Cameron Conaway was the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona’s MFA Creative Writing Program. He is 2-0 at 155lbs as an MMA fighter.
He has trained with Renzo Gracie, the London Shootfighters and will soon study Muay Thai in Thailand thanks to the sponsorship of www.WhatsYourFight.com. An MMA fighter and an award-winning poet; an MMA Trainer at Gold’s Gym and a creative writing instructor for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth; a certified personal trainer through the NSCA and a dynamic anti-bully spokesperson, Cameron is known worldwide as the Warrior Poet. Tuttle Publishing will release his memoir, Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet, in August 2011. Salmon Poetry will release his book of poems, Until You Make the Shore, in January 2012. For more information visit: www.cameronconaway.com.
1. What got you interested in mixed martial arts?
At the age of 13, I found myself in the middle of my parent’s divorce. My father basically became non-existent in my life, and through my subconscious search to find a father figure I rented an Ultimate Fighting Championship VHS because I saw a muscular fighter named Ken Shamrock on the cover. I was hooked by the complexity of the sport, that it was 1-1, that it wasn’t dependent on size and that the training was difficult yet good for the body and mind. Days after viewing the video (at least ten times straight through) I quit the junior high basketball team and signed up at a local non-profit boxing club. Mixed martial arts has been in my blood ever since. There’s too much to learn and it’s too beautiful for it not to be.
2. When training for a fight, what would a typical training day consist of?
I was a full-time undergraduate student during my fights, but it looked something like this:
5:30-7:00am: Yoga in my room using routines I’d developed myself
Breakfast then class at 8am.
10:00 -10:45am hill sprints
3:30-5:30pm: grappling session (teaching students in my garage)
6:30-7:45pm: Boxing practice
Bath (used to clean, but also to perform stretching and deep breathing routines)
3. What are your workouts like when you’re not training?
I always consider myself to be training – if not for a fight, then for unexpected life situations or for life longevity. But, it’s always different. I try to keep my body guessing. Some days I’ll focus on explosive movements like box jumps and sprints, other days I’ll strive for 20 minutes on the elliptical then rower then stair climber. Sometimes I’ll drop-in on a Bikram yoga class, other times I’ll just get into the mountains and hike for a few hours. It all depends on what I have available and how I’m feeling. I’ve learned that if I’m too strict, too monotonous and not listening to my body it’s easy for me to get discouraged and/or to begin overtraining.
4. There are so many ways to exercise and different programs available that it can be difficult choosing how to exercise. What types of exercise would you recommend for someone who is trying to get back into a regular fitness routine?
First, I’d say to keep or develop a log (even if just mental) of the workouts you’ve done in the past to learn from what worked and what didn’t. For example, I can’t run long distances on paved roads. My feet are flat as a platypus and eventually I get shin splints and my joints begin to break down. So, I avoid this activity as well as similarly highly-repetitive bounding activities (like jumping rope). Once some thought is put into what your body has responded well to, I suggest getting involved in some type of group class. Yoga is often the best way to get started because it caters to establishing fundamental levels of balance, bodyweight strength, flexibility and coordination. These are components vital to develop before engaging in any other type of activities.
5. It is no secret that many people who have set new year’s resolutions to get fit give up by March/April. What do you suggest to keep health and fitness part of daily life?
Reflection on two areas:
(1) Why did I give up?
(2) What was my motivation?
If you gave up because it was no longer fun, figure out ways to workout so that you do not feel bored or stagnant. If your original motivation was to “look better,” try to boil it down into something more specific, measurable or long-term. In short, regardless of the answer to the above questions, there will be alternative routes to take, methods to tap into the part in ourselves that can make a healthy lifestyle a consistent part of our lives.
6. Another huge obstacle for people is nutrition. There are so many diets and methods of eating that it’s easy to see why people become yo-yo dieters. What do you recommend for making better food choices and being able to stick to them for the long term?
I’ve got many tips, but here are three:
(1) Watch the documentary Food INC. This film has the potential to change lives.
(2) Ask yourself if what you are eating is actually a whole food. Begin learning and understanding what you are eating. For example: an almond is an almond. An apple is an apple. But what food is a piece of white bread? It’s not a piece of wheat. It’s made from only one part of the wheat (the part without much nutritional value) and it’s generally blended with other substances that aren’t actually foods.
(3) Ask yourself if what is coating your food is actually necessary. An almond may be an almond, but an almond cooked in fat then dusted with sugar is not an almond. Likewise, a piece of chicken is a piece of chicken, but when fried and dipped in honey mustard sauce it starts to become a food much different than its original source. Additional tip: Spices are an excellent way to add extra flavor to our meals without using non-food substances.
7. It is easy to get caught up in the supplement craze – fat burners, protein shakes, etc. Do you think supplements have a place or should they be avoided all together?
I’ve tried hundreds of supplements, and, particularly when I was striving to be an elite athlete, I did notice improvements in my health with a few. Supplements for health and supplements for athletic improvement are not always the same – I think there’s a major miscommunication here. Supplements for athletic improvement may make you stronger or leaner in the short term, but may break you down or mess with your hormones in the long term. The few staples I recommend: Vitamin D, fish oil and additional supplementary protein powder. Outside of these three products, I wouldn’t recommend a single thing, especially for non-athletes. For general health, I always recommend Vitamin D and fish oil. I think these are the two most important human health supplements we have at our disposal.
8. Is there a fitness myth you would like to debunk?
No pain, no gain is a bunch of crap. It’s an old bodybuilding myth and I’ve seen too many general fitness practitioners think that if they aren’t “feeling the burn” or “sore the next day” that they didn’t have a good workout.
9. You are about to embark on a journey to Thailand to master the art of Muay Thai. Do you have any other goals you hope to accomplish while there?
As much as I want to absorb the martial arts, I want to absorb the life and ways of a new culture. I want to come back to America less materialistic, more open-minded and with a continued burning tenacity to make the world a more peaceful place. I’m proud to say that my trip is sponsored by http://WhatsYourFight.com. They are totally in-line with my mission. I’m excited to join forces with other people and businesses to make a real positive impact in the health of our country.
10. Your memoir, Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet is due to release in the fall. Could you share with readers what your book will be about?
I am caged by my father’s name although we haven’t talked in fourteen years. We are all caged by our thoughts and by our pasts. I gave up a potential career in mixed martial arts (where fights take place in a steel cage) to go to graduate school to study poetry. Through cage-fighting and poetry I overcame abuse and insecurities. I told my story to help others do the same.
11. Anything else you would like to share?
I’d love for fans to stay connected with me by joining, participating and sharing their knowledge on my Facebook Fan Page or on my website’s Forum. In those places I will answer any and all questions.
Also, I’d like to thank Eartha from TryingFitness.com for the interview. You are running a terrific, easy-to-read website on all topics related to health – from the foods that we eat to the deodorant we wear. I’m honored to be part of what you’re doing!
Thanks to Cameron for participating in this interview!