No longer the realm of hardened fighters, kickboxing gyms are becoming a popular option for city-goers who want to bust stress and boost wellbeing. Here, world title holder Alex Lawson – who trains clients at London’s Springhealth Kickboxing, KXU gym and Equinox gym – reveals the benefits of an intense and thrilling sport:
Not many people realise that you can burn up to 1000 calories from just an hour’s worth of kickboxing.
With each session, you’ll experience a total body workout using all three of your energy systems.
The explosive high-power aspect of the workout uses the phosphagen system, while the cardio and endurance elements work the glycolytic and oxidative systems.
This will help rapidly develop your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength (when you add a basic strength program with weights or callisthenics).
The effect of this is metabolic conditioning, a process that is proven to have a high calorific after-burn.
Not only will you burn between 500-750 calories in one hour of intense kickboxing, you’ll also have a raised BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – calories you burn at rest to keep your body functioning).
This means you’ll continue to burn calories at a high rate for between seven and 12 hours after the workout has finished. It’s a win-win.
Working the core
Kickboxing works out the entire body and not just isolated muscle groups.
The punching and kicking techniques obviously work the arms and legs, but it’s the effect they have on the core that stands out.
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When you kickbox, you work through all the planes of motion with rapid movements.
Add in the multitude of plank drills that accompany any workout, and you have a high, varied workload for the core.
Kickboxing also helps to stretch and tone the muscles and it’s proven to reduce body fat.
Throw into improvements to flexibility, mobility, coordination, timing and rhythm, and you have a complete training system.
On top of the many physical perks, the mental benefits are what really separates kickboxing from other sporting activities.
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Like most sporting pursuits, kickboxing releases “happy hormone” endorphins, but the act of striking pads can also be a great way to relieve the build up of stress and frustration brought about by city living.
It has a primal effect on people, allowing them to generate focus as they concentrate fully on techniques and combinations.
A changing picture
Kickboxing is a combat sport and so the goal is to defeat your opponent by stopping them or hitting them more times than they hit you.
However most gyms teach the sport without the need for sparring now, which has opened the appeal of kickboxing out to a new generation of people.
Gym-goers can practise the sport without the desire to compete. They receive all the fitness and wellbeing benefits minus the risk of hurting themselves or others.
I teach a beginner’s kickboxing course at Springhealth Kickboxing, the kickboxing gym I set up in 1998 (it’s now owned by fellow world champion Audifax Kinga, who is a protégé of the gym and helped make it the success it is today).
I tutor beginners in four punches and four kicks, along with ducking and covering techniques. Students also learn foot work and movement drills.
Their overall fitness is developed by using sport-specific conditioning circuits throughout, such as shadow boxing, press-ups on knuckles, lunges and burpee routines.
Everyone picks up the basics really quickly!
If you’re completely new to it all, it’s always good to start your fitness journey by taking a group class or booking a PT session with a friend. That way, you’re more likely to continue; the social aspect keeps you coming back.
There are now a lot more people involved in kickboxing, especially women. They often outnumber male clients in my classes two to one.
Having the ability to throw kicks and punches along with the defensive movements can be a genuine plus when you consider self-defence situations.
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Having said that, most martial art experts exude a confidence that alone is enough to show any potential threat that here is a person not to trifle with.
Kickboxing – Alex’s story
I started kickboxing in 1992 aged 19, and won my first WAKO British Kickboxing title in 1995. In the following decade of fighting, I won a further six British kickboxing titles, beating many world champions along the way.
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I retired for some years but in 2013, I decided to have another season in the ring and won two British titles, followed by the ICO World Championship title.
I was lucky to have a good all-round athleticism honed from childhood. I also had access to excellent tuition. My first instructor, Keith Wilson, poured his knowledge into me as a previous European kickboxing champion and Golden gloves boxing champion.
And I had my two kickboxing brothers, John and Stuart Lawson (above), who led the way and dominated the British and world scene as fighters.
To get to the top, kickboxing demands a mix of natural ability, opportunity and desire to succeed through hard work.
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In my early career I certainly found pre-fight nerves an issue. But as I started the walk to the ring, the fear would dissipate and the raw fight-or-flight energy would take over.
The best kickboxers are always the ones who can control their aggression and harness it to their advantage. Very rarely do we make smart decisions when we are consumed by aggression.
Nowadays, teaching keeps me fit and I still shadow box regularly. I also use a scooter to travel around London, which keep up my steady state cardio up.
And I like to do a lot of body weight and callisthenics movements to help keep my core strong.
Diet-wise, I’m not a big fan of fads, so I generally just stick to whole organic produce and at least half of my meals a week are vegetarian.
I enjoy a glass of wine or beer occasionally, too. Life is for living after all.
I’ve had my fair share of breaks while fighting (foot, arm, nose and knuckles); but I’ve also had several other breaks playing football and rugby.
I think it says more about my intense approach to all sports than it does about kickboxing specifically!
“Train hard, fight easy” is a good motto that most fighters know and understand. I would say that 20 years teaching the sport has allowed me to hone my technique more than my fight training.
As I’ve aged, I’ve picked up new techniques and dropped some of the less effective old ones.
Alex Lawson leads kickboxing, HIIT fitness and personal training classes at London’s Springhealth Kickboxing, KXU gym and Equinox gym. You can see more about him and his work on his Instagram @alexlawsonfitness
Photos: Alex Lawson