Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Recommended fitness books

Wow! When I started working on this article, I did not expect it would turn out to be so long. I apologize if you find it bothersome, but one has to be fair in his labor of love, right? After all, this will hopefully give you a better insight into what to expect of these products.


One of my earlier posts touched upon the need to include some sort of organized and regular physical preparation regimen into your training. While that post was received with approval by several of the people whose opinion I care for, some others were asking if there was some sort of aid that could help them in putting together a strength & conditioning program that would fit their need. Since all of those inquiries came from the people from the domain of martial arts[i], here are my recommendations…

Joel Jamieson – ULTIMATE MMA CONDITIONING

Yeah, the title threw me off a bit at first as well. However, if there was ever a book whose title claims to be ultimate something, and delivered – than this is the one! What makes it so good is the fact that the author addresses some very important topics that are almost never seen in other books, as well as his approach to the subject. This manual takes the first place in this review for a reason, although the next two are good and have something unique to offer. However, if you were to obtain any two books mentioned here, make sure that one of them is the “Ultimate MMA Conditioning”.


Namely, from the very get go of the book, Jamieson stresses what is probably the hallmark of his method – individual needs of each particular athlete/fighter! Once his fundamental training philosophy is set like that, it dictates the presentation of the material throughout out chapters that follow. Another think is that the author believes into his customers/readers needing to know all the WHYs of doing the things he preaches (now you understand my inclination to this book J ). As a result, he discusses the scientific rationale for each of the training methods he uses, but instead of trying to sound like an authority by making it all sound beyond the reach of a mere mortal, everything is rather nicely broken down and simplified to the point needed for the best possible comprehension. If you still do not get it…well, I guess you should have paid more attention during the science classes back in school.

The book starts with the chapter that points to most common mistakes that fighters make in attempt to work on their physical preparation, and then progresses to laying foundation for the proper planning. To that end, he stresses a few necessary principles:
-         the role of strength and conditioning; probably best summed by Jamieson himself as “developing the ability to effectively utilize their skills as fast and as long as possible”. If you prefer it in other words, the best possible transfer of your training into your performance.
-         biological power; essential concept for having a better look at the “bigger picture” of your training. Once you have a grasp of this, everything else falls in place much easier.
-         systematic approach to physical preparation; here the author explains how the operative systems of the body (depicted in the previous section) work together, and what sort of developments are looked for in cohesion, in order to make one’s training effective.
-         specificity of adaptation; a short section but a must read! This is where most program will either succeed or fail, and understanding the need for desired physiological adaptation is crucial for being in the former group.
-         general adaptation syndrome; Again, why the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, and why your training needs to be systematic.

The second chapter is titled “Energy systems Development 101” and this is what made Jamieson probably one of the best currently most sought-after coaches and presenters/lecturers in the field of S&C. here, he discusses what conditioning really is, and what it means for fighting[i]. In short, explained is the significance of the processes of energy production and utilization, and then you have the overview of the energy systems that run our bodies: aerobic, anaerobic lactic and anaerobic alactic.

In the third chapter, we move to the treatment of the aerobic system. Here, the author sets the method of presentation for other systems as well – the meaning of this system in MMA; the adaptations is requires; methods of eliciting those adaptations (in this case, cardiac output, power intervals, tempo method, threshold training etc).

Next comes the coverage of the anaerobic lactic system. What I found very interesting and informative here was the report on some long held beliefs on the nature of fatigue and how they may have been wrong. Again, we get to understand the role of this system and  learn methods to improve on it (power intervals, capacity intervals, circuit training…).

Following is, of course, the chapter on the anaerobic alactic system, why and how to train it (intervals, max effort, complex method etc).

Once all this is behind us, Jamieson moves to the “nuts and bolts” of his training methodology, i.e. describes the programming and management of the training process. He explains how to put the pieces together in a coherent way. We learn that the author adheres to the so-called block periodization approach and what it means. In practice, it translates as the understanding of general and specific conditioning and how to order those in succession.

Chapter seven describes the realization of one’s general training program. It starts with basic programming guidelines, such as: training to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses; training right motor qualities together; testing, assessing and tracking your progress; integration of your fitness regimen with your skill work; using the 8 week block system.

From there on, the specific blocks are presented, each specifying the methods to assess and develop:
-         general endurance
-         general strength
-         explosive speed and power
-         power-endurance

Naturally, what comes next is the info on the application of the accumulated knowledge in training – designing individual programs, selecting means and methods, organizing loads to attain desired effects, managing volume and intensity, avoiding and recovering from overtraining.

Finally, we move to the specific conditioning section in chapter eight, or as the book has it titled “Getting Ready to Fight”. Again, Jamieson first lays the foundational principles, and then proceeds to the training of specific physical qualities in the proper order. The final section of this chapter gives the overall plan of how to conduct your preparation during the week of the fight, thus tackling the issues such as making weight, resting and recovering and maintaining the results you had achieved thus far.

Since the publishing of this book, Joel Jamieson has introduced even more progressive insights in personal fitness and athletic training (just search for HRV training on the Internet), but the material presented in the book will certainly take you to the new level of your own training, like it did for guys like Rich Franklin, Jens Pulver, Demetrious Johnson and many other top-level fighters.

