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7 Martial arts moves that'll kick your workout into high gear

After 10 years in the TV biz and 8 years as a competitive boxer, all my passions collide to bring a fresh, fun and often sassy perspective on all things fitness and lifestyle.

Intense. Stress relieving. Confidence boosting. Full-body contact. No, I'm not talking about that great date you went on last week, I'm talking about mixed martial arts!

Professional fighters are among some of the fittest athletes in the world. (There's a reason why they call it "getting in fighting shape," after all.) They require endless stamina, explosive power, fast reaction times not to mention a big set of kahunas, if ya know what I mean. But, you don't have to plan on getting in the ring to incorporate a little MMA training into your regimen. Add these incredibly effective exercises into your regular routine and reap all the benefits of getting fight fit, without having to trade punches with Rhonda Rousey.

Skipping rope

Remember how many hours you logged perfecting your double-Dutch skills during recess in grade school? Little did we know as schoolgirls that we were engaging in one of the best workouts there is. If only we still opted for intense cardio sessions during our lunch hours, just for fun.

Tossing the rope around for just 10 minutes is the equivalent of going for a 30-minute jog. And it's not just a cardio crusher; skipping is an incredible tool for sculpting the calves and shoulders. Best of all, ropes are both portable and affordable. Try adding a few three-minute sets (tossing in a few jolts of high intensity, going max speed for 20-seconds) at various times into your workout and take your strength training routine to new, calorie burning heights.

Shadow boxing

Shadow boxing is an exercise fighters use to help get the body and mind in the zone by visualizing themselves in a fight and throwing punches at an imaginary opponent. But don't get it twisted, this pretend match is no pretend workout. A few minutes of continuous air punches mixed with footwork is exhausting, to say the least. While I don't expect you to fly like a butterfly out there just yet, there are some super-effective components of shadow boxing that anyone can incorporate into their regular regimen.

  1. Grab a set of light dumbbells (three-pounders, max, trust me!).
  2. With one in each hand, stand with your feet hip width apart, step the left foot forward slightly, right foot at a 45-degree angle and hands on either side of your jaw.
  3. Now punch straight ahead, alternating between left and right at a brisk pace for 30-second to one-minute intervals.
Remember to use your waist to rotate into the punches, extend them all the way out and bring your hands back to your face after every one. This move packs a serious punch (sorry, I had to); amazing for achieving those Aniston arms and whittling down the waist.

Ground & pound

In MMA, punches aren't just thrown from the feet, there are times when they're thrown while sitting down, or more specifically straddling an opponent. It's called ground and pound. While I know it sounds gruesome, ruthless and violent, (and it generally is all those things) it's also a wicked workout. Don't worry if you don't have a sparring partner handy, a rolled up yoga mat, an oversized pillow or even a bosu will do.

  1. Sit in a straddling position (also called "full mount position") and repeatedly drive your fists and elbows down into your object of choice. That's right, skip your regular ab routine and beat the crap out of one of these props instead. You'll get the same core burn, get the heart rate way up, relieve some pent up stress and feel like a total badass all at the same time.
  2. Start with three 30-second rounds and work your way up to six.

Footwork drills

Skipping rope isn't the only childhood activity that is used to get ring ready; boxers also use footwork drills similar to hopscotch to get their legs in fighting shape. If you have some chalk and a few squares of sidewalk to spare then go nuts; if not, most sports stores sell footwork ladders.

This is another incredible piece of portable cardio equipment; set it up in your living room, take it to the park, or throw it down in the sand on vacation.

  1. Start facing forward and step the left foot forward into the box, then step the right into the box beside the left
  2. From there, step the left foot outside and to the left of the box and then step the right foot outside and to the right of the box.You'll finish in a straddling position over the ladder with each foot on either side of it.
  3. Repeat, stepping inside the next box with the left then the right, then outside with left and right and so on.

For another sweat-inducing variation:

  1. Jump two feet in and two feet out, this time moving both feet at the same time. If you want an even bigger burn, land on the outside of the squares in a squat position instead of jumping the feet out with straight legs.
  2. Run through any or all of these series five times each. (Note: there and back is considered one set, not two, sorry!)

Kicking

Can't forget about the legs; they're some of the best weapons and most effective calorie burners on the body. Yes, kicking works many different muscles from head to toe simultaneously, which means giving a big boost to the old metabolism machine. Not only that, but kicking requires a lot of stability work, forcing the core to go into overdrive. One of the best moves is a squat with alternating front kicks.

  1. With feet no more than hip width apart, perform a regular squat and as you come up to standing, immediately throw a front kick at hip height with one leg.
  2. Repeat the same squat and front kick with the other leg and repeat three sets of 15 alternating squat kicks, total.
Similarly, you can do this starting from a lunge position:

  1. Step out into a lunge position and bring the back foot forward into a front kick before stepping back into the deep lunge position.
  2. Do 10 front kick lunges with the right leg, followed by 10 with the left, and then repeat each side again for a total of two sets per leg.

Images: JP Tanner/SheKnows
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