Cardio Kickboxing Provides An Effective Total Body Workout

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sara Femal has seen a lot of change in herself since she started going to kickboxing classes a year and a half ago. Twenty pounds of change, to be precise.

"I wanted to feel better and tone my body up," she said. "I've done many things in the past, and (kickboxing) was what I saw the best results from." To Shana Conradt and Lisa Welko, owners of Ellipse Fitness, where Femal attends class five times a week, that's no surprise.

"It's a great aerobic activity and something that's a little bit different from walking on the treadmill or riding a bicycle. It keeps you mentally alert during the workout, which has a tendency to provide better results," Conradt said. "It burns a ton of calories as compared to other forms of cardiovascular exercise." "Just about every muscle is worked," said Lance Lewis, owner of Champions' in Menasha, where fitness kickboxing is offered as part of a 10-week bodyshaping course. "No part is isolated." "True kickboxing is martial arts fighting someone else using kicks and punches," Welko said.

Its cardiovascular sibling began gaining popularity about a decade ago, when martial artist Billy Blanks created his first tae bo video.

"The best way to describe the difference is that in martial arts, we teach (students) skills on their way to the black belt," Lewis said. "Learning the art is the focus, and the side benefit is the exercise." In cardiovascular kickboxing, on the other hand, breaking a sweat is what it's all about.

Welko, Conradt and Lewis agreed that quality cardiovascular kickboxing programs retain a basis in well-executed martial arts skills: jabs, crosses, hooks, front kicks, roundhouse kicks and the like, all performed using equipment such as boxing gloves and punching or kicking bags.

"Both Lisa and I were trained to do it from the martial arts end," Conradt said. "I went through yellow belt, the first level, which teaches you the right form and teaches you where to breathe. If you do it properly, you're going to get more benefit from the muscles." Those muscular benefits, most noticeable in the abdominals, hips and buttocks, according to Conradt, make the activity popular among women.

"It's known to do amazing things to your abdominal muscles because of the fact that you're kicking. Every time you raise your leg, you have to use those muscles," she said.

Kickboxing also uses other muscle groups notoriously weak in women those of the upper body.

"For that female clientele, using the upper body is so important. It's very easy for them to walk on a treadmill or ride a bike, but their upper body then is not getting a whole lot of resistance or exercise at all," Welko said.

Punching and kicking bags create the resistance that improves strength in the course of a cardiovascular kickboxing workout. In Champions' classes, Lewis said participants begin with 25 to 30 minutes of rhythmic skills, as in a traditional aerobics class, and then spend the second half of class working with the bags.

"When you go to the bags, there's a change in mentality," he said. "When we go to the bags, we're fast and furious." It's that fast and furious approach, interspersed with opportunities to catch your breath, that yields results.

"There's a lot of interval training in kickboxing," Welko said, referring to the practice of alternating high-intensity activity with short periods of active rest. "It definitely builds endurance." "It burns more calories than just working out at a moderate level for 45 minutes, so it's nice to go up and down like that," Conradt added.

Besides its impressive tally of calories burned, kickboxing offers several other benefits.

"It's very popular because it's empowering to women," Lewis said. "Long gone are the days of blind aerobics. People want there to be meaning in what they're doing. Fitness kickboxing is purpose-driven. You realize you could really use these skills." That is true directly as well as indirectly.

"(Students) see a lot of changes in their body that have nothing to do with what they're doing here at the gym," Welko said. "This time of year, all we hear about are tennis and golfing. 'My drive is 80 yards farther, my tennis game is better, and I have more lateral motion.' Those are the things they don't realize they're getting from kickboxing. They're just more aware of where their bodies are in space." "They think they're doing (kickboxing) for their physique, but they don't realize it's going to follow them when they slip on the ice and they don't actually fall, they catch themselves," Welko added.

While better balance and injury prevention are long-term benefits of kickboxing, those attempting it for the first time need to use caution to avoid doing any damage while engaged in the activity itself.

"It's important to throw (punches) with proper form so you don't injure ligaments or tendons," Lewis said. "If someone's going to do fitness kickboxing, they should work with someone who can break the moves down." Conradt emphasized that kickboxing doesn't meet all of the body's fitness needs and that the activity should be alternated with straight strength-training workouts.

"To see results, you need a combination of those two things. You can't just do aerobic activity every single day," she said.

One of the best aspects of kickboxing, according to Femal, is its versatility.

"In the classes I've taken in the past, it's more routine, and kickboxing definitely isn't." "It's exciting. You can change the workout every single day so you can continually see results because your body never knows what's coming," Conradt said. "People that have been members for four year still come four to five days a week."

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