Breathing, mobility, bodyweight training, kettlebells, nutrition, sauna techniques and more.
In this interview, Greg shares some pretty awesome secrets that will definitely help any athlete or coach improve their plan of attack.
Download the full podcast here: Greg Mihovich – Strength and Conditioning Exert for Combat Athletes
In this interview we discuss:
- Laying the foundation of strength
- Bodyweight vs explosive work
- Mobility for fighters
- Bodyweight training
- Breathing techniques
- Adding resistance with kettlebells, Sandbags, etc.
- Recovery techniques
- and more.
Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Greg Mihovich
COREY: Hey guys, this is Corey Beasley with fightcampconditioning.com and I’m on the phone with Greg Mihovich. Greg, how are you?
GREG: Hey Corey, how’re you buddy?
COREY: Very good man, thank you so much for joining us. Guys, if you guys have been on the website and you guys have seen Greg’s profile page, I mean, this guy has a tremendous amount of experience and is an absolute valuable asset for us to be listening to today, and I really appreciate your time Greg.
GREG: My pleasure, my pleasure, it’s going to be great.
COREY: For the guys listening that maybe don’t know all the things that you’ve done, can you give everybody just a quick run through of kind of your experience, your background, what you’re doing and some of the things you’re working on?
GREG: Well, basically I’m a professional coach. I teach basically a trinity of things; performance enhancement for athletes, multi-week transformations that we’re training for fitness guys as well as a variety of different martial arts.
I’ve been a professional for over a decade at this point, 12 or 13 years and been doing it all together for a couple of decades, all kinds of different martial arts style and fitness styles and stuff like that and was actually a pioneer in my area in many different styles such as mobility and kettlebells, we were the first gym in New Jersey, like over a decade ago, we started building [sound distortion] things in the area. And basically I’m fond of the underground gym and compound conditioning training system. And we run a full time training facility over here in Red Bank, New Jersey, training people from all over the State and as well as [inaudible] different seminars where we certify people on kettlebell training and mobility training, etc.
COREY: Right on. So yeah, Greg, I know you’ve written a couple of great articles and provided some killer videos and stuff like that for us. I know, with a lot of the things that are going on in the MMA world and internet, the social media and all that type of stuff, it’s really cool because we get to see a lot of the things that guys in the UFC or advanced fighters or athletes have been using for years. But I know you’re a big advocate of building a strong foundation or a strong base for your athletes. Can you kind of walk people through kind of how you approach that?
GREG: Sure, sure. I mean, training cannot be short sighted and based on just short term results. If you’re thinking success, you’re thinking long term and so you want to establish a training strategy that enables you to succeed over the long run, whether you are going to make it to the pros, or you’re just going to stay an amateur and practice for yourself, you want to be in good condition to actually fight for when it matters, to defend your friends, your family, your country etc. and not just live it all in the gym and be the guy who says I used to do this and that but now you’re hurt and all [inaudible].
So I truly believe in building a base first and laying the foundation in the beginning. Sometimes, watching what advanced guys are doing like, lots of strength training or explosive training and stuff like this, you have to remember that, by the time they get to UFC and stuff like this, they’ve been already trained for years and they have a lot of training experience under their belt. And so some of the stuff that they’re doing, if you’re beginner it might not be appropriate for you.
In the beginning, I would really focus on building the foundational basic strength and mobility with bodyweight exercises, learn how to breathe correctly because it’s one thing that you just keep engaging — that keeps enhancing the power of the system, but if the system is still working at 40% and with better breathing patterns with smarter breathing, it can work at 80 or 90% or more. If you’re improving those right away, you’re facilitating bigger gains in your conditioning game as well. You need to build a strong foundation of strength, strong foundation of mobility and flexibility so you can get in and out of positions with ease.
Big topic is, building your beyond the range strength so to speak. It’s a professional term in strength training where an athlete is supposed to have at least 15 to 25% of surplus of available range of motion and strength that comes with better range of motion, outside of the parameters of his sport, outside of the movement patterns of his sport.
