CrossFit Plus MMA Equals One Intense Workout

Boxer and personal trainer Ed Rush takes STACK through a crazy hybrid workout.

I recently had the privilege of working out under the supervision of Ed Rush, a former boxer and lawyer-turned-personal trainer. Founder of In Fighting Shape, Rush merges high-intensity interval training, functional movements and CrossFit together with MMA and boxing exercises.

When I walked into the studio, the first thing I saw was a massive tire. Having seen many videos of pro athletes flipping tires, I immediately thought, "Yeah, I'm done for."

"We're not going to be talking about your dog or cat in between reps," Rush said.

Turns out I had it wrong—I wasn't instructed to lift any tires. Instead, our small group performed Sledgehammer Swings, an exercise recently popularized by CrossFit. I was directed to swing the hammer over one shoulder and use my body weight to slam it down onto the tire, then alternate shoulders.

The Hammer Swing was just one exercise in a circuit. We also performed Weighted Squats, modified from a Clean and Press, with a bar geared to the floor on one end. Rush called them "Renegade Squats." Since the bar is angled to your body (with the weight on the end), it does not put pressure on your spine like it does when it sits on the back of your neck.

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The final exercise in the series was Muay Thai Knee Kicks—one round of kicking followed by a round of holding the pad for a partner.

"The way you make a fighter is through pressure and repetition," Rush said. "Once you learn to throw a punch correctly, then you can step toward them—that pressure aspect. As they get more and more reps in, each time the pressure's a little bit higher."

In Fighting Shape

I'm an avid gym-goer, but these three movements took some getting used to. The Hammer Swing requires you to master the motion before you give it all you've got. Because of a neck and back condition, I don't do too many Weighted Squats, but I was ultimately able to perform them because of the way the weight was situated. As for the fighting exercise, it was just as challenging to hold the pad while my partner kicked it as it was to kick it myself. I had to clench my core to keep from moving too much, as my partner put all her force behind her kicks and powered into me.

As much as this circuit made my heart rate soar, the real challenge came from the atypical warm-up. While balancing on the flat side of a BOSU ball, Rush demonstrated a Single RDL-like motion (not using any momentum) leading into an Overhead Press with a 20- or 30-pound kettlebell. He made it look easy, but I anticipated having some balance trouble because of my weak ankles. I wasn't even able to stand on one leg supporting just my body weight without my leg convulsing like a horse shaking off a horde of flies. Finally, I had to complete the exercise standing on the floor.

"It all starts with the foot," Rush said. " The first time you come through, you might feel it in your calf. The second time, in the bottom of the foot, then your butt, all the way up your body. Where you feel it most is a signal that that's the weak link and something we need to address."

I asked Rush why he was drawn to CrossFit in the first place, since he had primarily been a boxing trainer. "The personalities it attracted were the same type of folks who came to my boxing classes, people who are driven and want to push themselves hard," he replied.

Rush offers small group training sessions at Complete Body in the Flatiron district of New York City. He described the training as "twice the workout for half the cost"—more intimate and personal than a regular full-sized class, but within CrossFit's supportive and competitive environment.

"CrossFit is great," Rush said. "The problem sometimes is that people have in their heads that everything has to be done for time. For example, the movement we did initially today is not a speed movement, which would be a problem in a lot of CrossFit classes. Deadlifts should not be done fast; it's more important that you do the movement properly."

I was ready for another go through the exercise series, but we stopped for the day after one round. We started slowly so that fatigue would not impair our form.

Rush's staff finished the session with a boxing demonstration. "Boxing has a lot of intricacies that go into each single movement," Rush said. "But you're given a little bit of time. After the fifth or 10th session, you're throwing combinations, and you're like, 'how did I get here?'"

For examples of how Rush combines and alternates exercise disciplines, check out the videos below:

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