Fighting Fit; Kick-Start: Jasmine Is Put through Her Paces by Budokon Coach Ryan Carldon Hooked: Sophie Practises Her Muay Thai Punches

Article excerpt

Byline: Sophie Goodchild

THE LATEST fitness craze among Hollywood A-listers is "fusion" martial arts. Stars including Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox Arquette are converts to these new workouts which combine combat techniques found in kickboxing and karate with yoga and meditation. Traditionally, self-defence and martial arts just focus on strikes, grappling or boxing. But new hybrid workouts such as Budokon and Muay Thai are more women-friendly and are aimed at selfempowerment.

The physical benefits include burning up to 900 calories a session, improved cardio fitness, enhanced muscle tone and feeling more confident. And they are also a great way of learning self-defence techniques that will come in handy as the credit crunch bites. Government experts are already warning that muggings will rise as the recession worsens. Home Office chief statistician Paul Wiles says that a serious economic slowdown will put "upward pressure on property crime". The principle is to learn to defend yourself from a physical threat and also to get a great workout. It may be physically punishing but comes with a spiritual uplift.

So what are the top martial arts workouts to get you fighting fit? We sent six of our writers along to try out the best on offer in the capital..

MUAY THAI

WHAT IS IT? A form of kickboxing invented in Thailand that takes place in a boxing ring. Known as "King of the Ring", it allows the use of kicks, elbows and grappling.

WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE? Trainer Chris ushers us all into the ring where we warm up with a few stretches. Then it's time to bind our wrists, don our gloves and find a partner to punch. Muay Thai is practised by Buddhists, so controlled aggression is the aim. I'm recovering from a severe cold so my punches and kicks are a bit limp.

Chris explains that self-defence is all about reading your opponent's body language so you know when to kick. In between the pad work, there are high-impact workouts including stretches, star jumps and press-ups. The class finishes with Chris demonstrating how to balance on your partner's back as they crouch on the floor.

VERDICT: Once I overcame my fear of injuring my opponent, there was no holding back. It was a major insight learning when to kick an aggressor. An exhilarating cardio and full-body workout that has given me vital self-protection skills on dark nights.

CONTACT: The Third Space, 13 Sherwood Street, W1 (020 7439 6333, www.thethirdspace.com).

COST: [pounds sterling]118 for membership to The Third Space. No additional cost for the class.

SOPHIE GOODCHILD

FIGHTKLUB

WHAT IS IT? A group exercise class based on combat training and boxing using a freestanding training bag. Benefits include calorie burn, improved upper-arm muscle tone and increased flexibility and strength.

WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE? The 45-minute session begins with a 10-minute warm-up with skipping, jumping and punching. Our instructor is strict and insists everyone keeps moving as we collect our training bag and boxing gloves.

The high-impact workout kicks off with single jabs at the bag then builds up to a routine of hooks, squats and kicks all at high speed.

VERDICT: The combination of cardio workout and resistance punching is punishing but addictive. You still have to bounce on your toes even when the instructor allows you a breather. My new skills meant I felt ready to tackle any mugger on the way home.

CONTACT: Gymbox, 71 Lombard Street, EC3 (020 7337 9790, www.gymbox.co.uk).

COST: From [pounds sterling]50 a month for membership or [pounds sterling]20 for a day pass.

AMY IGGULDEN

PUNCH

WHAT IS IT? A high-intensity workout based on boxing. Benefits include calorie burn of up to 900 a session, increased agility and improved muscle tone, rather than muscle bulk.

WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE? The one-hour class provides a full-body workout. …