June 20, 2018
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Cage fitness program turns participants into ultimate fighters

Emily Rasinski | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Emily Rasinski | St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Grace Winkle works on punching during the Cage Fitness class on Jan. 23, 2012 at Kelly's Championship Martial Arts in St. Louis, Mo. "It's probably the hardest workout here. There's lots of sweat and lots of calories burned," she said. Cage Fitness classes are always different to prevent muscle memory from kicking it an making it easier.
By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

There was no hand-to-hand combat, and they all escaped with their noses intact. Yet the 12 participants in the cage fitness class looked like they were competing for the Ultimate Fighting Championship title.

For 30 minutes, they each walloped and wrestled a 40-pound, free-standing punching bag at Kelly’s Championship Martial Arts in St. Louis, Mo.

Jess Holt, 29, of Affton, Mo., has been taking cage fitness three times a week for more than two months.

“You get such awesome results in only 30 minutes,” she said. “This is more intense than my personal trainer. And each exercise, even if you hate it, it’s only 45 seconds.”

Adam McDonald did two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. He compares the intensity of cage fitness to that of the workouts he did while in the service.

“This is one of the biggest workouts, definitely. It works every muscle in your body,” said McDonald, 25, of Belleville, Ill.

Cage fitness is among the latest programs that combine high-intensity interval training with functional movement. High intensity interval training involves short bursts of anaerobic activity that improve cardio conditioning, glucose metabolism and fat burning. Kicking, punching and grappling with a heavy punching bag are functional movements that force multiple joints to move in multiple planes.

Matt Hughes, an American Ultimate Fight Championship Hall of Famer from Hillsboro, Ill., created the cage fitness program, which is taught in about 230 fitness centers. Kelly’s Championship Martial Arts has the only licensed class in Missouri.

Cage fitness home kits, which include an instruction manual, full-body workouts, a 25-pound fitness dummy and gloves, are available online for $349.

The workouts resemble mixed martial arts cage fights with five rounds that last 5 minutes, 15 seconds, punctuated by 45-second water breaks. Each round includes seven exercises that last 45 seconds each and focuses on warming up, upper body, lower body, a combination of upper and lower body or a combination core/cool-down.

The exercises are based on cage fighting techniques, but no two classes are the same, said Kelly Schmidt, owner of the center. “The moves are constantly changing to prevent muscle memory and to get faster results. It’s called muscle confusion.”

During a recent class, instructor Caleb Caldwell demonstrated the exercises at the front of the room while Schmidt egged on the participants by counting down.

“Fifteen seconds, 10 seconds, only five more seconds, keep going,” she yelled into a wireless headset. The participants rotated among activities: lifting the bag, kicking and kneeing it, punching and elbowing it, leaping off and on it, then over it and doing pushups on it. During the final round, which focused on the core, they gripped it between their legs and did abdominal crunches. Ideally, participants do each exercise as quickly as possible for the 45 seconds. The exercises can be changed to fit personal goals.

“We have a guy who is 400 pounds who does this,” Kelly says. “He can’t jump around like everyone else, but he still works out hard.”

“There are modifications for everyone for every part of the body,” added Caldwell, 37, of Affton, Mo., who lost 47 pounds in the past six months by doing cage fitness six days a week.

Sarah Carmody, 41, of Webster Groves, Mo., has been taking martial arts classes at the center for more than two years. Cage fitness, which she takes twice a week, goes hand in hand with the others, she said.

“The first (cage fit) class, I felt like I was going to die,” Carmody said. “The first two weeks were really tough. Then it got easier. The strength and conditioning help with Hapkido.” Hapkido is a Korean martial art that includes punching, kicking and joint locking while using weapons such as swords, rope and nunchuks.

Dillon LeMaster, 19, of St. Louis, a mixed martial arts cage fighter, credits cage fitness with allowing him to outlast an opponent during a recent bout.

He “was winded in the first round and I could have kept going,” LeMaster said. “The whole idea is to just keep pushing, pushing, pushing until you can’t go anymore. The beauty of this class is you can’t master it. I think it’s a lot of the muscle confusion.”

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