What is Kickboxing? - Definition & Benefits

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be exploring the exciting sport of kickboxing. Here, we'll learn about the origins of this aerobic workout and benefits for both the body and brain.

What Is Kickboxing?

Have you ever been so mad you could punch something? Maybe you even did, taking your aggression out on a pillow or couch cushion. Although this impromptu aggression might feel satisfying in the moment, there's an even better way to use physical action to keep your stress levels at bay: kickboxing. Kickboxing is a form of martial arts derived from karate. It borrows moves from multiple types of martial arts including full-contact karate, Muay Thai, and boxing.

Although the name implies kicking as a priority, this type of martial art uses both hands and feet as points of contact. Kicks and punches are both used during kickboxing. Unlike Muay Thai, elbows and knees are generally not used, and the points of contact are limited to the hands and feet.

Kickboxing is a popular professional sport, similar to MMA or boxing. Many cities have martial arts studios that offer specialized classes in kickboxing. However, with its high energy vibe kickboxing is quite popular with the general public as well. Many gyms offer non-contact kickboxing classes as aerobic exercise and with good reason. There are lots of benefits for using kickboxing as a form of exercise.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Picture yourself on a five-mile run. How do you feel? Tired, out of breath, and sweaty are all images that probably come to mind. When we run, we increase the energetic demands of our muscles. Our muscles need more oxygen and sugar to make more energy. So, we breathe deeper, and our hearts beat faster to circulate that oxygen to the rest of the body. This type of exercise is called cardiovascular because it puts demands on the heart and lungs. Although it might feel bad in the moment, cardiovascular exercise is actually very important for keeping the heart healthy.

Luckily for us, running isn't the only way to get your heart rate up. Kickboxing involves lots of rapid movement and can easily increase your heart rate to a similar pace as running. Kickboxing often uses interval training, where participants exercise at peak output for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes and then rest. This type of training is called high-intensity interval training and has been shown to be especially good for burning calories and increasing cardiovascular fitness.

Kickboxing improves cardiovascular health

Studies have shown that after only five weeks of kickboxing cardiovascular health can be greatly improved. Participants increased their VO2 max, a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during physical activity. A greater VO2 max means your body is more efficient at getting oxygen and using it, so you can generate more energy and thus more movement. Some of the most elite aerobic athletes, like cyclists and runners, have extremely high VO2 max levels.

Another study done in China demonstrated that not only can a consistent kickboxing routine improve VO2 max, but it can also improve the strength of your heart. After one year of regular kickboxing training participants' VO2 max was higher and their resting heart rate lower than their peers. Now, a lower heart rate might seem counterproductive, but it's actually a sign that your heart is getting stronger. A stronger heart needs to beat less to carry out the same amount of work, so athletes with stronger hearts actually have lower resting heart rates.

Strength Benefits

Kickboxing can increase muscle strength as well as cardiovascular health. Not only are you using back, chest, and core strength to turn your body into the punches and kicks, but you're constantly keeping your arms elevated. With some boxing gloves weighing over a pound, this can be no small feat. It's no wonder that kickboxing produces strength gains.

Heavy gloves and elevated arm movements lead to upper body strength gains
kickboxing gloves

In one study, participants were asked to turn a hand crank, similar to bike pedals for the arms as a measure of upper body strength. Kickboxing participants were able to generate more power on the hand crank than a control group which did not receive kickboxing training.

Kickboxing isn't all upper body strength though. Try to lift your leg up off of the floor. As you do this, you can probably feel your legs and core tighten. Now imagine the same motion, but executed much faster in a martial arts style kick. The repetitive kicks involved in kickboxing help participants develop some serious core strength, as well as strengthening smaller stabilizing muscles needed to stand on one leg.

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