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Cardio Kickboxing: Healthful Or Harmful?

January 18, 2011 by  

Cardio Kickboxing: Healthful Or Harmful?

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. The Wiley Method provides a revolutionary way of providing recovery and prevention of chronic pain, illness and disease. Grab your FREE COPY of Dr. Mark Wiley's "The 3 Secrets to Optimal Health" HERE.

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  • http://donthaveone Beberoni

    And some people hurt themselves just walking down the street everyday. Any athletic moves done without warming up, or done without proper mechanics, will and can lead to injury. The major cause of guys throwing out their arms in baseball is poor mechanics, and the strength and youth will get them so far, but the arm gives out because of the poor mechanics, whereas a proper mechanic, like what Nolan Ryan used, will allow one to pitch into their forties. These videos are the same way. With proper warm up and proper technique, they are no more dangerous than walking down a flight of stairs. And a flight of stairs can kill you if approached wrong.

    • Allan Halbert

      I agree. I get weary of all the self help stuff these days. I think some personal responsibility and common sense are the best medicine.

  • VWmama

    I am glad you brought this up Dr Wiley. I have a martial arts background and I too have noticed poor kicking and punching techniques on cardio kick boxing tapes. That being said, people do get good workouts from them and when people do what they love they stick with it. So as long as people realize these are just aerobic classes they don’t go around trying to fight with people thinking they know everything, I think they are ok. Anything to get people off the couch! Excellent tips for how to approach the classes!

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      VWmama, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, activity is healthy, but incorrect mechanics can lead to injury. So asking questions and ‘feeling’ the exercise in terms of its impact on you, can help avoid injury. Martial artists are not (generally) trained fitness aerobic teachers; and cardio people are (generally) not martial artists. Both have something to learn and share. Getting the mix right is the key!

  • Bruce D.

    Maybe many Americans are not only dumbing down but also turning into pansies who may hurt themselves from doing an exercise video. I guess today that could be taken as a serious post. When I was growing up it would not have. People didn’t seem to have the problems they do today.

  • CRB

    I’ve been involved in the martial arts for almost 30 years. I have taught a Cardio Karate program at my school. I’ve watched cardio kickboxing programs on TV and was appalled by what most of them were doing, the technique was poor and I would never do them in one of my classes, they would be just asking for someone to be injured. Some techniques aren’t even taught until a student has been with me for at least a year, so why would anyone incorporate them into a cardio class. I also had women that were taking classes at aerobics studios come and check out my program and tell me that ours was where they wanted to be. We also incorporated heavy bag work with gloves into every class, with the proper way to throw a punch, kick etc. as well as practical application for the techniques.

    • Stratman

      Hello CRB,
      Though I haven’t been in martial arts as long as you have, I was a 1st Dan in Ken Po and a Second Dan in Tae Kwon Do and I did suffer injuries in both, including ACL surgery. I have also been surfing since the age of 12 and am now 54. I have surfed everything up to about 15 feet though I seem to have been injured the most in smaller surf ( stitches, broken toes and assorted cuts and bruises, etc.) I am a good athlete and still ride a short board but I only practice martial arts at home as a form of exercise though not as hard as I used to. I feel that if you practice an action sport it is not a matter of if, but when and how bad you are going to get hurt. Surly, improper technique or not enough warmup will increase the risk.

      • Dr. Mark Wiley

        You both make valid points. Improper warm-up, wrong technique, poor coaching, doing more than is possible… can lead to injury in any impact sport. Part of this is fitness gurus trying to find the next best click, and put something together before even being trained themselves. Everyone else follows suit. I think overtime, the cardio kickboxing will get better. But in the meantime, people need to look around, ask questions, and see how they feel when training… to help their chance of finding a good class and decreasing injury.

  • Dr. smith

    I smell lawsuits. sad sad commentary on American culture. viagra, cialis, etc. Have you’ve seen the state of the American male at the mall?

    I recommend reading “″ for a comic commentary on the pussification of America.

