Mike Perry is the founder and owner of Skill of Strength. In his eleven plus years as a Personal Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach, he has trained clients of all ages and abilities including athletes represented in MLS, NFL, MLB, UFC Bellator MMA, CES MMA and other local mixed martial arts promotions.
In this interview we discuss:
- Evaluating an athlete
- Workout design
- The importance of aerobic foundation
- Progression during camp
- Lifestyle and recovery
- and more.
Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Strength Coach Mike Perry
COREY: Hey guys, this is Corey Beasley with Fight Camp Conditioning. I’m on the phone here with Mike Perry. Mike, how’re you doing?
MIKE: Excellent Corey, how are you today?
COREY: Good man thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.
MIKE: No problem, glad to be here.
COREY: So Mike, just for the guys listening, just give us a little two cents about who you are and what you’re doing.
MIKE: Well, my name is Mike Perry; I own a strength and conditioning facility out in Chelmsford, Massachusetts called Skill of Strength. We offer adult group training, sports performance training for high school and collegiate athletes and obviously we offer MMA fight preparation as well. We’ve been here for about three years. Our training facility is about 6000 square feet. We’ve been very, very lucky to have a business that’s growing significantly over the years, and yeah, we’re very excited to just be working with a ton of athletes. As I mentioned, business is growing and we’re really sort of starting to get our hands on more athletes and more fighters out in the speck of the woods.
I’ve been a strength coach for almost 13 years now. I’ve been involved in pretty much every sort of style of strength and conditioning you can imagine. I’ve done the barbell stuff, I’ve had a little bit of fun with Olympic lifting, obviously, athletic kettlebell training, bodyweight, you name it. So I’ve got a lot of experience working with athletes of all ages, professions, levels, you name it. So that’s me in a nutshell.
COREY: Cool, man. Where did you get your start? How did you get started?
MIKE: In strength and conditioning, or working with fighters?
COREY: Just in strength and conditioning in the beginning.
MIKE: You know what, I’ve always been sort of a workout gym rat. I had my first membership when I was probably 14 years old. I remember going to the gym not really knowing what’s going on. But prior to that I had the weight bench in my basement, and from there I went and I was always an athlete. I played soccer my whole life, I played in high school, played in college and then after college, I had an opportunity to get an internship at a facility in Wellesley, Massachusetts and it was great because I learned from some incredible people there. I was surrounded with athletic trainers, physical therapists, acupuncturist, even orthopedic doctors worked there as well. So I was surrounded by an incredible team and at that time, our facility was working with a ton of professional baseball players, NFL guys, MLS guys, and I was lucky enough to learn from some incredible strength and conditioning coaches early on. And from there, I just sort of kept going. I worked there for about six years and then I moved on to another facility where I was the Director of Personal Training, did that for a few years and then I finally decided I wanted to open my own place and I opened up Skill of Strength at our current place about three years ago, but prior to that I was running around like a madman going to people’s homes, renting out space at gyms and finally we’ve got a home base and we’re just cranking along right now and it’s been an exciting journey. But we’re very proud of what we’ve created and looking forward to see what we can do in the future.
COREY: It’s awesome, man. I know it’s always a hustle when you go from that space and you’re working with somebody else, and then you’re independent kind of running around trying to figure out what you’re going to do and where you’re going to do it. I know that can be a pretty volatile time when you’re dealing with multiple different people and different gym owners and running all over the place can be exhausting. So it’s always nice to get some roots, right?
MIKE: Yeah, it was one of those scenarios where I didn’t have a choice. Place that I was renting space, the owner was like, hey, we’re not going to have any more contractors here, you’re going to have to start looking elsewhere. And I said hey, can you give me like a month or two? And he’s like, yeah, I can give you that but after that, you’re pretty much welcome to leave. So I was like, okay. So within 45 days, I found a facility finally, got it outfitted and that was about 2800 square foot facility which I’m currently in. And then we just knocked down some walls and expanded a year down the road because we just didn’t have enough space. So it was one of those scenarios where I was like, I didn’t have a choice but to just dive in. And I didn’t even think about consequences. I was like, yeah, I’m just going to do this because if I don’t do it now, it’s never going to be done. So it worked out okay, I mean, it’s been crazy. It’s been absolutely nuts but hey, we’re doing okay now.
COREY: Yeah, we got a very similar start. We had the exact same situation but we had about three weeks where we had to do ours and we pulled it all together in that time and found the location and signed the lease and got all of our stuff and it was hectic but it was worth it, for sure.
MIKE: Yeah, awesome. It’s cool, man.