So as you know with some fighting arts, everything doesn’t go to the plan and things sometimes have to be performed, or often times have to be performed from less than perfect positions. And so training yourself beyond the range so to speak, and strengthening your mobility and flexibility and flex-ability, ability to flex with the full range of motions if you think of such term, but [distortion] understand what it means, then you maximize your chances not only to prevail but also to remain healthy and to bounce back from those positions into more perfect positions till you’re in good control, and keeping your body intact. That’s really important and that’s basically the foundation of it, building the base.
COREY: It’s really good information. So basically, I mean, you’re starting out, you’re just working with a guy, your main focus is just to kind of clarify —
GREG: Yeah, movement skills, I’m looking to enhance him as an athlete and being a better athlete and with a stronger capable body, he’s going to be — teaching him more specific martial arts skills, it’s gonna be a lot more applicable for him to actually apply those skills. So you can’t put all the eggs in the basket so filling the basket of just skill training. You have to make sure that the body is capable to perform those skills so to let basically bell to the whistle, so the gun [inaudible], so until it’s over.
So that’s why it’s really important to do all kinds of crawling exercises like animal like exercises, crawling, duck walking, climbing, using your body in all different ways on the ground. Those ground crawling movement patternsexpose your muscles and your joints to angles that are hard to address with normal weightlifting. We’re standing on two feet and our exercise is more or less aligned. When you’re engaging the grounds in all the different alligator crawls, lizards, the duck walks etc, etc, different jumps, you’re strengthening the body from all those different angles and it’s more specific to ground fighting and scrambles in MMA and stuff like that.
COREY: Yeah absolutely.
GREG: And adding to that basic bodyweight training, basic gymnastic proficiency, such as tumbling or what we call combat acrobatics, because there’s like sport tumbling which is a bit more linear and doesn’t take into account the more specific attributes of fighting, such as engaging the grounds more smoothly and maintaining a good fighting position and potentially engaging the ground even off a given surface not just throughout the mats. So we practice lots of combat acrobatics and ground engagement exercisesfrom all different angles. And it also helps to increase the athleticism of a fighter and [incomprehensible] movement skills and integrity of few joints and muscles to a whole new level. So it helps to put those positive skills on top of that.
COREY: Right on. So yes, starting out with the mobility stuff and just getting the body to be able to move in a variety different positions, then progressing and working with different bodyweight exercises, crawling, climbing, moving around, just having body awareness, as well as just working on some of those tumbling aspects and just being able to have that body awareness and control and an ability to move your own weight, your own body around. And then as well as just combining all of that movement with proper breathing patterns, that’s what you consider a strong foundation or where you start with a lot of your guys, correct?
GREG: Yes. It’s very good summary Corey, absolutely. And on top of that, once we establish a bit of foundational of this, we start adding external weights such as kettlebells, sandbags etc. It’s like a fighting art where it takes you to learn a weapon based system like just Kali or any other type of a martial art that uses let’s say blades, swords or knives or sticks or something else like that. You would learn that a weapon is just an extension of the body. So we’ll view a tool which is the kettlebell or sandbag or whatever it is as a partner, we’ll do a lot of Turkish get-ups with a partner for example. I think a guy his weight classshould be able to get up and down multiple times with the guy his weight off the ground, it’s one of our staples for fight training.
So with that in mind, the external tools such as sandbag or kettlebell becomes just an extension of the body and it’s just an extension of all those basic – it’s just basics applied well, just like in skills training. It’s still that same basic [inaudible] it’s that same basic cross that get people down. But those basics applied well under pressure and that’s how we look somewhat at kettlebell training and sandbag training and stuff like that. And with that in mind we do lots of compound type of lifts, get ups, cleans and presses, juggling exercises and throwing exercises with sandbags and kettlebells, lots of kettlebell juggling, it facilitates hip development, it facilitates strong roving and strong base.
Again, good hips, good core, shock absorption and redirection skills. And I think it’s a perfect gateway to more sports specific – it’s like [inaudible] transition from more general training such as gymnastics and bodyweight exercises to more specific stuff such as ground crawling and even more specific as kettlebell juggling which closely simulates standing grappling and striking.
COREY: Right on. So the majority of the external loads that you use at your place are typically kettlebells, sandbags. What other types of tools do you use at your place?
