Although not as readily apparent as may meet the eye, there is a correlation between the NFL and MMA, otherwise known as mixed martial arts. It’s a major reason why many of the league’s players, including the Steelers very own Martavis Bryant, have began implementing the training into their own to add to their repertoire. There are many movements that are of key importance in MMA that can also help out a football player.
For instance, Bryant flew to California during the team’s bye week last November for MMA training with Jay Glazer, an NFL Insider for Fox Sports. Glazer, along with co-owner and fighting legend, Randy Couture, own MMA Athletics in Hollywood, where they’ve trained with such names as Clay Matthews, Jared Allen, Marcedes Lewis and Bryant. Bryant noted that he wanted to incorporate parts of it into his offseason training, to strengthen his hands to become more violent when fighting off press coverage, as well as his hand/eye coordination when looking the ball into his hands.
“I’m going to be doing it the whole offseason,” Bryant said, according to ESPN Steelers reporter, Scott Brown. “I just wanted to go out there and get a feel for what I’m going to be doing. It was a great workout.”
One of the things it helps with is conditioning, which is what separates those players that are still going full throttle come the fourth quarter versus those that are gassed and worn down. With the heavy bag work and wrestling techniques involved in it, it’s a far cry from a simple set of 12 bench press reps.
“In weightlifting, you have some time to relax, catch your breath, and then get after it with another set,” said Clay Matthews, according to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “But with MMA, you have a guy that’s pushing on you for a three- to five-minute round. It’s always wearing on you so that mentally you have to push yourself beyond any place that you’ve been to before.”
It helps with increased body awareness as well, with striking drills showing players how to fully coordinate their power from their whole body, instead of isolating body parts. This translates well over to the field, making a player much harder to stop.
It’s also very helpful when it comes to the art of pass rushing, which is right up the Steelers’ alley. Perhaps Keith Butler and Joey Porter should be sending their outside linebackers to the Hollywood-based gym to juice up an anemic pass rush that’s gradually sagged the last two seasons. In a sense, it’s a battle of wills, as you’re forcing another man to do something by breaking his will, and this is where MMA comes into play. Pass rushing is an art of hand usage and a better understanding of grappling can be a byproduct of the training.
“What we’re doing at least in the grappling aspect of our sport is we’re manipulating another man’s body, putting it where we want it, whether that’s putting it on the ground or moving it to the left or right or off-balance,” said UFC fighter Matt Brown, according to Elias Cepeda of Fox Sports.
Bryant admits during last season, he had given thought to the types of workouts he’d engage in to make himself a more complete player come year two, and MMA was his choice, as it allows him to multi-facet his game instead of simple speed training. A very popular sport, the number of players taking up in this method of training only seems to growing by the numbers, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see several Steelers follow in the footsteps of their promising second-year wide receiver.