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‘Training for Warriors’ — A Fitness Program for Novices and Pros Alike

Dr. Mercols

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Oct. 30, 2015

We all know exercise is critical to be healthy, and there's a simple strategy that can significantly boost the return on your investment.

Martin Rooney is a world-leading fitness expert and a former physical therapist, and I've personally been indirectly using his principles for the last three years, as my personal trainer is one of Martin's students.

So in that sense, I'm already a bit biased.

Martin, who has a degree in Health and Exercise Science and a deep athletic background, in addition to physical therapy, is the creator of a fitness program called Training for Warriors (TFW).

He's also authored seven books, including Training for Warriors, and Ultimate Warrior Workouts (Training for Warriors): Fitness Secrets of the Martial Arts.

While many are afraid of getting injured from exercise (which certainly can and does happen when done incorrectly), one of the core philosophies of TFW is that you exercise in order to NOT get hurt, and to live longer.

"I think we have to remember that with a good, effective exercise program, you're going to sweat, you're going to smile, and you're going to feel better about yourself," he says.

"That's what I'm trying to do with my Training for Warriors program, and the mission to bring fitness back where injury doesn't rear its ugly head."

Before There Was Training for Warriors...

Martin's list of athletic qualifications over the past 25 years include being a division 1 track and field javelin thrower in college, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a former member on the US bobsled team, a record setting powerlifter, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and black belt in Kodokan judo.

He's also served as consultant to the New York Giants, the New York Jets, trained Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champs, elite military organizations, and members of the Gracie family, who developed Brazilian jiu-jitsu and turned it into the dominant style of mixed martial arts that it is today.

While still working as a physical therapist, he and a friend, Bill Parisi, launched the Parisi Speed School; a youth training program teaching peak performance to kids all around the world. Over 1 million kids have participated in the program, and there are now 80 Parisi Speed Schools across the United States.

"When you think about athletic performance, what are we really describing there but fitness? They've got to get stronger, faster, more flexible, improve their endurance, improve their diet and nutrition, and ultimately their character," Martin says.

His wide expertise in the athletic field ultimately coalesced into the creation of TFW.

"The current system is no longer just for fighters; it's being used around the world every day by thousands of people to help people lose fat, build muscle, and feel better about themselves," he says.

Everyone Can Train Like a Warrior

The TFW program includes an intriguing form of warm up exercises, which could probably serve as a complete exercise program in and of itself for elderly individuals, as it's very comprehensive. It could take them an hour or two just to do the warm up.

"The warm-up is the cornerstone of our training system, and one that is often skipped or glossed over with not only other systems but a lot of the books you see out there as well...

The main reason you warm up is not just [to raise] your heart rate, muscle temperature, and getting stronger and flexible, but it's so you don't get hurt. That needs to be a compass that guides people in fitness again.

I think fitness today has gone out of control... People are sacrificing technique for intensity, just seeing how hard they can go... They've lost the concept that fitness is a lifestyle, and that fitness can save you and not injure you. With Training for Warriors, that's something I want to bring back."

While TFW grew out of training some of the best athletes in the world, producing world champions and Olympic medalists, the system is not just for top level athletes.

There are now 230 facilities in 30 countries around the world offering this program, and they have customized software that can track what everyone's doing. Interestingly, the average of people in the program is 31 to 59 years old, and 55 percent are women.

"This program, and this is exactly where I wanted to take it, is no longer for the elite athlete," he says. "If the elite athlete wants to do it, it can produce incredible results. We've proven that. But we are helping people lose fat, build muscle, and add years to their life everyday around the world."

Next he wants to reach the seniors, those in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, or even older, which would require a slightly modified version of the program. But in the meantime, seniors could easily use the warm-up portion of the program, and then add in some strength training under the guidance of a qualified personal trainer.

"What I say is, 'You didn't get old because you lost your strength and power. You stopped using your strength and power, and then you got old,'" Martin says. "Fitness, regardless of your age, works... [H]igher muscle mass, lower body fat, and increased bone density; these are not just markers of health, they're also markers of longevity. The faster you lose muscle mass, that is often indicative of a less-prolonged life. Lifting weights or a regular exercise program can maintain that muscle mass or increase it into your 70s and beyond."

