Training Insights from MMA Fighter Matt Brown

Training Insights from MMA Fighter Matt Brown
Related Topics: Coaching, MMA

I've learned countless lessons over the years, but with Matt Brown announcing his retirement from MMA and transitioning to a new chapter in his life, I felt compelled to share some of the most important things I learned while working with him.

When I first joined Westside and became a more permanent fixture, I started working with athletes. One of the first athletes I met and began helping was Matt Brown. Louie gave me some essential tips about working with MMA athletes at Westside.

One thing that stood out was that you might think you're overtraining them, but you're not. So don't be afraid to push them hard. If you ask Matt Brown, he will confirm that we truly tested the absolute limits of how much volume could be handled in a single session.

This marked the beginning of one of the most significant athlete journeys I had the privilege to be a part of. Over the next seven years, working with and becoming friends with Matt Brown was a crucial and developmental milestone in my career as a strength coach.

Lets dig into the 5 insights!

1: Being a Professional Athlete

"You realize I am a professional athlete, right? That means if I don't give you everything I have, I'm not short-changing you. I'm short-changing myself and my career."

When I started working with athletes, I went through a phase, like many coaches, of trying to find my coaching style—a blend of my personality, mentors' influences, and training methods.

In my first few months working with Matt, I was trying to determine the best approach to get the most out of him during workouts. I began with a dictator style of coaching, which, as you can imagine, did not go down well and did not last long.

During an 800-meter sled drag, I was instructing Matt to keep pushing and to stop taking breaks. About 600 meters in, he turned to me and said, "You realize I’m a professional athlete, right? That means if I don't give you everything I have, I'm not short-changing you. I'm short-changing myself and my career."

That moment triggered an internal shift. After each session, I would usually recap everything with Louie, asking him questions. When I brought this up, Louie stared at me and said, "We should rename you Charlie Bronson, as you must have a death wish. You should never criticize, always analyze, and you should train an athlete based on their personality and needs, adapting yours to fit."

Most pro athletes are so driven that you usually have to regulate their training rather than push it.

2: Find Your Voice


"If you think something is wrong, speak up, speak loudly, speak bluntly, and be right."

As a coach, you are accountable for everything you say. There were times when I felt that some aspects of training were not going in the right direction and that one discipline might be dominating over others. At the beginning, Matt's training schedule was quite erratic, and I initially assumed that was by choice. However, after we had a conversation about it, I brought up my concerns. Matt looked at me and simply said, " Find your voice and If you think something is wrong, speak up, speak loudly, speak bluntly, and be right. 

Finding your voice as a coach is crucial for both your development and the athlete's success. It does no good to be a yes-man or to pretend you know everything. Honesty and integrity are paramount. When you are open and transparent, you build trust and respect, which are essential for a productive coach-athlete relationship.

Being honest means admitting when you make mistakes. If something goes wrong, always tell the truth and take responsibility. Athletes appreciate a coach who can acknowledge errors and learn from them, as it shows a commitment to continuous improvement.

This transparency fosters a culture of trust and mutual respect, encouraging athletes to be open about their own challenges and setbacks.

Moreover, speaking up when you see something wrong is vital. If you notice a problem with the training program, technique, or even the athlete's behavior, it is your duty to address it.

Providing objective analysis over criticism can prevent small issues from becoming significant problems. For example, if an athlete is overtraining or neglecting recovery, pointing this out can help them avoid injury and optimize performance.

Conversely, conveying when things are going well is just as important. A balanced approach, combining honest feedback with encouragement, helps athletes stay motivated and focused on their goals.

In essence, finding your voice is about being a strong, reliable, and honest guide for your athletes. It's about balancing authority with empathy and ensuring that every piece of advice or feedback you give is aimed at helping the athlete grow and succeed.

This approach not only enhances the athlete's performance but also builds a solid foundation for a long-lasting, productive coach-athlete relationship. At the end of the day, a coach should learn just as much from the athlete, as the athlete learns from the coach. 


