Thrive: Grab the Gloves for a Knockout Workout

Punch things up at Top Tier MMA.

 photo by renee rosensteel

I have recently come to the conclusion that my workout routine needs some street cred.

That way, when someone proposes, “Let’s take a Zumba class tonight,” I can reply, “Sorry, can’t. I’m doing mixed martial arts.”

My inner circle is skeptical. “Uh, you know that’s like, full-body combat, right?” cautions a well-intentioned pal.

“Duh,” I reply before pausing. “Wait, you think they’ll actually punch me?”

So I call Top Tier MMA on Camp Horne Road, run by Mike Willus and brothers Josh and Justin Erdner, all pro fighters. Once I get the lowdown (and assurances I'm not going to get KO’d), I arrive a few days later at their facility.

Inside stand half a dozen guys and one woman, all of varying fitness levels. A black mat, freshly sanitized, occupies most of the floor. In one corner hangs a handful of punching bags, in the other stands a cage.

“Put me in,” I say, taking off my shoes, thankful for a recent pedicure.

“We ease people into things, especially with contact,” says Josh, looking amused. “We’re not just going to throw you into the cage.”

After signing a waiver, we warm up. With the Dropkick Murphys blasting, we stretch, work on core strengthening, try buddy push-ups and perform swivels to open our hips. Afterward, Justin takes me aside to learn basic punches.

“Don’t give me the pink gloves,” I insist.

Helping me into a pair of black Rivals, he offers this advice: “Always keep your gloves up. Ideally, at your eyebrows.”

At the bag, he patiently walks me through jabs, crosses, uppercuts and hooks. “Jabs are for speed. Everything in your body explodes up at the same time in an upper cut,” he says. Once he’s satisfied I’ve got it, he encourages me to pound away, which I do with wild abandon.  

We then hit the mat to learn a submission hold. He gets down on his back. I’m over him on all fours. I can imagine how this looks. He shows me what to do. I comply, taking a few seconds to realize the tapping on my back means, “OK, you’re about to pop my shoulder out,” not “Good job!”  

With a few minutes left, it’s time to Burn Out: pummeling the bag before dropping to the floor, burpee-style, whenever Josh yells “Sprawl!”

“Are you breathing heavy?” he smiles as I pound away, nodding.

“You better,” he laughs.

Verdict: This was the best stress-relieving upper body workout of all time. You needn’t be pursuing a career in the cage to reap the benefits. All skill levels, regardless of gender, are welcome.

Top Tier Gym
Monday-Thursday 6-7 p.m. and Saturday 1-2 pm; Drop-ins are $15 per class.
(300 Camp Horne Road, Ohio Township; 412/766-3120,

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