Training with Michael Giovanni

Last Tuesday (24/04) I got to meet and train with (and also get smashed by) Michael Giovanni, who is, amongst other things, the head strength and conditioning coach for former UFC light heavy weight champion Tito Ortiz.

Going into the seminar, which was held at Kando Martial Arts club in Chadstone, Victoria (which is an awesome facility) I was unsure what to expect. I was hoping to listen to stories about Michael’s experience with Tito and what they had been doing to prepare him for his next fight (July 7th vs Forrest Griffin at UFC 148) and also to pick up some new pointers about the finer points of exercise and training elite athletes - I had no idea by the end of the night I’d be drenched in sweat and aching all over.

Michael has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience. Besides being a qualified personal trainer with ten years experience, he has also completed a Bachelor of Science Degree in Kinesiology Fitness at California State University Long Beach and is currently working towards a Masters of Science Degree in Kinesiology Sports Fitness and Certifying Strength and Conditioning. In his time as a trainer he has trained people from all walks of life, ranging from elite professional athletes, like Tito Ortiz, to 85 year old ladies. On a personal note, I like seeing trainers who can appreciate individuality when putting together a training program and not just hammer everyone with a one-size-fits-all approach, which is something Michael strives to do.

The seminar opened with an introduction from Michael then followed onto some Q and A where he shared some information about getting Tito to peak condition and some funny/horror stories of huge weight cuts only days out of an official weigh-in, which ended with Michael actually hugging a fully wrapped up Tito in the steam room in an attempt to sweat out the last few pounds of fluid to make weight for the fight.

He then talked about the importance of keeping training specific to the individual and the goal they are working towards. In the case of Tito, Michael explained how he sticks to the timing of an actual fight (5 x 5min rounds) as part of their advanced stages of training. For example a training session may include selecting five different exercises that challenge the body through varied ranges of motion (squats, kettle bell swings, burpees, kicks and bear crawls – as an example) performing each for one minute (totaling five minutes), resting for one minute and then repeating until five rotations have been completed. This replicates the loading required for an MMA fight in both time and the varied movements.

During his talk, I found that Michael focused on explaining only the dynamic/advanced stages of training. It would have been great to hear more about Tito’s general conditioning – what steps he takes for active recovery, how he fine tunes Tito’s quality of movement and how he improves his overall speed and strength. We’ve all seen hard MMA training sessions before, the sweat sessions, so it would have been great to hear more about the finer points.

Then it was onto the training session, which admittedly, having had a long day prior to the seminar, I wasn’t overly up for.

The session started with five laps around the training hall followed by four suicide sprints up the hall. Then we went through four laps of walking lunges, burpees, squat jumps, kicks, bear crawls, crab walks, crunches, push outs, suicide sprints, burpees, kicks, crab walks, crunches… By this stage I was wrecked and my form had gone out the window. We then continued with more suicides, bear crawls, crunches, squat jumps, push outs, superman holds, etc, you get the idea.

I’m not really a fan of smashing myself like this but it was fun given I haven’t trained that way in a while. At the same time though, I didn’t find it overly beneficial as I was wrecked and my body felt more out of shape than anything else. No one in the class – myself included – could complete the whole session and what we did get through wasn’t done well. By the halfway point everyone’s form was out the window. I felt the workout was so so. Following up what I said about the talk, we’ve all seen these MMA smash sessions, so it would have been nice to be taken through something different.

I can understand that given the time constraints, limited equipment, the size of the group and not knowing the ability of the participants can affect the quality of a training session, but I was honestly expecting a little more out of this seminar. I think in this case I would’ve rather seen him select two to four people from the group, done some quick individual assessments and shown us all some more focused training. It would definitely give us more of an insight into what it means to be trained by a trainer of elite level, world class athletes as well as give us a real look into his training methods. It would even make the seminar feel like more of a world class, international guest presenter experience – especially for the lucky ones who were selected for the focused training.  Even though it was a fun night I felt like it was just a random smash session that didn’t really show me anything that I would expect from an elite athletes training program.

If you know me you know I’m not a fan of SMASH SESSIONS. Although they can be fun every now and then, at the end of the day they don’t really serve as much more than wear and tear on the body – I don’t care for them and would rather work hard in a more controlled, focused manner.

Overall, the session was enjoyable and it was a pleasure to meet such an experienced and accomplished trainer, but like I said, I don’t feel we even got to glimpse at what I means to train with someone of Michael Giovanni’s level of experience. Personally I would have much preferred to pick his brain a little more instead of him smashing mine with suicide sprints.

Michael is a nice guy, very humble about and thankful for his position as such a sort after trainer and although the seminar was enjoyable I felt we barely even began scratching the surface of what it means to be trained by someone like himself.

You can see Michael’s website here and follow him on Twitter here.