GREG: Yeah, those are fine, those are the most user friendly tools. For the most part I have a pretty good background in power lifting, Olympic weightlifting and I used to coach and still coach some of those skills. However I find that on a more mass scale, most people are a lot more ready for kettlebell and sandbag training as far as external resistance goes, like they are a lot more user friendly implement as far as transportation of them, storage, you don’t need a dedicated platform and bumper plates and a long bar.
And for Olympic lifting a lot of people are not flexible enough and it takes a while for them to achieve the required flexibility. In the meantime, they could be getting a heck a lot stronger with kettlebells and sandbags and stuff. And again, I’m not ruling out Olympic weightlifting anyway, I think it’s a fantastic training method and I love it personally myself quite a bit but as far as like specific stuff for fighting, I think kettlebells and sandbags work a little bit better and they have more of a multi-plane element to them, grip aspect, universal aspect, rotational aspect, conditioning aspect, all those aspects that are easier for transportation etc etc and they just are more user friendly both for general public and for I feel like fighters and MMA fighters, Muay Thai fighters, grapplers etc.
COREY: Very good, cool.
GREG: We use some clubbellsas well but it’s just a cherry on top of all the training. I feel clubbells are nice tools, they give you definitely a lot of available options for shoulder mobility and grip strength conditioning etc etc and coordination, however they are not your main training tools such as bodybuilding, kettlebell, sandbag and stuff like that. Just my opinion.
COREY: Awesome. Greg, when you’re working with guys during the week and you’re developing that strong base, as they get strong enough you’re working towards more external loads, explosive type movements and stuff like that. How you plan out the week for those guys?
GREG: Well, with beginners, again thinking long term, if I have a guy for a while usually I like to use like a Western type of periodization in the beginning, it’s more like a linear type of periodizaion where you take a month or so to build each quality before moving to the next. Example would be like a general conditioning phase, then you do like a strength phase, then you do explosive phase, then you do more like a sport specific phase and then you do a transition phase and then you start it all over again.
The advantage of the [incomprehensible] system is that you have basically guys focusing on one thing at a time and as beginners it helps them to master it better. They do not become jack of all trades but they master certain things. Yeah, they have losses of each respective system from cycle to cycle but by moving through one topic at a time they’re able to get it more. And then once they go through that cycle, I transition to more like a conjugate type of periodizationwhere they have strength day, explosive day, potentially conditioning day stuff like that in a week.
And, again, it depends on everybody’s schedule; those are just general guidelines for somebody who potentially trains six days a week. But if you’re training let’s say three days a week, lots of those things have to be kind of put together into one session, which is fine too and you can get, really strong condition.
There’s a specific sequence that I think is very adequate as far as sequencing different types of work together. It usually starts with the general mobility, then you do power work, then you do strength work and then you finish with conditioning and in this way, you synergetically maximize subsequent gains from each stimulus that your nervous system is exposed to and your fibers are exposed to. But basically that’s what it is. We would begin as we use like linear periodization, if we get a chance to do so or we’ll use conjugate periodization where basically we have an allocated date for each specific thing and we cycle up and down.
I like, repeater ribs training system as far as like he categorizes people into beginners, intermediate and advanced guys, not necessarily based upon their technical skills, although that’s obviously very important, but based upon their recovery.
Beginners are people who work out at such low relative intensity level that you can load them every time quite a bit and they’ll be okay with it because really, they’re working out with eight kilo kettlebell, I mean, it’s not much, it seems for them that it’s really heavy but reality is their body is able to recover from that load quite rapidly. And so you plan for those guys like a week in advance, that’s the most you can plan because a week from now the load will be different.
And intermediate guys they need, like easy days now and maybe even easy week sometimes. And so you plan for those guys a couple months in advance. And advanced guys, it takes them — they’ve sweat so close the generic potential that it takes a while for them to pick and also they need some in between time they can’t be on – or mediocre people on top of the ability at the day as they say. So those advanced guys, you really have to plan a lot deeper, six months in advance, a year in advance, they pick couple times a year for their biggest fights and the rest of them, they’re obviously training but it’s just not as intense, not as involved.
COREY: I hear ya. So Greg, talking about periodization and planning workouts and scheduling in the strength and conditioning sessions with grappling and stand up and all these other aspects of the game that guys are obviously they’re going to those practices as well, recovery becomes a huge piece of the puzzle. When you’re planning workouts in combination with working with other coaches and other programs and other implements and skill sets and technical aspects of the game, what are some recovery aspects to make sure that your guys aren’t doing too much because I know that’s a big problem these days.
