[02:51] Mark's Background and How He Ended Up Writing “Unlocking The Cage”
[04:08] Mark's Background in Martial Arts
[11:02] What Drove Mark To Fight
[17:18] Mark’s Brain Damage From Fighting
[21:11] Testosterone and Head Damage
[25:01] Testosterone Replacement Therapy's Legality
[27:59] Mitigating The Effects of the Brain Damage
[32:30] Nutraceuticals for Brain Damage
[35:02] Other Injuries Mark Has Gotten from MMA and Football
[39:29] Mark's Training Protocol When He Used To Fight
[43:13] Mental Preparation for Fights
[52:00] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield here, and you may have noticed an article that appeared at bengreenfieldfitness.com a few weeks ago, and it was called “Endurance Sports, MMA, and Extreme Exercise: Are They Worth the Risks?” And this was a little bit of a controversial article that was written by my guest on today's podcast. He's an author, he's a fighter, he's a family man. His name is Mark Tullius. And he describes himself like this on his site, he says: I'm a father and husband, a brother and a son, I'm an Ivy League grad who worked in a warehouse, an MMA fighter with too many defeats, I'm the bouncer, the bodyguard, the drunk guy in the fight, the jailer in the jail, the guilty and the innocence. And he goes on to describe himself in a little bit more detail, and I'll put his full description on the show notes for this episode over at bengreenfieldfitness.com.
But today, we're going to take a little bit of a deep dive with Mark into everything from unlocking the psyche of competitive sports. We're going to talk about head injuries and other injuries, and how those relate to testosterone and testosterone replacement therapy in sports. We'll talk a little bit about performance enhancing drugs in MMA and other sports. We'll talk about training your brain, training your body, some of the best training programs to turn yourself into an absolute beast, and much more. So Mark, thanks for coming on the call today.
Mark: Man, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Ben: Well, Mark I'm going to put a link in the show notes so that people can go check out all of your books because you actually have written quite a few books and if we have time, I want to talk to you a little bit about your experience as an author. But one of your better known books and one of the ones that you kind of delve into in that article that you wrote for bengreenfieldfitness.com was this book called “Unlocking The Cage”. What's your background and what led you to write that book?
Mark: Yeah. I'm actually working on that one right now. I'm hoping to have it out by the end of the year and also a sociological study to go with it. But when I was fighting back in, it was a year or two after I graduated from college, didn't know what I was going to do, but I found myself doing underground fights in LA. I was never a violent guy, I was never fighting at all. I was always the guy that broke up fights.
Ben: What's an underground fight? For people who don't know.
Mark: Well, back then it wasn't really legal. Or it might have been borderline legal. So there would be flyers passed out and you would find out that there was going to be a fight at some warehouse on a Sunday down in LA, and you'd go and it'd be a warehouse where they just emptied everything out, and they put a ring up, and people would go just do it. I think my first fight was in a nightclub in San Pedro. It was just this little Mexican nightclub, they just emptied it out, they put a cage in the middle of it, and they just matched guys up as they walked in. Like, “Oh, you guys look about the right size.”
Ben: You'd just show up and fight?
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
Ben: Did you have experience as a fighter? Did you learn formally how to fight? Was your background in martial arts?
Mark: No. And that's what was kind of ridiculous. That's what I never really understood, like why I was doing it. Because I think after high school, my parents would never let me do martial arts. So I didn't do martial arts. They were against violence, they were against all that. I played high school football. I was pretty good and I was one of the stronger athletes. I was really into powerlifting and I did some powerlifting competitions. But then before I went to Brown, I got into a little bit of kickboxing. Just training, no competition. I played football up around after I graduated. I wasn't good enough to go to the pros, I had some injuries. And then I discovered jiu-jitsu and the martial arts again when I was doing bodyguard work. And I realized that my instructor, he was great, he had black belts in all these different disciplines, but when we took it to the ground, and just because of my size and my strength, I was probably about 250 at the time and a strong guy. I was able to, in 20 seconds I was able to beat him, and I realized that there was something there. I was like, “Okay. Maybe I could use my size and strength in this.” And I wanted to be competitive. I think I already missed that part of it.
Ben: Yeah. So you just basically naturally discovered you were good at this stuff and started showing up to these underground fights?
Mark: Yeah. And if I could do it all over, I would have actually started training. I mean I didn't tell my trainers that I was going to the fight, I didn't tell friends. I think for my first fight I told one person, and I just wanted to try it. And a big part of it, I believe was probably that I was scared. This was something, I didn't know how it was going to turn out, but I just wanted to do it. But then after I was doing it for a couple times and I was training a little bit more, that I really got me thinking. I was like, “Why are all these people doing it?” Not just myself. I don't think at the time I thought there was anything wrong with me, but I wondering why all these people were doing this, why were the fans interested, and I was just really fascinated by the entire thing. I had studied sociology at Brown. At the time, I thought about doing a survey and surveying the fans, surveying the fighters, and but just didn't do anything with it.
