For a workout routine to stick, it has to be something you genuinely enjoy doing. If a typical gym session isn’t really your bag, learning the fundamentals of boxing, jiu-jitsu, MMA, or any other combat sport can be a powerful route to getting more movement into your life. A good class will test the limits of both your strength and cardio, while also teaching a basic set of skills for self-defense. And given that most fighting gyms rely on a group environment, it’s the kind of thing that gives a sense of community to folks willing to make training a consistent part of their lives. Basically, hitting stuff and rolling around is a great way to work out without doing all the boring parts of working out.
The first time I tried jiu-jitsu, I was shocked by just how gassed an hour-long session left me. Even as a person who regularly lifts weights and performs cardio a couple of times a week, trying to keep up with the experienced fighters was one of the more intense exercise sessions of my life. I was extremely grateful that I didn’t have to actually, you know, fight any of the people I was training with. If they would have been allowed to punch me in the head during my attempts to overcome the puzzle of limb locks and pressure points I would have been in trouble. But despite being a beginner, everyone was extremely encouraging. They offered suggestions and walked me through fundamentals. It immediately made me want to come back.
According to Roger Manedov, owner of Williamsburg MMA, that’s a common feeling for a lot of first-timers. “With a good gym there is a sense of belonging. You’re part of something and that changes the motivation level. It’s different than when you’re just going to a gym to work out by yourself with headphones,” he said. “When people actually enjoy being at their school, it feels less like something they should do and more like something they look forward to. You combine that with some improvement in your skills and a bit of weight loss and it gets addictive.”
If you’re looking to start training in combat sports, the most important thing is finding a gym and showing up. You want to make sure to find something that’s going to be a good on a culture and fitness level. At the same time, you also want to find something that can easily fit into your lifestyle. While some places are going to be better than others, for combat sports commentator and personality Robin Black, a place you can get to consistently trumps almost any other factor.
“It’s a matter of making sure you’re doing it as much as possible. When beginners ask me where they should train, I always tell them that the best gym is the one closest to their house,” Black said. “When I see somebody who is a touch overweight or unathletic go and start doing martial arts regularly, I’ve seen people lose twenty pounds—and completely change their bodies—really quickly. I don’t think those changes are unique to combat training, but I do think the potential to fall in love with fighting is way higher than other types of exercise.”