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The Warrior Within: A Self-Defense-Inspired Workout

Unleash your power with this self-defense-inspired workout designed to build strength and boost your confidence.

Warrior Workout

Self-defense is about much more than being a lithe ninja. To stand your ground against an attacker, you need a combination of strength, agility, power, speed, balance, and anaerobic endurance. Self-defense, at its core, is a test of tactical fitness.

That’s why ancient self-defense practices and martial arts have inspired numerous modern workouts. Rooted in disciplines such as judo, jujitsu, Krav Maga, and Muay Thai — but often billed generally as kickboxing or cardiobox — they torch fat and build functional fitness.

“Being able to move in different directions and planes challenges your brain and coordination and keeps you prepared for anything,” says Krav Maga expert Jarrett Arthur. “It also mixes things up to keep you motivated and help prevent boredom.”

If this isn’t enough to spark your interest, the mental benefits of kicking and punching your way through workouts might. Consistently training in this manner can help you feel strong — and confident.

“When you’re able to express your body in powerful ways, you’re going to feel more powerful. You literally are more powerful. When you realize you can kick, punch, and move quickly, you have confidence in your body and trust your body more,” Arthur explains. “This becomes more of a way of life than just how you feel at the end of a workout.”

She believes this “way of life” is actually what our bodies are meant to experience as humans. “We’re meant to be explosive, to be strong,” says Arthur, who created the following workout with business partner and fellow Krav Maga expert Jennie Trower.

“This type of workout is a way to really feel the relationship you have with your body and tap into fundamental movements we were born with to help us survive.”

Warm-up

Before starting this workout, perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic, full-body movement such as planks and inchworms. Foam-roll tight areas of your body as needed.

The Workout

Perform these exercises as a circuit, completing one set of each in succession until you complete all six moves. Repeat the circuit three to five times, resting 60 to 90 seconds between rounds.

Woodchopper

Improves core power as well as hip extension and strength through rotation.

WoodchopperIllustrations by Kveta
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips, and knees slightly bent. Inhale, and brace your core.
  • Exhale as you rotate to your right, extending through both legs and allowing your left foot to pivot as you raise your arms up over your right shoulder. Keep your core engaged and ribs tucked down to avoid hyperextending your lower back.
  • Inhale as you reverse the motion: Rotate to your left, push your hips back, and bend your knees. Shift your weight to your left foot, allowing your right foot to pivot, and squat to lower your hands in a diagonal chopping motion.
  • Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: Don’t lower your hands all the way to the ground.
Make it harder: Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell.

Back Lunge With Kick

Improves single-leg stability and balance, as well as explosiveness through the lower body.

Back Lunge KickIllustrations by Kveta
  • Stand with feet at hip width and hold your hands out in front of you, palms facing out, at face height. Inhale as you step your right foot back, keeping your weight on your left foot and bending your left knee to 90 degrees. Your right knee will be about an inch off the ground at the bottom of the lunge.
  • Exhale as you drive through your left heel to rise to standing. As you rise, bring your right knee up to chest height and then kick your right leg forward, flexing your foot to drive through your heel. Keep your hands in front of you.
  • Inhale as you step your right foot back to return to the bottom of a lunge.
  • Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: Substitute a full lunge with a step back, slightly bending your back knee as you step.
Make it harder: Perform a lunge jump, switching legs between each kick.

Plank and Elbow Jab

Strengthens your core, builds shoulder stability, and improves rotation through your thoracic spine.

Plank Elbow JabIllustrations by Kveta
  • Start in a straight-arm plank position with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and feet slightly wider than your hips.
  • Exhale as you lift your left hand off the ground, bending your left arm completely by bringing your left hand toward your left armpit. Jab your elbow upward and slightly behind you. Follow your elbow with your gaze while keeping your hips squared toward the ground as much as possible.
  •  Inhale as you lower your left hand to the starting position.
  • Repeat, this time lifting the right hand. Alternate sides for a total of 12 reps.

