— Julie Bruce was looking for something to punch up her
workout when she stepped barefoot onto the mat at Life Time
had been doing a lot of running and high-intensity spin
classes and had hit a plateau," said Bruce, 49, a
financial consultant from Shakopee Minn.
when she discovered Life Time’s "Fight Shape"
class, which put her body to the test as she learned to
grapple, strike and execute takedowns. "I was thinking,
‘I really don’t want to hit anybody or anything,’"
she said, "but I went to the class and I was like, ‘Oh,
this isn’t so bad.’"
learning mixed martial arts, the fast-growing combat sport
popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In the UFC,
two fighters square off inside a cage, attempting to harm each
other with a mix of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing and
other fighting styles. Victory is often decided by a brutal
knockout or a suffocating chokehold.
Bruce doesn’t want to fight. She just wants to get fit.
the hulking stars of the UFC, Bruce is among a growing number
of MMA enthusiasts who come in all ages and physiques.
Increasingly, the classes at local gyms are populated by women
— and even children.
still a stigma around the sport that there’s going to be
blood everywhere, that it’s going to smell," said
Merrick Morland, MMA coordinator for all Life Time Fitness
locations. "The majority of people joining (the classes)
have no intention of getting into a fight. They want to cut
weight like a fighter."
lovers have always looked to combat sports such as boxing and
kickboxing for a fast-paced cardio workout. But as MMA’s
fanbase grows, some boxing gyms are ceding time and space to
the sport. These workouts are the latest example of the
extreme fitness trend that has made Tabata, P90X and Insanity
huge right now," said Dalton Outlaw, co-owner of Elements
Boxing & Fitness in St. Paul, Minn., which recently
expanded its offerings to include MMA training. So huge, in
fact, that the UFC — the sport’s premier fighting league
— has branded its own line of gyms specializing in MMA
fitness. It has 96 locations nationwide and 85,000 members.
want to be able to train without getting a broken nose or
getting hit in the eye," said Adam Sedlack, the chain’s
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the UFC has no immediate plans to open a gym in the Twin
Cities, the area is flush with MMA-focused fitness programs.
About a dozen gyms offer MMA training for the warrior and
Academy in Brooklyn Center is a sprawling, fluorescent-lit
warehouse space that has long catered to young men pursuing a
career in fighting, including former UFC heavyweight champion
Brock Lesnar. But that’s changed in recent years. "A
lot of (students) coming in are just everyday people,"
said Academy head coach Greg Nelson.
Time Fitness is fairly new to the game, having launched its
mixed combat arts program one year ago. The 12-week classes
are offered at two Minnesota locations — Chanhassen and
Lakeville. In contrast to larger, grittier combat centers like
the Academy, Life Time’s MMA studio in Chanhassen has a
polished design. It converted racquetball courts into an MMA
training space outfitted with thick floor mats, padded walls,
speed bags and a cage-like fence. The setting helps newbies
feel less intimidated about trying the sport, Morlan said.
Hallman, a Chaska, Minn., salesman and father of two, says he’s
lost 50 pounds since he started training last fall at Life
Time. A former college hockey player, Hallman became a convert
after seeing what MMA could do as a comprehensive workout —
challenging his core, upper body and legs.
you look at any UFC professional fighter, they’re in amazing
shape," Hallman said. "That’s the whole thing
behind this — you’re training several parts of your body
at once without realizing you’re doing it. And it’s
typical class, beginners learn the basic moves they might see
in a professional bout on TV. Students might learn how to
escape a "rear naked choke" (a chokehold applied
from behind by an opponent) or the proper way to deliver a
leg-sweep takedown. They’ll also throw stiff jabs and kicks
at pads and punching bags.
any extreme exercise, injuries can happen. At the beginner
level, there’s the possibility of twisted knees, muscle
sprains or bruises. In the advanced classes, which might
include sparring, blows to the head could result in
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he likes sparring with his personal trainer, Hallman has no
plans to fight competitively.
40 with a family. I have no inclinations to do any of
that," he said.
and kickboxing training aren’t the only combat sports
feeling competition from MMA. When it comes to kids’
classes, move over karate and taekwondo.
Xiong of Burnsville, Minn., said her son Lucas, 10, used to
take taekwondo lessons but switched to MMA and hasn’t looked
back. Her other son, Lex, 7, has joined him in classes at two
local gyms. Xiong and her husband enjoy watching UFC fights at
home on TV. The action piqued the interest of her boys:
"My son said, ‘Well, I want to learn how to do that,
too,’" she said.
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said she likes seeing her sons learn the diversity of fighting
actually get to do kickboxing, boxing, using their hands and
feet. They’re on the ground. They’re grappling. They’re
learning to use techniques like the head choke, the cobra, the
arm bar and all that stuff," she said proudly.
said she doesn’t worry about her boys getting hurt because
the lessons are controlled and focus heavily on self-defense
classes open their doors to a wider range of students, many of
the new faces in these gyms are women. Their inclusion is a
reflection of a larger trend in the professional ranks, where
the number of female fighters has increased dramatically since
the UFC introduced a women’s division in 2012. At the UFC’s
fitness gyms, 44 percent of all members are women, Sedlack
Bruce started at Life Time Fitness she said she was pretty
sure MMA was "not my cup of tea." A few months
later, Bruce is bobbing and weaving, grappling with fellow
students and learning how to fall (correctly). While training,
she said she’s boosted her heart rate, strengthened her core
and increased her flexibility.
biggest change has come from within.
me," she said, "it makes me do things I thought I
would never do."