Mixed martial arts a kick to get fighting fit

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      Katie Greene takes her exercise seriously. We’re not just talking running. Rather, we’re talking sweaty rounds spent throwing punches, sparring, and pounding out roundhouse kicks.

      Greene, a West Vancouver elementary-school teacher, is a regular at Studeo55’s Muay Thai kickboxing classes, which focus on the martial art’s potent mix of physical exertion and mental discipline.

      “It’s an intense workout,” Greene tells the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I get cardio, strength training, and upper-body exercise. I’m tired afterward but satisfied that I’ve gotten a good workout.

      “I feel less stressed afterward too,” she adds. “It’s nice to have that outlet.”

      Muay Thai kickboxing is also known as the “art of eight limbs”, because practitioners use their hands, shins, elbows, and knees extensively. The class is just one of the downtown fitness club’s mixed-martial-arts offerings, which also include Brazilian jujitsu and “urban combat”, a mix of styles practised in a circuit-style workout.

      Studeo55 owner Nathan Mellalieu predicts that, although some fitness trends come and go, interest in workouts based on forms such as kickboxing and krav maga (a self-defence system developed in Israel) is only going to escalate.

      “We’re not training people to be fighters,” Mellalieu explains in a phone conversation. “We’re training people to be fighter fit.”

      With the Ultimate Fighting Championship expected to hit GM Place on June 12, Mellalieu says more people—aside from the “rough and tumble” crowd that’s been associated with mixed martial arts in the past—will want to “fight” their way to fitness. Already, everyone from corporate executives to stay-at-home moms is signing up for the club’s mixed-martial-arts classes.

      There’s much to like about them, Mellalieu says. Besides the obvious physical benefits—improved cardiovascular function, weight loss, better balance and coordination, increased strength, and improved posture among them—are the positive psychological effects.

      “If you’re punching a heavy bag as hard and fast as you can, you’re going to get a great sweat. It’s great for the core as well,” Mellalieu says. “I enjoy the fact that I’m engaged mentally while physically getting a great workout.”

      He says a martial-arts-based workout makes it easy to adopt a successful exercise routine: because people enjoy it so much, they’re more likely to do it consistently, and because it’s so intense, participants see results.

      Plus, like other forms of exercise, mixed martial arts blasts away stress. “When you go skiing, all your stress evaporates because you need to be present in the moment, focusing on going down the mountain. Afterward, you’re relaxed and refreshed. Mixed martial arts is the same thing. When you’re throwing a punch or trying to avoid a punch, you’re not thinking about the boardroom.”

      Mixed-martial-arts workouts provide intense cardiovascular exercise and help reduce stress. Peyvand Padidar photo.

      For proof of the style’s popularity, look no further than the number of gyms throughout Metro Vancouver that offer kickboxing workouts: Ron Zalko, the Coal Harbour community centre, Steve Nash Fitness World, and the YWCA Health and Fitness Centre, to name but a few.

      Kickboxing participants typically do “shadow boxing”—throwing punches such as jabs, hooks, and uppercuts in the air—as well as performing side, front, and roundhouse kicks. In between are demanding cardiovascular drills.

      Lynn Valley Martial Arts offers a kickboxing workout in addition to courses in karate and tae kwan do, among others, which put more focus on technical aspects. Instructor Vadim Oskolkov says that learning a martial art, whether it’s a pure form or a fitness routine based on one, has benefits that go beyond what a person gets from straightforward exercise classes.

      “Martial arts increase self-confidence,” Oskolkov says in a phone interview. “It develops independence, self-reliance, self-discipline, and it decreases anxiety.”¦Because you learn so many patterns, it also improves focus and concentration.

      “The main purpose of martial arts is to perfect yourself,” he adds. “It’s about self-training and self-control.”