So it wasn't until after, I think I hadn't been fighting for about eight years. My last fight was in 2004 and my daughter was three years old at the time. She's putting me in triangles, and she likes to punch me and kick me, and I really wondered, I was like, “Wow. Is this good for her? Is she going to go down the same path I did?” Is it something genetic? Was it something that I'm passing on to her? By exposing her to these moves, am I going to increase the likelihood that she's going to fight? And that was actually one of the drives that got me started on the project. Because to tell you the truth, I wasn't into MMA at all, I wasn't watching it. I feel like I had a shift with my daughter and I probably became more peaceful, more relaxed. And like sometimes watching the…
Ben: They say that happens when you have a little girl. Your testosterone plummets.
Ben: I've got two boys. Actually they say that when you become a father, period. Or when you get married actually, you're testosterone begins to drop. And then when you have kids, it drops even more. And apparently when you have girls, it drops even more compared to boys. So you're pretty much screwed, man.
Mark: Yeah. I'm surrounded by women. That doesn't help. I was like, “Yeah.” So that's why I started. And it was tough because I hadn't been physical at all. I was in terrible, terrible shape and that's one reason why I wanted to start the project, 'cause it was like, “Okay, I'm either going to go just totally embarrass myself or I can start getting in shape and this is how I'm going to,” and that's what I would do before. I was like, “Okay. I'm going to take a fight, so I'll train really hard.” It was like I always needed some kind of motivation. I was like, “Okay. I'm going to sign up for a race and then I'll start training to get ready for it.” Terrible way.
Ben: I'm exactly the same way. I have to be signed up for something or else I won't go train. I need that motivation that I'm going to be embarrassed or else I won’t train. So you started down the road of writing this book, “Unlocking The Cage”, so that you could basically delve into the psyche of why people fight and why they like to go watch fights?
Mark: Yeah. So I ended up throwing away the part about watching the fights. I left that alone 'cause I realized now [0:08:53] ______ is just huge. So what I'm focused on now is why these people are fighting. And I haven't done the study yet, 'cause I'll have a survey portion of the study which I haven't done yet, but I've interviewed close to 400 fighters already, and trying to go pretty deep with them. Some of them, we don't have a lot of time so we might not go that deep. But other ones, we're looking at everything. I start from the youngest age and try to see when was the first time they saw violence, what was their education like. Were they bullied? Were they the bully? All these different factors, and then really trying to get at why are they doing it. And so many of them don't know.
I think it's really difficult to know why you're doing something while you're doing it. If there has been a length of time or you haven't done it and maybe you miss it, it might be a little bit easier. That's one reason why I also talked to coaches all the time. Because I think coaches know fighters better than the fighters know themselves, and friends and parents. So yeah, trying to really see why are they doing it. Are they just a wrestler that needs competition and they're just strictly looking at this as a sport. And in comparing the guys that are seeing it now, there's young kids that see it on TV now that are like, “Oh, man. I'm going to be Jon Jones. I'm going to make money. I'm going to be sponsored by Nike. I'm going to have this fame.” Compare that to guys like myself and other people that just, like man, we don't care. I was fighting for 50 bucks, or a hundred bucks, or 200 bucks and knowing that there wasn't going to be this huge payday, but just kind of wanting to go in there and do it.
Ben: Like when you say wanting to go in there and do it, do you say that because you feel like you were just hardwired to want to fight somebody? Or hardwired to want to compete? I mean do you think that a few thousand years ago, you would have been the warrior who just thrives mentally and physically on being in battle, like satisfying that bloodthirst?
Mark: I think so. Well, it's so hard to know because, I mean this is really reminding me of so much stuff that I forgot about. And even my childhood was like, I was pretty much into, well I was really into sports at a very young age, but I was also into military, in violence, and everything else. I was always killing people while I was playing cowboys or Indians, or army man, or whatever else. So it's hard to say, am I hardwired that way, or was I just brought up that way, or created, or was it the environment. If it wasn't fighting, it could've been something else because that's what I've discovered now. Because I went so far, I spent about two years just going to all these gyms, been to over a hundred gyms. And then one of my last sparring sessions, my buddy warned me about, he said, “Hey, man,” he's like, “Maybe you should write about brain damage.” I was like, “Well, why would I write about brain damage?” He's like, “Well, you're sparring with guys half your age and you're getting hit.”
And so I made the switch, and we'll go into that more later. So I made the switch to strictly jiu-jitsu for the last two or three months. And I've realized, I was like, “That is enough for me.” I was like, “That competition,” and whether it's just exerting myself physically, whether it's a competition, whether it's the camaraderie, there's always factors, I'm not sure what they are, but I do know that that has replaced the newfound urge to fight, which I didn't have it for eight years. I got back into it slowly and came back to where I was like, “Man,” I was like, “I want to spar.” I want to fight at 41, which is ridiculous. But it's been replaced now by jiu-jitsu, which is nice 'cause now I don't have to get hit on the head. But it's going to be very interesting 'cause next week I'm starting back into the MMA again. I'm going up to northern California and it'll be very interesting to see whether or not, when I put on the gloves, am I going to have that fighting urge come back again.
