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How to Get a Kickass Combat Workout—Without Getting Your Ass Kicked

The average Joe's guide to combat school, whether it’s MMA, boxing, or everything in between

Any guy who’s ever watched professional boxing has wanted, at some point, to earn a boxer’s chiseled, powerful physique and test himself in the ring—until, that is, the punches started landing. But the only practical way to get that combination of full-body training—bottom-up strength, speed, agility and cardiovascular endurance—was to join a gym and commit yourself, Rocky-style, to a one-on-one trainer. But with the rising popularity of UFC and mixed martial arts, many black-belt-level gyms—boxing, mixed martial arts, Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai (a badass ancestor of kickboxing) places—have expanded their offerings to include programs for the average Joe looking to develop a fighter’s raw fitness. And most of your standard gyms offer basics classes such as kickboxing. Here’s how to get a kickass workout without getting your ass kicked.

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How to Choose Your Class? 

Most gyms offer group classes modeled after combat sports. For the most part, these classes are “choreographed and the instructor is bouncing-off-the-walls energetic,” says Ryan George, a New York personal trainer and fitness instructor who also teaches Muay Thai at Coban’s Muay Thai Camp ( “There’s not much technique involved and rarely any focus on sparring or getting better.”

For example, if the word cardio is in the name, it’s probably a dance-y class set to music, à la Tae Bo. But if boot camp or bag work are in the description, you’ll likely be doing some of the same stuff as actual fighters. (If you really want to fight, though, you’ll need to find a specialty gym.)

Says Work Train Fight ( founder and lead instructor Alberto Ortiz, the first order of business is to look at the instructor’s teaching philosophy and background, and consider other indicators as well, such as updated equipment and consistent, well-run classes. 

And while many new boxers and fighters naturally gravitate toward former fighters as trainers, Ortiz cautions against it, pointing out that physical skill doesn’t always translate to teaching ability. “Punching the pads and holding them are two different angles,” he says. “It’s the difference between being an actor and being a director.”

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