Kickboxing. A Fresh Way To Train.

Kickboxing is a unique combination of martial arts and American boxing technique

Fitness in the mid ’90s continues operating with familiar fundamentals in muscle-building and heart-rate-raising activities. Free weights and aerobics classes still hold mainstay spots on the club floors. But many prospective members are looking for a twist to the familiar strength/cardio regimen. For the curious and bored, kickboxing offers fresh training fodder.

A unique combination of martial arts and American boxing technique, kickboxing also provides a healthy avenue for relieving stress and building self-confidence. After completing a 60-minute class, most participants find their frustrations aired, their self-esteem heightened and their sense of power ignited. Unlike some other sport ventures, kickboxing is about artfully illustrating one’s “strength within” on a physical plane.

Donna Miller, owner of Jabz!, a kickboxing studio in Minneapolis, Minn., invested an entire club in this premise. “Instead of jumping on a stationary bike and zoning out,” Miller says, “people can work out and spend their time more productively. They are more mentally focused.” According to Miller, chic spas like Canyon Ranch in Arizona kicked up their heels over this idea first. Then, as the classes received more attention in the media, clubs across the country began developing the niche.


National trends reflect the public’s preoccupation with personal growth. That helps explain why people put themselves out to punch and kick their way to personal best. Consider this: In three minutes, kickboxing can effectively exhaust major muscles in the upper and lower body, but at a more moderate training pace, panting participants will tell you it’s a cardiovascular workout, as well.

Though clearly not ballet, kickboxing could be a chunky cousin of the elegant classic. This type of choreographed activity produces the same long and lean muscular look common to dancers. Of course, it is the latest pop mishmash, not Tchaikovsky, that animates the movement. Members march to the mirrors with a synchronized, aggressive style, and for some, journeying from the back of the room to the front may be more like scaling Mt. Everest than covering 20 or 30 feet. Periodically, students must stop and hold form to recover and reposition. In this way, kickboxing jabs at interval training, a method successfully implemented in more mainstream classes.

In other ways, kickboxing shares no common ground with mainstream activity. For instance, unusual cues punctuate air heavy with body heat: “Pivot! Snap! Get back!” In one hour, a skilled instructor keeps a class on their toes, bobbing and weaving, shuffling and sliding, while throwing punches and kicks to verbal cues such as these. Participants say the discipline and sense of competition is invigorating.

In addition to a stereo system, upbeat music, mirrors and a shock-safe floor, kickboxing classes require boxing gloves, pads for torso protection and punching bags. After a 10-minute warm-up of light cardiovascular work and stretching, the offensive and defensive format begins to incorporate the equipment in both simple and complex situations.

“The difference between shadow boxing and actually contacting with training aids is amazing,” says Terry Norblom, Jabz! kickboxing instructor and former national kickboxing champion. Up until contact, the body should be loose and fluidly going through the motions. “When you make contact, though, there’s a major contraction throughout the body. And, it’s just more fun,” Norblom adds.

Like in regular aerobics classes, instructors build combinations throughout the class. Norblom recommends breaking down moves into a four- or eight-count add-on patterns. After 30 minutes or more, the class commences into typical strength-training with push ups and abdominal work, and finishes with cool-down stretching.


Instructors need not be black belts or Golden Gloves champions to teach. They must, however, have fundamentally sound martial arts and boxing skills in order to effectively and safely train their students.

Clubs invest in hiring well-trained instructors for the same reason they invest in other business improvements. They train instructors at martial arts schools, boxing gyms or in special classes in the name of progress and customer service. Successful classes also ride on an instructor’s personality, communication skills and the ability to motivate people without stopping the movement for too long.

Initially, instructors concentrate on encouraging participants to let go of their inhibitions. “People like to hit. There’s nothing like it,” Norblom asserts. The instructor’s job involves getting each participant to the point of enjoying throwing punches. “Within a very short time, experienced instructors should be able to read the level a person is at by their size, ability and personality,” Norblom says. From there, the instructor can work with the student as an individual in the context of their weakness and strengths.

In many ways, Norblom says, sparring theory can be applied to basic relationship dynamics. Both, for instance, are about timing and distance. So, you can sweat through a great class while simultaneously exploring an uncharted side of yourself. “The way people punch or kick says a lot about the way they ‘do’ the rest of their life,” says Norblom. “If they hold back in this, where else do they hold back?” Kickboxing can be therapeutic for the timid or anxious in and outside of class.

Steve Worline, a professional fighter who teaches cardio boxing at the Sweat Shop in Minneapolis, stresses that the instructor should not aim to “make champion boxers” of the students. “The point is getting them into the best shape of their lives and teaching them basic self-defense training,” Worline says.

Though his class lacks the kick of kickboxing, the goals are the same: strengthening, cardiovascular endurance and basic self-defense. In order to see students achieve those objectives, he recommends programming a six- to eight-week session.

By session’s end, students should know how to throw a left jab, a left hook and a straight right hand. According to Worline, using your feet to get in and out of another person’s space, and being able to duck punches or absorb them, is also important to learn.

Lisa Mangiamele, a personal trainer at Flagship Athletic Club in Minneapolis, began teaching “Boxercise” classes almost a year ago with her husband. With her background in aerobics and her husband’s background in boxing, they put together a great circuit training workout. “After the first class,” Mangiamele says, “I usually hear, ‘Wow! I feel muscles I never knew I had.’ Members tell us that they haven’t trained this hard since high school.” Students especially notice chest, shoulder and upper-back muscle groups develop as they train.

