Muay Thai, the newest power workout

Muay Thai, a martial art from Thailand, is the newest power workout on the gym floor. Here's what it's all about

W hen Ajay Devgn wanted to polish up his fighting form for Singham, he turned to Muay Thai. So does John Abraham when he wants to mix up his exercise routine. As the days of kick-boxing and Capoeira wane, Muay Thai, a traditional martial art from Thailand, is finding popularity with the city's fitness chasers. What differentiates it from kick-boxing is that apart from just kicks and punches, says expert Biki Bora, Muay Thai teaches you body awareness, tactical use of your elbow and ends with meditation that aims at sharpening your senses.

What you lose
Muay Thai is an intense workout. You burn as many as 3000 calories an hour, at just beginner levels. This substantially increases as you go up the levels. The intention here is to hone every part of your body into a weapon and identify vulnerable areas of an opponent. The moves are designed to tighten and harden each muscle, not just the core ones. This toning and building of muscle mass ups the metabolic rate and sheds fat.

However, it'll need a work out thrice a week for three months before you see definite results. It helps if you have a core level of fitness beforehand, but it do if you just want to lose weight and tone up as well. Ask for a trial class to see if this is your cup of tea.

What you gain
Muay Thai begins with warmup exercises that focus on footwork, ducking, kicks, dips and punches. Then there are partner stretches that increase flexibility. With each level, the stretches get more intense and customised to your requirements. "Since Muay Thai is a warrior art," says Biki, "you are expected to have injuries and broken bones. Eventually, the warm-up is customised to soothe stiff muscles, knock joints back into position and take weight off weaker areas long enough for them to spring back into action."

Weights are brought in, at competitive levels. Strapped on to ankles or wrists as you do lifts and punches, these strengthen abdominal, calve and arm muscles.

A chunk of the work-out is partner work, where you emulate attack and counter-attack techniques in pairs. One of the partners holds foam paddles while the other practises moves; the defence's role is to anticipate and block the attack.

As you progress, you shed the paddles and learn to harden the muscles where you anticipate the attack. "Muay Thai makes your body so strong that if you are hit with an instrument, it should break; not you," says Biki.

You get a taste of this in the meditation phase. One of the exercises is to sit still and maintain eye contact with your opponent. As (s)he starts slapping you, you counter it by guessing which side you'll be struck and tightening the jaw or cheek muscles in response.

"Like yoga," says Biki, "even Muay Thai has a meditation component, but instead of trying to blank out the mind, the intention is to sharpen the senses and awareness." So when you sit in mediation, you don't try to empty your mind; instead, start to focus on your heartbeat, the throbbing of the jugular vein, the various layers of sounds in the environment - traffic, rustling of leaves, etc. You are urged to sense air currents and directions of the breeze. This sharpens the senses, which lead agility and bodily response when you are under attack. Which brings us to an important issue: Even if you don't care about toning up losing weight, Muay Thai can help you just become a b** a**. A few sessions will rig you up with self-defence moves that may not injure an assailant, but will certainly put him or her in an aggressively uncomfortable position. So handy if you commute using the local transport and are used to holding up your arms strategically the minute you leave home.

Self defence moves
- The point of the elbow is an unexpected weapon. If assaulted from the back, jab the elbow into the Adam's apple, or under the chin.

- The shin is vulnerable since it has no protective padding. A sharp kick using the heel of your foot, or a stiletto to this region will make a person stumble.

- If an attacker approaches you face on, give a quick jerk under his/her chin using the palm (fingers turned towards you). The movement should be a swift jerk upwards that will throw him/her off the balance.

- To immobilise an attacking arm, grip it with your index and pointer finger; thumb under wrist. Push down the palm using your own palm with such force that the assailant is forced to bend the elbow. This will lock it into place. For good measure, deliver a kick to the shin.

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