Mike’s Dream Team
Want to make yourself fit to fight? Mike O’Laskey’s Dream Team has tips for everything you need: gym routines, meal plans, and the mental game. Even if you aren’t ready to enter the cage after reading their advice, you will know more about becoming leaner, stronger, and smarter. When actor and childhood karate enthusiast Mike O’Laskey first approached Nikki Carlin, Andrew Riposta, and Marc Brewer, he had big dreams: he didn’t just want to enter the cage as a mixed martial artist; he wanted to compete with the best MMA athletes in the world. Over the past four years, Nikki, Andrew, and Marc have added their expertise and coaching to Mike’s dedication, helping him turn his body into a well-oiled machine capable of delivering the best fighting techniques over and over again, until the last round is done. Below they offer insight into the approach they took with Mike, along with some suggestions for you to try on yourself!
Gym Guru: Nikki Carlin
Nikki is a CrossFit Regionals athlete and a CF level 1 coach. She has trained several wrestling and submission grappling competitors in addition to Mike, building gym programs that increase strength and endurance. “To start off,” Nikki says, “there is very little that separates normal people from athletes. An athlete is just a normal person willing to put in the work day in and day out, so they can excel when it matters.” She explains that physical gains are made through consistent practice: you have to show up every day and follow an intelligent game-plan. The only thing that separates the athlete from the normal person here is competition: the athlete trains to compete, where normal folk have other goals (to be healthier, to have fun, to socialize, and so on). But competition is not the most important part of a successful athletic career: “Every athlete loves to win, but a champion learns to love the process.” If you learn to enjoy training for its own sake, you can build better strength and heart, just like an athlete. Nikki believes that one of the most important responsibilities of a good coach is figuring out the best way to give different athletes meaningful direction. “Mike reacts well to positive coaching cues,” she notes, “whereas I have other clients that need tough love. If Mike is having an especially bad day, I make the extra effort to remain positive—even when I might really just want to strangle him!” She laughs. “While I think it’s important to have a coach or someone to pick you up when you’re dragging or being lazy, I also believe that self-motivation matters. Watch yourself in the gym and elsewhere. Recognize what motivates you, and find ways to carry it with you.” Nikki’s background as a CrossFit athlete has served Mike well. It was essential for Mike to perform under stress, and through exhaustion. “I started working with Mike after his second or third fight,” Nikki remembers. “It was a pretty brutal grind: three rounds that ended in a spinning back fist; he won, but he was absolutely gassed.” Nikki devised a full-body workout scheme that mimicked the intensity of a fight while protecting his joints—and keeping him from building too much muscle. “Mike can’t get too heavy or he will leave his fighting weight class. We had to make sure he got stronger without making him heavier.” And if that wasn’t enough, she had to make sure that gym workouts didn’t knock him out for the day. “Mike must perform in a lot of different environments,” she explains. “He needs to be able to do a good two or three hours of kickboxing or wrestling once I am through with him.” The gym program Nikki created for Mike is perfect for our readers. She offers a series of great fullbody workouts that make you strong without making you too big or sapping the energy you need to go to work and accomplish other daily tasks!
Kitchen Coach: Andrew Riposta
Andrew Riposta is a veteran of the nutrition coaching industry. He has designed eating programs for a variety of different clients—including celebrities, fitness competitors, and athletes—and he publishes articles for a general audience as Editor-in-Chief of the Built for Life webzine at builtmag.com. One of the things Andrew stresses is that athletes don’t necessarily require a stricter diet than someone with more traditional fitness goals. “The only real difference between coaching athletes and everyone else,” he affirms, “is the level of performance expected. While average people might not notice the negative effects of a few inflammatory foods in their daily routine, athletes will see those effects clearly in their sport performance. Mike pays a higher price than the average Joe for eating poorly, but the nutritional science in either case is the same. The other main difference is the willingness to sacrifice. Most people don’t have the ability to sacrifice all that it takes to have the results they really want, whether performance or physical.” Mike’s situation as a combat athlete can make eating a very stressful activity. In order to fight, Mike must make weight. If he doesn’t make that weight by a set date before each bout, then he must back out, reneging on his contract and making it harder to get fights in future—since opponents and sponsors don’t want to deal with a fighter they cannot trust to make weight. The pressure to meet these expectations is very motivating for Mike: he is willing to eat the same piece of cardboard every day for weeks on end if he knows it means success. Cheating on his diet today loses its appeal for him when he sees it costing him big opportunities to shine down the road. Your motivation doesn’t have to be the same as Mike’s to be effective. As Andrew says, “You can get the same kind of motivational environment just by announcing your goals to friends or loved