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Benefits Beyond the Physical continued...

"It forces you to have to stabilize your body," he says.

But the physical aspects of cardio kickboxing and martial arts-inspired workouts are just the beginning, Comana says.

"There is a self-efficacy that it gives a person," says Comana. "They learn some real self-defense skills they can use in everyday life."

Regional group fitness director Kendell Hogan sees that firsthand at the Crunch on Sunset gym in Los Angeles. Crunch's Fitness and Defense class focuses on boxing techniques and is taught in a ring. Participants wrap their hands, wear gloves, and work with a heavy bag.

"They're intimidated at first," Hogan says, "Then I believe they get a lot of self-confidence. They're going for it. [Women] are buying their own wraps and getting gloves."

Then there's the de-stressing effect of all that kicking and punching.

"I've never met anybody who didn't feel the release in stress and the release in anger," says Hernandez. "Once they leave, they can face the world."

At Reebok Sports Club/NY, the cardio kickboxing, POW, and Powerstrike classes appeal to many of New York's Type A personalities, says Chapman.

"You sweat, you get the heart rate up, and it requires focus," Chapman says.

Getting Started

Comana says boxing workouts are a great choice for beginners, as long as they work at their own pace.

Indeed, boxing- and martial arts-inspired classes are great equalizers, Hogan says.

"You don't have to be a good dancer or have the perfect hourglass shape," he says. And while these are group classes, they are also very individual, he says; everyone can work at their own level.

The Reebok Sports Club/NY offers a kickboxing class taught in a pool, which is even more conducive to those who are overweight, out of shape, or have physical limitations.

"The Splash! Kickboxing class is a fabulous place for a beginner because it eliminates work with gravity, it's safer on the joints, and it creates resistance through fluid, which allows you to push yourself harder but safer," says Chapman.

  • Get a doctor's consent. If you have limitations or injuries, check with a doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
  • Find a comfortable environment. If you already have a gym you go to that offers these classes, great. If not, find somewhere that's clean and safe, with a qualified staff that makes you feel welcome. "At a kickboxing gym," says Hernandez, "there may be a lot of guys and a lot of testosterone and that may not be the most comforting atmosphere. You've got to find a place where you feel comfortable and you enjoy going."
  • Introduce yourself to the instructor. Before your first class, talk to the instructor to let him/her know who you are and what, if any, your limitations are. Chapman says an instructor should be confident that he/she can help you modify exercises, or be able to tell you if the class is inappropriate for you.
  • Talk to other participants: Ask regulars what they like about the class. And find your own support system. "Look for people in the class that have similar physical skill levels so you can partner with them, and that becomes the support system you're looking for," says Comana. "You may feel a little uncoordinated at first but you're going to learn together and progress together."
  • Work at your own pace: Don't try to keep up with people who have more experience in the class or have a higher level of fitness. Working in the full range of motion to execute an uppercut or roundhouse kick doesn't come easily, experts say, and the potential for injury is high without proper form. At KI Fighting Concepts, Hernandez says, instructors teach beginners all the kicks and punches before they start doing combinations.
  • Keep showing up: "You improve through repetition," says Chapman.
  • Do what you enjoy. In the end, kickboxing may not be for you, and that's OK. "You shouldn't think, 'I'm going to suffer through this for an hour because I'm going to burn calories,'" Chapman says. "You'll probably burn more calories doing something you like." Still, you might be surprised at just how much you enjoy this type of class. Says Hernandez: There's no better feeling than to be at a "board meeting or buying a car, and thinking, 'You know what? I can kick your butt.'"

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