3: Feedback and Conversation

As our working relationship evolved, trust developed. Before fights, Matt would call me, and we would sit down to create a rough layout of the training camp. During these conversations, listening and acting on feedback were crucial to the success of the camp.

The value of conversation as an information feedback loop cannot be overstated. Effective communication between coach and athlete ensures that both parties are aligned in their goals and expectations.

This dialogue allows the coach to adjust training plans based on the athlete's immediate needs, performance, and feedback, which is essential for continual improvement.

By engaging in regular, open conversations, I could gather insights into Matt's physical and mental state. These discussions helped identify what was working well and what needed adjustment.

For instance, if Matt felt overly fatigued or noticed specific areas needing more focus, we could tweak the training regimen accordingly.

Moreover, feedback loops foster a sense of partnership. When athletes is heard and understood, they are more motivated and committed to their training. This mutual respect and understanding build a strong foundation for trust, which is vital for long-term success.

Additionally, conversations can uncover underlying issues that might not be immediately visible. For example, an athlete might struggle with a technique or experience pain that they haven’t mentioned.

Through regular check-ins and honest dialogue, these issues can be addressed promptly, preventing potential injuries and ensuring optimal performance.

In essence, the feedback and conversation process is about creating a dynamic and responsive training environment. It ensures that the training program evolves with the athlete's needs, promotes continuous improvement, and strengthens the coach-athlete relationship. This approach not only enhances performance but also contributes to the overall development and well-being of the athlete.

4: Building a Team

When Matt started a training camp, he would assemble a team based on his upcoming opponent. This team included some of the most talented coaches I’ve ever met, leading to friendships that significantly impacted our approach to training and coaching.

One particular training camp stands out. It was one of Matt’s full training camps in Ohio for his fight against Tim Means. He trained mostly at Grove City in a gym called Scrap House, with coaches Dorian Price, Carlos Carvalho, and Adam Disabato. Each coach was a master in their discipline with distinct personalities.

The first few weeks of camp were chaotic, as each coach emphasized the importance of their discipline. After every session, I would talk to Matt, encouraging self-reflection and asking how I could help. We knew the importance of strength conditioning as part of the bigger picture, so I offered help in any aspect that would benefit him.

My task was to ensure all coaches communicated effectively. Watching these top coaches work together was one of the most amazing aspects of training. A streamlined structure of communication and training elevated the camp, raising everyone's performance.

All of Matt’s training partners did strength and conditioning, and my goal was to make them better than Matt, ensuring he stayed on point.

Seeing coaches willing to share information and understand that one main voice should lead while others communicated to the designated coach exemplified the athlete-first approach. Watching jiu-jitsu, Wrestling, and Muay Thai coaches seamlessly transition between techniques was mind-blowing.

5: Consistency

"I will always show up."

During Matt’s time at Westside, he had twin boys. I didn’t realize how challenging it is to manage toddlers and maintain a training schedule.

I learned that committing to working with a pro athlete, especially one with children, requires an adaptable schedule. Being at Westside allowed me to work with a small roster of athletes, providing flexibility to match their lives.

This adaptability greatly increased adherence to training. One morning, Matt was late due to unforeseen circumstances, but because the door was always open, he still showed up. Life can disrupt a training schedule, but with commitment and flexibility, training remains a priority.

Thank you.

There are many more lessons I’ve learned, and perhaps we’ll discuss them in a future podcast. I truly cannot thank Matt enough for the trust, respect, and commitment he showed during his training. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better duo to refine my coaching skills than working with Matt Brown and discussing my methods with Louie Simmons.

To Matt Brown, best of luck in the next season of your life. If you follow his example—be consistent, be blunt, be respectful—great things will happen.


To Follow Matt Brown Check out the following Links:

Tom Barry

Tom Barry

Tom Barry is a seasoned strength and conditioning coach with over 16 years of experience. He has honed his expertise by closely collaborating with elite athletes from various disciplines, including the NFL, UFC, Track and Field, Jiu-Jitsu, and Wrestling.

Read more articles by Tom

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.

Search The Blog
Like What You're Reading?

Sign up for our newsletter and get new articles sent straight to your inbox weekly.