'The Hurricane' — A Potent Cardiovascular Component of TFW

The cardiovascular component of TFW is called "The Hurricane," which is high intensity exercise. Exercise science has conclusively shown that turning up the intensity yields greater results, in a shorter amount of time — from increased muscle gain and fat loss to improved cardiovascular fitness and performance.

As explained by Martin:

"The intensity of the movement — your ability to create a physical disruption of your cardiovascular system, neuromuscular system, and muscular system — when you create that disruption, there's an afterburn effect. Your body continues to burn calories while rebuilding the body and getting back to homeostasis. When that occurs, that's where you're getting fat loss and muscle gain."

Look at sprinters and NFL football players, for example. They're very lean yet very muscular. This type of body is the result of lifting weights and moving fast for short periods of time. So, in TFW, on certain days of the week you lift weights, and on "hurricane" or metabolic training days, you do high intensity exercises.

While Martin doesn't place any significant amount of emphasis on reaching specific physiological parameters like Phil Campbell does (who recommends getting your heart rate up to max — 220 minus your age — during 30 seconds of all out effort, and then recovering for 90 seconds before repeating), he does recommend using a heart rate monitor to track your cardiovascular performance, even if you're not striving to reach your maximum heart rate.

"In our system, we like to bring the [heart rate] levels up, then bring them back down, bring the levels up, and bring them back down, to create that disruption that we're ultimately looking for — that fat loss and muscle gain response."

Training and Living as a Warrior

Martin stresses that TFW isn't just a sport. He describes it as an art, and more importantly, a lifestyle, which includes regular workouts, nutrition, getting good sleep, and staying more active in general, which I believe is crucial for longevity. More than 10,000 studies have confirmed that prolonged sitting — even if you're a pro athlete — is an independent risk factor for disease and early death. So avoiding sitting, and moving about as much as possible during each day is another facet of health that must not be overlooked.

"When you've got your exercise, movement, nutrition, and sleep in order, you're going to make great stuff happen, in terms of fitness. Those are the bones of Training for Warriors and what we are promoting every day in our facilities."

Meditation can be another important component, as it can help you develop a deeper sense of self mastery — a trait Martin has repeatedly found among the top athletes, especially martial artists, that he's met and worked with.

"Not only was it something they did, it was actually something that was immediately incorporated into the training almost everywhere I went," he notes.

"Obviously in Japan, it's very deep rooted. I trained at the Japanese Karate Association (JKA) and numerous universities with their judo teams. [Meditation] was directly implemented in every session. But I saw the same things in Russia with the sambo masters and in Brazil with so many of my good friends in the Gracie family who have all utilized meditation — whether we want to call it mediation, or to achieve a state of flow, or to get into the zone...

At the end of our TFW sessions, there's an opportunity to reflect. There's an opportunity to calm our nervous systems down and our bodies back down, reflect on the lessons that we learned during that session, but also to internalize and really reflect on the body. In the United States, they might call that a cool down versus if I say, 'Hey, now we're all going to meditate.' That might scare everybody out of the facility. But obviously the system stems from me and it's an extension of my personal philosophy... [and] I practice [meditation] multiple times a day. Ultimately, it's the focus on the breath."

Basics of Warrior Training

Regardless of whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced person, the actual system of TFW stays the same. The main thing that changes is how you apply it. The level of training is different but the style remains the same. Martin recommends doing the TFW program four days a week, regardless of your fitness level. Two of those days you do resistance training or strength work, and on the other two, you do hurricanes or high-intensity interval training.

"On strength day, we load you up and on hurricane day, we speed you up. On strength day, we want higher load so we're getting more tension through the musculature and building bone density. But we want you to recover fully in between those sets. Your heart rate will increase somewhat during a resistance training session but that is not the goal. The goal of increasing your heart rate, that will be on metabolic days and those are spread out throughout the week so that, ultimately, you're able to recover."

Recovery is absolutely crucial. More is not necessarily better when it comes to weight- and high intensity training. During off days, your body is recovering from the work you just did, which is what allows you to get stronger, faster, and fitter. If you fail to recover, your body will simply begin to break down. On recovery days, focus on staying active with non-exercise movement, and go for longer walks if you feel like it. But don't do high intensity exercise.

