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Even if you aren’t ready to sign up at your local martial arts studio, performing martial arts–inspired moves can still result in some pretty hefty body benefits.
You’ll not only lose fat, you’ll improve your body awareness, coordination and agility. Plus, you’ll get a mental edge. Because the moves require a great deal of focus and concentration, your mind can’t get distracted with your to-do list – if it does, you might get an elbow in the face! Martial artists practice self-control and self-defense exercises, both of which can also lead to greater self-confidence and self-awareness.
And the calorie-burning and fat-blasting benefits? Not only are you likely to burn just as many (if not more) calories during an intense 30-minute martial arts workout as you would in the same amount of time on a treadmill, but you’ll get the added bonus of developing metabolically active lean muscle mass at the same time. It’s a three-in-one workout that offers strength, flexibility and cardio challenges to sharpen both your mind and body!
The exact definition of “mixed martial arts” can vary depending on whom you ask, but in general, it refers to a fusion of various martial arts techniques, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, wrestling and Muay Thai. It’s often referred to as a “combat sport,” which has become synonymous with no-holds-barred fighting.
So why do martial arts–inspired moves if you aren’t planning to get in the ring? “Martial arts works on efficiency, balance and stability, which are necessary in everything — whether you are picking up bags at the supermarket or training at the gym,” explains Sensei Guillermo Gomez, a fourth-degree black belt and creator of Martial Fusion, a fitness-focused program that fuses together multiple martial arts styles for non–martial artists. “Martial arts can teach you how to keep your body in alignment to prevent injury and perform at your best.”
The good news? You don’t even have to spar with an opponent to experience this style of training. Practice these techniques on your own for your very own explosive total-body workout.
“Kick It Up” Workout
“This workout introduces you to martial arts–style training, which offers a new way of working your body that comes from the integration of your body and mind as one unit,” explains sensei Guillermo Gomez, creator of this exclusive workout.
How to: Do each exercise for the recommended number of reps, then move quickly into the next exercise with little to no rest in between. Complete three circuits in total with 30 to 60 seconds of rest in between rounds. If you feel comfortable, try this workout without shoes to further develop the muscles in your ankles and feet.
Perform this workout two to three times per week on non-consecutive days, alternating it with traditional strength training or your favorite cardio routine.
Martial Fusion Power Push-Up
This exercise helps build total-body strength, agility and power — all important elements that martial artists use in their training. And even though this is a push-up, there are some surprising lower-body benefits. “This move provides a practical way to develop flexibility and strength in the lower body, especially in your hips and inner thighs,” says Gomez.
Set Up: Begin with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and your knees and toes turned out about 45 degrees [A]. Lower into a deep squat position, letting your chest come forward until your elbows lightly touch the tops of your thighs [B].
Action: Place your hands on the floor, brace your abs and jump your legs back into a full plank position [C]. Bend your arms, keeping your elbows tight to your sides, and lower your body to a few inches from the floor [D]. Press back up, then jump your legs back and return into a squat. Work your way up to 10 reps in a row.
Make It Easier: Instead of jumping, walk your feet back to a plank position and do the push-up on your knees.
A jiu-jitsu and wrestling–inspired move, the grappling reach-back targets your abs, back, legs and glutes, all while helping improve your mobility, strength and range of motion for more traditional exercises like crunches and bridges.
Set Up: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat and just wider than hip-width apart. Brace your abs, and lift your head and shoulders off the floor, bending your arms at your sides, with palms open and facing inward as shown [A].
Action: Press through your heels and lift your hips, rolling onto your right shoulder (the right arm extending along your side on the floor, palm down) as you reach your left arm up and over your right shoulder [B]. Return to the starting position, then quickly repeat on the other side. Do 10 reach-backs in total, switching sides with each repetition.
Make It Easier: Instead of rolling onto your shoulder, practice reaching with your arms first, lifting your hips only slightly, until you feel ready for more.
Tip: Aim to maintain some fluidity as you roll into the reach-back, and keep your core muscles engaged by tightly bracing your abs.
Horse Stance to Side Kick
Primarily a kickboxing movement, this side kick is excellent for targeting your lower body, says Gomez. “You’ll work all the muscles in your lower body with this pushing and balancing move. It’s one of the most effective exercises you can do for your glutes, especially when done slowly and with control.”
Set Up: Begin with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and your knees and toes turned out at 45 degrees. Lower into a deep squat, keeping a straight spine; bend your elbows to bring your fists in line with your chin. Rotate your torso and shift your focus to the right [A].
Action: Slide your left heel in towards your right, keeping your toes turned out and shifting your weight into your left leg. Lift your right knee and flex your foot. Next, fully extend your right leg out to the side, make a fist with your right arm and extend it parallel to your leg [B]. Bend your right knee, quickly put your right foot down, then slide your left foot back out to return to the start. Perform 10 reps in a row on each side.
Make It Easier: Practice balancing with your leg up before graduating to the full side kick. Once you are ready for more, try kicking low.
Tip: Never let your leg extend without control. Think of pushing out through the entire surface of your sole, trying to forcefully move an opponent away from you.
Drawing upon elements of wrestling, aikido, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, this exercise builds core strength, boosts upper-body strength and improves coordination and agility. “It develops overall strength and elasticity evenly throughout your body, and improves your overall response time during movement,” says Gomez.
Set Up: Begin on all fours, with your hands positioned under your shoulders. Lift your hips and rise up onto your feet, keeping your knees bent and your body weight evenly distributed.
Action: Step forward with your right hand and foot, then repeat with the left. Take four steps forward (alternating sides) and then repeat for four steps backwards. Repeat from the top four times in total.
Make It Easier: Keep your shins in contact with the ground (use an exercise mat if needed) and crawl on your hands and knees. Don’t allow your back to sag or overarch, and constantly brace your abdominals to maximize the core work.
Ginga Front Leg Extension
Pairing capoeira and kickboxing, this dance-like movement may look carefree, but don’t let that fool you. “The ginga movement (from capoeira) is a means of protection against an attacker, and develops agility and quickness. The rotation helps develop the flexibility of your spine and engages your obliques,” explains Gomez.
Set Up: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, elbows bent and fists in line with your chin [A].
Action: Step forward with your left foot, toes turned out slightly, and sweep your right leg up in front of your body as high as you can, pressing your pelvis forward [B]. Next, swing your right leg behind you, taking a quick step backwards and planting your foot on the ground [C]. As you step back, bend your right knee and shift your weight to your right foot to sweep your left foot further behind your right. At the same time, swing your left elbow up in front of your chin [D].
Make It Easier: Keep the front leg extension low and reduce how far you step back until you feel ready.