“When you train like a fighter, you’ll look like a fighter.” Those were the first words my coach told me when I started training in mixed martial arts.
I wish I could say I was training to become the next UFC Ultimate Fighter and cash in on a billion dollar industry, but I just wanted a good workout and some abs — that’s the goal for many people trying to get in shape. So with all sorts of options like yoga, CrossFit and Zumba out there, why should you dedicate your time and money to MMA? Well, before I answer that for you, I want to give you a quick introduction to exactly what makes up MMA training.
Mixed martial arts is comprised of three aspects, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), kickboxing, and fitness cardio. BJJ is a self-defense art that focuses on protecting yourself if you end up on the ground. Classes will normally feature learning a submission or technique and then grappling with your teammates. These submissions can range from a rear-naked choke (a basic choke applied from behind a person that restricts airflow) to an armbar submission (an arm lock that hyperextends a person’s arm). Kickboxing focuses on being able to throw punches, kicks, and footwork to dodge an opponent. And last is fitness cardio — the class that most beginners will take since it focuses on building strength and speed for BJJ and kickboxing. You can expect to do pushups, jump squats, weighted situps, and many more high repetition exercises in this class. Some bigger gyms will also feature a wrestling class.
Unlike yoga or CrossFit, MMA classes such as BJJ or kickboxing teach you how to physically defend yourself in the real world. To talk more about the mental and physical benefits of MMA training, I want to bring in Legacy Fighting Championship (an MMA promotion) president Mick Maynard.
So now you’ve heard why you should train in MMA, but how should you get started? There are probably multiple gyms near where you live or work thanks to the rising popularity of MMA. Picking a gym can be hard, but also fun. Not every gym is for future fighters only. Most gyms are made up mostly of everyday people just looking for a good workout and challenge. When I started my search, I Googled local gyms and then started to follow them on Facebook to see what their customers were saying about them.
After that, I narrowed my list to three gyms and simply called them to schedule a trial (most gyms will let you try out their classes for a week). During that week you should try out the classes that interest you in the time you’ll normally attend so you can see if you like the coaches and teammates (other people who take classes with you). Don’t be afraid to say no to a gym if you aren’t comfortable training there; however, if you do say no, explain why you made your decision so they can improve their product. You should really enjoy being at the gym because your coaches challenge you and your teammates encourage you. Women, don’t be afraid to try out the BJJ classes even if it is all men.
I’ve never come across an unwelcoming BJJ practitioner, so you’ll feel welcomed and included. Just to give you a quick example, I started my MMA adventure with fitness cardio for an hour and then an hour long BJJ class that focused on the basics. My wife, on the other hand, only took the fitness cardio class. The people training and teaching at these gyms are usually very nice because they all have a respect and appreciation for the art of a combat sport. They’ll motivate you to accomplish a fitness goal and give you tips on how to defend yourself. If you have children, I highly recommend that you enroll them in a BJJ class so they can learn some basic self-defense techniques.
First Day Tips:
1. Drink plenty of water before and during your workout.
2. Ask questions. If you don’t understand an exercise, ask the coach! No coach wants to see you get hurt because you didn’t understand an exercise.
3. Find an experienced teammate and partner up with them for fitness cardio or BJJ class. They’ll have the patience and knowledge to help you understand the basic techniques in both classes.
5. Avoid wearing tight cotton shirts because you will sweat more than usual and the material will restrict your movement. Nike Dri-Fit will get the job done.
6. Don’t wear shoes on the training mat unless specified. Gyms want to keep this space very clean since grappling classes are conducted on the mats.
7. After your class, drink some chocolate milk or a protein shake and avoid eating fatty foods. Why undo all the work you just did with a burger?
8. Take glutamine before bed to help fight muscle soreness the next day.
Remember to always keep your fitness goals in mind when classes get tough — this will help you overcome even the hardest of days in the gym.
You’re now ready to become the next Ultimate Fighter!
– Raheel Ramzanali