Kickboxing For Beginners

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Kickboxing, also referred to as cardio kickboxing or boxing aerobics, is a mix of boxing, martial arts and aerobics that really packs a workout wallop. Because it involves both the muscles of the upper and lower body, as well as the core, you get a great all-around workout in a short amount of time. A typical class begins with some stretches and a light cardiovascular warm-up including push-ups and jumping jacks. The remainder of the class should be comprised of a series of repetitive punches, alternating hand-strikes and kicks -- typically switching between all three -- followed at the end by some kind of cool down/floor work/stretching combo. "Unlike many other forms of cardiovascular workouts like running, cycling or the elliptical trainer which are heavily concentrated on the lower extremities, kickboxing uses everything you've got," says fitness expert Keli Roberts, star of 'Fat Burning Kickboxing Workout for Dummies' DVD and an IDEA International Instructor of the Year. "It's a very efficient form of exercise because it really strengthens your body in a short amount of time."

According to the American Council on Exercise, this sweat-intensive workout will incinerate about 350-450 calories/hour. "The caloric expenditure on kickboxing is big because your heart rate is high and you're working with all of your muscles," says Roberts. The "burn" potential of kickboxing is one reason this workout routinely attracts scores of hard-body wannabes, but there are other physiological benefits as well. "It's a functional workout because you're moving the body as an integrated whole so it develops good functional strength, balance and coordination," says Roberts. And did we mention toning? It firms the arms, shoulders, core, hips, and legs...all in one workout.

While the benefits of cardio kickboxing are many, because it's such strenuous exercise the risks for beginners are also higher. Roberts advises that people with back or joint problems (like arthritis) avoid this workout. But the biggest issue for knockout neophytes is that they try to do too much too soon. "Kickboxing is strenuous and the problem with a sedentary person getting into a kickboxing program is that they end up in over their heads...trying to do something that's too hard for them," says Roberts. A good way to ease in is by attending only part of the class. "An hour of kickboxing is too much for someone new so start off with just a little and build up gradually," says Roberts. Tell the instructor ahead of time that you're not going to stay, make sure you're there for the warm-up, complete 15 to 20 minutes of the cardio portion and then leave, giving yourself a stretch on the way out.

There is one thing that cannot be stressed enough to new kickboxing students -- technique, technique, technique! "Punching and kicking are somewhat violent on the body," warns Roberts. "Because the positions are somewhat extreme, when they're done incorrectly people can hurt themselves!"

Five Kickboxing Mistakes to Avoid:

1. Never fully extend or lock-out a joint while punching or kicking.

2. Always pivot the supporting heel to point in the direction of the kicking leg when doing a roundhouse or side-kick (or risk tearing knee ligaments).

3. Don't try to kick too high. Keep it down until gaining familiarity with the moves and increasing flexibility.

4. Never wear/hold weights when throwing punches -- this puts delicate joints in danger.

5. Avoid getting caught up in the group excitement and exercising too hard. Beginners should find a level that's appropriate for them and then gradually work up to a whole class.

If your gym has Intro to Kickboxing on the schedule, by all means take it! If not, Roberts suggests learning the fundamental moves beforehand either from an instructor or by watching a really good DVD that takes you through the form points of each punch and kick. That way when you do join a kickboxing class, you'll be ready to workout instead of struggling to keep up.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a certified fitness instructor and health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in Prevention, Women’s Health, Weight Watchers, and Fitness magazines.

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