Interview With Coach Mike Perry From Skill of Strength

11 min read
Discover how to improve your strength training, recovery, and nutrition from one of New England’s top combat performance trainers

Mike Perry training a client at his gym

Interview With Coach Mike Perry From Skill of Strength

Discover how to improve your strength training, recovery, and nutrition from one of New England’s top combat performance trainers

Location: New England, U.S.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Photo by: SkillofStrength

If you are a competitive grappler or MMA fighter out of the New England area, chances are you’ve heard of Coach Mike Perry. He is known for coaching Rob Font, Joe Lauzon, and Hilarie Rose, just to name a few competitive athletes. I felt fortunate to sit down and pick Mike’s brain about strength and conditioning, even finding myself asking some questions purely out of my own curiosity. 

But, if I am wondering about something, chances are my readers are also. And when speaking with an expert who rattles off evidence-based knowledge in his field as proficiently as this, one tends to want to soak up as much information as possible in the time allotted. We focused our conversation on recovery, strength and conditioning training, and nutrition. Interestingly, Mike has an amazing story of personal resilience to share as well, and nothing is more inspirational than a coach who walks the walk. So… let’s dive in!

The focus behind Skill of Strength

Skill of Strength, Mike’s performance-driven GYM in North Chelmsford, MA. Is where they train combat athletes and keep them healthy so they can perform at their highest levels with strength and conditioning for the long run; not just the next fight. They take a customized approach to each individual, starting with a thorough evaluation to design a program based on that individual’s needs. Very rarely will two athletes have the same program. “It’s not cookie-cutter stuff.” 

You can find more about their programs here:

Recovery concerns for combat athletes

A picture containing person, wall, indoor, person

Description automatically generated
Photo by: Perry Gagnon Photography

All of Mike’s MMA athletes are considered pros who know how to move their bodies in space, so they don’t get a lot of unnecessary tweaks and twinges. However, in Jiu-Jitsu, all it takes is a training partner to turn the wrong way if they don’t understand the mechanics for someone to be severely injured. He noticed a pattern in the grappling world, where athletes don’t really do anything about their injuries. They often just complain or do a couple of PT sessions and say it doesn’t work, and then they move on and keep getting injured repeatedly. He believes stubbornness plays a role in this injury-prone cycle. “I think part of it is toughness, or ego. They don’t want to show a potential weakness. But if you are someone who wants to train for a long time, you have to take care of yourself. It is a quality-of-life thing.”

How to recover properly

One of the most common mistakes Mike sees are athletes looking for a quick fix. Athletes often look for massage guns, cryotherapy tanks, saunas, and hot tubs. And while they aren’t inherently bad, they should not be the primary method of recovery for most grapplers and other athletes alike. 

A person lying on a bed

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Photo by: Bruce Mars

Sleep. You have to sleep. Sleep is where you recover. Rather than spending money on cryotherapy and a massage gun, Mike advises everyone to buy a good mattress. And practice good sleep hygiene as follows:

1. Go to sleep at the same time every night.

2. Sleep in a dark, cool room

3. Avoid electronics for a few hours prior to bedtime [1]

“If you’re not sleeping, you’re not performing at your highest level in your sport, in your workout, as a parent, and as a spouse. Everything is just a little bit more edgy when you’re tired.”

Strength training

In Mike’s opinion, strength training is a vital part of grappling and performance for life, pointing out that the top grapplers in the world all do strength and conditioning training. He feels that strength training is the best injury prevention out there [2]. He recommends that grapplers not neglect single-leg training such as single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, forward-lunges, reverse lunges, side lunges, and rear-foot elevated squats. And while most people associate strength training with power-lifting and bench-squat deadlifts, Jiu-Jitsu isn’t the gentlest sport on the spine, so in his opinion, there are better options, such as kettlebell training.

A picture containing person, sport, crowd

Description automatically generated
Photo by: Sushil Ghimire

“Kettlebells are particularly impactful,” he explained, “because Jiu-Jitsu is a balance between tension and relaxation, and it’s a dance. It’s learning how to control your opponent and move because you’re always trying to pin and move and frame. With the kettlebell, it’s the same idea.” Mike feels that kettlebells are a total body exercise that forces you to think because there is a level of technique, but also checks a lot of boxes from a grip standpoint. It’s great if you can build your grip endurance and understand when to grip. In certain kettlebell exercises, there are components where you have to grip harder and when you grip looser; and in Jiu-Jitsu, it’s the same thing. It is all grip cycling, where one uses tension and relaxation. “If you can learn to do that efficiently, it’s going to carry over to your game.”

Mike noted that while kettlebells are gentle on the joints and, when done correctly, gentle on the body in general, he explained that it is a skill with layers and takes time. He feels that if you have the time to dedicate to learning how to train with kettlebells correctly, it is an incredibly efficient choice. However, “If you’re going to do it half-assed,” he emphasized, “I would choose something else.” 

Conditioning 

The component of conditioning that Mike feels too often gets neglected is localized muscular endurance. If you’re grappling and you scramble, or you get in an isometric position, it’s very easy for your arms to get tired from those isometric contractions. Sometimes you’re holding tighter, and sometimes you’re holding less. But it’s a combination of isometric and explosive contractions, and building your localized muscular endurance, whether it’s through exploded carries or kettlebell training, is a very advantageous thing that you can do [3].

