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Don't Let an Injury Put You on the Ropes

If step aerobics can be hell on your knees, careless cardio-kickboxing fans may wind up with other creaky parts. In fact, with kickboxing, there's a fairly significant risk of injury. Participants throw punches with such gusto that their elbows, shoulders, knees, and lower backs often pay the price. Extensor tendonitis (commonly called "tennis elbow"), overuse injuries of the knee, and strained groin and back muscles top the list of injuries, says Hamner, who's also a spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine.

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.

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