Cardio Kickboxing: Healthful Or Harmful?

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Seen any TV lately? If so, you would have certainly noticed the plethora of health-related networks, investigations, exposes and infomercials bombarding us with products, advice and promises.

You have undoubtedly seen Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo Workout infomercials that make their way into our homes a half-dozen times a year. Tae Bo has sold millions of units to date, becoming the country’s best-selling workout video in the process. Following on the coattails of Tae Bo, many fitness centers like Holiday and Gold’s Gym have adopted similar martial art aerobic programs to their roster of classes. In addition, martial art schools around the country now offer some form of aerobic martial art class.

Sure, Billy Blanks’ video has sold millions of copies. Sure, aerobic gurus like Kathy Smith have churned out cardio karate videos in the wake of Blanks’ success. Sure, martial art schools are once again booming as a result of this new craze. But are these programs healthy and can you actually learn to defend yourself in the process of jumping around in spandex?

Many think so. But are they sure? After all, we all know smoking and drinking alcohol is bad for us, but they are advertised everywhere and many of us consume them anyway.

I was watching “Fit TV” one afternoon when they offered a “martial arts fitness” segment. Their “expert” guest was certainly in shape and spoke the lingo — a sign that he knew what he was talking about. Then he went on to demonstrate what he called a basic “side kick,” as the male and female co-hosts followed along. In actuality, however, this “expert” performed what is known as a “roundhouse kick,” as he did not pivot his hips enough to allow the leg to shoot out to the “side” in line with its target (as in a side kick), but rather it arced at its imaginary target (as in a roundhouse kick). Clearly, he wasn’t a martial artist.

After doing the movement incorrectly, one of the hosts asked if it was important to know the proper body mechanics of the kick before attempting to do it. The “expert” replied that without a doubt proper mechanics was a must or injury would prevail. I found this especially annoying since the “expert’s” supporting foot was still facing forward when he turned his body sideways, which, if the kick was delivered with force or speed, would certainly have injured his knee.

Recent TV exposés have shown that Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo Workout was in fact causing many people harm. The claims against it stem from not having enough warm-up time to insufficient explanation of proper (and safe) ways to punch and kick. On another TV report, emergency room doctors explained that since the cardio kickboxing phase caught on they have been seeing at least two injured patients per day with specific sprains or torn ligaments that they did not commonly see in the past. When asked how the patients injured themselves in such an awkward way, they invariably answered “during martial art aerobics” class.

Health clubs offering martial art aerobics classes of some kind is not a bad thing. The problems arise when aerobic trainers attempt to cash in on the cardio kickboxing craze and offer classes without proper kicking or punching (i.e., martial art) training, or when participants think that they are also learning techniques that will help them if attacked.

Despite the negative press, unqualified trainers and false advertising, studies indicate that while there are certainly negative effects to practicing martial art aerobics, it is here to stay. So, if you’re interested in joining a class or remaining in the class you are in, I offer some advice:

  • Ask if the trainer has a martial arts background. Chances are, if he/she doesn’t, they will not know the proper method to throw a punch or kick, which will then cause class participants to sprain or break their joints or tear muscles or ligaments.
  • Be sure to warm-up and stretch properly and sufficiently before the start of class. If not, you will increase your chances of pulling a muscle or tearing a ligament.
  • Take your time and ease into it. If you try to go to fast to hard to soon, you will undoubtedly injure yourself.
  • Don’t mistake a martial art cardio program for a proper martial art or self-defense class. If you think you can learn to defend yourself by punching and kicking the air or a target other than human, you will only build false confidence.
  • Check with your local hospitals, rehab centers or doctors’ offices to see if more of their injured patients come from a specific school or class. If so, avoid that one.

–Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley

is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach.

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