Ready to kick (literally) your exercise routine up a notch? Try cardio kickboxing, the popular mash-up workout that mixes boxing and martial arts with aerobics, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Katalin Rodriguez Ogren, a four-time black belt and owner of POW! Gym Chicago, says kickboxing is a great way to work the entire body. "Many class formats include strength work, jump rope, medicine balls and body-weight exercises," she says. That means you'll score heart-pumping and calorie-burning benefits while also toning key muscle groups.
Chances are, you'll have fun doing it, too. Most kickboxing classes are oozing with energy. Generally, cardio kickboxing lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. A class typically begins with a warm-up that includes static stretches and some more complex exercises that elevate your heart rate, like jumping jacks. Then, the kickboxing begins — you'll kick and punch your way through the bulk of the class. If you're working out in a studio, you may even have a punching bag set up in front of you.
But whether you're surrounded by other kickboxers or sweating it out at home, you'll tap into the many health benefits of this cardio workout. Here are six to know about.
Your Cardio Fitness Will Improve
Be warned: Cardio kickboxing is a high-energy workout that's guaranteed to get your heart pumping and your clothes sweaty. As your breathing increases, so will the rate at which your blood flows to your muscles, delivering much-needed oxygen, according to the Mayo Clinic. All of the jumping, kicking, jabs and uppercuts you do during the class will also boost your power and overall endurance, according to the ACE.
Regular cardio can mean big things for your health: It can help you reach or maintain a healthy body weight, keep your immune system primed for battle and reduce health risks such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
You'll Burn Calories and Fat
"Kickboxing is intrinsically an interval-based workout," Ogren says. "Whether it is Thai boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai, all combat sports are trained in rounds." She says most kickboxing rounds last two or three minutes. These short bursts of activity followed by stretches of lower-intensity movements can help you burn more calories than you would during a steady-state cardio workout, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The exact number of calories you can expect to burn depends on a few things, including the format of the class and whether you're hitting a punching bag or not, Ogren says. But one thing you can bet on: It'll be a significant amount. The ACE estimates a 135-pound person burns 350 to 450 calories in a 50-minute kickboxing class. And it can get much higher than that; Ogren says you can burn as many as 700 calories if you keep your intensity up throughout the entire class.
Kickboxing can also help you shed extra body fat. A May 2019 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found interval training resulted in 28.5 percent more fat loss than moderate-intensity continuous exercise.
You'll Get Stronger All Over
There are plenty of other cardio workouts out there — running, cycling and swimming to name a few — but not all of them engage the core like cardio kickboxing does. "The explosive nature of the rotation required is unique to the combat sports," Ogren says. "Therefore, the core involvement is amazing." When you're doing squat jumps or kicking your foot high in the air, your core will be activated the whole time in order to keep you stabilized.
But because kickboxing incorporates upper- and lower-body movements too, your whole body will feel the burn. You'll be using several muscle groups, even if it doesn't always seem like it. For example, when you're kicking, you're also using the muscles of your standing leg and your core to stay balanced, Ogren says.
You'll need to master your kickboxing form, though, to maximize the strength-building perks. "The massive muscular benefits that lead to toning, sculpting and fat burning are only available if you have proper technique," she says. That's why it may be helpful to go to a class taught by a properly trained instructor who can adjust your form as needed.
Your Coordination Will Increase
During a standard kickboxing class, you'll perform some complex moves that'll test your coordination skills. You may stand on one leg as you kick your other one into the air and swing a hook across your body. Or maybe you'll shuffle side to side while punching a real or imaginary speedbag. All of this will improve your flexibility, balance and mobility, Ogren says.
You'll Stress Less
Feeling frustrated or upset? Let it all out in a kickboxing class. That can help reduce stress and return you to a calmer state of mind. While any workout helps pump out those feel-good endorphins, there's something satisfying about throwing punches when you're in a bad mood. "I think it is the cheapest form of therapy out there," Ogren says.
You'll Feel Empowered
There's no one-on-one contact involved in a cardio kickboxing class, but you can still hone your fighting skills. Hopefully you'll never need to employ those skills as self-defense, but knowing how to throw a punch or kick is good to keep in your back pocket. "Quality training in kickboxing or another combat sport will lay the foundation for learning self-defense," Ogren says. "The more you properly punch and kick, the easier it is to learn how to do it in order to defend yourself."
- American Council on Exercise: "Kick Your Way to Fitness"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical"
- Mayo Clinic: "Rev up your workout with interval training"
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT)"