Ben: Well, you know what I think? I think, I've competed in triathlon, and marathon, and endurance sports for a long time, and for the past decade I've been doing Ironman. And before that, I was in bodybuilding, and played collegiate tennis, and dabbled in water polo, and played middle for the volleyball team, and have just kind of experimented with a lot of these sports. I think, and I want to hear what you think about this too, that people fall into one of four different categories when they're competing. I think there's those people who thrive on competition, who are like bloodthirsty, like that's the way they're hardwired. They need to go out and fight. And these would have been the people who go out into battle thousands of years ago, or who are genetically like warriors. So we have those people and they just need to go and battle.
And then I think you have a second group of people who use fighting, who use competition, who use exercise as a means of getting away from their day job. These are the people who thrive on the runner's high, who need to get out there and do it as a meditation, as a getaway, as a way to unplug and I tend to see that a lot in endurance sports especially. And I don't know if MMA is a form of unplugging for people, but I seem to run into that quite a bit too, people who just want to be able to step away from the world and kind of delve into their own special place. I guess that would be similar to Fight Club, for example.
And then I think there's two other subsets of people. There's the people who compete because they got sucked into thinking it would be a good way to get a better body, to lose fat. You tend to see a lot of like women especially to get into exercise or extreme exercise because they want to get a better body and because they think that's the way to do it. And then finally, I think there are people who are basically just addicted to exercise. They don't even exercise 'cause they necessarily think it's healthy or for the competition. They just exercise because they thrive on that dopamine release or they're addicted to the endorphins. And then I think there's like a third category of folks who basically just compete because they think it's going to help them to lose weight, or they got pulled into sports as a way to lose fat or to get a better body. And I think you see this a lot of times with women who you see exercising all the time, and it's not necessarily 'cause they're bloodthirsty or using it for meditation. It's just like they just do it because they think that's the way for them to get a better body.
And then the last group of people I think are the people who are just addicted to exercise. Like maybe they got started off 'cause they were interested in competition, or interested in getting a better body, or interested in the meditation and being able to step away, and eventually they just got to the point where they were addicted to exercise because of the endorphins, or the dopamine, or the cannabinoids, or all the things that get released when you exercise. And now that's just the way that they get their fix. Like rather than having sex, or eating good food, or having a hobby like music, exercise is the one thing. So it seems to me like there's a lot of different reasons that people get into this stuff, but those are kind of the four categories of people that I seem to run into.
Mark: Yeah. And I would say you totally nailed it because, and those are the people that I see in the gym. The first group, definitely the fighters. But all the people that are in there just to train, I mean that's pretty much sums it up. And especially also with jiu-jitsu, there's so many people that might just go in to start losing weight, and then it just turns into something else. I think you nailed it with those four.
Ben: Did you ever get serious head damage when you were competing?
Mark: Yeah. I did. But at the time, I was denying it. Well, I had several concussions playing football. I had a couple in high school. I played one year at junior college and then also a couple at Brown. So I mean I already had probably at least five or six serious good concussions before I even got into fighting. I was trying it out for a while. I got talked into, and I was so stupid. I agreed to do the main event for a bare knuckle boxing fight in Alabama. So it was going to be no gloves, no headgear, just a mouthpiece. Thank God the fight fell through, the promoters couldn't get insurance for the fighters. But that got me started in boxing. And when I went to boxing, I moved to Vegas. I was a big white guy, no experience, just thrown in there, and I began slurring my speech and the word order, I'd be saying my sentence and my words would be flipped around. I knew what I was trying to say, but I was reversing the words. And that was scary because I don't know if maybe I was just susceptible. I don't know if it was because I already had these other concussions or what, but it was pretty noticeable. That bothered me. I stopped boxing. I wasn't going to be any good at it. I wasn't a good boxer at all.
So I jumped back into the cage stuff and I felt fine. And after that I didn't notice anything. I had a really bad concussion. My last fight, I lost, it was my first time cutting weight. I lost 40 to 45 pounds in one month and I had nothing going into this fight. And I remember seeing the punch coming, the next thing I know, I'm in the locker room in the middle of the sentence and everyone is looking at me just very scared. My coach was like, “We're about to take you to the hospital.” And I guess after I got hit by that punch, I still fought for a couple more minutes. I never lost consciousness, I walked into the back. But then while I was in the back, I asked the same sentence about six times. I just kept saying, “What happened? What happened?” And after that, I went and had a CAT scan, and I said, “Okay. I'm not going to fight anymore.” It just wasn't worth it. And part of my thing too was, even that, I don't know if that was the real reason why I stopped fighting because I was just reckless and I really didn't care about myself, or my health, or anything that really happened to me. But I think I just, at that point I also knew, I was like, “Okay, I'm not going to make it as a fighter.” And it'd probably be good hold on to most of my brain cells.