COREY: So Mike, as far as the athletes, fighters and stuff like that, how did you kind of fall in with those guys?
MIKE: So I’ve always been a huge fan of mixed martial arts. Even before I started training fighters, it was always one of those things that when I was clicking through the channels that it was always one of the channels that I stopped on and viewed a ton. Probably around 2010 or 2011, we hosted a kettlebell course at my gym. At that time, I was affiliated with the RKC, and we hosted in HKC which at that time was single day kettlebell course. I met a gentleman there by the name of Jake Steinmann. Jake is a Muay Thai coach at Team Sityodtong in Boston which is under Mark Dellagrotte.
So we kind of hit it off and we chatted for quite a bit and I said to Jake, I said hey, I want to work with some fighters. I said I’ve worked with a ton of professional athletes in my time, NFL, MLS, you name it. And I said, I really think I could do a nice job with some fighters. I said, who you recommend? And he said, hey, I got this young pro, he’s three and one at a time, his name is Rob Font. He said Rob is a type of guy, he listens well, he eats hungry. He’s a smart athlete and he really wants to take it to the next level. I said, well send him over.
So Rob came over, did his eval and really just got him going. He’s been an incredible athlete to work with. He made his debut last summer in Vegas and actually he fought George Roop and he got the first round knockout and he got a $50,000 bonus in his first fight in the UFC, so that was a pretty decent debut and I believe Rob is 11 and 1 now and 12 and one 1 in currently at UFC and, and then from there, I started getting a ton of guys from Team Sityodtong in Boston. And from there a lot of the team sort of affiliated with Sityodtong cross training. So now I think I’ve currently got between 12 and 15 fighters from three to four different gyms within the area. And now I think I’ve got three or four guys in the UFC now and a lot of other local, highly ranked pros. So it’s been awesome, it’s been a blast.
COREY: Cool. So Mike, when those guys are coming in and you’re doing an evaluation, what kind of things are you looking for?
MIKE: So on the initial console, we’re going through sort of injury history, aches and pains, sort of the old what bothers you. Obviously, we go through what their sort of background is if they’ve more of a striking background or if they’ve a wrestling background, etc. And then I do two different assessments. One is I do take them through the FMS, I just do that with everybody. And then I get them on the table and I break them down a little bit more. So I look at their ankles, I look at their hip. So we’re looking at Thomas test, internal external hip rotation, adductors, thoracic rotation extension, cervical spine, shoulders, legs, the whole thing and then from there we design sort of their movement prep. And we’re really trying to just loosen them up and get them as mobile as necessary for that particular athlete.
Now some guys move well naturally, a lot of the ground guys in general move a little bit better. Whereas the strikers, from my experience, not so much. So we spend a ton of time on the ground doing hip mobility and really just getting these guys to open up. And it’s made a huge difference and especially in the way that they throw kicks, stuff like that. So we’re really, really in depth with the evaluation process. I feel like that’s really the backbone of how we do things. Because oftentimes, we do get athletes that they can’t do a bodyweight squat below parallel when they come to us. So right away, I’m not even concerned about trying to get them to squat or deadlift. I’m just trying to clean up their movement quality, and oftentimes just through cleaning things up it just starts to move a lot more efficiently and everything just becomes a little bit more fluid.
So I think for me, the big thing is just getting them to move well and really understanding that, hey listen, if you’re efficient with the way you move, it’s just going to be easier when you’re in the cage. I’ve got a couple of my guys that when they started with me, they were real stiff. I said, hey listen buddy, right now you’re fighting two people. I’m like, you’re fighting your opponent and yourself. I said, let’s take one of those out of the equation because you’re not moving well and you’re battling your own hips and you’re battling your own shoulder restriction. So we really try to clean those up early on, and usually the first three to four weeks is just a time to clean up those asymmetries and all those restrictions.
COREY: Right on. When you’re talking about movement quality, for everybody that’s listening and stuff like that, and people that are unfamiliar with different movement patterns and stuff, do you have certain categories for your movement patterns or drills that you kind of use?
MIKE: Well, we’ve got the basics, obviously within the FMS, we look at a lunge pattern, squat pattern and a single leg stance but I like to use basic tests like, how well do they jump and land? How well can they do like a cosec stretch or a lateral squat, whatever you want to call it. Overall their rhythm when they skit, when they run, just a whole bunch of different assessments that I don’t really necessarily have written down in a specific protocol but what I really try to do with their sort of movement assessments is see where they’re fluid, where they’re efficient, and then see where they’re not.
