Here are two reasons people choose Capoeira to get them into shape. The first is that you’re bored of going to the gym! The lack of motivation, having no sense of tribe or community. You might wonder if boring yourself to death is worth the aesthetics gains you hope to achieve. The other reason is that your weekly zumba or soul cycle class is finally getting on your nerves. You sweat, but that’s about it. If you’re feeling this way, Capoeira is an alternative you might never have considered.
Yes! If you train Capoeira you will get in great shape. Capoeira is unique in that it trains your whole body, from you brain to your feet. Not only do you physically get into great shape with an endless variety of workouts, but you learn other concepts that are important to your physical wellbeing. Here are 10 ways that Capoeira will work you out and get you into amazing shape.
I decided to start with rhythm because it is at the crux of what makes Capoeira so unique. Capoeira has its own music that is created with instruments that are native to the people of Africa. The rhythm speaks to the ancestors who were brought over by the portuguese and brought along with them their traditions, culture, and their music.
Music is what makes Capoeira unique to other forms of martial arts and if you’ve ever been to a concert you’ll understand the influence that music can have on a group of people. Below is a Capoeira roda (circle) where you can feel the sudden upswing in energy as everyone starts getting into the music. People love to make the excuse that they don’t have rhythm and therefore they can’t do “X”, but rhythm is something that is learned. Learning rhythm is like training a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Once you’ve practiced doing capoeira you’ll start to FEEL the music and not just hear it in the background.
Just watch this video below and how the music can get the crowd and the people playing hyped. Think back on the last concert you’ve been to. That’s just a taste of how you feel in the Capoeira roda.
2. Upper Body Strength
In terms of movement on the ground, Capoeira is KING! Some people might point out Jiu Jitsu and how much time they spend on the floor, but jiu jitsu is occupied with submissions while Capoeira is preoccupied with movement. Just try to mountain climbers for more than a minute and you’ll understand how difficult it is to move low to the ground. There is a massive vocabulary to the low movements Capoeira uses and it is a tremendous workout for the back, the core, and the arms. The majority of movements taught in class anyone can do on day one. However there are many other exciting movements that after some time training, can be unlocked. When you start Capoeira, you’ll be thinking about how you can start to build your strength so you can do more advanced movements.
Just to show how popular Capoeira is around the world, here is a video of an awesome Capoeirista from Israel who did a tutorial on an intermediate movement called Macaquinho. The movement is not something you’ll do on the first day, but is something that you can aspire to after a bit of training.
3. Lower Body Strength
When you think of Capoeira you probably first think of the lower body and you’re right to think that this is the hardest hit muscle group. Everything in your lower body fires up within 10 minutes of a Capoeira class. The day after your first Capoeira class you’ll be sore in places you didn’t know it was possible to be sore in. If you want to build up your legs, there are few other activities that will build the same quality of muscle that you get from Capoeira.
One of the main differences between Capoeira and other martial arts is that in Capoeira the response to most attacks is to dodge. You can see in boxing how, some attacks are avoided by bobbing and weaving. In Capoeira, there is a similar principle. Instead of blocking a kick with your arms, the majority of attacks are avoided by doing esquivas. Esquiva is portuguese for dodge. In the video below you can see an old sequence that was created by Mestre Bimba in the 1930’s to teach new Capoeiristas the principles of doing an attack and doing a esquiva in response. You can also see how much the legs are involved, from doing kicks, squatting down(esquiva), and doing a cartwheel in the end.
Capoeira does not require you to be flexible, but you will get flexible over time. Classes usually involve light stretches in the beginning, longer stretches at the end, and some dynamic stretches throughout the class. Will you be as flexible as someone who does yoga? Yes, but you will need to do some work at home. Yoga has a much heavier emphasis on stretching and for you to be as flexible as someone who does yoga, you’ll need to stretch after class. That being said, the majority of people will become more flexible from doing Capoeira.
As an added bonus to flexibility, Capoeira practitioners often focus their attention on mobility rather than flexibility. Having mobility strength and control in a stretched position. This is invaluable as you move and transition between different positions. This is super important if you want to kick high because if you don’t have enough mobility, you won’t be able to control the kicks you dish out. Even if you’re very flexible, the lack of control is what can lead to unsmooth movement and even injury.
A principle of improving your cardio is to keep your heart rate up to a certain level for an extended period of time. Once you practice doing this a few times, you’ll benefit from working out your cardio/vascular system. This includes a stronger heart, having more energy, and being able to work out for longer.
I had a student recently tell me that she was really excited to try Capoeira because she didn’t like the repetitive nature of her cycle class. Some people love their cycling classes as they are, but others want more variety in their cardio workout find a home in Capoeira. A lot of people do Capoeira as a way for them to get fit and to lose weight. Students train their cardio from constantly moving. Capoeira is not a martial art that can be done standing still. You have to keep moving with kicks, ground movements, esquivas, etc. meaning that you’ll be keeping your heart rate high and for extended periods of time
I find it funny how people talk about how ditzy and uncoordinated they are! It’s true that a lot of people come to Capoeira looking like drunk toddlers, but thankfully this isn’t a reason to not do Capoeira. Instead, this should be the reason you say to yourself, “Man! I need to start doing Capoeira!”. Practicing Capoeira is an amazing way to gain improve the connection between your brain and your body, improving your coordination.
There is a famous Brazilian song that say, “Capoeira nao cai, mas se um dia ele cai, cai bem”. This translates literally to “Capoeiristas don’t fall, and if they fall, they fall with style”. The significance of this phrase is that Capoeiristas have coordination and control where no one else does. Most high level athletes who lose their balance, usually do so and fall flat on their butts. In Capoeira, we train to stay in control no matter what movement we’re doing. You can be on your fee, your hands, or your head and the point is to have control the whole time.
There are many arts that promote balance. Yoga, Parkour, dance, ballet, gymnastics, etc. Balance is crucial to your fitness because it deals with stabilizing muscle groups that are often ignored when you go to the gym. Those small muscles stabilize your joints, keep them healthy, and allow you to push yourself harder and for a longer amount of time. Without strengthening your stabilizing muscles, your body will be like a house of cards waiting to be blown down by the slightest wind.
One of the first things you realize after taking a capoeira class is just how sore you are in random areas. You might not have ever felt sore in a certain part of your leg/arms/back/etc. before, which tells you that you probably don’t work it out.This is a red light that there is a weak link in you physique that could be holding you back or could put you at risk of injury if you don’t strengthen it. Thankfully you’re going to Capoeira and are getting that fixed. Many beginners lack strength in these smaller muscles and lose balance as they kick. This is very common and is the main reason Capoeiraistas have such great balance inside and outside a Capoeira context.
8. Spatial Awareness
Spatial awareness is understanding how move around the space you are in. the space you are in and other objects that are present in that space. Understanding things like distance and how it relates to your body can easily be translated into sports and other disciplines. In capoeira we play with this concept a lot when we play the game of Capoeira with someone.
Whenever you play Capoeira, you’re playing with another person. Understanding how to intertwine the movements of yourself and your partner is what allows you to play a beautiful game. In the games below you can see these Capeoristas use the space to the best of their abilities. They play with one another, throwing kicks whenever they can, but they also move around in a way that keeps them inside the limits of the roda. The result is a beautiful game that challenges each person playing and is amazing to watch.
Capoeira is IMPROVISED! Most people don’t know this when they first see Capoeira. They think it’s a carefully referessed sequence of exchanges, but in fact the two people are making it up as they go. The one person has no idea what the other will do, but they practice enough to react with precision and confidence. Everyone has a creative side, and just like rhythm, it’s a muscle that needs to be exercised. Nobody has a total lack of creativity. If you feel that way, it’s likely you don’t give yourself enough chances to express your creativity. Capoeira is a great way to improve those creativity muscles in your brain and in your body.
One of the benefits of Capoeira the never ending variety in your workout help you get stronger, more flexible, faster, while working out your brain to register all the new movements. Even with movements that are trained until they become second nature, the way you apply them is where the need to be creative comes into place. Sometimes a movement works in one scenario works, but does not in another. The depends on the person you and the person you’re playing with. Maybe they’re tall , short, are fast, etc. It’s up to you to adapt and solve the puzzle that is the other person.
10. Less Stress
Stress can be a killer. If there is too much of it in your life, you might find yourself suffering from a number of different diseases.
People are different with how they deal with stress. Some people like to go within and deal with it alone, but in my experience working with different people, most benefit from participating in a community event. This past weekend we had a chance to make a roda with a bunch of people from different local Capoeira groups. I didn’t know everyone, but all the people who came brought some food and we made a picnic in the park. We also played a ton of Capoeira.
Between the food and Capoeira, everyone got to meet new people and make friends. Some people have a hard time making friends and find themselves hanging out with people from high school, college, and work. Most people don’t make new friends, but this isn’t the case in Capoeira. We make new friends every day with people from all over the world. After years of training Capoeira, I have friends in Israel, Brazil, France, Germany, Nigeria, Japan, China, India, Turkey, Russia, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, and many more countries; and this has definitely helped my mental state because I know, no matter where I go, I have a place I will be welcome. That’s a pretty powerful thing that I think is downplayed in the fitness world. Community and friendships!
11. Never Ending Curiosity
One of the most interesting aspects about Capoeira is that the art is incredibly broad and goes in incredible focused. There is an incredible variety of movement and endless complexity that can be stacked on top of the most simple movements. Other arts tend to be either more narrow or more broad in their movement options. Depending on what you like, you might go for something more narrow and focused like hand-balancing. On the other end of the spectrum you have something like zumba which is more broad in its movements, but unfocused.
Capoeira has a tremendous number of movement options, making the art incredibly broad. At the same time, there are many elements that you can go in depth learning about, making Capoeira focused. Like hand balancing, you can spend years practicing a single advanced movement, and like zumba, you can spend years trying out all kinds of different stuff. There is so much to learn in Capoeira, you are almost guaranteed to find something you are good at and bad at. For you, this could be the music, the movements, acrobatics, leadership, etc. There is plenty to choose from, but what I love is that Capoeiristas are always challenged to go outside of their comfort zone and grow as movers, athletes, and as people.
Capoeira isn’t cookie cutter fitness. People who practice this amazing art are some of the most amazing movers and fitness conscious people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and go to the closest Capoeira class. And then keep going until you’re as ripped and shredded as you want to be.