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How Pirates Catcher Russell Martin Uses MMA to Train for Pro Baseball

Back in the National League, Russell Martin tells us how mixed martial arts boosts his performance behind the plate. His new opponents better watch out.
Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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Russell Martin, three-time MLB All-Star catcher and recipient of a Golden Glove and Silver Slugger award, has enough hardware to prove he’s one of the league’s most versatile guys behind the plate. And the former Yankee is just days shy of starting his eighth season in the Bigs, which will be his first with the Pittsburgh Pirates—an up-and-coming team led by a bright young star named Andrew McCutchen.

But at age 30, Martin knows that wear-and-tear from playing catcher is inevitable—the position demands agility, flexibility, ultra-fast reaction speed, and no fear. So he added a new component to his offseason training in recent years that most fans wouldn’t associate with a low-contact sport like professional baseball: mixed martial arts, or MMA. With that in mind, Men’s Fitness asked Russell about his upcoming season in Pittsburgh, and how MMA training has given his on-field endurance and fitness a major boost.

Men’s Fitness:  Baseball has the longest season in pro sports. To stay in peak shape, you’ve incorporated MMA style workouts into your training. Why?

Russell Martin: I had a buddy who, back in 2002 [the year the Dodgers drafted Martin], went to Thailand and discovered Thai boxing. I remember watching his first amateur fight. I felt that rush seeing him out there in the ring competing, something that I have never felt before. And I guess it was that moment when I really became a fan of the sport.  

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Wait, so how do you actually train with MMA? Do you climb into the ring and grapple with other fighters?

I don’t want people to get confused—what I do is power endurance, high-intensity, high-speed circuits involving lots of kicking and punching. I don’t do any mat grappling and I haven’t sparred with anybody. It’s dangerous and I don’t want to risk getting hurt. I signed a contract to play baseball.

How have you benefited from power endurance training?

Since I work out in a circuit-training environment, the power endurance was what really attracted me to MMA workouts. There are no limits [to how hard you can go]. That’s how they push themselves. It has helped me become more efficient, getting the most out of a workout in the shortest period of time. For me, the key is mastering mobility and stability. Everything in baseball — my catching, my swing — I want to make sure I have it all under control.

 

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