For example, I’ve got a lot of guys that can deadlift double body weight, but we get them in a single leg deadlift position with the 12 kilo kettlebell and they’re shaking like a leaf. So right away that tells me, you know what, maybe they’ve got a single leg deficit that’s something that we need to work on. And then from there, we just try to give them drills that are going give them the biggest bang for their buck. Oftentimes it’s just alright, grab a kettlebell, we’re going to do some prying goblet squats and we’re really going to open up your hips. Other times, it’s drills that are going to maybe help them throw kicks a little bit differently. But I mean, there’s a laundry list of different things. But essentially, what we’re trying to do first is attack the basic movement pattern. And then from there really make it so if I asked them to do pretty much anything, they can do it. And they don’t have to be super strong but they need to know how to single leg squat, they need to know how to lunge, reverse lunge, split squat, they need to know how to hinge correctly so they learn how to load their hips rather than their spine. And it’s just the basics man. And then just another thing that we use like, even just basic rhythmic drills like an agility ladder and stuff like that, I like the agility ladder just for the sake of I can see what type of tempo and what type of rhythm these guys can create, if they are fluid or not. And that really just helps me design their program.
COREY: Yeah, right on. That’s cool, man. So you got these guys coming in, you do a real intense evaluation, you’re getting them to move efficiently, uncovering any exercise history, asymmetry, stuff like that and obviously addressing that as you go, these guys show up to you on a weekly basis. What’s the typical workout look like?
MIKE: So once these guys are in a group, I would say after sort of month one, like a month one is really teaching them how to lift and teaching them how to clean up their movement restrictions. So once those are done, then we start in a basic total body phase. So we start off and we’ll do some upper body and lower body power. So for example, we may do a box jump, med ball rotational throw and then maybe we’ll superset that with some bottoms-up carry. So we’re getting an upper body, lower body power, and then just a little bit of core activation, nothing that’s going to smoke their core because we’re going to obviously need them fresh for their list down the road.
So we usually start off with some sort of basic power work. And then from there, after we do our power work, we get into our lifts. So I would say for most of my guys, we usually nail down three to four lifts a day. So for example, day one, maybe a deadlift, a dumbbell press, a split squat and a pull up, really, really basic three to four exercises.
I’m a huge fan of the basics because I feel like they don’t need to spend all of their time learning new skills so I’m hammering the basics in the essential stuff. So after we do our lifts, depending on the athlete, we may do some footwork drills and really some drills that are going to set them up for sort of their conditioning. It’s kind of a continuum if you will, maybe we’ll do a little bit of lateral work just to get their feet moving or some shuffling drills or whatever it may be. And then we’re going to get into their energy system development work. So depending on the athlete and what they need and how far away from a fight they are, things are going to change.
So the first thing we really focus on is just basic localized muscular endurance and training the aerobic system. And once we feel like we’ve got a pretty good handle on that, we’ll start getting into some alactic capacity work. We’ll hammer that for a while in conjunction with some aerobic work and then we’ll start to introduce slowly some lactic power and lactic capacity to work as we get a little bit deeper into their program. And then we finish up with usually some sort of cool down and foam roll and maybe a little bit of diaphragmatic breathing at the end and send them on their way.
COREY: Cool. So to just put up for people that are listening, you’re talking about aerobic foundation, why is that a main focus for you? Because a lot of times I think these days people have this negative attitude or connotation towards aerobic style work, long durations of low intensity work. How are you kind of developing that aerobic system and why?
MIKE: I try to stay away from sort of just the steady state stuff, because a lot of my athletes, a lot of times, they don’t move well or even they don’t run correctly, so I’m not going to send them up for a five mile run. Now if they run well and they can do it efficiently and they don’t drive their heart rate through the roof, fine, that’s a great way to do it. But normally, what I do is I’ll throw together a very, very light circuit that’ll be aerobic in nature. So I’ll say to them, all right guys, I’m going to give you five exercises and your exercises are going to be light sled push and then you’re going to go into some med ball throws and then you’re going to do some light rope work whether it’s jump rope or battling rope work. And then maybe we do some bike, and maybe we’ll do some erging or whatever.
So I’ll develop their aerobic base via sort of a circuit training method where it’s going to do a couple of things. One, it’s going to really train their aerobic system because I always say to them all right guys, we don’t want this to be a butt kicker, so have your heart rate monitor on let’s keep you guys anywhere from 130 to 150ish for the duration. And at the same time, what we’re really setting the tone for is sort of their power work and we’re allowing them to acquire skills through their aerobic training. So even if it is throwing in some ladder or even if it is doing some light cadence work with battling ropes, clamps, what it’s going to do is it’s going to do two things. It’s going to allow them to learn these exercises and learn it in a safe fashion where it’s not super fatiguing. And the early stages of getting these guys conditioned we don’t want them to be super fatigued because we’re at a point where we want them to learn a new skill but in an aerobic setting, so that’s how I create my aerobic circuits.
