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

May 1, 2000 (Reno, Nev.) -- Every few years, a new class takes the fitness world by storm. In the late eighties Jane Fonda and her ponytail-bobbing, leg-warmer-wearing aerobics classes were all the rage. In the early nineties, the step bench was introduced and heart-pounding step aerobics quickly became the yardstick by which all other sweat-and-spandex endeavors were measured. Now there's cardio-kickboxing, offered by nearly 80% of health clubs nationwide.

Sometimes called boxing aerobics or just plain kickboxing, cardio-kickboxing is a hybrid of boxing, martial arts, and aerobic dance that offers a high-intensity, aggression-releasing workout without the mind-numbing boredom that can come with some other gym-bound activities. But even this fad comes with a drawback: While its popularity continues to rise, so do reports of injuries. With cardio-kickboxing, it's especially wise to get some basic training info before you start throwing punches.

Why the Kickboxing Craze?

According to a recent study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), cardio-kickboxing participants can expect to burn an average of 350 to 450 calories per hour and maintain a heart rate at 75% to 85% of maximum, well within the recommended 65% to 85% range for aerobic exercise. An hour-long session is roughly equivalent to an hour of brisk walking or light jogging. But cardio-kickboxing has a distinct advantage -- it's a truly versatile, cross-training workout. Neither of the pedestrian activities improves strength, flexibility, coordination, and reflexes the way cardio-kickboxing does.

"You burn tons of calories and get into terrific aerobic shape without having to run miles and miles," says Dan Hamner, MD, a sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist who works with competitive fighters and martial artists in New York City.

Unlike the incessant step-kick-repeat combinations you're likely to master in step aerobics class, the moves in cardio-kickboxing actually can have some real-life application. As you punch, jab, and protect your face from an (imagined) attacker, you're learning to protect yourself, only without the bruises. By practicing some simple self-defense moves in a fun atmosphere, many people -- women especially -- gain a greater sense of empowerment and self-confidence.

But you needn't have the desire to smack someone to participate. The only punches you'll throw in most cardio-kickboxing classes are into the air while you jog in place or shuffle from side to side; some classes provide punching bags, but this is the exception, not the rule.

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