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Kickboxing is the term employed for a group of combat sports that uses mixed martial arts techniques to square off against an opponent. It is derived mainly from karate and incorporates elements of boxing. Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters often use kickboxing techniques. It consists of punches, kicks and offensive knee attacks. 

Cardio kickboxing, or tae bo, is different from this. While kickboxing focuses heavily on technique and involves contact with a sparring partner or opponent, the goal of cardio kickboxing is increasing blood flow and conditioning the body using repetitive movements. You do not need to have precise technique - the workout aims to engage the whole body and all major muscle groups by increasing heart beat and circulation. It is not for fighting or self defense - it is about increasing stamina, fitness, flexibility and to lose weight.

Read more about aerobic exercises.

  1. What is the structure of cardio kickboxing workouts? - What is the structure of cardio kickboxing workouts?
  2. Who is cardio kickboxing most suited to? - Who is cardio kickboxing most suited to?
  3. Health benefits of cardio kickboxing exercises - Health benefits of cardio kickboxing exercises
  4. Kickboxing benefits for heart health - Benefits for heart health
  5. Benefits for stress - Benefits for stress
  6. Kickboxing benefits for sleep - Benefits for sleep
  7. How to do cardio kickboxing exercises - How to do cardio kickboxing exercises
  8. Precautions - Precautions

Cardio kickboxing classes usually take place in gyms and involve practicing with groups. However, you can start on your own at home by following instructors online. 

Workouts tend to involve short intense bouts, usually a minute or two long, of repetitive movements. The movements consist of basic kickboxing movements such as jabs, crosses, hooks and undercuts as well as kicking and kneeing techniques. These may also be interspersed with periods of classical conditioning exercises such as planks or push-ups depending on the instructor.

The aim is to keep moving throughout the workout and burn calories through forceful movements. It can therefore be thought of as a modified cardio workout that includes kickboxing techniques to make it more interesting and engaging.

Read more about HIIT: High-Intensity Interval Training.

While anyone can take on cardio kickboxing, it is ideal for those who are looking to lose weight and those trying to maintain lean muscle. What makes kickboxing stand out is that it leads to better balance, power, flexibility and agility. It is also an appropriate method for older people since it can improve balance and coordination. It is also a cheap way to keep fit since equipment is not usually required; some classes may introduce punching bags but this is optional. 

It is not designed for strength building or body building - weight training exercises are more relevant to that.

While the health benefits of cardio workouts are well known, research dealing specifically with cardio kickboxing shed light on added benefits. A small study with 30 participants compared the effects of kickboxing training with regular cardio exercise. As many as 15 participants did five weeks of kickboxing training, and the remaining 15 did regular cardio exercises like jogging and playing sports like tennis for one hour a day, three days a week.

According to the findings, those in the kickboxing group showed significant improvements in upper body muscle power, aerobic power, anaerobic fitness, fitness, speed and agility. More specifically, those in the kickboxing group improved their upper and lower body strength by 7% and were able to shorten the time taken to run 50 metres by a whole second on average. Those in the kickboxing group also showed improvements in flexibility; reach improved by as much as 2 cm on average. 

Cardio kickboxing is also an effective way to lose weight and cut excess stomach fat. According to the American Council on Exercise, you can lose up to 450 calories in an hour doing intense cardio kickboxing. The effects are comparable to swimming, which is another way of exercising the whole body.

(Read more about the health benefits of swimming).

Other studies have shown that kickboxing has neuromuscular benefits as well. The exercises involve balancing the body when executing punches and kicks, and over time these movements are performed with better form as the person learns to shift their weight accordingly.

Also, research with those suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) has shown that kickboxing exercises increase coordination based on metrics such as improved gait speed and confidence. 

Since cardio kickboxing takes a lot of inspiration from cardio exercises, it is important to look at the benefits of these as well.

According to the American Heart Association, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the five leading causes of cardiovascular disease along with smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal values for blood lipids. 

Read about the benefits of quitting smoking.

Exercises like cardio workouts lead to weight loss and decrease blood pressure. Cardio workouts also lower the amount of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood and increase HDL (good cholesterol). There is also an increase in insulin sensitivity. The muscular function of the heart as well as the body’s ability to utilize oxygen improves. This means that everyday activities can be performed with more energy and feeling less tired. All these factors lead to better heart health.

Read more about high cholesterol.

Since cardio kickboxing is high intensity, it makes your brain release feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. This will make you feel relaxed and more content after the workout. As you get better with the workouts, your confidence will improve as well and you will begin to feel better about yourself.

Also, cardio kickboxing is often done in groups - exercising in groups leads to healthy competition and is also a good way to meet new people and socialize. All these factors will take you away from the everyday stress of life and help you unwind a little.

Read more about stress.

