Episode #30: Marcus Martinez Discusses Unconventional Training for MMA

Marcus Martinez uses kettlebells, calisthenics and some other unconventional tools to get his athletes ready for competition.

He’s worked with guys like Jack May, Cisco Rivera and many other rising stars in mma, boxing, wrestling ad jiujitsu.

If you are into kettlebells or would like to learn more about incorporating them into your workouts, then this podcast is for you.


In this episode we discuss:

  • 5 Exercises for Every Athlete
  • Strengthening the Hips
  • Developing a Strong, Functional CORE
  • Grip Strength
  • Stabilizing the Shoulders
  • Programming with Unconventional Tools
  • Strength vs Conditioning
  • and more.

Check Out These Other Articles from Marcus:

Steel Club Exercises

Strength and Conditioning w/ UFC Standout Francisco ‘Cisco’ Rivera

Top 6 Kettlebell Exercises for Fighters


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Marcus Martinez


COREY:         Hey guys, this is Corey Beasley with Fight Camp Conditioning. I’m on the phone here with Marcus Martinez. Marcus, how’re you doing bud?

MARCUS:     I’m awesome. How are you, man?

COREY:         Very, very good. Thanks so much for joining us this morning. I know you’re busy with your gym and you always got a big family and a lot of stuff going on. So I appreciate it.

MARCUS:     No problem, happy to be on here.

COREY:         So Marcus, just for everybody that’s listening, give them an idea of who you are and what you’re doing.

MARCUS:     Well, I’ve got a gym in Orange County, Brea, to be exact. It’s called MBody Strength. And what we focus on is kind of what’s been dubbed unconventional training. So we do kettlebells, we do calisthenics, we do rings, we do all kind of stuff you’re not going to see in a traditional gym. Well, not anymore anyway. And we’re doing it the way that we focus on the athlete and no matter what the person does, we just want to make them move better. So we want to make them stronger. It’s not about just dropping weight and dropping fat. It’s like we want to make them actually perform better no matter what they do. So in my gym here, I’ve been here for about since 2009, feels like forever, but it’s frickin awesome. I love it.

COREY:         Nice. So Marc, as I know you train a lot of fighters and grapplers, who are some of the guys that you’ve worked with over the years?

MARCUS:     Over the time, I’ve worked with guys like Cisco RiveraBen JonesJack MayCraig WilkersonJasmine Singh, a lot of different — and ranges. MMA guys, wrestlers, boxers and then the amateur guys who are aspiring to be pros, and I’ve seen a few guys who started here as amateurs and I’ve seen them progress up until they were pros and just seeing their progression is just so cool. It’s just seeing what they’ve wanted to do their whole lives kind of come to fruition and just being a small fraction of a percent of a part of that is just awesome.

COREY:         Yeah, very, very cool. So Marcus, with your experience working with all these different combat athletes, some wrestlers, boxers, MMA guys, jiu-jitsu guys, what are some common mistakes or challenges I guess that you see across the board with a lot of these athletes?

MARCUS:     I’ll say the number one thing that I see is that every single guy or girl that comes in here that wants to start training, they immediately want to go balls to the wall. They want to go like six days a week, two days, they want to train their asses off, which is at first, it’s awesome, you want to kind of push that. But every single person that has that mentality burns out really fast. So the first thing I kind of tell them is the less is more, and I’m a big advocate of that. Rather than doing a lot, let’s do a lot in a little bit of time or let’s really focus on certain things that are going to actually make you a better athlete.

A lot of people really kind of confuse their strength and conditioning with their fighting and that’s the number one thing. Sparring, practicing, that’s the number one thing if they want to be a true fighter. And this is just supposed to supplement that. So to go and train for six hours and spar and wrestle and practice [incomprehensible] thing, and then they try to train for three hours and then try to go run for 35 miles, it’s like you’re just going to burn out it’s not going to make you any better. So that’s the number one thing I see is that most people kind of have backwards is don’t try to do more with your strength and conditioning. Do less, but do more within that time.

COREY:         Yeah, that’s good advice. And honestly, it’s funny but talking with dozens of coaches over the last couple of years, it’s the one thing that every single research doctor, coach, trainer, all these different people, they all say the same thing that a lot of these guys are just doing way too much. And I think that has a lot to do with the injury rate, people having to drop out from fights and being banged up and having to struggle with recovering from those things. And I think that’s a big piece of it.

MARCUS:     It doesn’t help that you see, these UFC All Access where you got these guys doing cramming, I don’t know one of the first few ones in which Franklin is going through a monster circuit for like two hours. People see that and they’re like, oh, shit, I got to go do that. And it’s like, no, you don’t need to do that, it’s not going to necessarily help you. It’s not going to make you better. Yeah, you’re going to sweat your ass off, but that’s not going to make you a better athlete.