ones. Psychology tells us that if you put yourself out there, if you put a personal goal out on the line where others can see it, then it becomes easier to avoid self-sabotage. When everyone knows that you plan to lose some extra weight, it becomes easier to talk yourself out of a midnight snack!” Like most people, fighters often find that a shift in perspective is helpful when it comes to meeting fitness goals. Andrew likes to compare the body to a race car, noting that junk fuel consistently produces junk performance, even if the car appears to be in good condition. He invites clients to think of food as fuel rather than fun: “To many of us, food means comfort. Had a good day? You eat to celebrate. Had a bad day? You eat to feel better. Even top athletes experience this tendency to eat their feelings, ignoring what they need and going for what they want.” Andrew recalls at one point wishing he could hire an assistant to follow Mike around, slapping tortilla chips out of his hands and keeping him out of the liquor cabinet. “In your fitness journey,” he says, “your brain will try to trick you into thinking that somehow the professionals are different from you—like they were born without that part of the brain that tells them to eat ice cream. We’re all the same, but people like Mike have been putting in the work. If you want the treats, you should earn them. The athletes training might allow for more freedom with their calorie intake, where the average Joe’s training might not. Everyone, at every level of health and athletic performance, experiences these temptations. You just can’t go off the deep end, especially as an athlete.” So what does a week’s worth of nutrition look like for an MMA champion? Well, it depends on how far away the fight is. Early in Mike’s training camp, Andrew prescribes meals designed to power tough workouts and begin the process of slimming Mike down (in preparation for the end of the camp, which will see Mike cutting out all but the most necessary nutrition to make weight). The meals Andrew uses for the early phase of Mike’s camp are great for normal people who want to feel full and energized throughout the day while still dropping extra body-fat.
Quick breakfast on the go: Blue Green Hulk Smoothie
Easy Recipe Favorite: Breakfast Burritos
Zen Master: Marc Brewer
Marc Brewer holds the only black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu that legendary grappling coach Ricky Lundell has bestowed to date. Following his coach’s example, Marc leads from the front, competing at the highest level of the submission wrestling sport that he can reach and coaching a diverse population of athletes who come from all over the United States and the world to train with him. An integral part of his training method is cultivating what he calls the athletic mindset, an outlook on training and life that produces the mental strength needed to perform at a high level. “We start with a bit of neuroprograming,” Marc says, “getting athletes to recognize small moments of success, then progressively ramping up what is expected of them. People tend to go gung-ho far too quickly and burn out, forgetting that an athlete is the sum of all his or her training experiences—not just one day. This goes for your everyday fitness practitioner as well. Start slow, with something you can do. Then progressively layer on work, accumulating moments of incremental success over time. This will make you stick with your training regimen a lot longer, allowing you to develop deep proficiency that does not come to anyone overnight.” Marc recognizes that people with a history in martial arts tend to develop around set patterns and routines. “Mike has a very powerful upper back, shoulders, and hips,” he notes. “Those are great assets, but he’s got an underdeveloped lower back for wrestling. So we have to put in tedious extra work finding stance, moving in stance, staying disciplined under pressure. It’s hard for an athlete that already has a deep training background to suffer through the tedious drills and mat-work necessary to improve important things that they aren’t so good at. The secret to Mike’s success is a willingness to show up and put in consistent effort.” That is good advice for anyone with a fitness goal! As Marc puts it: “Build off of a good foundation, based in your strengths. Add building-blocks progressively, filling out areas where you are weaker, and watch how high you can build your athletic structure. Training this way is kind of monotonous: it consists of making small changes to a set routine over time. But the end results can be spectacular for those with the patience to see the process through.” Like Mike, Marc began his athletic career past what many would consider his prime. He believes that older athletes possess an ability to leverage mature life-experiences and mental strength that many younger athletes lack. Patience and consistency will yield a higher level of performance than you can imagine. “Trust me,” Marc says. “The average guy or girl who reads this article is not that different from Mike, or from me. We all have responsibilities, trials, and tribulations—outside the gym, outside our sport, in the trenches of normal human life. We sometimes wake up sore or get overwhelmed by work. The only thing that sets the successful apart is that we don’t let those obstacles become excuses for not putting in the time. Whether it is a nutrition plan, a fitness routine, or some other important part of your life, you make the conscious choice to succeed or fail every day. It’s up to you as a person, not your circumstance. Don’t surrender to circumstances! Make the effort to resist them. That is the mindset that produces champions.”
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