digestible than a text book which is why Coach to Coach is a piece of fiction.

Whilst competing in Judo, Martins team mates used to say that he had two levels – asleep and ferocious. To have high enthusiasm, you need to love what you do. Loving what you do is worth sacrificing what you stand to miss out on. Loving what you do demonstrates to your children that life is not to be wasted on a passionless career which offers nothing but financial reward. If you struggle to find your passion, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What am I passionate about?
  2. What would my perfect day look like?
  3. What would I do, even if I didn’t get paid?

Martin has twenty five years worth of journals which he has kept since his role in the American bob sled team during the mid 1990’s. He chronicles his coaching career for future generations. This is something that he wished his grand farther would have done. Whilst traveling to an event, Martin write about the experience and what he wishes to achieve. On the way back, Martin writes about the events.

A coach’s job is not to get pats on the back. It’s to give them.

In Coach to Coach, it was mentioned that we should praise others when things go well and take the blame when they go wrong. Martin confessed to getting this wrong during the earlier stages of his career. But then he realised that you only get stronger when you give the credit to someone else. Plus you’re relationships will only get stronger when you start saying “it’s my fault.”

The master of something doesn’t make it more complex, they make it simple to understand. When you’re developing the base characteristics of an athlete, Martin looks for relative strength in relation to the athletes body mass. Therefore, the athlete must have low body fat and a high level of muscle mass for their weight category. The athlete must also have a good aerobic base. Martin will only look at static strength and explosive movements when these characteristics have been achieved. This can take many years and if we skip this steps, we’re effectively building a structure on a weak foundation (or putting on our tie before we put on our shirt). If you’re concerned that there’s not enough power work or static work within your training, there’s a good chance that these elements will be developed by simply practicing your sport.

Strength is a cornerstone in which all other components of fitness develops. Martin explains that strength equates to endurance by using the following example: “If my 100% of strength is your 80% of strength, and we’re in the clinch, who’s going to get tired first? ME!” Strength is related to endurance, strength is related to power and strength is energy sapping to the other person.

Strength makes you faster so that you have more power but when you have more strength you over power which leads to more apparent endurance.

Martin doesn’t have generic bench marks for his athletes. As everyone is different, he doesn’t aspire to have each athlete meet a specific number/percentage on any lift. Getting stronger is an ever lasting pursuit. A bench mark may send the message that a person is strong enough. Furthermore, it is discouraging for an older athlete who is unable to meet those numbers. The ultimate answer for all things Strength and Conditioning is “it depends.” Bench marks work for some but not for others.

The topic of bench marks later transpired into a conversation about functional anatomy and exercise. We mentioned my conversation with Tony Gentilcore and how the hip may impact our squat. We broke into the importance of not banging a square peg into a round hole by making everyone do the same exercise. If an exercise is damaging for your personal anatomy, find a substitute. You don’t have to squat, deadlift, bench press or perform any specific exercise for that matter. There are no mandatory exercises.

Martin mentioned that he practiced the incline bench press because everyone else was doing it. He now finds an alternative because he finds this lift hurtful. From there, I selfishly got Martins professional take on my issue with over head pressing. Martin recommended the following:

  1. Check for asymmetry.
  2. Work on the rotator cuff,  Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids and Trapezius muscles.
  3.  Use a dumbbells as oppose to a barbell.
  4. Use lighter weights.
  5. Practice mobility.
  6. But if all fails, just don’t over head press! You can live without it.
  7. Always train around an injury. You don’t need to neglect the rest of your training.

Communication is key when it comes to building an effective team for a fighter to rely on. If communication is poor, the fighter will be asked to do way too much which can lead to injury or over training. Each team member must know their role. The Strength and Conditioning coach is in charge of exercise and the technical coaches are in charge of technique. Furthermore, everyone shouldn’t be competing for the leadership role. Everyone must be in it for the fighters best interest.

Martin said that when he got involved in fitness in the 70’s, no one was afraid. These days, people feel that fitness is a daunting thing to get into. This has come to be with the advent of social media, where many trainers are too busy showing off as oppose to offering “helpful” content. This will come in the form of an incredible physical feat or an unrealistic standard in regards to physical appearance. It also doesn’t help that there are too many fail video’s circulating on social media which shows people getting hurt in the gym.

Is your Instagram saying “look at me” or “come to me!”

To recommend a book to someone, you’re making them invest their time and money. It’s a big responsibility. Before recommending a book, it’s worth talking to the recipient about their wants and needs so that you can make an appropriate recommendation. However, there are some books that everyone should read. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnigie is such a book.

Martin encourages trainers to find their niche. What is that one little thing you’re passionate about which you wish to pursue more than anybody else? For example, geriatric fitness, fitness for combat sport or fitness for cancer survivors. These are highly specific fields and will be more in demand.


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