Martial arts classes are enjoying a boom, but how tough are they? We don gloves and try one.
Variations on Thai fitness classes seem to be sprouting up absolutely everywhere at the moment, and with the burgeoning popularity of mixed marital arts competitions growing in the UAE, it’s not exactly difficult to see why.
Possibly one of the most well-known Thai fighting classes is Muay Thai, an ancient combat style that originated in Thailand and uses various striking methods employing knees, elbows and kicks as well as punching. It’s hardcore, and a number of gyms in Dubai are now modelling fitness classes on the technique.
In a bid to investigate just how tough sessions really are, we decided to try out the Sheraton Abu Dhabi’s Thai Fitness class in the capital.
At the start of the class, the instructor checks people’s fitness levels and asks if anyone has practised martial arts before. This involves such question as: Have we been active lately? (No.) Are we fit? (Not as much as we’d like to be.) ‘Okay,’ he says. ‘Just make sure if you feel dizzy or sick to have a break. Push yourself… but not too hard.’
‘Run!’ he shouts, jolting the class to start jogging around the room to warm up. This goes on for ten minutes before it’s time for skipping – something all the fighting greats swear by (just watch Rocky).
If you think this all sounds rather easy, you’d be very much mistaken. Bouncing to a beat while you skip is harder than you might think, and many people in our class trip up or get tangled in the rope.
‘Now, push-ups!’ the instructor bellows, and the class begins alternating between push-ups and jogging around the room, all the while gasping for air. And it’s just the warm-up.
Next, it’s time to stretch before everyone is unleashed on the punching bags, which gives you time to catch a breath. It’s important to stretch out, because the body needs to be loose in the right places for boxing, which in itself is a full-body workout with twisting of the hips and abdominals, both essential for a strong and safe force.
Everyone is now ready to kick some bags. Each participant has their own punching bag. We perform rhythmic punches, jab-crosses and triple punches into the bag. It’s great – after a rough day at work it’s a fantastic source of stress relief (and anger management) and we have fun pounding away. The instructor watches each participant, ensuring we are all punching safely with straight wrists and balled fists.
We smack the bag. ‘Guard your face,’ he yells, swinging his arm in order to show everyone the areas they need to protect.
Next, it’s time to kick. We square up our hips and swing around doing a powerful roundhouse kick into the hard bag. A surge of adrenaline suddenly puts the entire class into upper gear and we start heaving and working vigorously.
Next, it’s time for a cross punch followed by elbows. This is a tough blow – left, right, elbow, elbow. This helps to imagine the source of your anger on the receiving end.
We walk out of the class panting and puffing. Sore knuckles aside, everyone generally feels tough and ready for another battering. We’re exhausted but feel ready to tackle anything that comes our way. This is definitely a good class for stress relief and high cardio, and you may find it especially effective tool that goes some way towards combating your stress levels.
Where to try martial arts in Dubai
Try your hand at BKBMT (boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai), combat, judo, capoeira aikido, MMA and more at this family-run gym.
Group classes from Dhs50 per session and Dhs500 per month. Dubai Marina and Sheikh Zayed Road (050 286 1673).
Glory MMA & Fitness
Formerly Contender MMA, this gym offers expert mixed martial arts training, and has in the past hosted visiting muscle men such as Jean Claude Van Damme for workouts.
Dhs100 per class, packages from Dhs500 per month. Business Center, Al Meydan Road, Al Quoz (04 338 2922).
MMA Fitness Center
This club offers traditional MMA and Muay Thai training, as well as a variety of other high-intensity cardio classes.
Dhs100 per class, membership from Dhs598. Pacific Building, TECOM (04 367 5077).