Now, some days it’s like I said, we’re doing sleds, we’re doing ropes, we’re doing you name it, just different movement based drills, they’re always moving, they never stop. Other days, we may add in some pushups and some rows and some bodyweight squats. We’re never really working in a fatiguing fashion. What we’re trying to do is just keep them moving but it’s really just GPP. Obviously the aerobic base is huge because that’s really the foundation of all the other systems for a bazillion different reasons. We don’t want to get too deep into the science but I mean, if the aerobic system is trained correctly, its ability to remove metabolic waste and flush everything out help with the re-synthesization of ATP is huge.
So I always tell people, if your goal is to be super powerful and repetitively super powerful, you really need to develop that aerobic base. And oftentimes, I think people don’t spend enough time just sort of getting that base and they just go right into the high intensity work because they equate the fact that hey, I’m tired, it must be doing something for me.
I’ve made the mistake of going into high intensity work too early with some of my guys early in the fight game, and I’ll be the first one to admit it, and one thing that I noticed is that a lot of their stuff, we would never see improvement. So for example, the guys that we didn’t do their aerobic stuff first, after about four weeks, everything just kind of stalled and they didn’t progress on their conditioning, they didn’t recover as faster. So what I had to do is I had to go back and spend another three to four weeks developing their aerobic base and once I did that, eventually once we got back into the sort of the high intensity, whether it be alactic or lactic work, all of a sudden we get this huge jump in performance. And then I’m sitting there going, yeah, I’m an idiot I probably should have done this a little bit earlier. But you know what? It’s trial and error. I’ve made some mistakes along the way, nothing major, but I’ve learned a ton from it. And it’s really made a huge difference with my athletes.
COREY: Nice dude. That’s good. So you kind of have a general template for your workouts, you’re kind of putting these guys through some explosive work in the beginning, you’re doing three or four main lifts just hammering the basics, getting these guys strong, doing a variety of different energy system work depending on where they’re at in their camp and things like that. When you are looking at somebody’s camp, let’s say it’s not always the case, some guys get called out two weeks from a fight and they have to be ready to go. Are you planning and doing like a progression for most of these guys leading into a camp, do you have lead time like 8 to 12 weeks? Or are you just kind of keeping these guys ready at all times?
MIKE: I would say it’s a little bit of both. In a perfect world, we’d obviously have enough time to prep these guys for a camp. But it’s funny at the beginning, when these guys start, I tell them, I said, listen, if you cannot take a fight for two to three months, I said, that’d be great. And I’m not saying that they can’t, it’s really their choice. But what that’s going to allow me to do is that’s going to really allow me to set sort of the background and the backbone for their system and then we go from there. And it’s funny once the guys are with me for about six months or more, all of their qualities just improve. So they’re stronger, their overall aerobic base is better, even their sort of lactic and alactic qualities are much better and they’re much more efficient at that stuff.
So I always tell my guys listen, in a perfect world, we peak you guys for a fight but I’d love for you guys to be able to take a fight in three to four weeks if need be. And that happened a couple times with some of the guys that got called up to the UFC. It’s kind of like hey, the UFC is calling, can you take a fight in four weeks? You’re not going to say no, unless your guys have been just like at home eating pizza and not taking care of yourself, but hopefully that’s not the case, but you never know when that opportunity is going to come. And I always tell these guys like, listen, you can’t eat like a club and you can’t let yourself go. Sure. Should you take some time off after a fight? Absolutely. You need some time to just reset. But what I hate to see is when someone will do a fight, they’ll do their weight cut, and then after the fight, they just eat for like three weeks and it’s like how did you gain all that weight, now we’re going to have to work hard to get it off again.
So it’s really a consistency factor with my guys. I mean, I’ve got guys that they’re all peaking at different points. And I think for me, that’s the tough part is making sure that I’m keeping track of all my guys and getting their programming dialed in and making sure that they’re peaking when they need to be peaking.
In a perfect world, I’d love to take all my guys and say, all right guys, we’re going to be training as a team and we’re going to be doing sessions three days a week at these times. But the problem with that is one guy may be 10 weeks away from a fight another guy may be four weeks and they’re just in different phases, and to put them through the same conditioning is just unrealistic.
COREY: Yeah. Right on. So you kind of alluded to it a little bit, but just as far as lifestyle and recovery, I know a lot of these guys tend to train too much too often too intensely as well as just having some poor lifestyle habits like we’ve all got them, right?