COREY:         Right, right. Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for that for sure. And we’ll talk about like strategies and ways that you’re working with your guys here in a sec. Before we get to that, when you are working with your athletes and they have their other skill coaches, how are you monitoring their recovery and I guess their schedule, all the different things that they’re doing throughout the week. Are you managing that? Are you discussing that with other coaches? How do you kind of coordinate that effort?

MARCUS:     Well, my number one thing is just being in complete communication with each of my fighters and to make sure that they are completely honest with how they’re feeling, what’s hurting, what’s kind of overdone. If they feel like they’re overworked, I kind of let it up to them. Sometimes I talk to the coaches and find out what’s going on but for the most part, I know their schedules, I know what they’re doing. And if there’s punch time and they got something coming up, then we’ll kind of dance around it. So sometimes you have to push a little bit harder, how you’re lifting up, feeling it, but for the most part, we can kind of gauge it just based on how their level is, how I can see them during the training. So that’s the biggest thing that every single coach will say the same thing. You have to be so in tune with your athletes. And you can’t just kind of say, all right, let’s just do this. There’s times where you want to say that because they’re going to complain, but regardless, you just have to be really in tune with them.

COREY:         Right on. Now, as far as when a new athlete comes and sees you, they come to Brea, they go to MBody Strength, they walk in, Marcus is standing there. You never met him before. Where do you start?

MARCUS:     Well, obviously, the first thing I’m going to say is what are your injuries? And after 15 minutes of describing their injuries, then I’d say okay, so let’s we see what we can and can’t do. What I like to do personally, besides the basic assessment just to see how they move, I like to really jump into teaching them some kettlebell movements, since that’s what we mostly focus on. I really rarely use barbells. Mostly what we use like I said, it’s the unconventional type training, so kettlebell calisthenics. So we’ll start going through really focused on keeping it light. I want them the first few sessions to feel like they can do a lot more rather than — and this is one thing that a lot of coaches do and for all you coaches out there, don’t be that dumb ass that’s like oh, I’m going to put everything at him. I’m going to make him the Arnold Schwarz. And you see that all the time. It’s like, they don’t need that, from the coaches standpoint. They need them to make the athletes better.

So I just really try to keep it very, very simple. We focus on the movement, we don’t even worry about the weight, we just make sure that got everything down, they can move properly. And then I can assess and see where their injuries are, where their lack of mobility is, and then we can just kind of build this from there. So I like to think of that as you’re coming in, forget what you know, forget what you’ve done, forget if you’ve gone to this place or this place, doesn’t matter, but start fresh here and then we can build on that.

COREY:         Right on. Now, as far as the style of training that you’re using, I know a lot of traditional strength coaches are very married to the barbell and the traditional lift and squat, deadlift, bench press, clean, and different things like that. How did you get started I guess with kettlebells and then why do you see it as such a powerful tool for combat athletes?

MARCUS:     Ah man, it was years ago and I was just kind of done with traditional type workouts. I kind of had my fill of the Men’s Fitness, Navy SEAL workout and get ripped fast workout. So I was just kind of cruising online and I came across Mike Mahler, he had a kettlebell workout on there. So I’m like, not sure, I’ll give it a try. So I get on there I do with the dumbbell because at that time kettlebells were like frickin made out of gold apparently, they were so expensive. So I was doing something with dumbbell and I really liked that. It wasn’t just circuit training. It was the movements that we were doing and I had never done those before. Incorporating snatches and cleans and they weren’t new movements necessarily, but they were new to me. So then once I got into the kettlebell, I finally was like, I got a kettlebell and after first session, I’m like, oh shit, this is something different. Just the fact that I was doing so much in such little time, it was killing my grip, and I couldn’t even lift this thing after a little while. It was just, I felt it in places I had never felt it [inaudible] from new clients.

So from there, I started learning more, learning more, went to workshops, did search, practicing and learning from different people. And then my first athlete came up and it was like, okay, let’s push it with the kettlebells. And there’s no question that barbell is your strongest spot. Like, I mean, there’s no question. I’m never going to say deadlifts are crap or squats are crap, nothing like that. I just find that for my athletes, there’s no real need, as most injuries that I’ve seen in athletes, besides the obvious ones and while they’re practicing or fighting, most injuries come from the barbell. It’s because they’re pushing too much weight, they’re pulling too much weight but they don’t need to be, they’re not powerlifters. They don’t need to be hitting one rep, three rep maxes.

So I found that with the kettlebells, you get a lot and combined that with their body control to calisthenics, body awareness through mobility. They get the most, thanks to the butt, and then they’re getting their strength and they’re rolling against guys who are twice as big as them. So combine all that with someone in the blanks with the stuff in here, then you’ve got this kind of ultimate athlete.

