When Dan Evans was sent home from “The Biggest Loser” last spring, he’d lost just 15 pounds. A year later, he’s down over 100 pounds more, thanks to a combination of diet, treadmill running and something called Cage Fitness, a fast-and-furious workout routine based on mixed martial arts.
Mixed martial arts, also known as ultimate fighting, is one of the world’s fastest-growing combat sports. Bouts are fought in an octagon-shaped ring called a cage, and fighters use moves and techniques from various fighting disciplines, including karate, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing. It’s quick, it’s brutal and it’s incredibly popular.
Cage Fitness workouts mimic the structure of a championship MMA bout -- minus the injury. Created by Matt Hughes, a nine-time world welterweight champion, Cage Fitness workouts are just 30 minutes, with five, five-minute “rounds,” followed by a minute of rest. It’s high-intensity interval training, using familiar moves like squats, MMA-specific techniques like Kimura crunches, and a weighted fitness dummy for added resistance.
Cage isn’t the only MMA-based fitness class -- martial arts studios across the country are adding programs that promise to get students into fighting shape, without the impact. Team Lloyd Irvin Martial Arts and Fitness, in Arlington, Va., offers a ladies-only Ultimate Fitness Kickboxing class alongside its judo and boxing classes. And the MMA Fitness Drill class at Houston’s Paradigm Training Center promises to get students into “octagon shape.”
It took Vanessa Yanez, of San Mateo, Calif., awhile to work up the nerve to try the Cage classes at Gold Medal Martial Arts. Yanez, a 40-year-old mother of two, had seen the sessions, which started before her cardio fitness class. And they looked pretty intense.
“While at first the class looked a little scary with the heavy bag and all, I found that I really liked the 30-minute aspect of it,” Yanez wrote in an e-mail. It was short enough, she added, where she wasn’t looking at the clock all the time. And: “The exercises end … unlike machine work or long-distance running, there is a reward every five minutes: Rest.”
Each Cage workout starts with a warm up, and then moves quickly to an upper body round, a lower body round, a “combo” round, and then a cool-down, with core work.
And every round wraps up with “ground and pound,” a 30-second flurry of punches into your fitness dummy.
“No matter how tired people are, they always get a huge burst of energy for the ‘ground and pound,’” said Jessy Norton, who helped design the Cage workout with Hughes.
Cage and KiDo, a martial-arts-inspired cardio workout, helped Yanez lose 40 pounds. “More importantly, I've increased my endurance and muscle tone to where instead of someone who just works out, I feel like an athlete,” she said.
Since its inception almost two years ago, Cage Fitness has expanded to over 280 martial arts schools, gyms, military bases and police academies. There’s also a home kit, which includes a weighted fitness dummy, gloves a training manual and seven DVDs for $349. It’s what Dan Evans, who’s now a certified Cage instructor, uses when he can’t get to a scheduled class.
"Cage is a huge part of my weight loss regimen," he said. "There’s only so much you can run on the treadmill."