Ben: So do you find that in MMA or did you find this with yourself that there was a link between you getting hit in the head and drive or sexual performance? Because the reason that I asked that is they've found all this evidence that repetitive head injury results in damage to the pituitary gland. And then there's this whole link between the pituitary gland, and pituitary gland dysfunction, and hypogonadism, and growth hormone deficiencies, and this drop in testosterone. And I mean you can certainly get that same, in both men and women, that hypogonadism or that drop in testosterone from overtraining, or not eating enough food, or not getting enough fat soluble vitamins in. But it appears you can also get that from head damage. Do you think that low testosterone is caused by some of this head damage that's occurring, or did you find that yourself?
Mark: It's hard to say at the time because when I was fighting I wasn't doing anything right. I wasn't eating right, a lot of it wasn't really known and you had to really do your research. So it might have been a lot of things. I think it probably was a pretty low sex drive, especially while I was fighting and doing all that. And again, it might have been overtraining or other things. And I hadn't talked to too many guys about that, but I know before I started this, before I started the project I did go to a doctor though because, man, I was really tired. I just wasn't feeling like, I kept telling myself, I was like, “Okay, I'm going to start exercising. I'm going to start going to the gym.” And I just wouldn't do it. And that wasn't like me. So I went to a doctor, I said, “Hey, I'd like my testosterone tested,” because if it is low, I was going to consider doing replacement therapy. I had a couple friends that do it and they're like, “Man, you'll feel like a new person. Why wouldn't you do this?” And so I went, I had it tested in there, and then results came back and the doctor was like, “No, you're just lazy.” Yeah, essentially. It might have been on the low end, the score might have been on the low end.
Ben: Well physicians look for you to be, for hypogonadism, they're looking for clinical hypogonadism. There are a ton of guys who have low drive, men and women who have hormonal issues, but a lot of times when docs test for anything from progesterone to testosterone, they're looking for the stuff that would be so low that it puts you at risk of something like heart disease or extreme levels of, basically lack of motivation and low drive, but they're not necessarily looking at values that are going to lead to maybe you just having more motivation to exercise, for example. So I think it kind of depends on the scale that you're looking at.
Mark: Now what are your thoughts on just for the average male that's getting a little bit older and maybe doesn't have that motivation? What are your thoughts on testosterone replacement?
Ben: Well generally if you look at what medical recommendations are for what it takes to be in about the top tenth percentile for different age groups, for about the 30 to 40 year old male age group for example, you're looking at wanting total testosterone values that are somewhere between about 500 to 700. And that's the range that I tell most guys to shoot for, somewhere between 500 and 700. And in most cases if you're up around that range and you have high levels of free testosterone, meaning that that total testosterone isn't all bound up to sex hormone binding globulin, which usually happens when you have really high cortisol, or if you're overtraining, or if you're not enough calories. Usually that total testosterone value of somewhere between 500 and 700 is pretty good for most guys. That's what I recommend shooting for.
And a doctor will see three hundred, for example, and they'll tell you you're fine. Like if you're 30 to 40 or in any other age category for that matter, 300 is just fine. And I've seen some people, they'll show me their lab results, their PDF, and they won't even be flagged for being low in testosterone and they'll be down around the 200s for their total testosterone. In most cases, it's simply not enough to result in enough drive, enough drive, enough motivation, any of those factors. So it's kind of an issue. You mention testosterone replacement therapy, isn't that, the Nevada State Athletic Commission just banned TRT for MMA?
Mark: Yeah, they did just ban that.
Ben: What do you think about that?
Mark: You know what? I think it's the right call. I think it just could be so abused, it is a form of cheating. And this is coming from like, I used testosterone in the past when it wasn't legal, and I tried it, and I don't know. I just think if your testosterone is that low and you can't get it up in other ways, then maybe you should just not be fighting. And I read a really good article by a doctor who's saying, a lot of guys are saying, “Well, my testosterone is low because of all the brain damage that I've taken from fighting, and that's why it's low. So I need to raise it back up.” It's like, “Well, if that's the case, then you should not be fighting if you have this brain damage.” I mean it's a hard one, but…
Ben: Yeah. It seems like kind of a catch-22. ‘Cause I mean you're competing in a sport where you're getting hit in the head, and evidence has shown that when your pituitary gland is damaged, you're not going to produce enough testosterone. But then they go and ban testosterone replacement therapy in these folks. So yeah, it does seem like kind of a damned if you don't in this kind of scenario.
Mark: Yeah. ‘Cause I mean it's such an advantage. And just like looking at Vitor, I mean what an incredible athlete, but I don't know, having that extra boost, having that advantage over someone who's not using it, and then…
Ben: What happened with Vitor, for people who are listening?