Make it easier: Perform this exercise on your knees, forming a straight line from your knees to the top of your head.
Make it harder: Keep your feet together.

Leg Sweep

Challenges your mobility, core strength, and shoulder and hip stability.

Leg SweepIllustrations by Kveta
  • From standing, place your right hand on the ground, directly beneath your shoulder, with fingers pointing away from the side of your body. Place your left foot directly beneath your left shoulder and in line with your right hand.
  • Place your right knee on the ground, directly beneath your right hip. Position your left elbow just inside of your left leg.
  • Exhale as you lift your right knee off the ground and thread your right leg forward through the space created between your right hand and left foot. Keep your right leg elevated.
  • Inhale as you return your leg to the starting position.
  • Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: After sweeping your leg forward, allow your foot to rest on the ground (instead of keeping it elevated) before bringing your knee back to the starting position. Also try placing your resting hand on a slightly elevated surface, such as a yoga block.
Make it harder: Instead of dropping your knee to the ground between reps, extend your leg all the way backward, tapping only your foot on the ground.

180-Degree Squat Jump

Improves lower-body strength and power, while training you to become more agile during explosive movements.

Squat JumpIllustrations by Kveta
  • Stand with your feet at about hip width. Inhale as you push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat. Simultaneously swing your arms backward.
  • Exhale as you extend through your hips and swing your arms forward to jump off the ground while rotating 180 degrees to your right.
  • Land softly on the balls of your feet and allow your arms to swing back as you sink back onto your heels.
  • Repeat, jumping to your left to return to the starting position. This counts as two reps.
  • This time, jump and rotate 180 degrees to your left, then 180
    degrees to your right to return to the starting position.
  • Alternate sides, each time returning to face forward, for a total of 12 jumps (six per side).

Make it easier: Perform a 90-degree jump to one side or substitute with a squat and a pivot.

Hip Bridge With Front Kick

Trains you to generate power while extending your hips, a building block of many sports and important for everyday movement.

Hip Bridge Front KickIllustrations by Kveta
  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lifting your left foot off the ground, bring your left knee all the way in toward your chest.
  • On an exhale, drive your right heel into the ground to lift your hips off the ground, keeping your spine neutral (ribs pressed downward) and hips level. You should feel your right glute and hamstring muscles engage.
  • As your hips begin to come off the ground, forcefully kick your left leg forward, driving through your heel. Maintain a slight knee bend at full extension to avoid hyperextending your knee.
  • Inhale as you lower your hips back toward the ground (tap the ground, but don’t rest) and draw your left knee back into a bent position.
  • Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: Reset between each rep, allowing your back to briefly rest on the ground.
Make it harder: Keep your elbows off the ground.

Illustrations by Kveta

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WEB EXTRA!

Bonus Self-Defense-Inspired Moves

Burpee

Getting up and down from the ground quickly is an important functional movement for self-defense and for life. Also, this is a full-body move that provides great metabolic benefits.

  • Stand with your feet at hip width, gazing forward.
  • Push your hips back and bend your knees to place your hands on the ground in front of you.
  • Inhale as you jump your feet back into a plank position with feet wide, keeping tension through your core.
  • Exhale as you jump your feet forward to your hands. Rise to standing.
  • Perform 12 repetitions.

Make it easier: Step one foot at a time backward and then forward instead of jumping.
Make it harder: Add a jump each time you come to standing.

High Knees

As you tire, this finisher exercise recruits your biggest muscle groups and challenges you to eke out one last bout of work.

  • Perform 30 to 60 seconds of “high knees” (quickly drawing your knees up toward your chest).

Alternatives: sprint intervals, jump rope, or row.


 

Nicole Radziszewski is a writer and personal trainer in River Forest, Ill. She blogs at www.mamasgottamove.com.

Illustrations by Kveta

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