Essential Guide to Kickboxing

The late-90s fitness universe was popularly defined by the booming popularity of Billy Blank’s Tae Bo fitness program that incorporated kickboxing with energetic, heart-pumping dance moves. Years later and in his 60s, Billy Blanks is still at it, and it’s easy to see why fitness junkies continue to eat kickboxing up.

Where Did Kickboxing Originate?

Kickboxing stems largely from Southeast Asian traditions of developing fighting skills and techniques for close hand to hand combat. Muaythai, or Thai boxing, dates back to the 16 century and has been buoyed again and again by reigning kings that favored and promoted it within their kingdoms.

​Pradal Serey, an unarmed combat and martial art form from Cambodia, dates back even further to the 9th century, and many experts believe it is the origins for most variations on the sport.

Yaw-Yan, a kickboxing style of dance out of the Philippines, took from those earlier versions of stand-up combat, but was a much later development in the 20th century combining elements of various martial arts including judo, jujutsu, aikido, and karate.

Interestingly, early European colonists believed these types of unarmed combat to be uncivilized and savage, so the art was reenvisioned as a sport in some cultures for spectating with boxing rings, timed rounds, and rules.

Benefits of Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a full body workout that weaves together resistance training with cardio through high-intensity sessions (often done in classes with music). It can be motivating, exhilarating, and exhausting. Other benefits of kickboxing include:

  • Cardiovascular workout: Get your heart pounding with kickboxing in a matter of minutes. Both the movement, positions, and striking of kickboxing technique result in an aerobic workout that strengthens the heart muscle as well as boosts blood circulation.
  • Increased strength: As a high-impact, high-intensity sport, kickboxing facilitates increased muscle growth and tone with each session. Multiple key muscle groups are engaged with various kickboxing moves including the glutes, abdominals, back, triceps, biceps, deltoids, pecs, and hamstrings.
  • More confidence: Kickboxing as a sport that builds off of close combat training embraces an aspect of self-defense. Learning to fight off or free yourself from an attacker with the moves and techniques of kickboxing helps to build confidence and self-reliance.
  • Improved coordination: Unlike other sports, kickboxing requires a fluid and cohesive movement of many body parts all at once that require extreme precision and accurate aim. The nature of the sport combined with routine practice helps hone coordination and balance skills.
  • Weight management: Burning calories is a breeze with routine kickboxing. Depending on intensity level and fitness capacity of the participant, a 155 lb person can burn over 700 calories in one hour of kickboxing, and a 185 lb person, over 850 calories in an hour.
  • Great self-discipline: Kickboxing classes which embrace specific elements of martial arts will work off of foundational principles like self-discipline. Carrying these mantras into everyday life can benefit your own social relationships, as well as your work and eating habits.
  • Better balance: Single leg kicking components involved with standing on one leg and kicking a bag (or opponent) with the other help you strengthen your own stability and sense of balance. Accompanying weight loss may shift your center of gravity back as well, helping you finetune your own ability to correct imbalances.
  • Stress relief: Routine exercise has been shown to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as stimulate production of endorphins (feel good hormones). Kickboxing, however, also helps participants physically vent anger or negative feelings through safely punching, kicking, and striking a bag as part of the sport.

What to Know Before You Go

Kickboxing incorporates a range of boxing and martial arts-based movements, from landing punches and jabs, to kicking, dodging, and weaving. Training with bags commonly used in boxing, like heavy bags and double end bags, is fairly low-cost, highly effective, and a useful tool in mastering kickboxing.

How to Hit a Double End Bag

Training with speed and accuracy is the name of the game when it comes to hitting a double end bag. A double end bag is a circular bag of air which is suspended mid-air by cords attached to both the ceiling and the floor.

Ranging in size, shape, and rebound elasticity, double end bags are also referred to as ‘floor to ceiling bags’ or ‘crazy bags’.

Once struck, a double end bag will flux quickly backwards and then forwards towards you once more for another punch. The rapid motion requires repetitive and rhythmic striking that are accurate and effectively landed.

Honing your coordination, hand speed, and actual punching skill (not just brute force) with a double end bag helps bolster your reflexes and endurance as well.

Beginner kickboxers will want to start their double end bag work with basic one two punches on a relatively tight double end bag that doesn’t give into a whole lot of movement when struck. Hitting once with the right fist, and then next with the left fist when the bag returns will give you an easy rhythm to sink into.

The back and forth, right and left punching can then be built upon by stepping backwards further away from the bag. Increasing your distance between yourself and the double end bag will require fuller extension of your arms with each blow, and therefore keener coordination and accuracy.