  • TIME

    As a family we all learned Katate starting at age 4 now at 61 now I still do forms daily, as well walk and listen to Mother Earths vibes.

    When faced with physical confrontation’s always use common sense, if your not relaxed and or have not streched out don’t use wild moves as seen in movies, (after all they are just movies.)
    After any event be sure to do your streching even if just taking a walk, and such class’s also would follow suit, make sure your teacher has a “solid backround in Body Mechanics.”

    To have the proper form is truly the base root of any form’s of the arts. First learn the healing part of Katate, then the Physical this goes with anything even these types of class’s. A Hyper flex of a joint can cause you damage that will be life long.

    You will find that most of us who truly know the art form’s don’t use round house or even side kicks, nor even front snap kicks.
    I have used far more low short snap kicks then any other form of kick in combat.
    Again the understanding that nothing is solid without a base, no knees no balance, a broken tibia one can’t stand, its all logic.

    Learn to understand total balance before you learn to strike, never strike in anger, strike only in defence.
    And with any class even a walking class make sure the person teaching it knows the proper form as noted.

    Overall Doc, a very Good Blog.

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      Nice comments, Time. As you can see, the pic for this article shows a good looking lady who is doing the technique completely wrong! But who would know? She probably thinks it is correct because no one corrected her and she then passes this down wrong to her class, and they to their classes over time.

      As a long time martial artist, Time, I am sure you recognize this in the martial traditions. The grandmaster had something, but the students did not all get it right. The ones who wrote books or opened clubs on military bases were the ones who spread the art to the largest population. But if it happens that their techniques was not exactly right, each generation of their student and grandstudent passed it on even more incorrectly. Thus, the wide variation between teachers of the same style!

      Cardio kickboxing becing taught as self-defense is just a modern example of this!

  • Robert Smith

    Self Defense isn’t just the moves. Self defense is a state of mind. How can some guy go from selling juice and handing out towels to teaching “martial arts” at a club?


    • Dennis

      Rob, In case you forgot, what Billy Blanks has done is called The American Dream, he worked hard for it, and he has won.
      Keep it up Billy, great job.

      • Robert Smith

        So Dennis, it’s OK to put out incorrect information, as long as he makes a bunch of money at it.

        Sometimes I wonder about morality.


        • http://naver sook young

          The left knows nothing about morality.

          “What proof and evidence can you provide that proves atheism is accurate and correct?”

          Sook Young
          Wife of the Samurai

  • Donald R. Megerle

    Most of these ‘experts’ make stuff up … and a naive public buys it! Such a shame! I have been coaching collegiate swimmers and marathon runners for over 40 years (Tufts University) … and I have found that very few of these ‘experts’ can explain how mechanical / neuromuscular principles or kinesiological concepts govern human motion … thus fueling the public with misinformation and propaganda! These ‘experts’ get paid a lot of $ selling a bunch of malarky!

  • John Woodbury

    Wow, good article. In the late 60′s, before the current teaching madness, I took Tai Kwan Do. If I have not gone totally senile, I remember not ”sparing” with anyone until I had a 2nd degree Brown Belt. In fact, you were punished for sparing before then. I stopped during my test for 2nd degree Black because I almost killed my best friend with a missed placed hand to the nose. He still liked it and became quite good at it.

  • FreedomFighter

    Cardio Kickboxing without proper body preparation, stretching, form, and mental state can certainly lead to injury. I have been practicing karate since 69 or so, learning from old time masters such as Pat Whorly, Mr. Rhee his sons, and others (forgive my spelling Pat). I found an old master from Korea, he spoke little English, was a brutal little man that made me very dangerous, then after about 10 years I was on my own. I don’t teach and never wanted to, and I don’t claim to be an expert.

    Full power motions locking joints will destroy the joints and everything attached. Slow, balanced precise practice is what I favor, if you can do it perfectly slow fast is easy. If you want an extreme Cardio workout, pick up some Russian kettle bells and use them for a resistance based cardio workout you will not soon forget. Kettle bells, flexibility training and karate go together like nothing else I have done.

    Excellent article Dr. Wiley you got it right.

