I've spent the past hour weaving, jabbing, punching, and kicking. I'm drenched in sweat, my hair is plastered to my forehead, and my cheeks are flushed. No, I haven't just wrestled the remote from my boyfriend, I've just finished a cardio kickboxing class. If you're like me, active but a little less than coordinated, you may have avoided these classes at your gym and opted instead, for the all too familiar classes (read: step, step, and more step). But as I discovered, not only is cardio kickboxing a whole lot more fun than endless sequences of U-turns and basic steps, it's a full-body, highly aerobic workout that gets you in great shape, faster than you can say grapevine.
Cardio kickboxing classes vary from gym to gym but the basic format is generally the same: a series of drills set to music including shadow boxing, various types of kicks, push-ups, jump rope, jumping jacks, shuffling, and punching/kicking combinations. In some classes, instructors use props such as jump ropes, gloves, and speed bags; and in others everything is simulated. Unlike typical aerobics classes, there is no complicated choreography to grasp or intricate routines to commit to memory. What's more, most classes change from week to week, so you're always challenged and never bored.
Kickboxing has slowly evolved into the increasingly popular gym workout it is today. According to Dave Fox, founding director of Gorilla Sports, a gym in San Francisco, boxing was first introduced into aerobics classes. Then, kicking moves borrowed from martial arts were added to work the lower body as well. The result: cardio kickboxing classes as we know them.
Since my regular five-day-a-week routine of walking, weights, and yoga could stand a little mixing up, I decided to try kickboxing for six weeks to see what the hype was all about. Fox told me that if I added one kickboxing class a week to my regular program, in about a month, I would see results such as greater strength and endurance, and better yet, improved muscle tone all over.
And that's why kickboxing has such a growing legion of fans: it's a full-body workout that delivers. During a typical class, you work your calves, thighs, glutes, torso, abs, shoulders, biceps, triceps, deltoids, trapezoids, and back, says Sabrina Bichao, CPT, an aerobics instructor who teaches at several Boston-area gyms. Virtually no body part is left unworked.
I can attest to that fact personally. The day after I was introduced to kickboxing, my whole body, calves to shoulders, ached; it even hurt to laugh. Kickboxing also improves strength, coordination, endurance, and balance. On top of that, it offers a continually changing workout—the key to a better body.
"If you're always doing the same routine, your body will plateau. You need something to challenge it, because your body gets conditioned to the activity," says Bichao.
Results are not reserved for workout novices. In fact, even dedicated gym-goers can expect to see results from kickboxing. That was the case with Margarita Barrios, 24, a graphic designer living in Allston, Massachusetts. Even though she worked out for almost two hours, five days a week, doing everything from group cycling to weights, she couldn't get the definition she wanted in her chest, shoulders, and obliques until she tried her club's version of kickboxing. After just four classes, she's already seen vast improvement.
While kickboxing is much simpler to pick up than say, an aerobics class, plan on spending a few classes getting the moves down. Unlike its fitness class brethren, kickboxing requires no special skills, no rhythm, and best of all, no innate dancing ability (although it does require an ability to block out what you look like while attempting those first few punches and kicks).
"Anyone can do it. There are new people in every class next to people who have been doing it for two years," says Fox.
"You don't have to be super-coordinated," agrees Bichao.
"The first time you take a class that hard, you're just trying to keep up. But by the second class, I noticed a difference. I was more prepared and able to concentrate more on my form," says Barrios.
For me, it took about three classes to feel like I knew what I was doing.
But it only took one class to get me hooked. Here's why: In addition to promising a better body faster, kickboxing is fun. And I don't mean fun as in as-much-fun-as-you-can-have-at-the-gym fun, I mean playing-kick-the-can-when-you-were-a-kid fun. Even in the early classes when I was barely keeping up, I couldn't help but get caught up in the exhilaration of the class. I'm not the only one.
"While spinning is a real individual challenge (you literally close your eyes and it's up to you) kickboxing is sort of a mob mentality. Everyone is having fun, it's like being on a playground," says Barrios.
"There's a lot of energy in the room. Everyone is trying to help each other out, it's not competitive," says Barbara Schmitt, 27, a pharmaceutical salesperson in San Francisco, California.
I got so enthusiastic in one class that I actually unleashed a "Whoop!" a definite first in all my years of gym-going.
The fact that classes are constantly changing (never boring) also contributes to the fun factor. Even after taking kwando (her club's version of kickboxing) twice a week for the past year, Schmitt still finds it fun and challenging.
Of course, the biggest allure of kickboxing is what it can do for your body.
"There's an incredible difference in my shoulders and back muscles," says Susanne H., 28, an accountant from Waltham, Massachusetts, who has taken kickboxing for a year.
Joan O'Connor, 47, a real estate manager in Gloucester, Massachusetts, lost six pounds after six months of weekly classes. "I also gained strength and endurance and really toned my upper body," she says.
For Gene Lyras, 27, a financial analyst in Boston, kickboxing improved his balance and coordination. "And I'm learning to throw punches," he says.
Schmitt finds that the classes have given her better coordination and improved endurance. She's also noticed changes in her upper body, as well as in her legs and glutes.
In my case, after six weeks, not only did I feel stronger and deliver more solid punches and kicks, I noticed a definite difference in my obliques and more definition in that perpetually problematic hamstring and glute area. More important, however, is the way I felt both during and after class. Kickboxing made me feel energetic, more self-confident, and even empowered. Sure, my body was tired afterwards, but my mind was more alert than ever; I'd go back to work and get tons done.
What's more, I'd find myself spontaneously throwing punches in my living room or aiming pretend kicks at my napping (and unsuspecting) boyfriend. I couldn't wait for my next class. I even started lobbying my gym to hold class twice a week, instead of just once.
So while my experiment may be over, my love affair with kickboxing is definitely not. If six classes can return results like these, I can't wait to see what a few months can do.
American Council on Exercise
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
National Institutes of Health