High intensity exercise will make you sleep better as it increases the duration of slow wave, or deep sleep. It is not known exactly how this happens, but research has established that those who exercise regularly tend to have better quality of sleep. 

However, when you exercise matters as well. Exercise spurs the release of endorphins and causes core body temperature to rise - both of which signal to the body to stay awake longer. Therefore, it is best to not do intense exercise at least two hours before sleeping.

Read here on some tips for better sleep.

The beauty of cardio kickboxing exercises is that you easily incorporate some new moves into your conditioning or cardio exercises and make them more fun and challenging to do.

The key in a kickboxing workout is to be in motion throughout, this means to keep shuffling on the balls of your feet as you are transitioning between different moves. Before getting into the workout, it is important to understand some terms first, as you take position sideways, with either your left or the right side facing ahead:

  • Jab: Straight punch with leading arm
  • Cross: Straight punch with the arm behind
  • Uppercut: A punch in the shape of an arc from the floor to the (imaginary) chin of the opponent
  • Hook: A swinging punch which is usually aimed higher, towards the head
  • High knee: Bend the leg and bring the knee up to chest level
  • Front kick: Kick by lifting up leg and straightening the knee
  • Boxer’s shuffle: This is your resting position in which you gently bounce on the balls of your feet and stay in constant motion

Before you start, it is important to do a quick warm-up. Here is a suggestion:

  1. Boxer’s shuffle (20 seconds)
  2. Toe touch kicks (10 reps): Lift your right leg up straight in front and attempt to touch your toe with the outstretched left hand. Repeat with the left foot-right hand combination.
  3. Torso twists (20 reps): Stand with your feet hip width apart and hands on your hips, and twist your upper body from one side to the other. 
  4. Chest expansions (20 reps): Stand straight with your arms outstretched in front of you in line with your chest. Open both arms sideways and take them as far as you can, preferably behind the shoulder line. Return to the original position for a rep. 
  5. Wide arm circles (20 reps): Stretch out your arms on each side parallel to the ground, and make circles without bending the elbows.
  6. Run in place (30 seconds): Stand straight and run on the spot, taking both knees as high as possible and keep the back straight. 

You can add any exercises you like, just remember that the point is to get your blood circulation going and not to exert yourself too much. Next, move on to the kickboxing component. 

Variation 1 

  1. 10 low kicks (both sides)
  2. 10 jabs (both sides)
  3. 10 jumping jacks 
  4. 10 high kicks (both sides)
  5. 10 uppercuts (both sides)

(15 second water break)

  1. 10 jumping jacks
  2. 10 hooks
  3. 10 high knees
  4. 10 jumping jacks 

Remember to maintain the boxer’s shuffle as you switch between exercises. 

Variation #2

Do all these combinations for 60 seconds each. Do the boxer’s shuffle after every combination for 10 seconds to help transition between variations. 

  1. Double jab, double cross, hook, front kick 
  2. Switch sides 
  3. Uppercut, hook, high knee, back kick 
  4. Switch sides 
  5. Jab, cross at high speed

(15 second water break)

  1. High knee, 2x front kick, back kick, uppercut
  2. Repeat 
  3. Low kick, high kick, hook, squat 
  4. Jab, cross, uppercut, hook (x2, and alternate each time).

As you can see, these are relatively simple variations to incorporate into your regular workouts. As you grow more confident, you can pick variations of your own. There is also an abundance of online videos to guide you.

Read more about bodyweight exercises.

As with all workouts, it is important to ease into them gradually. Do not push yourself beyond what you are comfortable with and slowly build up intensity. 

For kickboxing in particular, remember to not punch or kick to full extension; instead go for ‘softer’ blows. This means pulling back just before reaching full extension and keeping the joints less tense. This way there is less chance of injury and you will actually burn more calories as well because of increased resistance. 

Further, make sure that you are hydrated adequately - the water breaks are important. If you have underlying health conditions or have been told before to exercise in moderation, consult your doctor before trying this exercise. 

Make sure to also exercise in a space that is free of any objects that you bump into to avoid injuries. 

Again, remember the best kind of workout is one that you can enjoy and sustain, so keep the process fun for yourself. If you find that the routine is not for you, switch to another form of exercise.

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References

  1. Kurt Jackson, et al. A Group Kickboxing Program for Balance, Mobility, and Quality of Life in Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis: A Pilot Study J Neurol Phys Ther . 2012 Sep;36(3):131-7. PMID: 22850333
  2. Linda Romaine, et al. Incidence of Injury in Kickboxing Participation J Strength Cond Res . 2003 Aug;17(3):580-6. PMID: 12930190
  3. I Ouergui, et al. The effects of five weeks of kickboxing training on physical fitness Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 106–113. PMID: 25332919
  4. AHA [Internet]. American Heart Association, Inc; American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids
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