Swiss Ball MMA Training: An Interview With Champion Trainer Martin Rooney!

In this special interview MMA Trainer Martin Rooney discusses combat benefits of stability ball training and exercises that can be introduced into your strength and conditioning routine. Try them out!

[ Q ] People really enjoyed the Hurricane article featuring your forms of cardiovascular training for combat athletes. Many people have asked me to ask you just how you came up with that system and your other exercises.

      Well Larry, over the last decade of my life has been focused on ways to improve the physical and mental fitness of the fighters that I work with.

During that time, I have left no stone unturned when it comes to training methodology that could give my fighters a better chance of victory. I believe that both the fight training I have done and the trial and error we have experienced over time has led to the system.

[ Q ] Trial and error is certainly a key to success, but something I think many people try to skip and get right to the good stuff. I think that this way of thinking also leads to the current state of closed mindedness in training. How do you combat that?

      I have always preached to my students to keep an open mind and to be receptive to new information that comes along over time.

As an avid student of the martial arts, I think Bruce Lee's 4 Tenets of Jeet Kune Do sum up my approach to training very concisely:

      1. Research your own experience for the truth
      2. Absorb what is useful
      3. Reject what is useless
      4. Add what is specifically your own

On your own path in training, I suggest that you challenge yourself each day to use this model as well.

[ Q ] So that's why so many people refer to you as the "Trainer Philosopher". Any other philosophy you think would be important to dispense on our readers?

      Sure Larry, here is an important piece of my way of thinking. Training, as with anything in life, is all about habits. Since we come to be what we do habitually, our habits determine our ultimate destiny.

We as human beings are habit making machines. From the way we tie our shoes and brush our teeth to the exercises we select and mindset we have in the gym, it is all about habits.

In training, there are obviously good and bad habits to have. A great habit to have would be to consistently evaluate our current program and see where it can be updated.

      All too often, however, in the gym we may find ourselves just doing the same


    over and over, year after year, expecting different results. Interestingly, that is the exact definition of insanity in the dictionary!

[ Q ] I know what you are saying here. I also know that sometimes it is harder to practice what you preach. Do you ever find yourself slipping when it comes to your own philosophy?

      Sure I do. This stuff is way easier to talk about than perform. I know that. Even though I am always pushing my own personal envelope when it comes to training knowledge and information, I still occasionally find myself biased toward certain forms of training that have become habits for me.

For instance, even though I know that the bench press may not be the most important exercise for martial arts, I have found myself performing some variation of it weekly for the last 15 years! Some habits are just hard to break. Constantly looking at the habits you have developed and how you can improve them, however, is a secret to success.

[ Q ] Great stuff, Martin. Now speaking of looking at training habits and change, is there any training or equipment that comes to mind that you have altered the way you think about it?

      Without a doubt. There are many examples of this for me, but one stands out the strongest in recent memory. As a physical therapist and as a


      , I have been aware of the
      for probably almost 20 years.

Over that time, I had toyed around occasionally with them, but never took them seriously since I thought they were more for rehabilitation or people that were too out of shape to even use weights.

About a year ago, I was asked by a high school to present on the topic of stability ball training for the physical education department. I accepted and thoroughly researched the topic, reading books, watching over 15 videos, and even taking a course in stability ball training.

    I then began to spend a lot of time working on the stability ball with myself and my martial athletes. I was shocked that not only did I find there were many uses and new exercises to incorporate into my training system, but that many of the exercises were incredibly demanding to perform.

      First off, the ball is a versatile and effective training tool that can add variety to combat training programs. It can be used alone with bodyweight or with weights and on machines.

The ball creates an unstable environment. As a result both neutralizers and stabilizers that are rarely used during free weight or machine exercises are now activated. Activation of these muscles can contribute to greater overall strength and endurance for fighters. This also involves much more feedback for the athlete that you might not experience with traditional training.

[ Q ] What are the Combat Benefits of Stability Ball Training?

      If I had to make a list, I would put the benefits into 6 categories.

    1. Strength Training Tool for Entire Body
    2. Flexibility Tool For Entire Body
    3. Improves Posture
    4. Improves Balance and Stability
    5. Increased Nervous System Activation
    6. Rehabilitation Tool

[ Q ] Now you said that the ball can be used to create some demanding exercises. What exactly are some ways to change the resistance during a stability ball exercise?

      I have to tell you Larry, that until you have tried some of the variations, you have no idea how tough training on the ball can be. As far as changing the resistance, there are four ways that I do that with my training:

[ Q ] I believe that this is a great review for readers. Most people have the "habit" of thinking that the ball is only for abdominal training. Do you have some exercises that work other areas of the body?

      You hit a great point here Larry. The ball is not just to do


      on or sit on for good posture at work. This is a tool that can work the upper and lower body as well as hit muscles and


    in a new way to stimulate new growth. I don't think that there is anyone out there that can't add a little of this training in for variety.

[ Q ] So do you have a list of favorite exercises using the ball? I am sure people are wondering now just what it is you do with your fighters.

      Sure Larry, I know what everyone is waiting for. Described below are 4 of my favorite Stability Ball Exercises for combat athletes:

1. Push Up Hands On Ball:

        The athlete does pushups with the hands on the ball and the feet on the ground. As stability and control improves, you can perform this with one foot on the ground at a time. This really challenges stability and strength. Fit this one in during an upper body day and you will feel its power.

2. Pike Press:

        The athlete begins in the pike position and with the hips as high as possible and the head facing down. Then the athlete does shoulder presses while maintaining the pike position. If you want to get nasty, try this exercise with only one foot on the ball.

3. Core Twists:

        Begin near a cable column with the ball held on your chest and the cable wrapped around the ball. Then "twist" to one side keeping the feet and hips stable to really challenge the core muscles involved with powerful throws. Repeat these on both sides.

4. Neck Stability Holds:

        All too often, people leave out training of the neck completely. You might get away this if you sit at a desk all day, but when your job is in the ring or cage, neck strength is critical for performance and injury prevention.

To perform this drill, place the ball against the wall and press your head in from the front and side for 10 seconds.

[ Q ] This is fantastic stuff Martin. You definitely succeeded in changing a habit of thinking for me today. Any last words for the readers?

    I hope this article opened everyone's eyes and most importantly their minds to new possibilities in your training. I also hope everyone tries some of these exercises and then makes a decision about the exercises from actual experience and not just reading. Best of luck to all, and I will keep bringing it every month!


Martin Rooney is the author of Training For Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout, conditioning coach for Team Renzo Gracie, and writer for Gracie Magazine. He has trained champion fighters for the UFC, PRIDE, IFL, ADCC and Olympics. His "Training for Warriors" blog and warrior community can be found at