5 Things You Should Know About Martial Arts-Inspired Exercise Program

FIGHTING FIT. Punch your way to fitness with this year’s most action-packed exercise trend


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Back in the 1980s, movies like “The Karate Kid,” “American Ninja” and “Bloodsport” caused a surge in interest for traditional martial arts like karate, various schools of wushu and traditional combat sports like Muay Thai. Today, we’re seeing a similar phenomenon spurred by action-heavy superhero movies chockfull of incredible fight scenes. The mainstream popularity of top-tier MMA fighters including Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Randy Couture has also contributed to the revival of widespread interest in martial arts.

Interestingly, instead of increased sign ups at your local taekwondo dojang or kickboxing gym, a much more visible impact of this revival is increased interest in workouts inspired by MMA, traditional martial arts and even self-defense systems like Krav Maga. While purists may scoff at the popularity of these watered-down versions of classical martial traditions, the benefits of “combat cardio” where you punch and kick your way to a new level of fitness are nothing to laugh at. In practice, your mileage might vary, but taking up a martial arts-inspired exercise program can offer you the following advantages:




One of the main drawbacks of training in a more “serious” martial art or combat sport is the risk of injury. This is especially problematic for anybody with a regular job and tight schedules who simply can’t afford skipping work more than a couple of times a year. The no-contact nature of combat cardio eliminates the biggest risk factor of combat sports, thus making it ideal for modern urban dwellers. Sure, this takes the punch away from learning to punch and kick, but it is still a lot of fun. Some gyms also include simple bag work in their combat cardio programs, which means that you will learn how to actually throw a proper punch or kick.




One of the main drawbacks of training with a more “serious” exercise program is the risk of boredom, as it takes quite a bit of willpower to concentrate on a regular workout menu. This is especially problematic for anybody with a regular job and tight schedules who, after a long day at work, might be more inclined to rest and relax. A combat cardio routine, however, tends to be more exciting, as it’s much easier for instructors to add variety to each session. It’s also much easier to incorporate a bit of image visualization when your exercise menu is choreographed like a fight scene from “The Avengers.”




Exercise—any kind of physical exercise—causes your body to release endorphins, which is the chemical responsible for the oft-mentioned post-workout bliss. On top of that, combat cardio also allows you to channel pent-up stress and other negative emotions in a positive way and, more importantly, in a safe environment. Bonus points if your combat cardio gym has heavy bags for some heavy-duty stress relief.




First and foremost, the actual amount of calories you burn during any given workout depends on many individual factors. On average, though, combat cardio programs tend to be much more intense and, thus, burn more calories, than most aerobic workouts. A study by Vanderbilt University indicated that doing one hour of Tae Bo will burn 500 to 800 kcal, compared to only 300 to 400 during a typical aerobic session.




Much like in actual martial arts training, you will rarely do long stretches of repetitions focused on one part of your body. Instead, you’ll jab, kick, parry, sidestep then lunge followed by a straight cross, and so on. You’ll be working out all of your major muscle groups in what is essentially a full body workout at an intense but well-regulated pace. This, in turn, is a sure-fire method to achieve highly defined muscles and a toned body. But wait, there’s more: All that hopping around while punching and kicking will improve your agility, physical and mental reflexes, as well as balance and coordination.



The most important question, though, is whether combat cardio is for everybody. And the answer is “Yes.” Done regularly under the supervision of a good instructor and with a good program, anybody can reap the benefits of combat cardio.

Besides, it’s fun.



Text Joezer Mandagi
Photography Mario Ardi
Styling Edwin Habibun
Styling Assistant Jay Robert Davies
Grooming Arimbi
Model Adam Phillips/21MM Management