25 Jun 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2013 issue 5

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Leisure Management - Think out of the box

Combat sports

Think out of the box

Combat sports are great for the physique and growing in popularity, but do they have a place in the mainstream? Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson
The launch of Boxing Yoga at Total Boxer is said to be an industry first
Gymbox: Classes aren’t watered down for female members
Many classes at Combat Ready are non-contact activities
Working out with punch bags can be a great stress reliever

For a 30-something mum looking to get back into shape after a couple of babies, the idea of a boxing class might seem a bit intimidating – especially as google searches throw up black-bordered websites with aggressive-looking fighters. However, women like these are among those fuelling the trend towards boxing as a mainstream fitness activity: they have found the core work has relieved their bad backs, while the training as a whole has proved an excellent stress-buster that makes them feel empowered. The ‘badass’ attitude of combat sports isn’t, it seems, as offputting as one might think.

MMA is now reportedly the fastest-growing sport in the world, while the Brits’ Olympic boxing success has piqued the interest of many. Meanwhile, over the past year, personal trainers who specialise in combat training and who either fight or train fighters themselves say they’ve been inundated with work.

According to the experts, it’s the dramatic results that can be achieved with combat training that’s the biggest selling point. As a result, all the operators we spoke to reported social media and word of mouth, based on excellent results, as the main drivers of their business. Clearly, once people try combat sports, they get hooked on the fun, effective workouts. Sessions are also very much in keeping with current trends: combat classes tend to be offered as small group training, and the workouts tend to be short and sharp.

We speak to a selection of combat-focused clubs across the UK to understand how they are reaching out to new audiences…

Total boxer: female-friendly
Having recently celebrated its first birthday, north London-based boxing club Total Boxer is launching what it says is an industry first this month: Boxing Yoga.

Through his experience as a boxing coach, club owner Matt Garcia had noticed more people becoming interested in training but not wanting to fight, as well as more women getting involved. He therefore came up with the idea to marry boxing with yoga, working extensively with boxing, martial arts and yoga instructors to integrate the two disciplines into a challenging and effective workout. Comprising flowing, choreographed yoga postures with boxing postures, the class offers a strengthening and stretching workout.

“It encapsulates what we’re about: get fit, not hit,” says Garcia. “We’re taking a holistic approach to boxing.” Going forward, Garcia will be offering teacher training sessions and may introduce a grading scheme.

From the outset, the club was designed to be welcoming to women, from the promotional material featuring a friendly female face to the airy studio flooded with natural light.

Sixty per cent of those registered with the club are women. Nurses and teachers are among the regulars, attracted by the fitness skills classes that include the main components of boxing, but without the risk of getting punched. “People love the rope work, the shadow boxing and hitting pads,” says Garcia. “We’ve stripped out the intimidation and ego.”

The training shed: community spirit
The Training Shed in Daventry is a functional training club that strays into other areas including boxing, MMA, boxercise, group cycling, circuits, bootcamps and Olympic weightlifting. An ABA coach is used to deliver the group boxing sessions, which ensures the quality and authenticity of the experience; the club’s owner Tom Haynes stresses the importance of providing top-quality instruction when running a combat sports programme.

Getting out into the community has proved the best way of generating interest in the club’s offering, leading to recommendations via word-of-mouth and social media. For example, teenagers at a local academy who have fallen out of the school system come in once a week to do a boxing session, in order to learn how to use their energy in a more positive way.

Daventry rugby team has also used boxing to provide its players with training on how to react in pressure situations. “In our boxing sessions, players had to block punches being thrown at them but weren’t allowed to react,” says Haynes. “Knowing how to keep calm under pressure can help a team win a game.”

The club is supplied by sister company Indigo23, with kit including professional heavy punch bags, mitts, pads, skipping ropes, battling ropes, dumbbells for shadow boxing, kick shields, a speedball platform and a floor-ceiling ball, as well as tyres and hammers for conditioning drills and circuits.