A picture containing text, chair, indoor, several

Description automatically generated
Photo by: skillofstrength

From a lower-body standpoint, he feels that sled work, sled pushes, and drags for long durations, up to ten or fifteen minutes, “although miserable,” is one of the best ways to condition the body. “Jiu-Jitsu” he explained, “is a combination of isometric holds, explosive movements, and framing, and you have to be quick. That’s one of the reasons I like to work with grapplers and combat athletes; because it’s an ever-evolving puzzle. You need to be strong; you need to be mobile; you need conditioning; and you need to be able to burst for ten or fifteen seconds and then recover from that burst. There’s a lot that goes into it from a programming standpoint, and that’s one of the reasons I love it… it makes me think, and I like to put a lot of effort and thought into the way I design programs for my combat athletes.”

A picture containing text, person, sport

Description automatically generated
Photo by: Duncan Graham

Nutrition and supplements 

Jiu-Jitsu is an anaerobic sport, and according to Mike, most people under-fuel. “When people think about eating healthy, they think about eating a bunch of veggies, and a bunch of fruits, and a bunch of meats, and for some reason, people restrict carbohydrates. I see this all the time. I have to eat healthy. And then they just completely cut carbs.” He explained that sometimes a grappler gets the idea that they trained really hard when, in actuality, they may have just gotten prematurely tired because they under-fueled. One of the things that he does on his training days is carb-cycle. He loads up the morning of and even the night prior to really fill up the glycogen storages, to boost his performance in his training session [4]

A person standing in a kitchen

Description automatically generated with low confidence
Photo by: LyfeFuel

As for post-workout, people often think they just worked out really hard, so now they can eat whatever they want. But we also know that from a recovery standpoint, getting in nutrient-dense meals and recovery from a nutritional perspective is super important. So, he recommends surrounding those training sessions with proper fueling and hydration. He pointed out that one of the things people miss with hydration are electrolytes, and they don’t look at their sodium content, which is super important when you are sweating a lot. So, while there is nothing wrong with water, if you’re sweating a great deal, you need sodium and potassium from a good sports drink post-training [5]

Additionally, Mike primarily recommends creatine for his athletes. He explained that it is the most researched supplement in the world, and not only does it help from a muscular endurance standpoint, but it can also help with your hypertrophy-specific training to gain size and strength. Some studies also indicate that it can help with cognition [6]. Otherwise, he also recommends protein, a high-quality fish oil, and definitely electrolytes. Some people, he highlighted, do well with adding zinc and magnesium from a recovery standpoint because it can help with sleep [7].

Surviving cancer

For this section, I am going to present it in Mike’s words only, as I feel he can best tell his story.

“A few years ago, I got done with a colonoscopy, and when they woke me up, they said we found something, and we’re pretty sure it was cancer. From there, it was just a big gut punch, and then we started making appointments, and it was a whirlwind. Everything else just stopped. It was stage three colon cancer, so it did spread to some of the lymph nodes. After surgery, I did six months of chemo. I did everything. I didn’t miss anything because the research said that the further you can make it with your treatments, the greater your chances of beating this thing are. The research said about nine is the minimum, but twelve is the best, so I did twelve treatments. It was awful. 

It was hard physically because of the nerve damage. I still can’t feel my fingers or toes because of neuropathy from the chemo. So, a lot of the time, I can’t tell if I’m grabbing part of the lapel or even with my feet if I’m trying to get a hook in; I can’t feel where my feet or toes are. I could lift light weights, but with a grip-intensive sport and with kettlebells and the stuff that I do, which is very grip-intensive, I couldn’t do it. I ended up having to take a year and a half off, and to be honest, that’s what I missed the most about living a normal life. And the road back was even more challenging because you think about what you could do, and you go try and do it, and everyone else that you used to do really well against is just beating the crap out of you. And it’s just frustrating. 

But at the same time, I learned a lot about being patient because I didn’t have a choice. And I learned a lot about resilience. And I learned a lot about taking care of myself. Knowing when to say you know what Mike, let’s call it a day and do something tomorrow. It was something that, from a mental standpoint going through that and trying to be a good role model for my athletes and my family and my boys was important to me. They saw me at my worst, but at the same time, I wanted to instill in everybody around me that you have a choice to work hard and to fight. I was fortunate enough at this point to beat cancer. There’s no evidence of the disease, so right now, I am considered cancer-free. And I’m fortunate. A lot of people aren’t. And here’s the cool thing. My wife and I always say now when something feels tough… Well, it’s not cancer.”

Speaking with Mike was a really great experience. For one thing, I left feeling motivated to make some changes to my own workout routine. But more importantly, the Jiu-Jitsu community is small, and I have heard positive things about his work as well as his person since I began my journey years ago. I followed his cancer journey on social media, seeing thousands of people supporting him all the way to a documentary about him by the UFC. His recovery has been an enormous relief and inspiration to so many within the community. 

Now… go get some sleep and train for your best life.

—————————

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6988893/

[2]https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/1982/02000/The_Prevention_of_Sports_Injuries_ in_High_School.6.aspx

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6019055/

[4] https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2013/02000/Article.26.aspx

[5] https://news.sanfordhealth.org/healthy-living/sodium-101-for-athletes/

[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556518300263

[7] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/

MORE LIKE THIS

MORE LIKE THIS

Leave a Reply