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Kicking Your Way to Fitness.

Cardio-kickboxing can shape you up -- if you do it right.

Don't Let an Injury Put You on the Ropes continued...

So how can you protect yourself? Three words: Ease into it, says Hamner. In fact, before you even throw a punch, take a moment to introduce yourself to the instructor, so that he or she knows you're new. Many gyms don't offer beginner classes, and some instructors teach to the most advanced student in the studio. Ask the instructor to show different levels of various moves. (To ensure that you're learning from someone who's qualified to guide you, ask your instructor about his training and certification. Fitness organizations such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offer certification courses.)

Once the music kicks in, you shouldn't immediately start kicking too. Every cardio-kickboxing class should begin with a light cardiovascular warm-up and stretches that focus on the shoulders, back, legs, and groin before moving into punches, hand-strikes, and kicks. After the warm-up, you should focus on repetitions of simple moves so that you can refine your form and technique before moving into combinations that require you to use several muscle groups at once. Every workout should end with a cool-down that lasts at least five minutes.

During your first few sessions, don't go overboard. Ignore other people who seem to be killing themselves. You should work at a moderate pace, say, 65% of your maximum heart rate. Even if you're in decent aerobic condition and strength-train consistently, start slowly. The various moves in a cardio-kickboxing class are still unfamiliar to your body. Needless to say, don't hold dumbbells, wear ankle or wrist weights, or punch or kick bags until you're confident that you've learned proper form. These kinds of weights and bags, combined with incorrect form, can increase your risk of joint injury.

Finally, think like a dancer or gymnast; that is, keep a watchful, perfectionist eye on your form. Don't lock or over-extend your knees or elbows when throwing punches or kicks. In fact, beginners should do half-kicks until they know the routine and are confident that they're flexible enough to do the moves to full extension. When your form gets sloppy, the risk of injury increases, so stop when you feel tired.

Dana Sullivan is a freelance writer in Reno, Nev.

Reviewed on June 25, 2002

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