COREY:         Right on. Now, as far as movement-wise, what are some of the kettlebell basics that some of your guys start out with or that you start people out with?

MARCUS:     There’s no way to get around the benefits of the swing, just because increasing hip speed, increasing glute strength, increasing posterior chain, you’re going to get stronger, you’re going to kick harder, punch harder, everything. So that’s the number one thing is we focus on the swing.

From there, we start to incorporate a little bit of rotational stuff. I’m not huge on rotational work, just because they’re already doing a lot of that and I don’t feel it necessary to build that. But then I like to incorporate a lot of the kind of unconventional, unconventional lifts. So like the Two Hand Anyhow. I’ve some videos on that where you’re holding one bell overhead, overhead squat, curl, come down, back and forth. Windmills; I love windmills just because again, anything that’s going to increase shoulder strength and mobility without doing a ton of push-ups and a ton of presses. We don’t need to wear their shoulders out. They’re already doing that during practice.

And then a lot of cool work; a lot of cool work in the form of some high rep kettlebell sets, circuits, not putting the bell down for 5-10 minutes and just keep going to different movements,  a lot of that kind of stuff. So really the kind of basic movements but then just put a little bit of a spin on them.

COREY:         Right on. Now, from our experience with the swing being kind of a foundational movement for you guys, a lot of people has a lot of discrepancies and weaknesses and stuff like that, that make the hinge difficult at first. If guys come in and they do have trouble hinging, how do you kind of progress them into the swing?

MARCUS:     Depends on the trouble; if there trouble is that they can’t hinge explosively because of pain, then we’ll do deadlifts and we’ll do stiff leg deadlift and we’ll build them up from that. If it’s from a they-just-don’t-get-it kind of standpoint then I like to incorporate hip thrust. I like to incorporate some analogies that most guys can kind of remember when it comes to thrusting. And then we really focus on just glutes and the hammies. And as long as you’re focused on that, that hinge will happen.

 COREY:         Right on. I think that’s important just so you know with all the athletes I’ve met I just make sure that people are doing things correctly. And a lot of times though they might see Cisco doing swings and other complex series or movements or whatever and I want to just jump in and go for it, but then they’ll be like, damn, do my back and all these different things. So that’s cool that you have those steps in place so that you can get people moving right.

 So as far as the strength and then there’s also the other piece, the conditioning piece, you’re working with your guys, you are getting them strong, you’re building stability in the shoulder and strength throughout the core. You get them to swing a lot. The calisthenics, you’re getting body awareness and control and strength in a lot of different ways there as well. As far as conditioning goes, what are your recommendations for your athletes there?

MARCUS:     Well, a couple of things. One is, we always start with some kind of strength move or some kind of move that’s going to require a little bit more focus. And then once we get into the circuits, that’s kind of where their conditioning comes. Besides hill sprints — I love hill sprints, I think it’s one of the best and I don’t think any coach unless they can’t actually run would argue with that. But really, just the circuits are so powerful, the strength circuits, combining moderate to heavyweights, or their own body weight in a circuit is going to build better conditioning than any amount of running. And then my guys will still run just because how can you not? I mean, it’s rocky, you got to get your miles run just because. So basically besides the conditioning circuits within here, and then the hill sprints and stadiums that I recommend they do on their off days, they’re basically working conditioning all day. So that’s why in here I really keep it to a minimum, what’s going to get them stronger, what’s going to focus on their grip, their core, their mobility and their strength and then we can build on that.

So if one of my guys is just not having it conditioning wise, then we’ll start incorporating some other stuff, we’ll incorporate some intervals, we’ll incorporate jump rope, and I’ve been jumping ropes since I can remember. And there are very few things that will build conditioning like jump ropes. So I’ll have them incorporate an extra 10-15 minutes at the end of the workout when they’re tired of fatigue and this non-stop jump rope and that really definitely helps out. I can tell with a few of the guys after a while that their conditioning just skyrockets after incorporating that for a couple of weeks.

COREY:         Right on. Now, when you’re talking about circuits, I know there are a lot of pros and cons people that feel very strongly one way or the other on how to use circuits but it’s a huge gray area as far as what you do when, how long, respiratory, is all that type of stuff. When you are putting together those series or circuit, how do you kind of structure them and then progress people through them as they get close to the competition?

