It is no small task to be considered one of the top MMA strength and conditioning coaches in the world. Rafael Alejarra, who cofounded WAND Fight Team Academy with former Pride and current UFC fighter Wanderlei Silva, carries the title like few others can.
The 33-year-old native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, earned a degree from the University of Brazil (ULBRA), majoring in physiology of exercise and high performance training. He also studied in Cuba.
“When I started at the university, I knew I wanted to work with professional athletes,” explains Alejarra. “I had contacts with many in the world of MMA, and at the time there weren’t many conditioning coaches specializing in MMA.”
It was a chance meeting through a friend that set Alejarra on the path to greatness as one of the sports most highly regarded strength and conditioning coaches. “I had a friend in Brazil who said he wanted to introduce me to a high-profile athlete who was a big name in Brazil. I didn’t know who the person was and then one day Wanderlei comes to my gym.”
Silva and Alejarra not only became friends, but co-founded WAND Fight Team Academy in Las Vegas when the two moved to the United States just two years ago. The academy boasts some of the most technologically advanced training devices, including a Hypoxico training room and Hyperbaric tent, (which simulate high altitude training), Chryotherapy (ice recovery) and other unique advanced methods of training.
Perhaps one of the reasons Alejarra and Silva make such a great training team is the strength and conditioning coach’s philosophy. Says Alejarra, “My philosophy and approach to training is aggressive. It’s aggressive to match Wanderlei’s style.” Other WAND Fight Team fighters have benefitted from the aggressive training approach.
Of the many up-and-coming athletes he trains daily, Alejarra lists Vitor Vianna, Mike Whitehead, Rodrigo Botti, Jorge Lopez, Demian Maia and Fabricio Werdum as some of the faces to watch in MMA.
Says Botti, “In 10 years of training, I never saw a strength and conditioning coach like this. He’s very technological and has helped my game very much.”
In his spare time, Alejarra enjoys lifting weights and even trains with his wife. He is also constantly searching for and studying new methods to improve his fighters’ strength and conditioning levels. He believes all MMA athletes are already technically sound to be able to compete at the top levels of the sport, but it is a fighter’s ability to be physically conditioned at an advanced level that gives him the edge.
Alejarra takes the title of being one of the best coaches in the business in stride and, in a moment of modesty, says he doesn’t know if he’s that different from other trainers. He does concede, however, that he feels the most important element a strength and conditioning coach must have is a significant knowledge of the human body and its physiology.
Any good student, especially one in the ever-changing dynamic that is mixed martial arts, embraces the fact that he must be in a perpetual state of learning. Integrating the training methods that work best and most efficiently for each fighter is what Alejarra is all about. He is one who knows the evolution of the successful coach equates to the evolution of the successful fighter.