Phil Marsden is a Strength & Conditioning Coach that operates out of Warrior Strength Training which he runs from his own private warehouse coaching facility based in Leigh, Lancashire. His main clients are MMA Fighters and Rugby players and he describes his training as hardcore and old school, getting back to basics with a no-nonsense attitude. Phil himself comes from a strong background in Rugby which he started at an early age. MMA Prospects UK spoke with Phil to find out some more about Strength & Conditioning and why it's so important for MMA Fighters.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into Strength & Conditioning training?
I am 33 years old and a Strength & Conditioning Coach and I operate out of my own Private Warehouse Coaching Facility based in Leigh, Lancashire. My company is called Warrior Strength Training (WST) and my main clients are MMA & Rugby League Athletes. Plus as part of the services offered by WST I am the Conditioning Coach for Leigh Miners Open Age team which is a local Amateur Rugby League Club who play in the top tier of the Amateur game.
From a young age I participated in sports, mainly Rugby League and when I was 12 or 13 I developed a passion to get stronger and fitter to help my performance. As I got older this passion became my main focus and led me to undertake lots of research on various training methods and techniques and I was not only putting programs together for myself but also for fellow team mates who trained with me. This is when my love for training others and helping make them better began.
Looking back I really had always wanted to have a career as a trainer especially working with Athletes but because at the time I wasn't confident there were career opportunities out there and I didn't want to work as a Gym Instructor or Personal Trainer in a Commercial Gym, I took another Career path. However when I was 29 I hung up my boots and my researching and studying into Strength & Conditioning went into overdrive. I discovered great mentors especially JC Santana and Zach Even-Esh and in 2009 I knew training others is what I had to do and it was now or never. I undertook qualifications and certifications, and outside of my full time job I started working with Leigh East who are a Local Amateur Rugby League team as their Conditioning Coach and I also went to Team Colosseum, a local MMA club and asked if any of their fighters wanted to work with me. As those I worked with got great results that contributed to improving their sporting performances things just took off and my client base grew. Then in 2011 I left my accountants assistants job and opened my own Private Warehouse Training Facility. In this past year more and more athletes have signed up to be part of WST and have been achieving great results in their sports.
Have you ever trained or fought yourself and in which Martial Arts?
A couple of years ago I went down to Team Colosseum and would put them through some Conditioning sessions before they started their technique, grappling and sparring session and they would invite me to join in with them which I did really enjoy but due to other commitments I unfortunately couldn't continue this, hopefully someday in the future I can fit it in again. When I was younger at one time or another I wanted to give Martial Arts a try such as Karate or Kick Boxing but the commitment to Rugby really didn't leave me much time to pursue this.
What is Strength & Conditioning all about and is it just building muscle?
No, it's not just about building muscle, Strength and Conditioning is about building all aspects of an athlete's 'fitness'. This includes strength, power, endurance, agility, flexibility as well as addressing mobility and most importantly try to help reduce the risk of non impact injuries, all with the goal to improve their sporting performance. I would also add that although nutrition is not strictly S&C it is a major part of getting the best results and improving performance so is something I really focus on to help my clients.
Why do you believe that good Strength & Conditioning is so vital for an MMA fighter?
Firstly I would like to say that actually learning the techniques and skills of MMA should be a fighter's main focus. However including some quality S&C will really help you prepare the best you can so that you never lose a fight due to poor conditioning or a lack of strength or power. Good strength and conditioning will enable a fighter to be able to execute the techniques and skills learnt with more strength and power and to be able to keep executing these with less fatigue compared to a fighter who neglects this aspect. Lots of research shows that when two competitors are equal with regards to skill and technique it is the one who is better physically prepared that will be the winner and in fact often an athlete with better strength, power and endurance can actually overcome someone who has better technique and talent but has neglected S&C. 'Hard Work Can Out Work Talent That Doesn't Want To Work Hard'.
Who are some of the fighters that you have trained?
All of the fighters I have worked with in the past and currently work with are from Team Colosseum who are one of the oldest MMA clubs in the UK and are now based in Farnworth near Bolton.
The current active fighters that come to WST are Saul Rogers, Sam Ferguson, Ste Lane, Andy Clamp and Mike Ferguson. I have worked with Sam and Saul the longest with Sam starting with me in 2009 and Saul in Feb 2010 after his first fight. Saul went unbeaten at Semi Pro collecting three belts along the way and turned Pro in 2011 he is 3-0-0 and will be fighting for the Fight UK Featherweight title on the 25th of June. Sam is Semi Pro DED Welterweight Champion and has recently returned to the cage with a win after some time out from a knee op which I have helped him rehab and will be fighting again at the end of June.
Take us through a typical training session you would do with an MMA fighter?
It really all depends on how far out they are from a fight and how many times a fighter trains with me every week along with their other training commitments. However, in general we will start with a good warm up, this will include some soft tissue work with Cricket Balls, PVC Pipe or Foam rollers. The Warm up will also include basic bodyweight exercises along with mobility and muscle activation work.
The workouts are then Full body workouts usually consisting of about 5 to 7 exercises and I like to use supersets or tri-sets. If more than five weeks out or no fight is currently scheduled we will start with an explosive movement such as dumbbell snatches, sandbag cleans or shouldering, Log Clean and press etc paired with a Push or Pull bodyweight exercise sometimes with added weight or we will start with a coupling of a med ball or upper body plyo exercise with a jumping exercise. This is then followed by the 'main' lift of the day with the focus on strength again coupled with another exercise working a different movement. Then any other movement area from Push, Pull, Squat and Hinge will often be included if not already covered in the workout along with exercises for weak areas and pre-hab to build some armour to help prevent injuries will be included. This can include neck, shoulder, core as well as more exercises for the posterior chain and I ensure some isometric work is included in at least one of the sessions for the week.
The session will then finish with a Conditioning Finisher which may use tools such as battling ropes, sledgehammers, Prowlers, sled work, sprints, complexes etc and then more soft tissue work and stretching will be done. When they are about 5 to 6 weeks out from a fight the focus will switch over to building power, however strength work will still be in there.
Again depending on the fighter usually one session a week will focus purely on building work capacity & mental toughness and this session will mainly use bodyweight, odd objects and special exercises for MMA such as gable lock pull ups all programmed with sets and reps that will push the athlete to dig deep to complete and get a lot of work done building some strength endurance as well as conditioning the heart and lungs or it will be a general conditioning session using various tools in a circuit format.
About 6 weeks out, one session will be their WST 'Finish The Fight' Circuits. These are circuits that involve a mixture of specific movements to MMA mixed in with exercises that fatigue the same muscles used in a fight and will mimic the length of the rounds a fighter is preparing for and they will try to incorporate the fighter's game plan as well. They build brutal conditioning, the fighters hate them but love them at the same time.
Sometimes a fighter may need to have recovery sessions planned in every week or might need more emphasis on a particular aspect but as I said this is really a general outline of the training sessions a fighter will undertake at WST.
MMA Prospects UK would like to thank Phil for sharing his training regime and background with us. Make sure you catch Part Two next week when we talk more about different types of power, ensuring a good balance is met between strength and cardio, body resistance versus weight training, and changing muscle stimulus. (Photographs provided by Steven Millward).