Martial arts workout touted as packing a punch

Martial arts workout touted as packing a punch

Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Dave Nackoul, age 57 of Canonsburg, works up a sweat shadow boxing at Fight Club Pittsburgh, an MMA-type facility in Robinson, on Saturday July 6, 2013. The club offers boxing lessons for not just professionals but others looking for a good fitness routine.

When an ESPN-led panel of experts ranked sports by degree of difficulty about 10 years ago, Jeff Mucci wasn’t surprised to see boxing at the top of the list.

“We’re trying to find everybody’s comfort zone and then push them 50 percent harder,” said Mucci, owner of Wolfpack Boxing Club in Scott. “You’re in such good peak physical condition that there’s very little that you come into as far as other exercises that you won’t be able to do comfortably.”

In recent years, the growing popularity of mixed martial arts through the rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championship showcased another difficult sport, one that combines several forms of martial arts, including boxing.

Orthopedic surgeon Victor Prisk of the Allegheny Health Network and the GNC Medical Advisory Board said any form of martial arts — whether it is boxing, MMA or more traditional martial arts such as karate or tae kwon do — can be beneficial.

“Beyond just getting active and burning calories, the martial arts provide chances to improve your strength, your flexibility, your agility, your balance,” Prisk said. “(Those are) all things that are really important as you age to avoid injuries in other things you do, whether you’re playing other sports or you’re just getting older and you’re afraid of falling.”

Prisk practiced tae kwon do and gymnastics in college, and he said both sports taught him how to fall without injuring his wrists, elbows or head.

Such knowledge can benefit anybody, Prisk said. As people age, they lose their “ability to perceive the ground below,” Prisk said, which then affects their balance.

Martial arts can help prevent that because it focuses on balance, Prisk said.

Additionally, various forms of martial arts can help with strength, speed, agility, muscle endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

Mixed martial arts combines five forms of martial arts: muay thai, a striking form of martial arts in which people use their hands, feet, elbows and knees as weapons; boxing; wrestling; judo; and jujitsu. The five all work different muscle groups.

“You go to a gym, you’re running on a treadmill, you’re working out, you’re on machines — it gets boring after a while,” said Adam Milstead, an MMA fighter and a trainer at Fight Club Pittsburgh in Robinson.

More traditional forms of martial arts have their own benefits because they improve speed, flexibility and agility.

Bill Viola, owner of Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon, said athletes in various sports cross-train in martial arts.

“Martial arts in general have a tremendous amount of footwork and flexibility that are associated with them, just embedded in their traditions from when they were started,” Viola said. “All the kicking and things of that nature really increases your overall flexibility, which carries over into every sport you do, whether you’re a football player, baseball player (or) soccer player.”

Milstead said the widely held view of MMA fights — “two guys in a cage beating the crap out of each other with no gloves” — is true only of the competitive side of MMA. In training, only more advanced students can spar, and only under the supervision of a trainer. Competitors wear headgear, shin guards, mouthpieces, cups and oversized gloves that are like “big pillows,” he said.

Mucci’s gym offers three stages of training: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Students can only spar once they pass the beginner’s stage, he said.

“We do have a lot of people that are working professionals — they don’t want to go to work with a black eye and a bloody nose,” he said. “It’s an inherent risk, but that’s why if you do it correctly, you can learn boxing without getting beat up, just as you can with karate or any other martial art.”

With thousands of disciplines of martial arts in existence, Viola said anybody can find something for them. Milstead, Mucci and Viola said they get students of all ages and various levels of fitness.

“You’re working every inch of your body from head to toe, starting with just the general techniques all the way up to the forms and patterns you learn,” Viola said. “It’s a total body workout. Whether you’re a little kid or someone in their 60s or 70s, it’s a lifelong, year-long activity you can do to keep yourself in shape.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via email

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