Is This The Ultimate Cardio Exercise?

When you first think of martial arts, generally ‘cardio’ isn’t the first synonymous word to cross your mind. Self-defense, perhaps, or strength and discipline – but it is actually your cardio that is key to the levels of improvement you will see in yourself as you continue training. Bad cardio is the thing that will improve quickest when you first start martial arts. If fighters can’t breathe, they can’t win. Therefore cardio has been incorporated as a core component and focus area of martial arts in order to build endurance for all students, from beginners to fighters.

Here are 3 types of martial arts that build you into the ultimate cardio machine.

1) Boxing

Boxing is one of the most intense cardiovascular activities for any athlete. It is a full-body workout that is guaranteed to get your heart pumping and those calories burning. What you see in the movies is a snapshot of the real deal. Boxers who train seriously do a lot of road work, not only inside, but outside of the gym to increase their endurance levels so that they are able to last 12 rounds of ducking, weaving, slipping, moving around the ring, while at the same time calculating and throwing their own attacks. This means a lot of running, hill sprints, jump rope and shadow boxing.

However, for those who are starting out, or thinking of trying out boxing as a means to get a cardio workout, roadwork will not be expected from you. Boxing classes themselves are cardio intensive. You will likely be out of breath just from the warmup, but this is normal and not an indication of your fitness levels. A good warm-up aims is to increase your heart rate and get your muscles warm and relaxed for the rest of the class, so if you are not forming a light sweat from the warm-up itself, you should definitely push a little harder!

Following the warm-up, your instructors will develop your skills with any number of training exercises including mitt work, bag work, drills and more. The content of the class will vary from class to class, keeping the content fresh and focusing on all aspects of boxing. One thing in common, however, is the cardio intensity in all of the aforementioned exercises. Punching a heavy bag helps to develop superior punching power and also provides a maximum cardiovascular workout because it elevates your heart rate, uses a number of muscles in cooperation and has a rhythmic quality. Similarly, mitt work is a powerful component aimed at elevating your heart rate.

“The sweet science” is a simple art to learn but a difficult art to master. It provides an incredible cardio workout along with practical and applicable knowledge for the ring or self-defense.


2) Muay Thai

The cardio benefits of Muay Thai are similar to boxing, except there are more limbs involved – not only will you be throwing punches and defending, but there are also kicks, knees, and elbow techniques to take into account.

Cardio to a Muay Thai fighter is like oxygen to a fire. Without it, there is no fight. There are two important elements to cardio – aerobic and anaerobic. Simply speaking, aerobic is long-term energy: “endurance cardio”. Anaerobic is short-term energy: “burst cardio”. In Muay Thai, you will need both.

Muay Thai classes are hard, intense and focus on using your whole body as a vessel to deliver a strike. Pad work pushes your cardio and works on improving your technique and improves your mental strength by pushing yourself past your comfort zone. At the end of a long pad session, it’s common to be breathing heavily, have legs that feel like jelly, have hands that you can barely hold up. You will not normally feel exhausted like that after a long run, in comparison, and that’s because Muay Thai is a better cardio exercise. Multiple studies have shown that HIIT (high-intensity interval training) burns fat and improves muscle better than long distance running.


3) MMA

Taking part in mixed martial arts demands a different type of cardio as compared to triathlons or marathons – you need the ability to work at a high intensity in short to medium bursts followed by moments of rest, all while adjusting your breathing to match your output and ensure enough oxygen is being circulated to your body.

As the name suggests, mixed martial arts is a combination of all techniques. Mixed martial arts is one of the best physical workouts that you can do. It is a complete workout that will keep your body in good shape. It also boosts your endurance and explosive power.

Grappling is one of the most energy draining aspects of MMA. Wrestling and BJJ movements are exhausting exercises because there is constant body resistance against you, so when you are grappling, it’s like you are doing cardio and resistance training at the same time. MMA cardio is different to running. When you run, you control the pace. Meaning, you can speed up when you want and slow down when you want. When you are grappling with someone, you are forced to react on someone else’s terms, either being one step in front of them or defending their attack.

In your MMA classes, you will be exposed to a barrage of techniques, from striking to clinching to takedowns, and all of these work your cardio to the core. There is no doubt that your cardio will improve significantly, the longer you attend classes.


Martial arts – whether it is Boxing, Muay Thai or MMA, is the ultimate cardio workout. Classes are non-stop action that very much follow the HIIT style of training, where you are getting the most intense cardio and calorie burn workout in the least amount of time. Sounds like a win-win situation!

So, if you really want to get into the best shape of your life, give martial arts a go and sign up for a trial class today.

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