Mark: He's just, I'm not sure what his age is, but he was one of the fighters that was on TRT, an older fighter who just, I mean he looks incredible and he was knocking guys out left and right. But then they banned it, and now he's not fighting. I'm not sure what he's going to do now, but that is definitely one of the reasons why you do it. And then especially what that'll do to a fighter mentally if they have been using the TRT and all of a sudden, they have to stop. I know a lot of weightlifters and stuff that, they'll be cycling and then they'll go off of a cycle, and man, they're just a completely different person. In fighting, I couldn't imagine having the increased levels of testosterone and then having to try to fight without and trying to train without it. That would be that would be very hard mentally, I think.
Ben: Now what about the use of things that could potentially reverse head damage or decrease the lack of blood flow and all the hypoperfusion that happens on the brain level and potentially helping fighters out by giving them that knowledge rather than and putting them on testosterone replacement therapy so they could almost keep fighting, but at least reverse or slow down some of that brain damage. I mean have you seen the use of nutraceuticals and stuff like that, kind of going up in the MMA as testosterone replacement therapy has decreased or become illegal?
Mark: I haven't seen a lot of it, but that's only because a lot of my focus is on younger guys and these guys just don't have the money. Out of the 400 fighters I've interviewed, I think maybe 60 are in the UFC, but even those 60, maybe half of them are making decent money and taking the nutrients that shouldn't and being taken care of that way. But yeah, no. I think that's incredibly important for them to be getting that and for that to be available.
Ben: Well, what'd you do? Like you had head damage, did you start to do things to help, I guess, like rebuild your brain or help you heal from head damage?
Mark: Well, I didn't realize that, at the time, I just completely stopped. I think the time off helped me. When I wrote this article, when my friend told me that, “Hey, maybe you should stop sparring,” and I realized he was right, and I started looking at brain damage, it kind of scared me because I was like, “Oh, man.” Not only have I had brain damage, I definitely had brain damage from boxing and from fighting, and I had all these concussions, and it may just be a matter of time before dementia sets in, but luckily one thing that happened with me, I just started doing Lumosity, which is brain training. Joe Rogan, I listen to his podcast all the time, he recommended it. So I just tried it, and I got hooked, and I have been feeling incredible. And then I was just reading up on it, I read the science on it afterwards, and he was talking about how much it can stop or prevent dementia, delay dementia and Alzheimer's. And I think that's something that all fighters should be doing, some kind of mental stimulation.
Ben: So do you just have Lumosity on your phone and play it every day?
Mark: I did just download it to my phone, but yeah. I use it on my desktop, and again, I sound like such a nerd saying it, but I've even had to limit myself because not only am I feeling so much sharper, it definitely feels like a fog's been lifted, but it's competition because you get to see where you compete against all these other people. Anyone else whose playing, you could check yourself against your age range, or younger kids, or whatever else. I was like, “Man,” I was like, “Now I'm at the point where I'm such a perfectionist.” I'm trying to get to 99.9 percentile. That's my goal right now, so I've had to limit myself.
Ben: Have you ever used, I've used Lumosity, but the other one I have on my phone that I play around with when I'm on the airplane or anywhere else where I want to do brain training is N-back. And I've actually found N-back training to spin the dials in my brain way more in terms of making me furrow my brow and work harder on working memory even compared to Lumosity. Have you done much with N-back training?
Mark: No, no. I'm going to definitely check that out though.
Ben: It's really difficult. Like it'll throw an equation at you, or a number, or a pattern, and then you have to remember that number, or pattern, or equation as it flips a series of additional equations, and numbers, and patterns at you. And then it'll say like, “Three times ago, what was the answer to the equation?” So you might get like “4 + 1”, and then it'll flash, so this would be an example, like N – 2 training. So it'll say “4 + 1”, and then it'll flash “5 + 2”, “8 + 8”, and then it'll say, “What was the answer to the equation that appeared two ago?” And so you got to say that, and then go on it, and you can get to the point, they've done studies in kids and even used this in elementary schools and found that it vastly improves IQ, and there's kids are getting up to 10 N-back. Meaning they'll see a pattern appear on a grid, and then it'll flash 10 other patterns at them, and then they have to say where that pattern appeared on the grid 10 episodes ago. Super cool stuff though for kind of improving mental performance. If you liked Lumosity, 'cause I've done and I have Lumosity on my phone and I have N-back on my phone. Those are the two brain training thing apps that I have on my phone, and I love Lumosity, but and N-back is harder. It's definitely more difficult.
Mark: I'll definitely check that out.
Ben: So what about nutraceuticals? Have you used anything like that for head damage?
Mark: The one thing I've used, I just got Onnit and I'm using their Total Primate Care, and I'm not even completely sure what is in it.
Ben: Is that like Alpha Brain?
Mark: Yeah. It includes Alpha Brain. I've used that once before, and that might be part of why I've been feeling so good. It's been a combination of that and the brain training. But I don't know the science behind, I've gotten, I guess I shouldn't say I'm lazy. I mean I'm a stay-at-home dad and I'm also doing all my fiction stuff like that. I just haven't had time to get in…
Ben: Well that has huperzine in it, right? That Alpha Brain?