In his classes, Norblom incorporates foot work, kicks and upper-body strengthening through a wide variety of drills and combinations that generally include three or four footwork patterns. Shuffling, a multidirectional movement similar to what is seen in the boxing ring, is a fundamental technique all kickboxers must learn. Norblom says the bobbing and weaving movements involved in shuffling are different than traditional boxing, however. “It’s more like a squat without so much [unsupported] forward flexion. I want them to keep their knees over their toes,” he says.

Slide footwork uses the same muscles that lateral motion trainers work. It’s the same leg work from left to right without the slippery strip, and basic push-off steps are like jumping without much bouncing.

The kicks that are added to the choreography significantly raise the energy requirement for kickboxing. Quads, glutes, adductors, hamstrings and hip flexors are all worked at a high intensity. If extended for more than 20 minutes, kickboxing burns calories on the high end of the spectrum.

The hard work and regular training sessions pay off. Besides feeling stronger and more confident, Worline says his clients notice their body fat percentages decrease while their lean muscle mass increases.


“What will it add to my program?” That’s what Mangiamele wanted to know before implementing her Boxercise class at Flagship Athletic Club. Through successful promotion she found out that it can boost retention. “If class numbers are going down, adding this class makes good sense. It gives members one more reason to keep their workout indoors,” she says.

Class populations vary from club to club. Jabz! draws more women, while Flagship attracts more men. In addition to gender differences, there’s a wide representative age range. “The fun and physical/mental benefits we promote seems to appeal to teenagers and adults,” Miller explains. Because the class enjoys popularity with a diverse group, a general promotion (in-house and out) works well. “We promoted though demonstration classes. We wrote it up in our in-house newsletter. We organized an informational meeting for interested people and kept a list of those who showed up,” Mangiamele says. “Before the first class, we called them and personally invited them to try it.” An enthusiastic response, followed by steady attendance proves her strategy.

Miller says that local media played a key role in helping Jabz! develop its clientele. “Stories in local papers and word of mouth helped us bring in people,” she says. National magazines and the recently released boxing videos also increase overall exposure to the public.

Selling the class as a self-pace program is a must. Flagship schedules its class in six-week sessions. In this way, participants can start out slowly and build on the skills they learn each week. “Without that mindset, members may feel intimidated, discouraged or even injured,” Worline explains.

The more comfortable students become with the form and technique, the more they let go of their inhibitions and give 100 percent. “It’s so intense, you can get lost in it. They work hard and they have fun,” says Mangiamele. That beats constant clock watching.

Fun, that immeasurable magic ingredient, fills classrooms and keeps ledger colors black. As usual, money rides on this unique fight to be fit. So make sure you introduce the class with a setup for success: well-trained instructors and good equipment. It’s important not to hedge on equipment. “Your stuff,” Worline cautions, “is going to take a pounding. Shop for industrial-use products that have extra durability. Also, build your own hanging structures, if possible. They seem to be stronger than pre-built structures.”

Self defense

The truth is that many fit women and men may never feel powerful. In most classes, that’s not the point; burning fat is and strengthening muscles is. Yet an individual need not be Atlas in their stature to sense their own strength. “I think boxing types of classes give women and men more confidence,” says Lisa Mangiamele of Flagship Athletic Club in Minneapolis.

Just because girls and boys aren’t brought up to hit, kick, punch and scream doesn’t mean they are incapable. What’s more, becoming familiar with these behaviors in a safe and respectful context may actually help students cope with the possibility of an attack better.

In kickboxing classes, some may feel the force of a solid hit for the first time. This is particularly true for women. “Rapes sometimes begin with the attacker hitting the victim,” says Terry Norblom, kickboxing instructor at Jabz! in Minneapolis, and former national kickboxing champion, “and if you’ve never been hit before, it can stun you.”

Surprisingly, women often pick up boxing skills better than men. “Once women get beyond their inhibitions, I find that they have fewer bad habits. They’ve never learned anything like this in their life before,” explains Steve Worline of the Sweat Shop in St. Paul, Minn. “Women are smoother and more balanced than men,” Worline adds. “Guys definitely have more power, but they usually throw from their shoulders. Women, on the other hand, tend to naturally throw more from their back and hips. They just seem more comfortable moving from the waist.”

Teaching technique & physics

“The velocity involved in kickboxing is great. That’s why movements sometimes look violent,” says Terry Norblom, kickboxing instructor at Jabz! in Minneapolis and former national kickboxing champion. “Yet, kickboxing techniques are biomechanically correct, which helps students avoid injuries to ligaments and tendons in the hips, shoulders and groin muscles.”

The purpose of the physics of kickboxing, according to Norblom, also involves moving body mass as fast as possible without losing the balance necessary to penetrate. With correct form, a 110-pound woman can throw a 160-pound man off balance.

Proper form harnesses average arm speeds of 40 miles an hour into surprising shows of force. Imagine a 150-pound person throwing 100 pounds of force against an object. In self-defense, fists and feet (strong, hard parts of the body) directed at the solar plexus, nose or groin stun and sometimes injure an attacker. “With the proper physics, people have the ability to break bones,” says Norblom.

World Kickboxing association.

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