I have had the pleasure to work with Leah for quite some time now and she is an absolute joy to coach and an inspiration to everyone around her.
Alex: Hi Leah, could you start by telling everyone a little bit about yourself?
Leah: I am a 23 year-old full time student at UW-Milwaukee pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology with a Sociology minor. I will graduate Magna Cum Laude and with commencement honors this spring. I am a professional MMA fighter and teach kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu and children’s Jiu Jitsu at Pura Vida BJJ/MMA gym, as well as a bouncer for The Pub Club. I am also a Senior Airman (E-4) in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
Alex: Wow, that's a lot. Do you ever get time to breathe? Now, you were in an interesting situation, coming off a pretty bad knee injury, rehabbing, looking to get back into fight shape for an upcoming fight. Could you tell us a little bit about how you felt post-injury and how you felt when you first decided to hire a strength and conditioning coach?
Leah: A serious knee injury is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a fighter, especially coming off a loss in the cage. I was pretty depressed after I tore my ACL, knowing that I was going to have to take several months off of training and everything I am passionate about. That rough time really taught me a lot about myself, my determination and how bad I want this. I was back in the gym a few days after my surgery watching practice. I sat and watched practice everyday for months. Doing physical therapy 3 times a week and doing everything I could as soon as I was cleared, I was able to recover and get back to full training in record time (5 months post-op).
The lack of activity, depression and unhealthy eating during the months following my injury led to me gaining weight and being in the worst shape of my life. I knew I was going to have to put in a lot of hard work in order to get back into fighting shape again. One of my coaches suggested I get help from a professional strength and conditioning coach who actually knew the science behind diet and exercise. Oddly enough, you came and talked to one of the Kinesiology classes at UWM. I did a little research on RUFP online and decided to give you a call. I fell in love with the gym during my assessment; I could tell that all of the coaches really cared about their clients and that they all were very knowledgeable on strength, conditioning and nutrition. I was so excited to have help losing weight and getting back into fight shape again. I was also thrilled to receive nutrition help, as cutting weight for fighting was always very hard for me.
Alex: That's awesome stuff, Leah. Now, the strength and conditioning aspect as it applies to MMA is still relatively a newer concept. But, you saw some awesome improvements once you started. Could you tell us about those improvements from when you started your strength and conditioning and how you ultimately went about doing so?
Leah: The very first improvement I saw was a dramatic increase in general strength. Others noticed this too; within the first 2 months of starting strength and conditioning, I got countless compliments from several training partners about how strong I was getting. This increase in strength helped my overall athleticism for fighting and I was able to keep up with male grapplers that had previously over powered me. Another significant improvement I made was in my cardio. After a few months at RUFP, I was able to train for longer periods of time with more intensity and not get so fatigued. The main improvement that I am the most excited about was implementing a healthy diet and seeing the changes in my physical appearance as my body fat percentage decreased. I have never been this lean before. Staying disciplined and making sure I hit not only my calorie goals, but also my protein, carb, and fat goals each day really paid off. The other factor in successfully going from 26% down to 15.5% body fat was really pushing myself with every workout. Putting on muscle really helped me burn fat, even while I wasn’t active.
Alex: Great stuff! Let's just say you have pretty much defined the term "crushing it." Obviously, being a professional fighter presents its challenges and rewards. Something that me being a strength and conditioning coach definitely understands. However, you are also a full-time college student and a part of the Air Force. How do you go about juggling all of that?
Leah: That is a good question. Sometimes it can be a little stressful balancing 3 jobs, training, school and military. However, I have gotten really good at time management. I plan my school schedule around training, workouts and work. Between workouts and before I go to bed are the times I get my schoolwork done; sometimes I bring my homework to my MMA gym and work on it between training sessions. I also prep my meals for the following days so that I can just wake up, pack them in a cooler and go.
Alex: How would you compare your previous fight preps to your most recent one and your current one?
Leah: Prior to this last fight, I didn’t have a nutritionist or strength and conditioning coach to help me get in shape. Because of this, I used to starve myself to make weight. This made me very weak, cranky and miserable for the weeks leading up to a fight. I also didn’t lift weights to increase my strength, or do the right types of conditioning to improve my cardio. Despite all that, I still was able to win all but one of those fights. However, I could have done a lot better had I started working with a strength and conditioning coach sooner. This last fight camp was the best one I have ever had. I was able to make weight without starving myself or feeling deprived of good tasting food. It was the easiest weight cut I have ever had. I also felt the strongest and had the best endurance I have ever had. The current fight camp is very similar to the last one, just a little less intense because it is kickboxing not MMA.
Alex: Leah, 8-0 amateur record, 1-1 professional record, coming off a very dominating victory. What's next?
Leah: My next fight will be in April, most likely for King Of The Cage. Then, hopefully fight for them again in July and the fall for their title. The main goal is to win 3 more MMA fights in 2016 and hopefully get a call from a top organization.
Alex: Wow, impressive. You are obviously someone that others can look up to. What advice would you have for other women out there, or, any fighter in the MMA game?
Leah: Don’t give up on your dreams, no matter what obstacles you may go through. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you work really hard at something. If I had given up when I lost my fight or when I tore my knee, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Definitely make sure to check Leah out online and keep tabs with her preparation leading up to her next fight in April.