GREG: Yeah, literally actually, some of my best guys, my biggest job with them is to hold them back somewhat, as far as their training goes, because they’re so dedicated that – they’re pushing themselves too much and it turns over training a little bit. Because you feel like you need to be doing something, because the fight is coming up. And so the whole time is filled up with, you’re doing something. And it’s natural and it’s understandable. We have to realize that the body gets stronger during rest and the rest is very important and you can occupy time and still get better mentally in other aspects of your life which will improve your fighting as well in the meantime. And biggest thing with your recovery is sleep. Getting your sleep patterns under control, going to bed not too late, it’s one thing that the length of the sleep is a whole another thing, as a time in our lives, nature works in cycles, whether we deny it or accept it, if the cycle is still there, still going to bed preferably before 12 if not earlier and not sleeping too late as well is a thing to do definitely, staying on your sleep pattern not breaking it so your hormonal system works in sync with your training and it’s not all over the place, not changing your bedtime at all times is really important.
So consistency with those sleep cycles actually is the biggest thing, especially for young athletes. Sometimes they feel invincible because of high recovery rate due to a good hormonal profile. But it’s really important to put that play down and recover really well, recover truly well.
Second thing is nutrition, being also consistent with it. Nutrition is an individual thing, everybody needs to do their research and try things out and see how they — not be closed minded and kind of open up your horizons, try different things and figure out what works for you. You can utilize different tools that are available nowadays, blood analysis, blood type, all that type of stuff, all information is out there, all those different diet approaches. I’ve tried many of them, some of them work for me well, some not so much and then I’ve narrowed down to something that works for me at this time for my goals and I feel like there is no like original nutrition, you have to figure out what works for you. But the basics are there; salad, wholesome nutrition preferably organic and as wholesome as possible.
And also another aspect of recovery is the mobility training. Those lighter mobility sessions, we do sometimes an hour of ground flows, with a minute on the minute each minute you change your movement, and you keep working on it, rolling forward and backwards slowly and working your elbow mobility from the plank and doing double chin roles, opening up your hamstrings, then working on your shoulder blades in the bridge position, firing up your posterior chain and facilitating your movement skills, yet not at the intensity that burns you out and actually facilitates blood flow to the system and facilitates better recovery. And in the meantime, you’re actually growing as well because you find gross-motor movement skills are better as well. So this is like the three step approach that we look at as far as your [inaudible] goes.
And actually saunais another one that is I think overlooked sometimes in the Western world. In Eastern Europe, it’s a huge part of athletic recovery. Athletes have mandatory weekly sauna sessions in conjunction with cold water plunging and stuff like that. It’s a huge recovery training method and you should not be able to look this really [inaudible].
COREY: So, Greg, as far as recovery goes, the main pieces of the puzzle for your system are sleep, nutrition, mobility.
COREY: That’s right. And then with sauna, I think a lot of guys, they might typically think oh sauna is just for cutting weight. If you’re going to use this sauna as part of your system as a recovery tool, how do you guys typically implement that?
GREG: Good question. There’s absolutely correct way for athletes especially to do like a weekly sauna session that facilitates recovery quite a bit. What happens in the sauna is it hits you up personal surface and then one more and more so internally and there’s a way, there’s a progression I’ll describe in a moment that’s going to lead you up to that. And what happens is your pores also open and the toxins start pouring out along with your sweat. And so it’s not just the losing weight — dropping the weight type of method, but it’s also huge detoxmethod. And at high temperature also, all the byproduct of muscular activity throughout the week, they get burn off as well, your lactic acid and all that other stuff. And so the body just becomes cleaner, more pure and performs a lot better.
And so in conjunction with cold water, after the heat when the pores are wide open the cold water closes the pores and forces the toxins out even more rapidly as well as closes you to the external environment which is very important in the winter, you won’t come out of the sauna with your pores are wide open in a cold environment and catch a cold. The cold water closes the body back up into its normal state and kind of finishes the procedure. And the big of a difference is between the temperature, the cold temperature and the hot temperature, it’s like weight training. You start small and then slowly build up to a pretty significant level they get really strong, the most simulation nervous system also gets.
