2017 Purdue Football Schedule / Purdue Football Master Plan / Ticket Info
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue senior associate director of football strength & conditioning Domenic Reno is not the sort of person to just sit around. In need of an outlet to take up some of his free time away from the Boilermakers, he came across Impact Zone, a full-fledged fitness center that features mixed martial arts (MMA), Brazilian jiu jitsu and kickboxing. Little did Reno know where his training at Impact Zone would lead him and his way of working out Purdue's football program.
"I started training with MMA and kickboxing at Impact Zone under Carlos Soto," Reno said. "Matt was looking for a strength coach that knows his age, knows his body and would be able to get him ready for the fight."
The Matt that Reno was referring to was none other than Bellator MMA fighter and former Purdue defensive tackle Matt Mitrione. Mitrione researched Reno's background and approached the 2017 National Strength & Conditioning Association Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year about getting him ready for an upcoming bout against Fedor Emelianenko. The two agreed to work together in January and began training at night.
"Matt is very athletic and explosive, and he had that playing football," Reno said. Mitrione's traits from the gridiron and in the octagon made transitioning from football to MMA training nearly seamless for Reno. He first began building up Mitrione's mass before transitioning to more conditioning to get the fighter to the ideal weight and shape for the bout.
"I was able to advance all of his exercises," Reno said. "We did a ton of hip mobility, stretching is huge. There is a lot of force from the legs, so you have to be flexible, have strong hips and be able to rotate."
Over the course of his work with Mitrione, the first MMA fighter he had ever trained, Reno came to find a number of things from MMA that would translate to the football field and the strength & conditioning program.
"One hundred percent," Reno said of the impact of training a MMA fighter with the way he now approaches training football players. "It's opened my eyes to look at the movements, MMA is a lot of rotational movement, so I've been able to implement different drills with the football players.
"Twice a week we do mitt drills with the football players to work with eye-hand coordination and the speed of the hands. We put the gloves on and the guys love it. It's low impact on the legs, it gets their blood flowing and they want to do it because it's something different than what they're used to doing."
Reno feels the crossover training from MMA impacts nearly every position on the football field.
"The building up of the hand speed is huge, no matter what position." Reno said. "It translates to wide receivers, DBs, D-line, linebackers. The only position group I don't have do the mitt work is the quarterbacks."
The discipline of MMA training and the focus it takes has proven to be beneficial to Reno's work with the football program.
"If you're not focused on the (MMA) training we do on Wednesdays and Saturdays; you're going to be all over the place." Reno said. "If you're in the octagon and you're rushing your technique, you're going to get knocked out. With our kids here, I try and teach them technique and focus. Can they rotate their hips? Can they see mitts and do the same combos if I call out a number system? Can they sit in a stance for a duration of time? It's about seeing how disciplined they can be doing the MMA work."
Mitrione, who was a four-year letterwinner for the Boilermakers from 1998 to 2001, is slated to fight Emelianenko on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York, and Reno feels pretty confident in what the two have been able to accomplish in the months leading up to the event.
"During our training sessions, Matt had razor sharp focus and dedication, which allowed us to train at optimal levels and gives me full confidence that on Saturday night when he steps into the Octagon he will perform like a champion."