To order the manual and also learn loads of good things on training, check out the author’s website www.8weeksout.com

NOTICE: this book does not offer any “easy to follow” sample workout plans and routines, nor are the exercises and training methods sown in big pictures! Also, there is no mention of how to organize any single training session, i.e. warm up, stretching etc. having in mind the declared purpose of the manual – it delivers, no doubt about it…just make sure to know what you are expecting out of it.

Martin Rooney – TRAINING FOR WARRIORS

Before Martin Rooney, the physical preparation in the domain of MMA was almost in the stone age phase. His work with Renzo Gracie’s team has set the standards of what a good, properly executed S&C training regimen should look like, and now the sport is what it is largely owing to that.


Being that it was written and published before the previous book, in the time what a lot of people in MMA (and martial arts in general) were pretty much clueless about the advances in modern sports training, Ronney’s book is profusely illustrated, and in certain aspects, covers more ground than Jamieson’s.

Firs three chapters actually give an overview of what MMA is and what are the overall technical requirements form a competent fighter, which should also start shedding some light on the complexity of training that it demands. In the fourth chapter, we are instructed that all of the training methods to be presented can be realized without any equipment, but then the authors recommends a few implements in order to maximize your training (barbells and dumbbells, medicine and physio balls, dragging sled, pull-up bars etc).

Then, we go to more specific stuff. Rooney first touches upon an area that everybody seems to be taking for granted – mental aspect. Here, we see what makes a warrior (nowadays, this term has been so overused that I cringe at it, but this is what the book calls it), because these elements will dictate whether the trainee will even engage in this sort of training, and if they do, how far they will be ready to push themselves.

Next in line is a warm up section. This is another segment that everybody knows is important, yet this is the most often the one to “just get it over with”. Well, if you want to do it properly, follow along with this chapter. It shows the stationary exercises, movement drills, muscle activation exercises (more important that many people will think), often neglected upper body warm ups – without tools and with medicine ball.

From there on, the author addresses the physical training in a way that many people are best accustomed to. He divides the body in parts and then describes how to train each – neck; chest and shoulders; arm and hand; back; abs; heart and lung (yes, it’s the conditioning part); hips; glutes and quads; hamstrings; foot and ankle. What this achieves is that different needs are addressed, depending on the body parts. For example, some chapters will include both mobility and strength exercises.

The chapter on flexibility training comes as a separate one, but presented in a similar manner like the previous ones, although the entire body is run through the exercises in the same chapter.

The next section of the book moves to training programs, and it opens up with important, yet frequently misunderstood topics of weight cutting and nutrition, and in a rather detailed manner. If you are actually training for fights, you seriously need this info.

The chapter on injuries is an excellent one! Now, we’ve all had some, and probably even have to deal with reoccurring ones, and Ronney offers a strategy of dealing with injuries in the form of a list. Without going into all ten of them, I feel there are at least two that are absolutely necessary to really take to heart:
  1. Accept that the injury has happened, and move forward;
  2. (actually number 9 in his list) Develop a list of things that the injury is trying to tell you.
Finally, we come to the program of “Warrior Workouts”. It also happens to be a program of eight weeks, but presented as a ready made plan, describing every workout of every week. The system is based on 4 weekly workouts – one upper body; one lower body; and two of what the author calls hurricane sessions.

Of course, not each and every single one of those sessions has to be executed absolutely to the last detail. The logistics you have on disposal will play a major role in your ability to realize some of those, but that is why all of the chapters on particular body parts have exercises that are done without any equipment, as well as those with various tools, so you could try to replace the listed ones with something that should hopefully achieve similar effect.

If you are a beginner in this field of training, Ronney’s books may be a better starting pint than Jamieson’s. However, if you take your training seriously, and especially if you are aiming to be a coach, at one point you will need to develop the kind of understanding that is provided by Jamieson.

Training for Warriors – the Team Renzo Gracie Workout

OK, obviously this book builds on and draws heavily from the “main” manual, but some of the info is presented in a way that I liked a little bit better, plus there are some chapters that deal with topics that were not mentioned in the previous.



Without going into too much detail, there are valuable insights into the areas such as punching speed and plyometric training; role of the cornerman in a fight; strategy analysis; additional (excellent) info about injuries; conditioning to taking impact from your opponent’s strikes; lessons from competition; motivation; Q&A chapter etc.

This book, at some 190 pages is smaller than the “main” manual (over 300), but I feel it has enough of good information (almost like being there with them, watching the training process) in there to be worthy of adding it to your library.

Rooney’s books used to be widely available from most online bookshops, and I guess they should not be too hard to find.

Jason Ferruggia – FITTO FIGHT

Let me get out with the thing I do not like about this book. Ferruggia’s writing style at moments tries to hard to portray the tough mo-fo vernacular that may be characteristic of some MMA fighters (and probably even more so among the fans), but in a book it can get a bit corny fairly quickly.