Striking the center of the bag precisely will help you control it’s back and forth movement, while hitting the sides of the bag will result in a more wily and orbital motion of the bag, spinning it out of your control, and making it harder to punch again.

With experience and training, you can build up to landing right and left hooks to the sides of a double ended bag, as well as foot kicks, and then using back fists or defense stances to regain control for more back and forth (straight) movement.​

How to Train with a Punching Bag

essential guide to kickboxing

A punching bag, or “heavy bag” in kickboxing is a training tool utilized to help build endurance and power. Typically between 40 and 100 lbs, punching bags are lined with leather or vinyl and hung from the ceiling.

Their sheer mass makes them heavy enough to hang still with little movement, and then sway when struck by kicks and punches.

Training with a punching bag works out the cardiorespiratory system while moving and repositioning around the bag generates aerobic exercise. This combination helps build muscle tone, increase lung capacity, enhance performance, and extend time to endurance with each new training session.

The more power you use to move the bag, and the practiced dance of hitting, kicking, and dodging, adds agility and stamina to your kickboxing skill set and also helps you develop better technique.

Starting out on a punching bag may seem intimidating. Punching bags were designed to grow punching power by helping boxers engage key muscle groups (like the shoulders, back, arms, legs, and core) again and again, toning and strengthening them over time.

Tackling proper punching technique is the first priority for anyone starting out training with a punch bag.

Straight jabs and crosses, hooks, and uppercuts - trainers can help refine these common punching techniques and skill, and as you master them, you can incorporate them into combinations with other movements and strikes of the punching bag.

One of the greatest lessons to learn in kickboxing is that punches are effectively the cascading effect of a a release of energy from the entire body, not just the arms. Even your legs assist with generating power to your upper body for landing punches with the most force and accuracy.

Power punching drills that lead to punch kick combinations followed by kicking drills will help you cover a whole range of punching bag exercises that refind your kickboxing craft.

Practicing fight movements as well where you execute punch kick combos, dance out of the way of a swaying opponent (the bag), and then dance back into range and continue with more blows, plays an important role in using the punching bag to its full capacity.

How to Use a Speed Bag

How to Use a Speed Bag

A speed bag is a small air-filled bag that hangs from a spring loaded mount above you. Similar to a double ended bag, speed bags are less about reinforcing the power in your punches and more about crafting your precision, accuracy, timing, and coordination.

Because of the spring on which a speed bag is hung, with each punch it rapidly moves back and forth (think about pulling a fixed car antenna towards you and letting it go).

That vigorous snapping motion requires incredibly precise hand-eye coordination and lightning fast reflexes to land punch after punch successfully with each rebound and recoil.

To begin training with a speed bag, forget using your knuckles and fists, and instead practice with slaps of your hands. Landing strikes with your fingers at first helps you slow does the pace while building up a rhythm (without hitting the bag with too much force).

Standing square with the bag, feet shoulder width apart and distance from bag just less than an arm’s length, you want your eye to be relatively level with the very bottom of the speed bag.

Keep in mind, for each blow the bag snaps backwards, forwards, and backwards again - that’s 3 total rebounds before you can land another hit.

Holding both hands up close to the bag and achieving a rolling action by drawing circles with your hands as you hit the bag is essential for maintaining a stable and effective striking pattern.

Trainers may recommend left-right combos of 2 or 3 hits per hand to start, so hitting left-left and then right-right, or left-left-left and then right-right-right.

The timing of landing a hit when the bag is rebounding it critical - when you first punch and the bag goes backwards, forwards, and backwards again, you want to watch as it comes forwards once more and land your next hit right as it reaches the middle (not once it has swung past center towards you again).

This gives you the control over the rhythm and positioning. Working with a speed bag can be helpful when recovering from a lower leg injury and is possible even when wearing an ankle wrap or knee brace (see more knee braces here).

Working up to punching a speed bag with fists requires a reliable technique of first hitting the bag head on with a forward punch of the knuckles, followed by a downwards punch on the pinky side of the fist.

Enhance Your Kickboxing Experience

Want to make any workout, much less intense kickboxing, more meaningful and effective? Setting a goal for yourself will help you practice accountability and self-discipline from the start - goals may be as simple as “learn to master the speed bag” or “complete a 12 week kickboxing course.”

Warming up and refueling, like you want to with any high-impact activity, will also bolster the physical success you find with kickboxing. Dynamic warm-ups, including a brisk jaunt on the treadmill or jump squats, help stimulate muscle response and increase blood flow prior to a kickboxing workout, while refueling with protein and carbs afterwards speeds muscle recovery and growth.

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