Mark: Yeah. I believe so. But yeah, I like it. I mean I like the way I'm feeling. And as far as, not only mentally, just day to day stuff, but on the mat in jiu-jitsu, I'm feeling sharper. And then with my writing, with my fiction, like creativeness, creativity is way better.
Ben: That's really interesting. I'm actually looking at the Alpha Brain label right now. It's got vinpocetine in it. I'm seeing it if it has huperzine. I thought this, yeah, it has huperzine in it too. There was a big study that they ran on retired NFL players who had a bunch of brain damage and cognitive impairment, and they actually had these guys take supplements for six months and they saw an increase in perfusion in the areas of the brain that actually were damaged. And I know that two of the things they had them on were actually vinpocetine and huperzine, which are in this stuff, this Alpha Brain. And they also had fish oil, and I know they had like a Gingko Biloba. There were some other things in there too, but it is kind of interesting that you can actually, I mean you can make yourself smarter by increasing blood flow with some of this stuff, but you can actually reverse brain damage. And in these NFL players, they were using what's called a SPECT scan to show perfusion in areas through the brain, and they actually had a reversal of head damage just from these type of nutrients.
Mark: That's awesome. That's encouraging.
Ben: That's interesting too. So you've used that stuff, used Lumosity for brain training. What about injuries? Have you had injuries ago but beyond just head injuries that are stemmed from participation in MMA or in football?
Mark: Yeah. My back has been destroyed. From high school football, I had a really bad back injury. And since that back injury, it's plagued me throughout, I mean I still have problems with it. The best way I've dealt with it is yoga. I mean I swear by chiropractic, my brother is a chiropractor and that's helped me out a ton. I wouldn't have been able to do this project if it wasn't for chiropractic, and massage, and acupuncture. But then yoga also, I got turned on to that and that has just done wonders for me, whether it's strength in the core or I'm just more flexible.
Ben: Are you doing hatha yoga or a specific kind of yoga?
Mark: I started on, I knew I needed a program and I wasn't about to do it in public cause I still was trying to get over that whole deal and be embarrassed starting something new. So I do it downstairs. I got “The Ultimate Yogi”, which is a 108 day program. So one day is flexibility, one day is strength, and I love the way he has it set up. I did 60 days in a row before I had a back injury from some MMA stuff. But now I just do it every, right now I'm training three days a week in jiu-jitsu, and I try to do yoga two or three days, and then just some light stuff around the house. I do want to increase my training, and I realize the only reason I want to though is because of jiu-jitsu, like I'm starting to get into it, I want to get better at it. I realize the guys I'm going against are training. So I have to start training a little bit harder. And I actually just purchased your book, your new book. I should be getting that tomorrow 'cause I realized, like, “Man,” I was like, “I don't take the time to, I'm not training nearly as hard as these guys that I see training all the time.” I was like, “If I am going to train, I need to do it right. I don't want to keep hurting myself. So yeah, your book looked like it had a lot of great stuff in it, so I should be getting that tomorrow.
Ben: Yeah. Well, one of the things that I talk about in my book that I think, well any athlete population that I've ever spoken to who deals with low back pain, there's these exercises called “The Core Foundation Exercises”. They're kind of funky, but basically involve sticking your butt out in a variety of different positions, and arching your back, and lifting your arms over your head, and it strengthens your transverse abdominis, and some of your deep core muscles, and then your hip extensors. And all those are areas where, if there are deficiencies, you tend to have low back pain. But those 10 exercises, I do 'em three times a week. So I alternate. Like one one morning, I'll do yoga. And then the next morning, I'll do those exercises. Not for a long time, like five, 10 minutes. And that's it. And that's, knock on wood, one of the best ways to bulletproof yourself in terms of low back injuries are those foundation exercises. So I get into those in the book. You’re talking about MMA and kind of using yoga makes me think of this guy, Diamond Dallas Page. Have you seen these DDP Yoga DVDs before?
Mark: You know what? I haven't seen his DVDs, but I saw one of the success stories, the vet that couldn't walk and he was on crutches. Yeah, so I saw that. I was like, “Wow.”
Ben: He was on Shark Tank?
Ben: He sent me some of the DVDs to try out, and they're a little bit cheesy, but they're pretty tough. And apparently that's how this wrestler, well, a retired professional wrestler now, but that was how he rehabed his back pain that he was doing this special form of yoga that he does. And it's kind of like yoga, except you hold the positions with really extreme muscle contractions for a long period of time. So you jack up your heart rate and you get this cardiovascular boost before you move on to the next exercise. So those are kind of interesting, the DDP Yoga DVDs. I want to also ask you, speaking of kind of training and cardiovascular, what do you use for training or what did you use when you were fighting as far as like a training protocol?
