FITNESS IS SAID TO BE “FUNCTIONAL” WHEN IT TRANSCENDS the gym and extends to real-life situations, and it doesn’t get any more functional than martial arts. This kind of workout improves your strength, mobility, and cardiovascular prowess while giving you the skills and the confidence to defend yourself. But you don’t have to join a dojo and earn your black belt to be able to fight off an attacker. Incorporating some basic martial arts moves into your workouts will enhance your self-defense capabilities while amping your fitness level.
These moves were curated from combat experts across various disciplines and include suggestions on how to integrate them into your workout programming. Implement them for a few months and you’ll be functionally fit to fight off the bad guys — and body fat.
Nothing is more satisfying than hitting an actual target, but you don’t need a heavy bag or a partner holding mitts to get a good workout. Shadowboxing against an invisible opponent is a valid training protocol, and while throwing punches against the air may seem harmless, it’s actually pretty easy to hyperextend a joint or strain a muscle. Use these tips from Adam Zart, strength and conditioning coach and instructor at Dyme Boxing & Fitness and Hayastan MMA in North Carolina, to properly fight with yourself.
Striking accuracy and body position are more important than throwing the hardest punches and kicks you can muster (no matter who you’re envisioning on the receiving end). “When striking the air with no target to impact, it’s extremely important to slow down the moves and emphasize control,” Zart says. “Start at about 30 percent of your speed and focus on form and balance.”
SHORTEN YOUR RANGE OF MOTION
Normally when hitting a pad or a bag, you try to punch or kick “through” the target. “But against air, you want to stop about 10 to 15 percent short of full lockout to keep your joints safe,” Zart says.
SPEED UP CONSERVATIVELY
As you get more comfortable and your technique improves, you can progressively increase your speed. Zart recommends ratcheting up 10 percent at a time until you’re 70 to 80 percent of full throttle. “Anything beyond that and you’ll want a target to strike,” he says.
The first rule of fight club is … not to be a pushover — literally. A strong, stable fighting stance is paramount in all manner of martial arts. Use these pointers from Adam Zart to stand up and deliver the most effective strikes possible.
Stagger your feet about a foot’s length away from each other and spread about 2 inches apart. Imagine standing on the edges of a strip of painter’s tape running between your legs.
If you’re right-handed, stand with your right foot back and your left foot forward (and vice versa). Your lead hand is on the same side as your forward leg.
Roughly 60 percent of your weight should be in your back leg so you can easily use your forward leg to kick or to transition to a punch.
Stay loose and light on your feet; don’t plant your heels.
Raise your hands to the sides of your face covering your cheeks, not below your jaw.
Keep your chin down and tucked slightly, and look at your target “through” your eyebrows.
EXPERT: Marika Hart, a third-dan black belt in taekwondo, physiotherapist, owner of Dynamic Strength Physiotherapy in Perth, Australia
If an attacker is a front and center, a punch to the head is darn effective, but using a closed fist could get you injured, as well. “An open-fist punch is easy to learn and apply, and you’ll be less likely to break your hand,” Hart says. Punching drills enhance upper-body strength and speed, trunk mobility and core stability, and because your power travels from the ground through your body and out your fist, punching uses every part of your body, according to Hart.
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