Martial arts can sculpt your body, sharpen your defense skills, and make you feel pretty freakin' almighty.
With more martial arts disciplines than you can name, there's bound to be one that fits your speed. And you don't have to head to a dojo to get a taste: Gym chains like Crunch and Gold's Gym report that their mixed martial arts classes—UrbanKicks Ass and BodyCombat, respectively—are growing fast, and boxes like CrossFit Outbreak in New York City offer Muay Thai to complement your WODs. (These celebs are all into martial arts.) "Martial arts help you learn powerful new ways to use your body," says Dan Roberts, the head of Dan Roberts Group personal training in New York City and London, who routinely incorporates Muay Thai, kung fu, and boxing into his sessions with clients. "Plus, combat sports are a great multidirectional full-body workout." Here's why you'll want a piece of the action.
1. It's cardio that's a cut above.
Expect to drip sweat as you're pummeling a heavy bag or flowing through fight combos—but time will fly by. "It's constant movement," Roberts says. "You just lose yourself in it." Plus, mixing it up on the mat is a low-impact way to reach high intensity. (Try this yoga Capoeira mash-up workout.)
"Martial arts use all planes of motion and numerous movement patterns, which is great for injury prevention," explains trainer Erin Gregory, a national development manager at Gold's Gym.
2. You'll sculpt strong abs and lean legs.
You're not really chopping and punching with your arms. "A punch's power comes from the core," Gregory says. "You also need core strength to stabilize your body when you kick; otherwise you'll fall over."
Meanwhile, your legs benefit from all that kicking too: Firing up a kick takes multiple muscles, including glutes, hamstrings, calves, and various stabilizing muscles. (This heavy dumbbell workout will also fire up your leg muscles in the best way possible.)
3. There's a big mental bonus.
"Martial arts are just as much about building character as about learning to fight," Roberts says. "They reinforce being humble, disciplined, and respectful." Those virtues translate to other areas of your life too, like fostering solid relationships. As Roberts says, "The benefits are beyond aesthetic."
Popular Martial Arts
Karate and kung fu get much of the buzz, but there are tons of martial arts to choose from, including these. Check out Dojos.info for a local school specializing in the discipline you pick.
- Muay Thai The national sport of Thailand, which uses fists, elbows, knees, and more. (Read more about this tough martial arts style.)
- Jujitsu Originally from Japan, it focuses on choke holds and joint locks.
- Tae Kwon Do A Korean martial art known for its emphasis on kicks.
- Krav Maga Developed for the Israeli military, it focuses on highly effective self-defense skills, like using your elbows and knees against your opponent.