Leo Frincu – "I want to inspire others with my story…I have an amazing story. I want to do what I do best!"

Inside BJJ recently caught up with strength and conditioning coach Leo Frincu for an interview. Frincu is  a personal trainer and coach to many top athletes and private clients. His clientele include notable names such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion Romulo Barral, Mixed Martial Artist Manny Gamburyan and Judoka Ronda Rousey. Leo is no stranger himself to combat sports with six Romanian Wrestling Championships, several International Gold Medals and the 1994 World Championship Title. In 2003, Leo was a trainer and coach for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team.

We hope you enjoy this insightful interview as Leo comments on topics related to Romulo Barral, Barazilian Jiu-Jitsu and strength and conditioning training.

As a personal note, take a moment to read Leo’s biography on his site www.leofrincu.com. He has an amazing story and was an extremely gracious interview. Thanks, Leo.


InsideBJJ

Since the Romulo Barral interview last week, I’ve had a few people ask me, “Who is Coach Leo?”. Tell me about yourself. How did you start? How did you end up in the United States training with Jiu-Jitsu fighters?

Leo Frincu

First of all, I am from Romania and I competed myself at a world class stage since I was a little kid – a teenager. I understand what it takes to be at the top and furthermore, how to sustain that success. I became a world champion wrestler in 1994 and was declared Romanian Athlete of the Year. In 1999, I came to the United States searching for the American dream. I have won a multitude of Gold Medals in Romania and Europe and I was ranked third and fourth in the world for several years in a row. I wanted to start all over when I had the opportunity to come to America, which thus pushed my wrestling aspirations aside in order to reset my life there. Wrestling was simply my professional life and wanted other aspects of my life to be fulfilled. Training athletes such as Romulo is very fulfilling to me because it allows me to share what I have learned with other athletes at that rare level.
To elaborate on this, I noticed the lack of structure in many athletes and MMA fighters in their training. They don’t know why and what they’re doing. They just train just to improve not to achieve a specific goal. What I brought to Romulo was a set parameter to his training. With that comes the psychological aspect too.  Romulo is instinctively a finisher and that is his strength and a weakness because at times can be too aggressive. That mentality made him lose the Abu Dhabi Gold medal because he was far more concerned with finishing rather than defending as well and he got caught by being too aggressive. I trained him not just to win, but to win a gold medal.

InsideBJJ

In jiu-jitsu many guy have the philosophy I’m just going to train and get better. You mentioned the structure you brought to the training and how that changed the psychological aspect of the training. Can you go into more detail about that particular component?

Leo Frincu

With Romulo, he was training very hard obviously. He was injured the whole time with his previous trainer. I’m not sure who he trained with. One of his things was that he was overtraining. I told him, “You have to train less to become better believe it or not.” His mentality was “I’m going to train, train, train. The more I train, the better I become.” But no, the more you train, the more exhausted he was. He didn’t even notice that. Obviously by being exhausted and fatigued, it creates a propensity for injury. He was overtraining. I told him “bring me everything that you do. Write it down on a piece of paper; everything you do from Monday through Sunday.” He brought it and I said, “OK, you have to cut this one out. Cut this one out. Put this one here.” It’s like a puzzle. You just have to make sense of the conditioning. It has to be coordinated with the jiu-jitsu training, weight training, running, sleeping and eating. Everything has to match. I made some interesting changes. I took some things out and put some things in. I would plan with him what we would do for the next four weeks. After the month was done, we would go back to the drawing board and say, “OK, for the next month which is the last month before the World’s championship, we’re going to change things around a little bit again so we can get in the competition mode.” That’s one aspect of training that I did.  Things I did specifically with him as far as training vary from cardiovascular to strength. In a fight, you’re always going to have things that you don’t expect to happen. We added that to his training regimen. Also, the fact coming in from Abu Dhabi with a loss in the final, I asked him, “Why did you lose?” It took him and I a few days to crack down that he was actually focusing to finish the guy and not actually to win the match. That took him a little too long and obviously he lost the gold medal because of that. We started training and working on the fact that he needs to win the fight even if it goes down to ten minutes. He needs to win it. Play smart. We worked on that mentally so he could understand that a champion is a champion. You have to win the gold. The people will not know he’s the best, but he took second because of this or that. They’ll know who took first place.

InsideBJJ

One of the things you mentioned was overtraining. One of the things about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that training puts a very high demand on the body already. When you start adding in additional work for you cardiovascular system or strength training, it gets really easy to overtrain. How do you balance that specifically with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in mind? What are the top 3 tips you could give somebody?

