Stunt doubles and kung fu stars didn't get rock-hard bodies with shake weights and jogs around the block. They trained like real fighters--and so can you. Today's gym-goers have graduated from the Billy Blanks tae bo workouts of the '90s and are taking on a new breed of martial arts--inspired classes at health clubs across the country. If your fitness fantasy puts you opposite Jackie Chan in a movie fight scene or in hand-to-hand combat, video game--style, you're in luck. The latest combat-style workouts will help you fight fat, kick stress, build confidence, and improve mental focus while toning your entire body.
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Les Mills BodyCombat mixed martial arts classes integrate techniques from karate, boxing, tae kwon do, tai chi, and muay thai for an intense 55-minute cardio workout suitable for all fitness levels, says Grant Chapman, a communications specialist for Les Mills International (lesmills.com). Striking, punching, and kicking sequences are choreographed to hit-music playlists, which change every 3 months. "The program improves core stability, heart and lung function, coordination, and agility," says Chapman. "When you add all this together, you also feel a big mental benefit: the self-confidence to face whatever the world throws at you."
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In addition to its tough-sounding name--Forza is Italian for "strength and power"--this class at Equinox Fitness has a serious coolness factor: It allows students to experience Japanese Samurai sword training first-hand. Inspired by kendo and aikijujutsu techniques, half, full, diagonal, and horizontal cuts are executed while holding a wooden sword with two hands. This works both sides of the body, while simultaneously toning the legs, glutes, and core muscles with lunging, stepping, and squatting, says Forza creator Ilaria Montagnani (powerstrike.com). Expect to burn around 600 calories during an hour-long class.
Capoeira is self-defense disguised as dance, created by Africans enslaved in Brazil as early as the 16th-century. The "dance" is performed in a closed circle. Students assume either a standing (ginga) or grounded (rolé) stance and perform martial arts moves like kicks, punches, leg sweeps, and knee and elbow strikes, as well as acrobatics--cartwheels, arm balances, and backbends opposite a partner. The result: a total-body strength workout with emphasis on arms, legs, and core, explains Michael Goldstein, head instructor at the New York Capoeira Center. Percussion and singing add authenticity and an element of play to the workout. "We're always laughing and having fun. It can be violent and aggressive, but most of the time it's a very friendly type of game," says Goldstein.
Learn more and find a class at newyorkcapoeiracenter.com.
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Inspired by the video game, the Street Fighter class at Crunch (crunch.com) has a badass feel, but focuses on fluid motions inspired by dance, martial arts, and gymnastics. Students learn choreographed sequences of punches and kicks as the instructor performs counter movements--you duck when a punch comes toward your head, for example."You'll feel like you're in a movie scene fighting Jackie Chan or Bruce Willis," says Marc Santa Maria, regional director of group fitness for Crunch, adding that a balance between authenticity and entertainment is what keeps people coming back.
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If you're tired of feeling like the little guy, this mixed martial arts class was made for you. Grand Master Helio Gracie developed Brazilian, or Gracie, jujitsu when he realized he was too frail for traditional Japanese jujitsu. BJJ focuses on timing and reflexes to teach a small person self-defense against a larger, more athletic opponent. Throws, traps, joint locks, holds, kicks, strikes, and sometimes weaponry are incorporated into the grappling or ground fighting--based practice, which can be adapted to fit a wide range of goals. The Gracie Academy offers self-defense classes for women, confidence-boosting Bully-proof training for kids, and a belt qualification program for anyone looking to get "street ready."
Learn more and find a class at gracieacademy.com.
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High-energy cardio meets life coaching--that's an IntenSati workout (satilife.com). Elements of yoga, martial arts, dance, and low-impact aerobics are combined to make what creator Patricia Moreno calls a practice for the body, mind, and heart. While students sweat their way through a 1-hour total-body workout, they recite positive affirmations like "I have the willpower now!" and "All negative thoughts--they stop right now!" to high-tempo music that drives moves like punches, squats, jumping jacks, and warrior lunges.
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Everlast's Art of Boxing class at Crunch (crunch.com) takes you inside the ring to teach you boxing basics without too much aggression. "It gives a Zen factor to boxing as opposed to an I'm-gonna-kick-your-ass vibe," says Santa Maria. The class, taught by certified boxing professionals, is half cardio boxing and half heavy bag boxing and introduces fundamentals like shadow boxing, boxing bag workouts, and core training. Beginners learn basic techniques like hand wrapping, pad striking, and blocking, while more advanced students may start practicing techniques with a partner.
If you're looking for a boxing class with a little more punch, Fight Club at David Barton Gym (davidbartongym.com) is the way to go. The class combines basic boxing moves--jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and rope jumping--with portions of a fighter's strength-training routine, like pushups, squats, and free weights, for a total-body workout that'll really make you sweat. "Because we use an interval-based structure in Fight Club, you burn fat faster, improve your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, as well as improve your coordination," says the gym's founder David Barton. "Mentally, you are going to have increased focus, which in turn will make you feel more confident and ready to take on any challenge."
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If you want one-on-one attention without shelling out the cash for private lessons, try a tae kwon do or hapkido class. "Training is very individualized," says Paul Cutrano, regional director of Bally's Total Martial Arts program (ballymartialarts.com). Both of Korean origin, tae kwon do delivers an offensive-style workout, while hapkido is more about practical self-defense. Tae kwon do improves overall strength and fitness with a combination of kicks and controlled hand techniques. Hapkido is combat-based and introduces body throws, joint locks, and pressure-point attacks with a focus on upper-body strength. "People don't realize that martial arts isn't just for kids or for learning self-defense," says Cutrano. "The classes give you a great workout in a fun and unconventional way."