Mark: You know what? We did not train smart back then at all. It would vary from gym to gym. Lots of times, one of the best things we ever did was we would go to the park and we'd be carrying each other up hills, just a lot a of body weight movements. I gave up weightlifting early on, 'cause I was a power lifter for a long time and I always thought, “Big and strong, that was the way to do it.” And I was tried to do that for the first couple years of fighting, and then I completely gave that up. I mean it'd probably be good to do little bit of it. But now if I do anything, I'm doing kettlebells and just a lot of body movement. But, yeah. I don't do nearly as much as I should. I really don't do a lot of running at all just because it tears up my back and I'm still kind of heavy. But yeah, just really rolling, a two hour session three times a week and eating right. I've been just slowly taking off the weight, trying to add in the yoga, trying to add in the kettlebells. But I am looking for more. I want to get in better shape, that's what I'm hoping. Like I'm definitely going to add the core foundation exercises in for sure.
Ben: Have you seen much of Martin Rooney's stuff? Like his “Warrior Cardio” book, or “Ultimate Warrior Workouts”, or “Training For Warriors”, or any of those?
Mark: I interviewed one of his affiliates. I hadn't heard of it before, but when I went to, I was in Providence, Rhode Island a couple of months ago and I interviewed the instructor from Triforce MMA and they have Training For Warriors there. And so he was describing it, and he kind of put me through a workout, and it was pretty awesome.
Ben: Yeah. He's got like his hurricane protocol. The reason I know about him is I actually, I like to pick something that takes me outside my comfort zone to do in the off season when I'm not training for triathlon. And so I used his Warrior Cardio book last year and he's got his hurricane sprint protocols where you do 10 by 30 second reps on the treadmill at 10% incline and 10 miles an hour, and then you hop off and do two bodyweight exercises after each 30 second sprint, and then you drop back on the treadmill. Those are really really good books though as far as conditioning goes. I'm pretty impressed with some of his stuff.
Mark: I'll have to check that out. And I'm the type of person where I need it laid out for me. I need someone telling me what to do. If someone tells me what, then I can do it. But yeah, if I try to put my own little workout, it's just not going to happen.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. That's the same way I am. I'm now going through a guy named Mark Divine, Commander Mark Divine. He's a SEAL, an ex-Navy SEAL and he has this program called SEALFit, and right now I'm getting ready for his, he does like a hell week for civilians down in San Diego and I'm using his eight weeks to SEALFit Program for that. And yeah, it's crazy workouts. You'll do like literally a hundred rope climbs in a row, like 120 foot rope climbs, and then drop down and one day's workout will be a thousand pushups, and it's just crazy, kind of out-there type of mental-slash-physical performance things, but that's another really interesting program is the SEALFit program. What about mental training? Do you do much in terms of like mental prep, visualization, brain hacking, any of that kind of stuff when it comes to mental prep? Did you when you were fighting?
Mark: I didn't, and that was, I think, probably one of the reasons I wasn't a good fighter was because I lacked the confidence, I didn't do any visualization at all. Like one of the things now, when I'm interviewing guys, I can tell almost immediately, like, “Okay. That guy is going to be successful.” There are certain guys that just have that confidence, and then those same guys that have that confidence, I'll ask them about, like, “Okay, well what kind of visualization, what kind of stuff you do,” and that's exactly what they're into. They got that all down. Lots of times, I'll even have a therapist that they're working with. I've talked with a lot of guys that, they we're starting to lose a lot, and they get with a therapist that's putting them through these things, and it's a complete turn around. The fighting game is so much mental. I mean you get in there and it's just you against another guy with all these people watching, and it's just so much pressure. And if you don't believe that you're going to win, and if you don't know that you're going to win, and if you don't have the right mental state, then you're at an incredible disadvantage. I wish I had done those things. Now I've gotten into meditation over the last two years, and I try to do that just for overall health and it actually helps a lot with my writing. If I meditate before I start writing, the creativity is much much better.
Ben: What do you do?
Mark: Lots of times, I'll just put myself in dark room or just sit, and I'll just, my brother got me a book while back, I forget what it was called, but it showed how to run through, try to circulate the energy, the chi, or whatever throughout the whole body and it could take up to like 20 minutes. Sometimes it'll just be five minutes and I'll just try to clear my head and just make everything silent. But yeah, even just something like that helps so much. I think so many of us now just never allow ourselves to be quiet. We always have to have something going on, we have to have our phone on. We feel like we're missing out if the TV's not on, or we're not learning, or we're not reading the latest news, and we're just so uncomfortable with ourselves. But I think if more people just spent a little bit more time doing that or meditating, I think they'd be a little bit happier.
Ben: Yeah. So you use that before you write. And then I noticed you've, I'm looking at your Amazon author page, you write a lot of fiction.
Mark: Yeah. Fiction is my passion. The fighting, part of the reason I did the fighting was I had this unanswered question, but then I also knew, I was like, “Well, fighting is really popular and it will sell. Maybe that will propel my fiction.” But yeah, fiction is, that's what I love to write about. Whether it's science fiction or horror, I'm trying to touch all the genres and just not be held back by anything. One of the new books I have is a Choose Your Own Adventure. I'm doing a whole series of those. I am about to, we're illustrating a book that my six year old daughter and I are coauthoring. We're going to have a series of books. I'm going to do one with her each year.