As for specific strength training exercises, Martin is a big fan of deadlifts, and so am I. It's one of my favorite strength exercises and at 61, I'm able to deadlift 325 pounds for six reps. Meanwhile, Martin was on a team that recently set a Guinness Book World Record for deadlifts. His team moved the most weight in an hour in history. During that hour, Martin did nearly 290 deadlifts using 225 pounds of weight. (And, speaking of recovery, it took him almost two weeks to recover from the event.) He also holds state records in his age group for powerlifting in both New Jersey and North Carolina.

When done right, deadlifts are a great full-body exercise. Key considerations include maintaining good posture and a neutral spine, and avoiding using your back to lift the weight. Snapping your arms to lift the bar, lifting with a rounded back, and/or failing to engage your core are other common mistakes, as is trying to too much weight while your core is still weak. Press-ups, push-ups, chin-ups, squats, and lunges are other basic exercises Martin incorporates in the program.

Mastering the Basics Is Where It's At

Renzo Gracie, one of the living legends of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has been a major influence on Martin, teaching him not only how to be humble, but also the importance of mastering the basics. Many fall into the trap of looking for the latest, fanciest exercise, or trying the latest piece of equipment that promises to reshape your body, but if your aim is to be fit, healthy, and to live long, you need to master the basics.

This is why TFW doesn't get into complicated or novel exercises but sticks to the tried and true. The same can be said for nutrition and sleep as well. These are the basic ingredients of a healthy lifestyle, and you won't get far until or unless you focus on mastering them.

"So often, people are not masters of the fundamentals. They're usually trying to dabble in a lot of different things and become a master of nothing. That was a big experience I learned from Renzo Gracie," Martin says. So, how did that impact Training for Warriors? It's that Training for Warriors is the basics. We use basic lifts and basic movements, but we try to make them exciting in the style and the way that we do it. We wrap it in a philosophy that people can apply as an art or a way of life. But I will always err towards conservative and more fundamental movements than advanced stuff that either no one can do or no one can understand."

TFW Sources for Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced

If you're just starting out, Martin's latest book, Warrior Cardio: The Revolutionary Metabolic Training System for Burning Fat, Building Muscle, and Getting Fit, may be the best place to start if you want to learn more about TFW. His earlier books were geared more for advanced and pro athletes, whereas in later years he's segued into strategies for beginners. Warrior Cardio outlines the entire system, both strength training and "hurricane" training, and the warm-ups I talked about earlier.

His book, Train to Win: 11 Principles of Athletic Success, is not an exercise book; it's a philosophy book for those who want to "dig deeper into themselves," in search of greater self-mastery, and the why behind the what you're doing. "It's kind of like personal development meets fitness," he says. Giving some serious thought to the "why" you want to exercise is actually more important than you might think. Oftentimes, this is one of the details that separate those who stick with it from those who give up.

"If you figure out your why, you'll figure out how," Martin says. "So start with your why. Why do you want to work out?" They say, 'Well, I want to lose weight' or 'I want to build some muscle.' But it has to go deeper than that... Because as a coach, I can inspire you but you have to motivate yourself, right? I can be high-energy and have you on fire but ultimately, you still have to motivate yourself to eat right when there might be a chance to do otherwise, or get to bed when social media is exploding that night, and by linking people into that why, that's where you get the 'how.'"

Once you've got some physical training and the mental component, Martin suggests moving on to Training for Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout. While the imagery on this book cover may seem intimidating, the content doesn't have to be. Recall 55 percent of TFW participants are women, and the majority are in their 30s to late 50s. Ideally, you'll want to find a personal trainer who can incorporate the TFW program. lists certification events and live events that Martin teaches around the world. You can also sign up for his newsletter for free tips and advice.

In closing, Martin notes:

"If you want to find out more, don't be afraid. It's usually the start that stops most people with fitness or exercise. If you're going to do something, take the first step. It doesn't have to be scary and it doesn't have to be dangerous. Exercise will help you live longer. It'll improve your muscle. It'll improve your confidence. It'll make you feel better about yourself, which is ultimately why I think everybody should do it. I'm hoping something resonated with you to get you to take that first step. Figure out your why and help you find your own warrior within."