Aerobic kickboxing and martial aerobics strengthen the body and mind, decrease stress physically and mentally, define and quicken reflexes, increase endurance and enhance cardiovascular power, according to Dave LaPorte, a second degree black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate and the head instructor at Rick Wilmott’s Karate Academy in Keene, New Hampshire. LaPorte has found aerobic kickboxing has a value to everyone who tries it. “It is an aerobic fitness program with a dual purpose,” he says. “It provides an aerobic workout in addition to gaining and honing martial arts skills. It helps foster physical strength, increases endurance, tones muscle groups, burns calories and builds confidence.”
Confidence building comes from the fact many people, women in particular, who have never studied a defensive art such as karate, are learning for the first time how to execute an accurate punch or kick that they may need to use someday if ever placed in danger. “What people tell me is that they feel they can throw a strike or kick with power behind it,” LaPorte says. “This makes them more sure of being able to defend themselves if they ever need to.”
Aside from the self-defense aspects, kickboxing is also highly effective in controlling and maintaining weight. While the average step aerobics class helps burn between 200 and 400 calories per hour, the typical intense kickboxing class burns from 500 to 800 calories. As a method of weight control, aerobic kickboxing can be highly effective when performed routinely two to three times per week.
Aerobic kickboxing class is quick paced and strenuous, so it’s definitely better suited for advanced exercisers. In fact, it’s easy to overexert yourself, warns Nancy Gillette, lead consultant of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). “The workout can be anaerobic, even for an advanced participant,” she says.
With music pumping out various rhythms to provide a solid beat for strikes and kicks, classes can range from 45 minutes to an hour. “The classes begin with basic stretches, which loosen up the muscles and prepare them for work,” says LaPorte. “Next, a light cardiovascular warm-up, such as jumping jacks and push-ups, slowly builds into a rapid routine.”
Aerobic kickboxing routines involve a series of repetitive punches alternating with other hand strikes, then kicks, and finally a combination of all three. This blending of techniques promotes balance, coordination, power, precision and speed. Knowing how to land a punch goes hand-in-hand with knowing precisely where it should go, so with each strike, punch or kick thrown, participants aim for a target on the body. Utilizing mirrors, each person directs the energy and focus of the strike toward his or her mirror image. Accuracy leads to power, so after throwing a few strikes and learning where the body must be positioned for the strikes to land correctly, the aerobic kickboxer starts to put more energy and force behind each movement. This increase in power expenditure leads to an even more demanding physical workout.
In addition to mirrors and punching bags, hit pads for the hands and boxing gloves are used for the kickboxer to experience the force of actually hitting something with power. Jabs, cross-punches, upper-cuts and hook punches are basic boxing moves that make up the solid punching routine. All strikes, when performed and targeted correctly, can be highly effective in defensive control. Participants learn how to breathe correctly, and when to exhale and inhale with a strike. Kicks target large muscle groups and organs, and with a bit of practice, can be a solid basis for self-defense.
After the vigorous portion of the routine, floor exercises and stretches are performed as a cool down. “Leg stretches cool down the long muscles, and then the major abdominal groups are targeted and worked vigorously,” says LaPorte. The purpose of each repetitive abdominal series, which includes upper abdominal crunches, lower abdominal stretches and oblique lifts, is to tighten and strengthen the musculature of the abdomen. It’s also a time for the lower body to rest, since the exercises are invariably done in the supine position. The conclusion of each class is a five minute breathing exercise to internally cool down the body, bring the heart rate back to a non-stressful level and provide a calming time for the mind to rest.