Leo Frincu

Obviously, you need to know exactly what to work on. For example, Romulo is a very good technician. He knows every trick in the book. That wasn’t my focus. My focus was how to get him stronger as far as his cardiovascular endurance. I assessed that in the first couple of training sessions. With that being said, with his approach to the game and his mentality about submitting the guy to win the match, that was one of things, in his case, we changed. With him, I didn’t want him to do three jiu-jitsu practices in a day. I wanted him to do once a day and one other thing like weight training or running. We all know that you [Romulo] knows jiu-jitsu. We need to work on the fact that we need to sustain the effort for ten minutes. Second, we need to preserve your energy through the fight to go through the last two minutes stronger than your opponent. We need to focus on what you’re going to do if you’re in a bad situation and you need to pick up the pace or slow down the pace. So there were other things we worked on that he needed to be done and not just jiu-jitsu and being on the mat. These people in jiu-jitsu or in any other sport, you need to put down the factors that you need to work on. Such as, can you hold the gi for ten minutes? We need to work the grips. That’s the thing with jiu-jitsu. Like everything else, you have to sit down and not even train. You need to talk about training. Talk about what’s in your head? What’s going through your mind in the sixth minute and your tired?

InsideBJJ

How would you compare Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes to other athletes? Are they different or the same? Is there anything unique about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes or strength and training needs?

Leo Frincu

One big fact is the length of the fight is ten minutes. With that being said, you need to have a lot of strength and conditioning to be able to sustain an effort for ten minutes or less. For example, in boxing there’s a break every three minutes. In jiu-jitsu, you have to go ten minutes. I think conditioning towards the end of the fight plays a big factor as far as making mistakes and staying on top of your game. Strength and conditioning is important because of the length of the fight. Jiu-Jitsu is a lot of upper body as far as arms and grip because you’re constantly hanging on them. If you don’t have forearm grip strength and endurance, forget it. You won’t be able to last. That’s just only for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Those are two factors they really need to master to just be on the mat for that long. To rest when you need to rest within the match is very important. The more confident you are, the more you are able to rest within the fight and not tense up and conserve your energy.

InsideBJJ

One of the big sayings in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to use technique and not strength. Don’t muscle but use technique. Of course it’s true, but I think many people fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need to any strength and conditioning outside of jiu-jitsu. I just need to do jiu-jitsu because it’s all about technique. It seems to me at the higher levels, if you want to be a champion, you have to have a strength and conditioning program you’re following, not just going on the mat and doing jiu-jitsu everyday.

Leo Frincu

That falls in the category of 20 years ago when the boxers weren’t allowed to do weight training because they thought it would slow them down. Golfers, tennis plays, any of them thought that 20 years ago. Weight training was the wrong thing to do because they thought it would put on muscle and slow them down. The stronger you are, the easier you master your skills. That’s the bottom line. Nobody can contest that. The more the conditioned you are, the better you can push. It comes down to the critical situation at the end of the fight. The stronger guy who can last longer can perform better.

InsideBJJ

Romulo Barral mentioned he was extremely fit for the 2010 World’s BJJ tournament and he felt like he could have had ten matches in a day. Can you share how you helped Romulo get ready for the tournament?

Leo Frincu

ut it this way. If you take a guy with extremely good technique and no strength against a guy who has not that much technique but is very strong with endurance. The guy will be able to muscle his way around. When you take two guys at that level, everybody almost is identical as far as technique goes because there’s so close to each other. It comes down to the point, who is a little bit out of shape or who can be able to push just a little longer. Who can hold the lock a little longer. That guys is going to win. This comes down to strength and conditioning. Myself competing at a world class level, if your hear rate is 180 and mine is 170, just ten beats lower, I’ll be able to concentrate more. My breathing will be better and I’ll make a better decision than you. It comes down, like everything else to making the right decision at the right time. We both know in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with fighting for ten minutes towards the end, you hear, “I should have done this or that.” No, already know what you should have done. Because of lack of oxygen and concentration due to lack of conditioning and preparation, you make a wrong decision. It’s not because you didn’t know. They know everything to do. At that point, an extremely crucial point, the more rested one with more blood flow to the brain will make the better decision. You only can do that by being in better shape and training right and resting and recovering.
At that level, it’s not spending more time on the mat. It’s making the right decision at the right time. You hear that so many times, “If I have another match, I’ll beat him next time.” You think like that after having three hours of not doing anything or the next day. But when you’re nine minutes into the fight and you have a lock and you struggle, we both know you make decisions unconsciously as an instinct at that point. You don’t have that much time to think. When instinct kicks in and you’re too tired to make the right choice, you make the wrong decision – not because you don’t know. Then, nine minutes into the fight, something else is in your mind such as, “I can’t hold anymore” or whatever the case may be. If you tell me that conditioning and strength doesn’t play a big factor, if it were 20 years ago, I would understand. Right now, with all the scientific resources, it’s proven that being strong and able to last longer is a big, big factor. We’re talking about a world class level where people are so close to each other as far as the skills. Everything comes down to where a just a little bit becomes a lot. A little bit of edge against your opponent allows you to pull it off and make the right decisions.

