I think the most important thing about exercise is to choose something you enjoy (to a point – I’m sure no one loves squats, but they are good for your butt!). There’s no point in dragging yourself onto the Stair Master or slogging your way round a half marathon if you hate it. I’m lucky (or perhaps weird) in that I enjoy most forms of exercise, but there are definitely some that are more fun than others.
I particularly love classes at the gym, but it is easy to get stuck in a rut, going to the same old sessions and not trying anything new. So I thought that if I tried to review one class a month, it would at least make me try 12 different classes over the course of the year!
So, I’m going to start with Body Combat. Body Combat is one of the Les Mills fitness classes. Les Mills run a variety of classes which are the same the world over, so you can “release your inner warrior” wherever you are. It was interesting doing Combat when I was working out in Singapore – they take it very seriously and there was a lot more whooping, hollering and yelling than in the UK (where there is none in my experience). Each class is choreographed to a fixed soundtrack and they update the routine every three months or so.
It’s actually a bit like Now! Albums. Co-incidentally, I started doing Body Combat back in 2000 when they were on release 10, and the first Now! Album I owned was Now 10, featuring the hits of Karel Fialka (remember Hey Matthew?) and, somewhat unbelievably, a Cliff Richard track that wasn’t a Christmas song. I believe Combat is now onto release 65, but instructors (at least the good ones) will usually mix up some old and new tracks to give a bit more variety.
The full 60 mins Combat class (they do offer shorter versions) consists of 10 tracks – a couple of warm up tracks, the main body of the class, then an ab track and cool down. During the class, you do a variety of upper body moves: jabs, hooks and upper cuts, and lower body combinations including roundhouse kicks, side-kicks, and jump kicks (my favourite – although there are lower impact alternatives if you don’t want to make like Bruce Lee).
You don’t need to have done any martial arts beforehand, the moves are pretty basic, but it will help you immensely if you have a little rhythm, can confidently count to 8 (you would be amazed at how many people can’t master this) and have a some degree of spatial awareness (there is one scary woman in my class who drifts closer and closer during the session or walks past you to get a drink when you’re in the middle of a sidekick, thus taking her life, or at least her ribs, into her hands). When I started, I thought that I might feel a bit self-conscious punching thin air, but actually once you’re in the zone, you don’t really think about whether you look like a tool.
Like anything, you get out what you put in. I’m generally of the approach that if you turn up you might as well go for it – you probably wouldn’t want to meet me in a dark alley during combat although I do try and keep the grimacing to a minimum, unlike others I could mention. I usually burn about 500 cals during a class (according to my heart rate monitor), you’d probably burn less if you keep it low impact or flap your arms more than punch. It’s also pretty good for your core as you need to keep your balance during the kicks, and there’s a lot of jumping around so it’s good for building bone density too.
It’s probably less good for self-defence – whilst I’ve developed a mean upper cut, I don’t think I’d be able to take on a potential assailant without The Prodigy playing in the background.
The best thing? It’s loads of fun, doesn’t feel like exercise and if you’ve had a bad day at work, you can picture the face of the person you’re pretending to hit and beat 7 bells out of them (in a metaphorical sense, obvs). And you come out of it feeling a little bit badass.