As a fighter and combat sports nut, I am pleasantly surprised to have seen an evolution in the fitness industry as a whole as of late and have been watching people’s perceptions change right before my very eyes.
Being involved in the fitness industry on many levels here in the UK, my wife Athena and I have noticed many changes and one of these trends is the moving away from the body builder physique to a more aesthetically pleasing, fitness model look. Couple this with the rise in popularity now of fight sports besides boxing, more and more people are being exposed to a new breed of fitness and athlete and I wanted to share my insights and explore the implications of this, not only for fighters but for the general fitness market and industry as a whole.
I like to think of this new breed of athlete as the “Martial Athlete” – A hybrid of traditional martial arts along with the discipline, combat training and mindset with that of a highly tuned athlete who utilizes the latest trends in science, fitness and nutrition to get the best out of their bodies for peak performance
Whatever one thinks of the UFC’s dominance in the Mixed martial arts arena, they must take kudos for making MMA practically a mainstream sport throughout the world today which has led more and more people to take an interest in sports such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Kickboxing etc and this has led to a rise in popularity of promotions such as Belator, Glory Kickboxing, K-1 Kickboxing etc – all of whom add to the exposure of the martial athlete to the “average Joe” who now have a new fitness type to aspire to emulating.
It is also interesting to note that thanks to fighters like Rhonda Rousey, Misha “Cupcake” Tate and promotions like Invicta Fighting Championships, the domain of the “martial athlete” is not solely for the male species either.
So, what is it about the Martial Athlete that is so appealing? Well, I believe that the Martial Athlete is a total package of health and fitness. Rather than just focusing on the aesthetics of muscular hypertrophy, body composition and symmetry, a fighter has to have an entire array of different facets of fitness including muscle, power, speed, flexibility, skill and agility. Not only do fighters need those elements but also, they will need to be confident and have a certain air of fearlessness when it comes to competition about them. This holistic approach is very appealing in this day and age where we are more adept to the concept of having it all when it comes to our lives and the martial athlete is no different in that respect.
The sex appeal of cauliflower ears and broken noses
We live in an evolving world and it’s safe to say that the male species, which recovered from the metro sexual 2000’s is going through somewhat of a period of masculation, heck you only have to see the popularity right now of beards to appreciate that and let’s face it guys, there’s something very manly about fighting. Fighting and combat sports are nothing new to the human species and we only need to look in the history books to see how important “gladiatorial” combat was for a man’s honor.
r from Greece, to ancient Rome to the samurai tradition in Japan right to this very day where sports pitting opponents against each other are still seen as a major part of manhood.
And with the popularity of beards as a badge for men everywhere to show they probably know how to fix a car and can save a damsel from distress, the cauliflower ear too has become somewhat of a symbol of masculinity and honour among the ranks of those who practice sports like Jiu Jitsu and wrestling or even rugby. In fact, you know you’ve probably picked a fight with the wrong guy (or gal) if you notice they have cauliflower ears! Oh and one more interesting point, I have it on safe authority from many of my female friends and acquaintances that they actually find a guy with cauliflower ears kind of attractive in a strange way. Granted, these women are not your regular girl next door but heck fighters like to live dangerously so maybe they want their women to be spiked with an element of risk too?
The old school vs the new school
As life is always evolving, so do attitudes surrounding many subject matters and the same holds true within the realm of martial arts and combat sports. The old school training methods that have been traditional and common place, yet somewhat misguided, are being replaced by more up to date training methods. Yes folks, I am happy to declare that science has finally donned its gi and stepped foot in the Dojo!
This move to the new school has taken the advances in fitness and conditioning from main stream sports and applies them to combat sports which is, in my opinion, responsible for the progress of the martial athlete and once again, I believe that MMA should get a share of the thanks for this especially due to the growth and dominance of MMA in the united states where scientific training methods in sport are always at the forefront.
In a recent article in one of the mainstream and popular fitness magazines, which co incidentally usually only ever focused on the world of body building and muscle modelling, British MMA fighter, Brad “One Punch” Pickett, highlighted the merge between cutting edge fitness training and the more traditional training methods of martial arts and combat training. He stated that the rise in popularity in MMA has accentuated the need to bring training for combat sports in line with other main stream sports and the combat sport world has now attracted expert trainers in fields such as strength and conditioning and endurance fitness into combat sports.
So let’s take a quick look at old school thinking and practices and weigh them against the new school equivalents.
Old school thinking: Run mini marathons every morning will give you the cardio you need
New School Thinking: Long steady state cardio has its place and serves its purpose but an emphasis on high intensity interval training such as sprints, hill sprints and Tabata training would be more beneficial to build up the anaerobic threshold.
The new school thinking here benefits the casual trainer who doesn’t wish to fight but optimize their own fitness levels as interval trainer has been shown to be far more effective at burning fat and preserving lean muscle than steady state cardio.
Old school thinking: Weight training makes a fighter slow and should be avoided.
New school thinking: Weight training, when done correctly, will enhance a fighter’s speed and power. The emphasis should be on correct strength conditioning and functional training as opposed to traditional body building.
The benefits here for the average person again are great as many casual trainers are interested in looking physically and aesthetically pleasing.
Old school thinking: Nutritionally, A diet high in carbohydrates with moderate protein and fat is advisable… Supplements? Stay away from those dangerous pills and steroids!
New school thinking: A balanced diet rich in protein and essential fats along with adequate carbohydrates to fuel workouts and aid recovery. Supplements are great for those who train hard or require extra nutrients.
We’ve now come up to speed with science and what works and what doesn’t, this includes an approach to nutrition that has its bases built in a stronger, more scientific foundation rather than tradition of what was passed down through generations or what was here say or in effect, Martial Arts/Combat Sport “Bro Science”
And all this means…
So, to wrap it up, for the fighter, the benefits of this new breed, the Martial Athlete, are very clear but more interesting is the appeal of this for the mainstream and casual fitness trainee and indeed trainer. The appeal of the martial athlete model to both men and women is on the rise. As was previously mentioned, mainstream fitness and body building magazines now cover more and more articles pertaining to the training styles of MMA fighters and interviews with MMA fighters. Magazines such as Men’s Health have released their own special editions entitled “Build a fighter’s body” and even the video game market was given the treatment with the popular UFC trainer game for the Xbox Kinect platform. It is therefore safe to say that Combat sports training has now become a hit with the general public and the move from the standard body building model of resistance training to the more functional style and popularity of platforms such as cross fit have given birth to a new generation of exercisers, one that is concerned with not only aesthetics, but a holistic approach of strength, fitness and wellness. Needless to say, if you’re in the fitness industry, you’re going to have to take combat sports and combat sport training more seriously!
Fahad Maniar, founder of Team Fighting Fit, is a professional Muay Thai and Kickboxer fighter, trainer, fitness blogger and coach based in the United Kingdom. His mission is to help as many people live kick ass, awesome lives through physical personal development. He is a Certified MMA Conditioning Coach and Heart Rate Performance Coach. Fahad can be reached via his website http://www.fahadmaniar.com