As our society gets more and more obsessed with efficiency and productivity, as well as scientific methods and technology, there seems to be a growing trend towards “functional training”. Some people don’t want to lift weights because they don’t want to get “big”, others don’t see the point because they know someone who goes to the gym five times a week but isn’t getting any stronger, while a worrying amount think that a large and/or muscular physique or extraordinary performances are the result of performance-enhancing substances (or sometimes just protein shakes) alone.
Meanwhile, people are either interested in what I do because they think it helps with self-defence, or totally uninterested because they “don’t like violence” or they don’t like being sweaty. Many assume it helps me relieve stress. Occasionally I will reply that actually, training stresses me out more – the worrying about being on class on time, the fear of training badly, the self-doubt as to my strength, fitness, or physique. Most of the time I just smile and say I enjoy it.
However, I would argue that I have noticed a number of real-life benefits which I can only attribute to kickboxing, Thai boxing, grappling, and the strength and conditioning training associated with those two disciplines. Some examples are;
I kid you not, I first noticed this when trying to get out of the shower without getting water all over the bathroom floor. Without thinking, I stood on one leg in the bathtub whilst drying my other foot, before putting it down on the dry bathmat and repeating with the other foot. Absolutely would not have been able to do that before I learnt how to kick people. Perhaps a less weird example would be that I can stand on the Tube quite comfortably, although to be honest this just makes it more frustrating when other people come crashing into me all over the place whenever the train shudders slightly.
Likewise, thanks to all the hip stability exercises Ben gets us to do, where you sink into a squat position and “walk” without letting your hips rise, I swear I have gotten better at carrying cups of hot drinks up and down stairs. The other day I even stepped onto the bed with a full cup of tea without spilling it. You may question how relevant this is to every day life, but it’s actually something I do quite often, and saves me trips back and forth (or painful burns and wet patches).
Sprinting up stairs
I am really good at leaving just a minute or two later than I need to leave to catch a train on time. Luckily, I am also getting really good at sprinting up stairs two at a time. This can’t be attributed to anything other than those disgusting sessions where Ben makes us sprint up stairs two at a time. I also recover quicker from this, so that when I do clatter through the closing doors I don’t have to sit in a quiet carriage wheezing and spluttering for 10 minutes.
When I actually pay attention to the world around me, I do react faster than I used to. I positively glowed with pride when my colleague recalled how she didn’t think I could be particularly tough or strong despite my training, until she tripped and I caught her firmly by the arm. I still can’t catch, though, and I doubt I have gotten any better at “Snap”, which makes me think this is a sports-specific adaptation thanks to dozens of repetitions of having to grab someone’s arm before they get to the foot which I have too often left trailing around waiting to be locked and twisted into uncomfortable and harmful positions.
I’m fairly certain there is a reason I have to resort less and less often to my teeth, a dish cloth, or someone else’s strength to open jam jars, and that reason is grappling. This comes in handy with heavy shopping bags too.
After carrying a 10kg box (of protein powder, ironically) for about 15 minutes I felt like I had been defending an armbar for 15 solid minutes… on each arm. Which makes sense, as my arms were palm-up ahead of me with my elbows bent at right angles, carrying the box on my palms and forearms, so pretty much exactly the force your biceps have to exert when defending armbars. I was about to put the box down and take a rest until I realised that.
Which brings me to my last point…
Resilience and determination
Sure I feel pain like anyone else, but unless I am about to cause myself (or be given) a serious injury there is no reason to stop. I get tired walking up the four flights of stairs to the office as well, but I know that the slower I go, the more it will hurt.
So there you go. Plenty of incentives to train hard, but no need to force yourself to run on a treadmill for hours if that’s not your thing. Get out there and do what you enjoy – whether it’s lifting heavy weights, swimming, yoga, or playing a sport with a group of friends. Even before we consider the psychological benefits of keeping fit and active, and without even touching on the overall benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength, anything you do will have some sort of impact on your quality of life, no matter what age you are or whatever your occupation may be. “Not enjoying the gym” and “Not having the time” are no excuses. Get up, get out, have fun, and the rest will take care of itself.
I’d love to hear of the everyday benefits anyone else has experienced from doing sports, mainstream or not. Remember it’s the little things that count!