InsideBJJ

How do you take Roger Gracie who even the pros say is on another level? What does that mean? Is his technique better? Is his conditioning better?

Leo Lincu

If you think about it, he’s very big. His weight works very good to his advantage right? Just the strength alone and obviously the amount of weight he outweighs the opponent. That takes him to a different level. If you take Roger Gracie against Romulo Barral as far as technique, they’re very much alike. That guy [Roger] is so strong. Obviously being stronger allows you to take advantage of your skills better. Being so much stronger than your opponent and so much bigger, for him to pull a move is much easier than other guys who have the same skills who are less strong and weigh less. If I take Romulo against a bigger guy like Gracie, I’m not saying he’s going to have it easy but being in better shape and being able to last longer, he might have a better chance than any other guy. He’s [Roger] stronger than anybody else. Is he more skilled than everybody else? He might be. You can definitely tell he has technique because he has the strength to apply them. You can take a guy with half his strength who may have the same skills but he can’t do anything because he can’t actually apply them.

InsideBJJ

You do motivational speaking engagements and wrestling clinics. What other types of things do you have going on in the upcoming months?

Leo Frincu

I’m going to have another wrestling seminar in Europe July 23 for eight days. Then, I’m coming back home. I’m working with some great athletes, Ronda, Olympic Bronze medalist in Judo. We’re working to make her a top female MMA fighter. I’m working with Manny Gamburyan who is going to fight for the belt in a couple of months for WEC. I have great projects making other people look good. If they look good, I look good and that makes me happy. I want to inspire others with my story and motivational speaking. I have an amazing story. I want to do what I do best.

InsideBJJ

How can people get a hold of you?

Leo Frincu

I can be contacted at my websites www.resultsstudio.com and www.leofrincu.com. My number is (818) 835-1121.

InsideBJJ

I’d like to contact you again in a couple of months to talk more about strength and conditioning for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I think it’s a subject that is lacking a little bit in the jiu-jitsu community.

Leo Frincu

Another thing I want to talk about and I’m going to bring it up with Romulo when he gets better, takedowns! Those guys! Takedowns actually score points on the board right? I have not seen one guy in the World’s championship who did a takedown. If you learn some takedowns, just basic takedowns, put him on his back and you start with points on the scoreboard, that would be huge. It’s a very simple thing to do. Speaking of takedowns, nobody does it. Take a guy like Romulo and have him take Roger down and start ahead of the game. Nobody does it. I was very surprised to see that.

InsideBJJ

I think you’re right. There’s some things in the culture of jiu-jitsu and learning process that focuses on not being strong just having good technique. The other one is that jiu-jitsu is the gentle art and much focus is put on fight from your back. That makes for a lot of jumping to guard, half-guard, etc. It works for some guys. I agree there is a lack of wrestling takedowns and you don’t see much judo either.

Leo Frincu

It’s phenomenal. When you go to a jiu-jitsu class, they start on their knees or back. Guess what? They don’t start on their knees or back in the World’s Championships. It makes no sense to me.

InsideBJJ

I think it’s different depending on the schools. It probably comes down to the fact that it’s harder to work for a takedown or throw.

Leo Frincu

Exactly, it comes down to these guys not wanting to waste their energy.  I’m working on it.

One Response to “Leo Frincu – "I want to inspire others with my story…I have an amazing story. I want to do what I do best!"”

  1. Teres says:

    Leo,
    We have aquaintences on FB and I appreciate your thoughts and positive outlooks, each day! My abusive past; is what drew me to your words and uplifting insight. I am moving on through positive thinking of others who dont take pity on my past, they just throw good energy out there for us all to soak up! I try to look to the future and your thoughts help me get up and go, when I think I cant…..

    So, I do read them almost daily and hope the best for you and you and your girlfriend every day. I also came from the Food and Beverage // Hospitality industry on a level of dealing with : Hollywood’s elite” blaaah blaah, Industry, so I really appreciate your interest in healthy insides and “culinary photographs”!

    Thank you for the example you set!
    You do make a difference. 🙂
    And your words do not fall on deaf ears.

    Teres Kobayashi

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