Other than that, this book is very good. It covers all the bases it needs to (although, just like Rooney, the conditioning aspect focuses almost entirely on the anaerobic work. Jamieson really shines in explaining the importance and problems of neglecting the aerobic portion), starting with the author’s view on what makes a good combat athlete; moving onto assessment and injury prevention; proceeding with conditioning part; following is the chapter on strength training; then speed and explosive strength; through nutrition.

The approach to these topics is, naturally, different then in the previous books, but still well thought out and presented. For example, the assessment and testing chapter is excellent, giving a very good insights into what a trainee NEEDS to work on, instead of what they WANT to work. The conditioning section is realized entirely with bodyweight exercises, in the form of circuits and/or interval training, so that eliminates most of the logistics issues that some people whine about.

Now, the strength chapter is interesting…and titled “Strongman Training”. That is because for this purpose Ferruggia recommends the use of equipment such as sandbags, kegs, sledgehammers, dragging sleds and tractor tires. Some coaches see it as a gimmick and a fad, but in my own view it has at least two advantages – it’s affordable and it introduces some novelty into training. The former is self explanatory and the latter is very welcome for people who are struggling to find motivation for additional training. With these implements the fun aspect seems to be stronger, hence helping the motivation.

That said, the author most certainly does not shun from the use of barbells and dumbbells. They come in as a staple of his approach to explosive power and speed, as depicted in the designated section of the book, along with ply boxes, medicine balls etc. Like in Ronney’s book, Ferrugia also gives the planned workouts to follow. Again, good for a fighter who has no S&C coach, nor inclination to learn that part of the craft; not all that good in the long term.

It bears saying that Ferruggia’s professional background is in fitness training, and the man has gained, deservedly so, quite a following and reputation in that domain. This foundation really comes out well in the chapter on nutrition…

…but absolutely shines in the one dealing with supplements! Like it or not, hordes of people, on various level of training, are using those. Like so many others, the author underlines the necessity for a good diet, but on the highest levels of MMA training the demand on the body is tremendous, so it is much better to have some practical and coherent info on enhancing your eating plan, than listening to hearsay stories from “a friend of my buddy, who dates a sister of this dude who…”, you know how these things can get out of hand.

Finally, my favorite section of this book is dedicated to the recovery and regeneration from training. It is also the one that makes this book unique comparing to the previously reviewed. By know, everybody should be aware that the desired adaptations of the body come from training, but during the resting periods. With so many people training in a haphazard manner, with the only guideline being the overused principle of “no pain, no gain”, it’s no winder many of them end up finding their performance being worse from all the training, instead of improving. Ferrugia provides some extremely valuable advice and guidance here, especially for the people who like/need a proactive approach to recovery. Be warned though – you will not like all the methods he advocates!

The “Fit to Fight” is also widely available throughout the Internet, both in printed and electronic formats, so you should not have any trouble getting a copy.

Other worthy mentions

The above books and authors are certainly not the only out there to deal with the subject that concerns us here. They are, nevertheless, the ones I have found most adequate to be used in one’s training with good transfer to specific performance requirements. Keep in mind a couple of things, though – this review is still a PERSONAL opinion, and only speaking of the products I have seen and used so far. Be as it may, there are a couple more books you may want to check out.

Charles Staley – THE SCIENCE OF MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING


This is book was published quite long ago, before the above ones, so the treatment of the topic is…well, consequent. Namely, the training methods presented in this one may not be cutting-edge and resulting from direct interaction with top-level competitors in a sport as physically demanding as MMA, but there are some other dimensions that make it a valuable read. First, it may appeal much better to all those people who do martial arts/sports other than MMA. For them, Staley does a beautiful job out of explaining the need to include some sort (preferably well organized) of physical preparation in their overall training. Second, with its design based on the so-called concurrent periodization, it possibly provides a better long term base for younger practitioners and those competing in sports that boil down to one or two tournaments a year.


Mark Hatmaker – THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO CONDITIONING

Like all of his other works, this manual is written in a very straightforward fashion and with hands-on attitude in mind. What I liked about it is the approach from the standpoint of movement patterns (hinge, squat, pushing, pulling), as well as the treatment of topics such as breathing while exercising and grip training. For amateur fighters, who do not have either time or resources/access to logistics, this is a nice and handy book.

Ross Enamait – INFINITE INTENSITY


It was with heavy heart that I put this one in the “lower ranks” of this review. You see, I really like everything written by Ross Enamait, because it is very hard, if not impossible, to find a guy who attacks his subject with so much honesty and directness. The man himself was fighter and trains other fighters, so all his info is tried and tested. Speaking of which, it applies to any of his books, and you simply cannot go wrong with Enamait. However, I think he could use an advisor when it comes to putting a finishing touch on his products. The presentation, in technical terms, is not up to par with the information he gives. Anyway, the high point of this book is its emphasis on training the motor qualities, and using various tools as means to an end. In the days when so many people are obsessed with the tool (be it kettlebells, Bulgarian bags, resistance bands, what have you), it is really refreshing to see this kind of emphasis on getting the job done! 






[i] This is what I had in mind in the first note.





[i] While all three main books reviewed are aimed primarily at the performance in MMA, once you understand the material therein, you should be able to apply it for your own needs.

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