Combat ready: keep some attitude
Combat Ready and Brighton Kettlebells are combat training brands developed by boxing trainer Christian Vila, who operates in Brighton. With a reputation for working with fighters, including Oli Thompson, Vila found he was attracting interest from the mainstream for his strength and conditioning workouts.

“People are starting to realise the benefits of boxing training,” he says. “They see the athletic build you can get and they want to look that way. Boxing uses the body in a natural way, plus it’s primal, good fun and bashing pads is a great stress reliever.”

One of Vila’s most popular classes is Combat Strength, which includes 20 minutes of pad work and 20 minutes of strength and conditioning. It doesn’t involve any contact. Boxing moves are combined with functional training using Jordan equipment such as tyres, sledgehammers, ropes, hammers and pull-up rigs.

“I see this as the future of gyms: moving away from machines and towards functional training, with shorter, more intense workouts,” says Vila. “It’s fun and it gets results. However, gyms need to be careful to strike a balance between making it appealing and unintimidating and not watering it down too much. There does need to be a bit of grunge and attitude with combat sports.”

Gymbox: create a vibe
“We’ve noticed an upsurge in interest in combat sports from women, especially since the Olympics,” says David Cooper, operations director at Gymbox. “About 40 per cent of members are female and we don’t water the classes down for them. Popularity has grown because combat sports doesn’t just offer a cardio or a resistance workout – it encompasses everything: speed, power and endurance. People improve co-ordination and confidence through doing these classes.”

Equipment includes Olympic-sized boxing rings, MMA cages and punch bags, plus functional training kit from Escape. Cooper’s advice is to make sure the combat area is visible, as it will create a buzz in the club and encourage other members to give it a go.

Between 70 and 80 per cent of combat classes are non-contact, geared towards exercise, but real boxing and MMA is also on offer. Gymbox helps to build awareness of its concept by running white collar boxing events, and has found social media a great marketing tool.

Fight science: feeder sessions
Nick ‘Head Hunter’ Chapman set up Fight Science in Aldershot, Hampshire, at the start of 2012. The club is sponsored by Life Fitness, which also provided a range of equipment. Spread over 1,860sq m (20,000sq ft), the club offers boxing, MMA, CrossFit, power lifting and Olympic lifting, with 15 martial arts classes each week. It’s also a venue for MMA shows.

“I was so busy as a personal trainer that I had to start employing staff. However, I was spending so much in rent at other clubs that I decided it was more cost-effective to open my own club,” says Chapman. “The business has gone crazy, with thousands of people coming through each week.”

Chapman says a lot of his following is as a result of his success as a fighter. However, he marketed heavily when he launched, with a £30,000 campaign involving advertising, leaflet drops, guerrilla advertising and social media. Now word-of-mouth effectively does the marketing, while running shows also helps drive awareness of the club.

Acknowledging that the mainstream market might find the club intimidating, he set up separate businesses – branded Powerfit and Crossfit – to get people through the doors and act as feeder sessions.

“Once they realise it’s a friendly, ego-free environment they keep coming,” he says. “People like the way fighters look and perform and want to emulate that. I believe everyone either loves combat sports or doesn’t know about it yet!”

1. Coaches are of paramount importance. To offer an authentic experience, make sure they are well qualified and have experience of either fighting or coaching a fighter. If you don’t have the expertise in-house, bring in a freelancer and charge for the classes separately.
2. Make it scaleable so people see progression. Offer beginner, intermediate and advanced classes.
3. Offer an open day or taster sessions.
4. Ensure people know they are training like fighters, but not being trained to be fighters.
5. If you want to appeal to the female market, use them in the promotional material.
6. If the brand images are very different, combat training can be launched as a sub-brand to your existing business.
7. Work the social media channels.
8. Link up with clubs in the community and offer them combat training sessions.
9. Make the combat area visible, so it creates a buzz.
10. Talk to your members, sell them the benefits and persuade them to have a go.

Originally published in Health Club Management 2013 issue 5

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