COREY: How are you kind of helping or guiding your guys as far as recovery and just lifestyle habits that are going to help them improve as athletes?
MIKE: Part of what we do is I’ve got a good relationship with the guys up at Team Sityodtong in Boston. That’s really the main camp I work with, I’ve got a few other but — I always keep in touch with them and their coaches to see where they’re at and see how they’re performing. So that’s part of it.
When possible — I like some of my guys, I love all of them to do it, but they’re not all great at it. When possible, I love using heart rate variability. We’ve used that with a lot of our athletes, and this just gives us good information on kind of the status of their nervous system on a daily basis. So when we can and when the guys remember, we’re going to have them take their HIV readings in the morning and go from there. But most of the guys I can just tell sort of how they’re acting and their overall sort of demeanor when they walk in the door, and then I have a conversation with their coach and I just hated them hey listen like, what’s the priority right now? Like, what do they need? Do they need more work at their MMA gym? Because if they do, then I’m going to back off a little bit so they can spend more energy on their situational stuff. If I’ve got a guy that’s the monster in the gym, he’s super strong explosive, his conditioning is through the roof, he may need to spend more time on jiu-jitsu or striking. That may make him a better athlete and I’m totally okay with that. But it’s always worth a conversation with the coach.
So I really try to get feedback from their coaches and I just talk to them. I say how you’re feeling, how’s everything going, and they’re pretty honest. They’ll tell me I’m a little bit banged up or go from there. And oftentimes once they warm up and get moving, they feel a lot better. But I don’t really do a ton of volume when it comes to strength training with these guys. So I found that most of the time our workouts aren’t killing them. There are some times where they’ll say, I’ve got a fight in five weeks and their coach is like, we need to get him in shape. So literally we’ll spend a ton of time just taking them through some serious conditioning programs for four weeks so they can get ready for that fight.
So overall, I do what I can, but again, it’s so tough to keep track of everybody. Some of them work with nutritionists, some of them get massages, some of them foam roll and spend some time doing like the regen sessions. Oftentimes if they come in and they’re just feeling smoked, I’ll just say all right, here’s the game plan, I want you to do foam roll, I want you to do a ton of mobility work and I want you to just do like an aerobic regen day and then head home. And then oftentimes what that does is that sets them up for a really good workout maybe two days later or for a really tough sparring session at night.
COREY: Right on. Very cool, man. So, good stuff. So do you guys have any big fights coming up for guys competing?
MIKE: Yeah, we’ve got some local stuff. We’ve got some local promotions up by us, we’ve got Cage Titanwhich is down in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We’ve got Combat Zone which is up in New Hampshire. We’ve got CES MMA which is now on AXS TV and that’s in Rhode Island and obviously we’ve got the UFC guys. We’ve got the big fight that we’ve got John Howard who just started with me. He’s fighting Brandon Zach in Vegas. And I believe it’s — I forget what card it is 189 maybe. So that’s going to be a tough fight. We’ve got about six weeks for that. So that’s going to be a big fight. This is John’s first camp with me too. So I’m excited to see where we can take him. He hasn’t worked with us in the past and he actually just moved over to Team Sityodtong in Massachusetts now. He’s working with Sityodtong and myself, so that’s a pretty big fight for him in Vegas. And we’ll see the return of Rob Font in the fall here.
We’ve got some other guys on a bellator card that’s going to be coming up at Mohegan soon and then the local promotions as well. Like CES is really a nice card out of Rhode Island, they’ve done a nice job and they’re pumping out some good fighters so — I’m trying to think what’s coming up next. Yeah, it’s actually going to be a fairly quiet summer. I’m not going to be able to attend too many fights because we’ve got my wife and I are expecting another kid any day now. So unfortunately, I won’t be able to get to them but I can still get the guys prep. So yeah, I’m excited.
COREY: Very cool. It sounds like you got everything pretty dialed man. Hey, for the guys that are listening that want to contact you Mike, what’s the best way for them to reach out and get a hold of you?
MIKE: You can always email me, email@example.com. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram, MMA Fight Prep. You can always reach out on Facebook as well, just Mike Perry and you can check out my site which is called mmafightprep.com. And it’s basically a site where there’s a ton of articles and blog posts about training fighters.
COREY: Nice dude. Well, Mike, thank you so much for your time and just sharing your stuff with us. I know it makes a big impact for a lot of the people that are listening and they can fine tune their programs so they can improve. So we really do appreciate you joining us.
MIKE: Well, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it as well.
COREY: Okay man, have a great day.
MIKE: You do the same, take care.