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Martial Arts: The Ultimate Cross-Training

Looking for a way to supplement your workout? Martial arts is the answer.

What started in the 90’s with Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo program, and now with the explosively popular MMA or mixed martial arts craze, fitness experts and exercise enthusiasts have taken note of adding martial arts to their training regimen.

What people are discovering, is that martial arts is the complete package in fitness training.  This is so because traditional martial arts training such as Karate, Judo, and Kung Fu utilize the entire body, equally developing the four components of health: Balance, Flexibility, Strength, and Cardio.  Whether you’re a weight lifter, runner, biker, or dancer, you need those four areas sharp as possible to push you to the next fitness level.


Improved balance is the first benefit you will notice in martial arts (MA) training. With the numerous kicks; i.e. standing on one leg, your body is in a perpetual state of balance training.  Though wobbly at first, in as little as three weeks, most MA practitioners notice a significant boost to their balance. MA also has a variety of fighting stances such as front stance, back stance, and horse stance.  Holding these positions while punching and kicking conditions the body to find and then to maintain its balance throughout the exercise.

Bottom line: That improved balance then carries over to your primary form of fitness training.


Stretching is a major emphasis of MA training. Tight legs, tight lower back, and stiff shoulders mean your mobility and range of motion is limited, thus impairing your fitness advancement. Most MA classes, particularly Kung Fu, the Chinese form of self-defense, spends from 15- 25% of class time stretching.  A flexible body reduces muscle cramps, muscle and joint injuries, increased range of motion for back, neck, shoulders, and hips. Improved flexibility promotes healthy circulation as well.

Bottom line: Improved flexibility improves your game.

Strength training is divided into three categories: Concentric, Eccentric, and Static.
Concentric is the shortening of the muscle. Weight lifters understand this when they do dumbbell curls, constricting the bicep with the pulling motion.

Eccentric is lengthening the muscles, such as holding heavy weight and resisting that weight from pushing your arms down. 

Static is the strength developed from holding a position for long periods of time, such as a gymnast holding themselves in the “crucifix position” on the double rings.

Obviously developing each of these strength types should be our goal. MA training delivers.

With each executed punch, block, and kick the pulling and retracting of the arms and legs, the concentric and eccentric strength are being developed. The static comes in to play with the holding of the fighting stances, which martial artists call “iron-body” conditioning. And the great aspect of MA training is that power is derived from the waist. For proper form, every technique must originate from the waist, stomach, and hips, thus developing incredible core strength.

Bottom line: MA training develops all levels of strength.

Cardio is all about increasing the heart rate and then maintaining your performance in that elevated state. In MA, practitioners run through a series of movements called sets or forms. These forms are a series of self-defense techniques linked together such as a block followed by a punch then a kick. Forms can have as little as ten moves up to five-hundred moves depending on the level of the artist.  These forms done rapidly greatly increase the heart rate and can burn up to 1000 calories per workout. The average MA workout is one hour.

Bottom line: MA training is a great way to rapidly boost your cardio.

Along with developing the four components of health, MA training also equips you with self-defense skills, a major benefit no other form of fitness training provides. Having the ability to defend yourself is very empowering.  It creates a strong sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.

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