Popularity of combat workouts skyrocketing

Combat sports have provided a major entertainment diversion throughout history. Today, boxing and martial arts have become popular participation sports for many who are on the road to fitness.

Records dating back to 4000 B.C. recount “pankration,” a predecessor to what we now know as mixed martial arts (MMA). Historically, this sport developed in parallel to boxing. Participants were typically slaves or criminals who fought for their freedom.

Both sports were eventually banned by the Emperor Theodisius when he felt that they provided too much diversion. The earliest recorded boxing match was in 1681 when the Duke of Abermarle waged a match between his butcher and butler.

Modern era combat athletes are among the best-trained in the world. Fighting demands stamina, strength and agility. Those who are successful have mastered those skills and possess the ability to concentrate and plan strategy under severe conditions.

Combat athletes’ work outs consist of intense roadwork to build cardiovascular endurance. A normal average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats-per-minute. The resting heart rates of combat athletes are often in the 40 beats-per-minute range. This is reflective of superior cardiac efficiency.

Strength is improved by resistive exercise with weight training and repetitively hitting a heavy bag. Superior coordination is attained by drills that require timing such as jumping rope and hitting a speed bag.

“Boxing provides a great workout due to the variability of the fitness skills,” reports Jody Sheely, boxing trainer at Strike Force gym in Norwich and former boxer.

 Interestingly, many of the activities utilized for combat sports training do not require striking or choking an opponent and may be an essential part of a new fitness regimen for many who will never get in a ring or cage.  

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at agalessi@uchc.edu.

Don't neglect working out your brain along with your other muscles

Athletes spend many hours honing skills in their particular sports while building strength and stamina. More recently, they are devoting time toward establishing more efficient thought processes and better performance.

The human brain is made up of nerve cells that are organized in networks that interact to perform specific functions. These specialized networks influence all activities.

The simplest action is a reflex. A reflex consists of movement that doesn’t require any thought. The neurons necessary communicate directly through the spinal cord without any cognitive input.

One goal of training is to eliminate as many variables as possible while performing the specific task. This type of mental training can take several forms and coaches are now employing a variety of professionals to work with their teams.

Visualization is probably the best-known technique. Visualization involves repeatedly anticipating an outcome or situation before it occurs. Kickers see the ball going through the uprights, golfers visualize a perfect shot and football defenders see themselves making a crucial tackle.

Mindfulness is a technique used to relax the mind. It is essentially a skill used to eliminate all interfering thoughts and allowing concentration only on the task at hand.

Like most athletic skills, these techniques become most effective when they are practiced. Repeatedly applying visualization and mindfulness with a discipline such as yoga can dramatically improve performance.

“Yoga and mindfulness are a powerful combination of physical, mental and spiritual skill work that compliments and enhances sport-specific conditioning,” states Carol Pandiscia, a yoga and mindfulness instructor who works with high-level athletes.

Although these skills have been frequently applied in sports, they are effective instruments for success in any profession.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at agalessi@uchc.edu