Capoeira's origins stretch back about four centuries to a fluid martial arts practice developed in Angola on the west coast of Africa. Slaves brought the moves to the Americas where capoeira was disguised as a dance to shield its self-defense techniques from plantation overseers. In Brazil, capoeira developed into a complex, musically defined hybrid of martial arts and dance. Try capoeira workouts to intensify your fitness routine.
Capoeira classes are fast-paced, playful and set to music. You work out in intervals -- intense cardio moves are mixed with weight-bearing exercises using your own body weight. Capoeiristas go nonstop in a powerful, flowing choreography combining classic moves to tell a story, exhibit skill and engage all the players. Workouts that last about an hour open with warm-up movement games, progress to learning-specific exercises, integrate those moves into sequences and finish in a performance circle called a roda. Two people face off inside the roda, demonstrating technique, as the rest of the class sings, claps and plays instruments like cowbells, tambourines, drums and the Brazilian berimbau, a folk string instrument. Different studios tailor their own approaches to workouts, from hip-hop vibe to energetic martial arts lesson to contemporary dance class. Most offer classes six or seven days a week -- the more you attend, the faster you increase your fitness and learn how to play. Capoeira will reacquaint you with a few muscles you forgot you have.
Gingas and Esquivas
One of capoeira's basic moves, the ginga, is side-to-side footwork that's a little lunge, a little dance step and a lot of oppositional arm and leg action plus weight shifting. You develop stability and a low center of gravity doing ginga, while keeping to the rhythm of the music and staying aware of your form. From ginga, transition to low moves like cocorinha -- a defensive squat -- spinning kicks and esquivas -- defensive dodges that protect your head and torso while getting you out of the way of an attack. The esquiva lateral is a sideways escape step in which you duck under an opponent's kicking leg as you prepare to deliver your own kick. Improving technique boosts your confidence so that you begin to "dance" the moves in your own patterns inside the roda, spurred on by the encouragement, or the friendly rivalry, of the rest of the group.
Capoeira and Cardio
Capoeira provides an intense cardio workout that can raise your fitness level and make you feel good. Aerobic activity lowers stress and releases endorphins, boosting your mood, energy and metabolism. Constant movement in capoeira exercises all of your large muscles, flexes your torso, strengthens your core and engages smaller muscles to help you balance as you shift weight. The Mayo Clinic points out that aerobic exercise helps you to lose weight, increase stamina, lower your risk for chronic illnesses and enhance immunity. It strengthens your heart and other muscles, keeps your mind sharp and your arteries clear and increases your lifespan. You'll be learning a useful martial art, which is as advantageous for self-care and self-confidence as it is for self-defense.
Conditioning for Capoeira
You don't need special skills or training for a beginner class, although a sense of adventure and good aerobic fitness will enhance your experience. Get an edge with capoeira butterfly twists, which are 360-degree turns with your legs flung around in mid-air, and scorpion kicks, upward thrusts into a handstand curved into a backbend. To warm up, do pre-class conditioning in your gym or yoga studio. Back bridges and yoga upward bows prepare you for the capoeira ponte move, a complete back bend supported on flat palms and half-toes that buys you time to locate your opponent. Extended triangle pose and intense side stretch in yoga will flex your side muscles for rolé, a common capoeira rolling move used for traveling in the roda as you come out of ginga or equiva. Cartwheels, deep squats and handstands are good preparation for a capoeira workout, which can resemble a B-boy dance routine. "Playing" capoeira mimics some of the moves of breaking, the original hip-hop style, in which dancers known as B-boys lunge, somersault in midair and shift weight from feet to hands and back.
- Black Belt magazine: Capoeira: The Dance Art of Martial Arts
- Faze Magazine: Capoiera
- Dance Magazine: Learning a New Game, Mistakes Encouraged
- MayoClinic.com: What Aerobic Exercise Does for Your Health
- Abada Capoeira: About Capoeiora
- Capoeira 100: An Illustrated Guide to the Essential Movements and Techniques; Gerard Taylor
- Yoga Journal: Standing Poses
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .