Fighting Fit - Q&A with Christian Marchegiani

Fighting Fit - Q&A with Christian Marchegiani

Since 2007, Christian Marchegiani has trained the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force, Australia's oldest and largest police organization. In Australia, he appears on its national The Today Show, Nightly News, and FOX Sports. He is a 2011 recipient of the Pride of Australia Medal Award for his work raising awareness against bullying and is a Level 3 Australian Boxing Coach.

Marchegiani emphasizes training the body for physical, wartime combat is more than just lifting weights in a gym. It's about preparing the body and mind for hundreds of different situations in dangerous and hostile environments.

Q: As soldiers prepare for fighting, what's the best equipment to help them train?

A: The best piece of equipment to train the body in these scenarios is the body. The human body is a gym in itself and can provide more than enough resistance and leverage to build power, speed, and endurance.

Calisthenics, or body-weight exercises as they are commonly referred to, are a forgotten method of training due to the advancement of technology and science. But I believe they still provide the best benefits. Why? Because it's just you, your mind, and your body. You need to talk to it, motivate it, and push it through some painful moments. Gym equipment can't provide you with this relationship because it's too easy to just drop the weights or stop the treadmill.

Q: Can you give us a tangible example of how to use your own body as a “personal gym?”

A: One of the common methods I used in training the police force in Australia and Cambodia was matrix circuit training. It involved combining three or four body-weight exercises together for a certain amount of repetitions. I would include upper-body, mid-body, lower-body, and then finish it off with full-body [exercises]. This would force all the muscles of the body to interact with each other to the point of fatigue, which I would label as submission. The point of this was not only to develop muscular power and endurance, but you would also be conditioning your aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

Your muscles would have no option but to grow and develop. Once you become conditioned and resilient to these movement patterns, you would need to increase resistance. This is simply done by adding a loaded pack to your back and/or increasing the amount of repetitions. As you become fatigued and exhausted, you begin to question your ability to get through it. You start talking yourself through the pain and make a decision to get through it. The repetition you don't do is the one that can let your team down in combat. Once this is engraved in your thinking, it is very rare that you won't push through the pain barrier.

If you need motivation to do this type of training, then it comes down to one simple question: How strong do you want to be?

Q: So if someone wants to do a matrix circuit, what would that workout look like?

A: An example of a matrix circuit would be

  • 5 burpees
  • 10 chin-ups or pull-ups
  • 15 jump squats or box jumps
  • 20 push-ups or press-ups
  • 25 sit-ups
  • 30 mountain climbers

Rest for 30 seconds, and then repeat. Your aim is to complete five rounds of this matrix circuit. A circuit like this isolates all parts of the body but also has them working in unison to develop explosive power and anaerobic conditioning.

Recovery and repair is just as important as the training itself, so it is wise to protect [your body] the best you can without trying to accomplish the ridiculous. One of the things I encourage the most with my troops is a “fit club,” where each session, someone is required to come up with a Matrix Circuit. The number of repetitions can start as low as one and go up to as [many] as 50. You can have two exercises or even 10. The aim is to challenge the body by stacking a few exercises together and performing enough repetitions to make the muscles submit to fatigue.

Q: Controlling adrenaline in life-or-death situations definitely can be a challenge, even to those who are experienced. How can you mentally train to push past emotions in a combat situation so you can physically survive it?

A: It's only natural. You can't stop those emotions from happening, and I don't want [my troops] to block [out emotion]. What I try and do is make them see that they have a job to do and a responsibility to others so they must get on with [their job].

Practice self-talk. Go to training early and walk in silence, thinking about what you are about to put your body through and how you will talk to yourself to get over it. At the end of the session, be silent again and reflect on your achievements and what you think you may have been able to do better.

I talk to [NSW police] about certain situations and ask them to reflect on how they would react. I ask them to do this while they are punching, kicking, wrestling, or pushing a weight. I want them to think while they are in pain and while they are fatigued. This allows them to think under stress and make the right decisions. But this needs to be done over and over again.