And so the proper method is, you go into a sauna first for like five minutes to be comfortable, sweat it out. Keep a towel, you keep removing the sweat from your body because as the sweat clogs the pores, you stop sweating and it basically works against the process. So you go for like five minutes, come out, relax for a little bit, taking maybe a warm shower to be clean. Come back in like 10 minutes or maybe seven, eight minutes this time. Again, hang out to be comfortable, go out. Again, take maybe a warm shower, relax with a book or something, check with your friends, drink some tea, and then you go the third time and you stay the longest, not too long, but like 10 minutes, 12 minutes maybe 11 minutes to be comfortable. You’re sweating quite a bit at this point because you haven’t cooled off yet and that heat is building up. At this point, I feel like three times you can start jumping into a cold water pool, or dump a bucket of cold water on yourself or take a really cold shower or go to a natural — by the water like a lake, if you have an opportunity, roll on snow, whatever you have.
And what it does again is, that shock to the system, it’s a good shock, it’s like weight training. Again, the big of a difference between the heat and the cold, the more stimulus your nervous system gets and it rapidly closes the pores forcing the toxins out, stimulating the body in the process and lots of good stuff happens from – anyways, it’s a great recovery method and has been used for hundreds, hundreds of years, great results, so highly recommended.
COREY: Awesome. So Greg, the system that you put together at least from my point of view is relatively simple but also very well thought out. Just to kind of recap, the main thing you’re talking about in the beginning was just developing a strong foundation, a strong base versus just jumping right into a lot of the advanced movements and things that we see online.
GREG: Yeah, that’s true.
COREY: Starting with mobility and bodyweight training, crawling, climbing, tumbling, just creating good body awareness and coordination.
GREG: Yeah, take it easy in the beginning too, eventually I rise in intensity but just enjoying it first.
COREY: And then also, after we get the mobility, the bodyweight training and stuff like that, we’re also incorporating proper breathing techniques. And then once we have a good solid foundation, adding external load by using kettlebells, sandbags, whatever other implements that people may be using.
GREG: Yeah. Well for combat athletes also partner training is huge. Lifting your — shoulder in variety of training partners is very important. Lunging, get ups, squats, good mornings, crawling exercises like a crawl exercise where one person stands spreading his arms around and the other person crawls around his body and above the hip, stuff like that.
COREY: Yeah, killer stuff, there’s a ton of things we can do, that’s great. And then just planning out your week and using different progressions, different systems to properly walk people through those stages and incorporating the recovery techniques. And as you said, with the recovery, it’s maybe for a lot of people, it’s reducing the training load that they might have during the week. But the three main points that you went through or sleep, nutrition and mobility, just doing low intensity ground flows, eating good quality whole foods, getting consistent quality sleep and then — guys some killer information about the sauna for sure. I think that will really help guys out.
GREG: For sure, for sure. And we’re blessed to have a really good sauna nearby which we go to but you can get away with like the home unit you can build your own sauna in the backyard or in the basement, there’s lots of information online and I’m sure if you guys look for it, you’ll find it.
COREY: Awesome. Well, Greg, thank you so much. For the guys that are listening. If they want to find out more about what you’re doing out there Greg, what’s the best place for them to find you?
GREG: So you can find me online. Basically, my website is undergroundgym.com. The website for my local gym at Red Bank is undergroundgymredbank.com. You can find me by my name on YouTube, Greg Mihovich, that’s M-I-H-O-V-I-C-H, Greg Mihovich, and you can find me on Facebook under the same name.
So drop me a line. I’ll be going to a three week training trip to Eastern Europe, actually departing tomorrow, I’m going to do lots of Systema Muay Thai, Samba, MMA and possibly some stick fighting out there. So I’m looking forward to it, going to meet a lot of my old time coaches, haven’t been there in a couple years, see my mom and just have a good time and come back and be recharged and ready to get back at it.
COREY: Nice, sounds like a killer trip Greg, we can’t wait to hear more about it man.
GREG: Yeah, I’m looking forward myself.
COREY: Cool. Thanks so much Greg. We will talk to you soon.
GREG: My pleasure Corey, thank you very much. And see you later guys. Greg Mihovich, undergroundgym.com. Thank you Corey.