People flocking to MMA gyms for rounded workout

By JeffGraveline

Walking into a gym for the first time can be intimidating. The people, new machines and a completely new environment can be nerve-racking. For those stepping into a mixed martial arts gym for the first time, there are even bigger concerns.

There are many styles of martial arts and all of them can be counted as one part of the whole that is MMA. From boxing to taekwondo, hits and kicks are part of the sport that fall under the MMA name.

MMA has transitioned from grown men beating each other senseless, or “human cock fighting,” as Sen. John McCain once called it,  into an international sport with some of the best athletes in the world taking part. Take away the cage or ring, however, and what’s left is a workout that can leave participants gasping for breath and dripping with sweat.

“It’s definitely a little harder than I expected it to be,” said Ryan Carli, a 22-year-old MMA fighter who trains at Carlson Gracie MMA Academy, 1235 N. La Salle Blvd. “When I started working out at MMA it was just so draining, it was like no workout I’d ever had before.”

While fans of the Ulitimate Fighting Championship, Pride and Strikeforce watch the world’s best clash inside a ring or cage, people from all over Chicago are finding their way to MMA gyms. With more than 30 gyms in the Chicago area, those looking to get fit and kick a little butt are finding an outlet to train their bodies.

“I enjoyed [Jiu-Jitsu],” said 35-year-old police officer Tony Carroccio. “I think I appreciated the all-around workout. It hit cardio, it hit flexibility and strength didn’t play a key. It didn’t matter how strong or weak your opponent was. It really works on your core.”

That core workout comes from several areas of MMA training.  Along with punching, kicking and kneeing a heavy bag, people train by jumping rope, doing  sit-ups and other core building exercises.

“We have a very strong emphasis on fitness and conditioning,” said Katalin Rodriguez-Ogren, owner and operator of POW Gym, 950 W. Washington Blvd. “We tend to believe that without the athletic component, you’re really doing your student a disservice.”

While weight and cardio training are the traditional forms of working out for most people, those who attend an MMA gym are getting a completely different work out from those lifting free weights or running on a treadmill.

“The difference is definitely in the muscles that are being used,” Carli said. “You’re utilizing a lot of different muscles in your shoulders and your legs as well. You’re using [leg muscles] to tighten up on people instead of just using them for lift [as in basketball].”

People joining an MMA gym are often drawn to the sport because of the things they see on television, read in magazines and hear through friends, according to Carli and Rodriguez-Ogren.

“Some people are influenced by what they read and they read that [MMA] is cool, so they think it’d be cool [to try it],” Rodreguez-Ogren said.

Carli joined his gym when a friend suggest it while watching UFC.

For those who plan on going into a gym and stepping right into a cage or ring, Rodriguez-Ogren said reality sets in quickly.

“The people who walk in and think they’re just going to start fighting, I would say they’re checked pretty quickly,” Rodriguez-Ogren said. “Once they’re huffing and puffing after two rounds of jump rope and one flight of stairs, you kind of realize you can’t just come in and be a fighter.”

For MMA gym members, working out is a way to punch and kick their way to a more fit physique.  It’s the total body grind that leaves a Greek statue in its wake, and that’s exactly what they’re hoping for.