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This empowering workout reframed my attitude to exercise

Martial arts workouts are more popular than ever. HELLO! spoke to fitness experts about why punching and kicking boosts our confidence

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Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
16 January 2024
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If you've ever tried martial arts, be it a super-fun boxercise class or training in a classic kickboxing gym, you'll know how addictive it is. As you punch and kick through the session, you find yourself feeling empowered and strong, and best of all, it's the perfect way to release tension after a stressful day – because sometimes a relaxing bubble bath just doesn't cut it.

Our passion for martial arts workouts is on the rise, with Pinterest reporting a 200 per cent increase in searches for mixed martial arts training, while jiu-jitsu and shadow-boxing have seen search increases by 30 per cent and 60 per cent respectively over the past two years.

So why are we all so keen on martial arts inspired sessions? I was converted to this kind of workout several years ago, becoming hooked on Les Mills Body Combat sessions and David Lloyd's BLAZE and IGN1TE programmes, before booking into Bronx Boxing Club classes in Camberwell, which sees the sessions taught by former pro-boxers, honing in on real techniques used by boxers.

Portrait of determined young athletic woman in sportswear standing in boxing stance with hands and fists, looking at camera.© Getty
Martial arts workouts are challenging

As someone who normally loves a Taylor Swift spin, boxing classes are quite the departure, but stepping out of my comfort zone into an entirely different kind of workout made it so inspiring when I saw myself getting to grips with the footwork and feeling stronger as I pummelled the boxing bags.

Fellow HELLO! martial arts fan, Bryony Gooch, 25, took up Muay Thai this year at Safari MMA and felt similarly inspired, loving how it changed her approach to fitness. "I love that I'm gaining a proper skill by learning Muay Thai. I think it's easy when exercising to focus purely on the aesthetic benefits rather than what else you're getting out of it."

"When I was purely going to the gym I didn't really feel like what I was doing could help me in the real world, besides lifting heavy things. I've never had great hand eye coordination or felt particularly strong despite exercising regularly. Martial arts has empowered me a lot more to feel capable and confident."

What are the benefits of martial arts workouts?

"Combining elements of combat sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA) into fitness workouts provides a great high-intensity, fun, stress-relieving, endorphin-boosting workout," says Alastair Crew, product head of Blaze and Battlebox at David Lloyd Clubs.

Young woman boxing in urban setting© Getty
Boxing can boost our confidence

Mood boosting sessions

A martial arts workout is a great way to zone out and release any tension in a positive way. "Boxing and kickboxing have a proven track record of helping to release stress," confirms Alastair. "Any physical exertion can help relieve a build-up of mental pressure; punching and kicking a bag feels good! It provides everyone with the opportunity to channel their stress into something proactive and in turn helps rebalance brain chemistry."

Nicola Munnion, a Les Mills trainer said her clients love combat sessions, adding: "I’ve heard some people refer to it as their anger management where the intense aerobic nature of the class simply helps them let go of any built up stress, anger or tension they may feel before they complete the class. No matter how you feel before you start a class of this nature you will always leave feeling more centred and emotionally stable."

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A sense of accomplishment

Learning something new – as we do when we're new to martial arts - is a huge mood-booster, according to wellness expert Dr. Radha Modgil.

"When we step out of our comfort zone, we learn more about ourselves," explains Dr. Radha. "We become more resilient in terms of discovering skills we never knew we had and building confidence and self-esteem, as well as opening ourselves up to new opportunities.

Happy female boxer holding punching bag at health club© Getty
Boxing gives a great sense of accomplishment

"When we step out of our comfort zone, we rediscover the skills, talent, and potential and the sense of openness we had as a child," Dr. Radha continues.

This is certainly the case when we try martial arts for the first time. "These types of workouts provide a technique challenge, so over time you learn new skills and improve your techniques, which can be extremely rewarding to see how you have progressed and become more competent," Alastair explains.

Ben Grant, the BLAZE and IGN1TE Lead at David Lloyd Clubs agrees, adding: "I love that post-class feeling of success and accomplishment, nothing beats the rewarding endorphin high after a workout!"

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Nicola loves the improvement element too, saying: "You can see and feel marked improvement the more you do it, which adds to the feeling of success you leave the class with.

"This sense of achievement is empowering, and can help us feel more confident and even assertive in everyday life."

Young Filipino woman boxing in her garage outside.© Getty
Boxing helps us gain strength

A confidence booster

"I've never been particularly good at any form of confrontation, and I've often struggled with confidence," Bryony explains. "When you're practising Muay Thai with someone else, you learn to back yourself and understand your own potential in a controlled environment.

"Last night I was practising a specific kick with my sparring partner and she pointed out I wasn't kicking as powerfully as I was actually able to. I wasn't fulfilling my potential because I was worried about not being in control of my body. Having the reassurance that you're in a controlled environment and you can trust your body and the people you're around is really liberating."

It's tough!

There's no denying that combat workouts are tough, but that's part of the beauty, explains Nicola: "It is rare you leave class with anything left in the tank, which is always very satisfying and leaves you wanting to come back for more. No matter how you feel before you start a class, you always leave feeling energised, empowered and strong."

Improved health

Martial arts workouts include a great deal of multidirectional moves, which personal trainer Monique Eastwood explains are key in battling bladder weakness, which is a barrier for many people when working out, especially as we reach midlife.

As for our physiques, that can see an improvement too, Nicola says: "We can increase our functional strength, muscle tone, endurance and even plyometric power."

 Read more inspiring stories on HELLO!'s Happiness Hub.

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