Mixed martial arts (MMA) has become arguably the most prestigious “combat” sport over the past decade and is now becoming a highly popular form of exercise for men and women alike. First degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and former professional MMA fighter, Brian McLaughlin, points out, “by far the demographic that has seen the biggest influx of both competitors and recreational athletes is women.” Even if you have no intention of ever setting foot into the octagon with the likes of Ronda Rousey or Holly Holm, MMA can help kick start your training and torch fat in the process.
Due to the sport’s demand for versatility, MMA fighters are some of the most elite athletes in terms of conditioning, strength, explosiveness and agility. On top of that, most fighters are generally lean individuals, maintaining that shape even when they’re not preparing for an upcoming fight.
The Benefits of Mixed Martial Arts Workouts and Fitness
MMA has several mental and physical benefits. The team environment provides a fun place to grow and train. Training can lead to increased confidence. MMA is a full-body and well rounded workout that focuses on strength, flexibility, balance, endurance and stamina.
For women, MMA can add a sense of security. Knowing how to defend yourself incase anything happens can be a very valuable skill.
And now on to the weight loss benefits of MMA.
MMA Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
MMA, like boxing, is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — a form of exercise where you exert yourself as hard as you can until exhaustion kicks in (e.g. sprinting for 15-20 seconds), allow a brief recovery period, then hit it hard again (pun intended). This forces the body to tax all of its energy systems, resulting in a variety of metabolic adaptations. Don’t let this intensity intimidate you, McLaughlin points out you don’t have to be in shape to start MMA training.
“MMA training is a very specific type of strength and endurance. Running laps and lifting weights might make you look good, but it won’t help your MMA training as much as just stepping on the mat and taking a class.”
MMA Toning and Muscle Building Potential
MMA requires intense bursts of activity and thus relies heavily on glycolytic (carbohydrate) metabolism for energy. Research continually demonstrates that forms of anaerobic exercise, like HIIT/MMA, are superior for long-term fat loss when compared to traditional low-intensity, steady-state (LISS) cardio.
In addition to calorie burn during a training session, MMA promotes the fat-loss process over an extended period of time, even after exercise has ceased. This is primarily due to the fact that high-intensity training stimulates a process in cells called mitochondrial biogenesis, which increases resting metabolic rate — a crucial element for fat loss. So, even when you’re lounging around at home, your body is still burning a few extra calories.
Furthermore, MMA training has other benefits aside from increased metabolic rate that you would not see from doing LISS cardio. Studies suggest that these adaptations include: reduced appetite, increased VO2 max, improved blood lipids, improved sense of well-being, better heart health, and more efficient endocrine activity.
Instructional Mixed Martial Arts Videos and Training Tips
Below are a few video resources to check out that walk you through how to actually incorporate a simple MMA workout into your exercise regimen. Pay close attention to how the trainers perform the striking movements as technique is highly important for safety and efficacy.
Before you dive headfirst into your MMA training, Brian recommends taking a step back to decide exactly what you want your training to consist of. “The first thing you need to do is decide if you are going to train every aspect of mixed martial arts or specialize in a particular aspect of grappling or striking. Some people can’t bring themselves to punch or kick someone, for those individuals Judo or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are ideal. Others, do not like the close quarters of grappling and therefore prefer boxing or Muay Thai. Then there are those who love it all.”
Like any activity, MMA has its own vernacular. Brian has offered up a few helpful expressions that will help you through your training
Gi or Kimono – this is the traditional martial arts uniform with jacket, pants and belt
No-gi – training without the kimono
Submission – these are chokes or joint locks meant to subdue an attack
Tap out – a method of surrender when caught in a submission may be physical (repeatedly tapping your opponent or the mat) or verbal (yelling “Tap!”)
Muay Thai – a style of kickboxing from Thailand that emphasizes kicks, punches, knees and elbows, not to be confused with Mai Tai
Professor – The proper title when addressing a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt instructor
Sensei – The proper title for a Judo black belt instructor
Kru – A term used for Muay Thai instructors
Rolling – Live sparring in Jiu-Jitsu, involves full resistance grappling without striking
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
If you’re interested in taking MMA classes, there are several options to consider. Most commercial gyms with fitness studios have a variety of classes that they schedule, and they are often free to partake in as long as you’re a gym member.
However, if you don’t belong to a gym that offers MMA classes currently, then your best bet is to search for local fitness studios or possibly a dedicated MMA gym to see if any trainers are available or teaching open classes. These gyms/studios will most certainly have everything you need as far as equipment and instruction goes, and they shouldn’t be too pricey. Check out the MMA Gym Finder website for MMA gym locations near you.
If the preceding two options don’t apply, then you may want to look into working one-on-one with a trainer and have them teach you the basics to performing MMA training. This will likely be the most expensive option, but can also be the most rewarding since you’re getting hands-on instruction and guidance.
Generally, you should expect MMA workouts to last for about 20 minutes to begin with, but as you advance they make take a bit longer. There really is no better way to find out if MMA training is for you other than trying it!
It may seem intimidating, especially if you’re completely new to this type of workout, but it may just be what you’ve been looking for all along.
Clothes and Proper Attire
For proper MMA clothing, it’s generally advised to wear articles that are form fitting, stretchable, and breathable. MMA training is intense so you should be prepared to work up a nice sweat. Leggings or compression shorts and a compression tank top would make for a proper outfit, for example.
Footwear may not be necessary depending on if you’re training on padded flooring/mats. Footwear is not allowed in MMA fights so it wouldn’t make much sense for them to train with shoes, but if you prefer to wear something on your feet than your best bet is something flexible and light.
In addition to the general attire, Brian has a few more specific recommendations:
“There is equipment that will be necessary once you decide what you’re training. For the grapplers, the most important piece of equipment will be your gi (aka kimono). This uniform will be tugged, twisted and pulled in every direction imaginable so don’t go cheap or you’ll risk having your pants tear mid submission.
Other grappler friendly equipment includes rash guards and board shorts which are ideal for no-gi training. A good set of wrestling headgear will keep new grapplers from developing cauliflower ear. For those who participate in wrestling or sambo (a grappling martial of Russian origin) wrestling shoes are an important part of training to ensure proper footing.
For the strikers, a good set of hand wraps, boxing gloves, headgear and shin pads are essential. Some Muay Thai students also add knee and elbow pads to that list so they can practice those strikes safely. Make sure you keep your gear in good working condition. There is nothing more disrespectful than punching your training partner in the face with a glove that is not properly padded.”
MMA workouts are a superb way to change up your exercise routine and avoid the redundancy of traditional gym workouts/cardio. Moreover, MMA training is a more effective, challenging and fun form of exercise than just walking on a treadmill and staring at a TV. If you want to lose fat, tone your muscles and feel great, MMA is about as good as it gets.
Remember, use the instructional videos as resources to help educate yourself, and don’t be shy about jumping into a class at a local MMA gym; you might just find your new passion in life!