Ben: That's not the one called “Try Not To Die At Grandma's House”, is it?
Mark: Yeah. That was the Choose Your Own Adventure.
Ben: Okay. That's not the one you're writing with your little girl though?
Mark: No, no. I gave her a copy of it. I was like, “If you're old enough to read my handwriting on this page, then you could read the book.” But, no. It's “Puzzle At The Preschool”. She's into detectives. But it was cool, man. I was able to, at first she didn't want to do it. She was like, “I don't know how to write.” I was like, “Yeah, you do. We're just going to come up with a story.” And what it did for her and for her confidence, and just to see that she can do this and to know that in three months she's going to be able to take a book to her teachers and it's going to have her name on it, I was like, I'm super excited about that. So I'm writing that. I have another one coming out next week called “Woman With a Gun” about this really tough chick that drives cross-country to save her daughter. It's been two years, I think I've had three books and two years, and maybe two short collections, and I want to keep up at least that pace.
Ben: Have you always written or do you feel like writing kind of helped almost like take you out of MMA and football and writing is almost like your fix instead of getting out, and competing, and beating people up, your writing?
Mark: It's hard. ‘Cause I started writing at 26, and since then it's just something that I've had to do. I think when I was fighting, the writing definitely took a backseat. I don't know. So it's been a struggle because, okay, I want to write but I've been spending so much time with Unlocking the Cage, it was difficult. But I think when I'm happiest is when I'm writing. And I'm glad things didn't work out for me fighting 'cause I probably wouldn't have pursued the career like I have. And now I could actually write about it and hopefully do some justice to all these incredible people that I'm meeting 'cause it's been awesome. That's the one thing I want to do with Unlocking the Cage, is just show what kind of people these fighters are. Because out of 400, I'd say at least 95% of them are just incredible people. I would let them come over to my house even if I'm not there, just good people.
Ben: Well, that was actually one of the reasons that I wanted to get you on the podcast was you're an interesting guy. You're writing, you've fought, you have an interesting take on head injuries, and kind of the risk versus reward of sports in general. And I think for folks listening in, one of the things I would encourage people to do is just to kind of tap into some things that go above and beyond like whatever sport you're beating yourself up with, and for Mark, it's writing. For me, right now it's a little bit of music, a little bit of writing. But I think some people just need to think about some other ways that they can fuel that passion and maybe even and distract themselves a little bit from being a warrior or an extreme competitor and maybe delve into kind of the poetry side of things, right?
Mark: Yeah. And one really cool thing that I'm doing and excited about is I'm putting all kinds of fighters through a writing exercise, and I'm going to put together a book of all these fighters are writing about a moment in their life that changed them. And I'm hoping it's going to be therapeutic for them, and it's just going to come out with some incredible stories and to show that they're no different than anyone else. They're just regular people that happen to enjoy fighting, but they've experienced all the same things. But yeah, I encourage everyone to try to write, or find music, find something, just become as multidimensional as possible and explore life and enjoy.
Ben: Yeah. Very cool. Well I'll put a link to everything we talked on the show, some of the resources like the Lumosity, and the N-back training, and this Alpha Brain stuff, as well as your website and your books. So folks who want to check that out, just go over to bengreenfieldfitness.com and do a search for Mark Tullius over there or follow the link that you'll see over on the website when this comes out. And Mark, thank you so much for coming on the call and sharing some of this stuff with us.
Mark: Oh, man. This was awesome. I really appreciate it and I really am going to check out your book and incorporate a lot of that stuff. So, thank you.
Ben: Awesome. Well cool, man. Well, thanks for coming on, thanks for your time. And until next time folks, this is Ben Greenfield and Mark Tullius signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
Author, fighter and family man Mark Tullius (pictured sparring above) first appeared on this site a few weeks ago in the article “Endurance Sports, MMA and Extreme Exercise – Are They Worth the Risks?“
Mark describes himself like this:
“I'm a father and a husband, a brother and a son. I'm an Ivy League grad who worked in a warehouse, an MMA fighter with too many defeats. I'm the bouncer and bodyguard, the drunk guy in the fight. The jailer and the jailed, the guilty and innocent.
I'm a writer shaped by influences, too many to count. I grew up on King and Koontz while force-fed the Bible. I narrate Dr. Seuss and Disney nearly every night. Like you, I've seen things I wished I hadn't, heard some truths I won't forget.
Writing is my heavy bag, the sparring partner that doesn't punch back. It's where I shed my armor and cast off the blindfold, take a look at myself and the world around me. The writing takes me wherever it wants. Dark alley or dinner table, classroom or morgue. I go along for the ride and try to capture the moment, show life like it is and let you be the judge.”
Today, we're going to take a deep dive with Mark into unlocking the psyche of competitive sports, head and other injuries, testosterone and testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED's) in MMA and other sports, the best training programs to turn yourself into an absolute beast and much more.
Resources discussed in this episode: