UP TO THE CHALLENGE: Reporter Alex Therrien gets a martial arts workout - with video

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WHEN I took my first steps on the mats at Gym Xtreme, in Worthing, I knew I was in for one of the most painful hours of my life.

In a slightly misguided attempt to challenge myself, I decided to take part in a mixed martial arts (MMA) class – a sport which combines stand-up fighting, grappling and wrestling.

The sport has grown massively in the last six years under MMA’s biggest organisation, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and has spread to multiple gyms in most cities and towns in the country.

One such place which offers these classes is Gym Xtreme, in Bath Place, which also holds kickboxing, boxing and Kung Fu.

When I arrived there for the class on Thursday, I was joined by a group of young, sporty-looking men and teenagers, who, though friendly and welcoming, reinforced my fears I might be out of my depth.

The instructor, UK kickboxing champion Steve Robinson, ran the class in the absence of the normal teacher and immediately put us through our paces with a warm-up that brought me back to some of my least pleasant memories of PE at school.

Jumping jacks, sprints, push-ups, crunches and non-stop punching sent my heart rate through the roof as my body went into shock – and that was only the beginning.

Once we were well and truly warmed up – or in my case exhausted – Steve started showing us various techniques, including punching and kicking combinations, which we practised with a partner using gloves, shin guards and bags. But these techniques were drilled at a frenetic pace, in a bid to boost conditioning, and were certainly no time for rest.

Thankfully, Steve took pity on me and checked to see I was OK after I pushed myself a little too far on several occasions.

And my sparring partner, the appropriately named 15-year-old Leo Tyson, of Whitebeam Road, Durrington, helped me with the things I was struggling to pick up.

This meant that for beginners and those not yet at the peak of fitness the class was not overwhelming, as it could easily have been.

After getting past the initial feelings of exhaustion and sickness, I began to enjoy the class and was eager to learn more and push myself further.

In fact, perhaps dehydrated and a little delirious, I started to like the idea of full-contact sparring, before Steve sensibly reminded me of the difference between hitting pads and proper fighting: “You get punched in the face”.

Having enjoyed the MMA class, I ended up staying for much of the kickboxing lesson that followed it.

And with my interest piqued, I might just make a return visit to Gym Xtreme for some further punishment soon.

The cost of joining Gym Xtreme’s fight school is £40 and classes cost £6 for an hour session.

For further information, call 01903 236664 or visit www.gym-xtreme.com