MARCUS:     Well the first thing is the goal of the circuit is not to leave them feeling like death every single time which is kind of what most coaches — well, not most but a lot of coaches will do is they’ll just put together these mama jama circuits of like a minute per exercise like 10 exercises and four rounds not stop and so it’s so fucking unnecessary. So during our circuits we’ll focus on not only mobility within the circuit, I like to incorporate, so let’s say, we’ll do a [inaudible] ball circuit, we’ll incorporate swings, figure 8 to hold around the body, jerks, a few different exercises like that and in between those circuits we’ll incorporate Indian clubs, mobility work like thoracic bridge, scorpions, different things. So that way it’s not just like nonstop balls on the wall keep going.

And then we have I like to do different focuses for my circuits. So rather than just throwing together a bunch of tires and ropes and stuff like that, we’ll incorporate core related circuits, we’ll do L-sits and hanging legs raises and different types of planks and different kind of kettlebell movements that are going to be a little bit more core specific. And then we’ll incorporate some that are full body. So we’ll have the entire workout with circuits.

So I like to have kind of a focus and rather than just throwing shit up against the wall and seeing what sticks, having kind of a purpose for each circuit. And in regards to the time, I like to keep them shorter anywhere from like 20 to 40 seconds tops, and then depending on the movement too and then as we get closer to competition, as we get closer to the fight, we’ll just scale back as necessary. So we’ll push, push, push, we’ll kind of peek a couple of weeks before and then we’ll kind of scale back just a hair just to make sure that the week out, they’re going to be as fresh as they can be.

COREY:         Right on. That’s good. So you’re also talking about the kettlebells and calisthenics and all these different things, we get these question all the time. When you talk about less is more, what are like three to five between calisthenics, core, kettlebells, whatever it is that you’re using, three to five, like core movements that are like the bang for your buck, like great movements that most fighters should be doing every day.

MARCUS:     Number is, for sure [inaudible] body weight, for sure, I would recommend anything on the bar. So anything that’s hanging. Hanging is going to be awesome for grip, obviously. So whether it’s going to be hangs, whether it’s going to be pull ups, whether it’s going to be hanging leg raises, whether it’s going to be lever practices, whatever, definitely something with the bar. So I lump all those kind of into one.

The second would be something that would incorporate some kind of suspension training, I like rings. I do a lot of one arm stuff. So rather than like I was saying before, I don’t like to do a ton of rotational work but I like to work on a lot of anti-rotation. So let’s say like one-arm push-ups on the rings, I’ll have them hold that position or even come into the bottom of the push-up position and just hold that position. Right there, you’re working every single muscle that you would be if you were rotating, but you’re not wearing and tearing as much as you would be. So I like to do a lot of work on the ring. So I kind of lump a few of those exercises on there. But I would say pushups on the rings would be one of my favorites.

As far as the kettlebell, I would say my top three exercises are going to be double cleans, swings of some variety and then probably a half get-up. I don’t necessarily need to do a full get up every single time, I think those are good but over estimated as to its benefits, I can get a lot of benefits without the boredom of going to too many get ups. So I like to incorporate half get ups, keeps the stability on the shoulder, the work on the shoulder, teach tension on the core and focus on the bell.

As for body weight without anything, I’d say my favorite is a partner plank works. We do that totally every single week. And obviously it requires a partner but, normally you guys will get into plank and any strong dude can hold a plank for a minute or two and it’s like really doesn’t do shit. So I like to spice it up with partner plank look where one guy will lift up the legs and alternate, the one guy will push on you from different angles. I’ll have the partner that’s on the ground in the plank, he will have his eyes close and the other partner will just come from every angle just try to knock them over. So different things like that that makes it a little bit tougher. So to summarize that I’d say pull ups, ring pushups, double cleans, swings, half get ups and partner plank work.

COREY:         Hey, real quick, just so everybody understands. What is a half get up versus a regular get up? 

MARCUS:     So half get up’s the one you see where you’re laying on the ground on your back and the bell is overhead keeping your arm vertical and you come all the way to stand. And then come all the way back down. That will be a full getup. So half get up, you would come up, you plant your hand, you lift up your hips, so you hip bridge and then come right back down and then just repeat or you can go to the other side.

 COREY:         Gotcha. Just the bottom half?

MARCUS:     Exactly.

COREY:         Right on. Cool, cool, cool. Well killer stuff, Marcus. I know your MBody gym is in Brea, California. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch or reach out?

MARCUS:     I’m on all the social medias, Instagram and Facebook, all that stuff. But my email is [email protected], and I love questions. I get guys ask questions all the time. What do you recommend? What’d you like to do? And even if I can be the one that helps you, if I can lead you in the right direction, or just give you one tip that’s going to help you, I’d be more than happy to.

COREY:        Right on. Well, Marcus, thanks so much for sharing, man. I really appreciate it. There are a lot of good nuggets of information in there that I’m sure the guys are going to be using during the week on the workout. So thanks again, man. I hope you have a great day.

MARCUS:     Awesome. Thanks a lot, man. You too.