    Laus Deo
    Semper Fi

  • http://None Bob Nichols

    Most, if not all, the ‘Self Defense’programs advertised are pretty much worthless in self defense whether ‘healthy’ or ‘possibly injurous’.
    If you look at the training it is a response to an action by the opponent. If, in an actual criminal attack, you wait for him to attack you have already lost your advantage and will probably lose.
    When confronted, unless you are going to comply with all requests of the attacker, it is imperative that you take the initiative and disable him before he has time to attack you.
    I heard a story about a ‘self defense’ expert who was attacked by two armed criminals. He disabled one and had the advantage over the other with one of the ‘holds’ taught. The criminal signaled, as is proper in the self defense training sometime called tapping out, that he was conquered. The expert let him loose and the criminal killed him with a knife. Instead of a ‘hold’ he should have disarmed the attacker by breaking his arm.

  • Disabled Veteran Brian

    As a martial artist of 34 years practice and training, I have seen even properly trained martial artists injured when improperly performing even basic techniques. Do not mistake aerobic work for self defense, do not fail to warm up, if possible, before someone attacks you, and do not allow an armed thug to hurt or kill you by not disabling him. “pity the fool” that thinks tae bo will allow them skills learned by rigorous effort and practice. Even disabled as I am, practice done slowly and correctly allow me improved chances to survive an attack. That is due to my former instructor, Master Ernest Leib, and my current instructor, Mr. David Thomas, as well as numerous other black belts and instructors from judo, aikido, and karate. Seek out a competent instructor and the aerobics can be a side effect of the training. Furthermore, if attacked, basic techniques are best and fastest…keep it simple, stupid…KISS… Respectfully, a 4th degree black belt

  • Bruce D.

    All videos have warm ups. It is likely people buying exorcise videos are looking at it as just that-an exorcise video. The reason why people use these videos is that they work. You have more power in your daily life after a short period of time. If people want to learn serious karate they will go to a trainer most likely but that is not for everyone. The videos have the music and the rhythm that many want and serious karate does not have. Most people are not looking for a fight. They only want to get in shape and have a good time.

  • Ray Sneed

    Tae bo, like most of the cardio kick, etc., type programs are probably very good for cardio exercise, but they should NOT ever be advertised as having any self defense applications, other than allowing the person to run away faster.
    I have trained in self defense for over 25 years and have been an instructor for about 13 years. If a person actually hit a punching bag, or a person using the form I have seen on tv and at the loca gym, the striker would hurt themselves far worse than they would any would-be attacker. Self defense techniques that actually work are like what DAV Brian said – fast and simple.

  • Skip Mendler

    As a 3rd-degree black belt (sandan) in AIkido, let me recommend that art – which not only teaches effective self-defense techniques, but also how to take falls safely, and maintain centeredness in stressful situations. Tai Chi and Qi Gong (Chi Kung) are also good for overall health.

  • Jeryl

    You are absolutely right! Proper form is absolutely necessary in real martial arts. Years ago, when I was returning to Martial Arts, a young man in our dojo literally ripped his knee out of joint because he did not pivot the grounded foot properly doing a round house kick. The reason that it takes a good while to master a martial arts style is that a good sensei will not let a student progress to the next level until all of the basics are thoroughly mastered. Improper training and lack of mastery of the basics will only bring about pain and injury.

  • Rose

    I started kickboxing in my late 60′s and love it. Our teacher is a highly-qualified teacher as national and world champion in many areas of the martial arts and we live in a small town but she is known worldwide. We are taught how to do what we are doing so as to avoid injuries. Kickboxing is great from top to bottom. Apart, I powerwalk and go up and down steep hills forwards and backwards. I have to spend time in front of the computer, so I need to move the body for good health and fitness. Eat right, exercise, use your brain as well as your body and all this will give you a better attitude and outlook on life. Stop the junk food, stop being couch potatoes or computer attached, or, in other words, move it or lose.

  • coal miner
  • Robert Hauser

    I have had martial arts which in general was an approx. 50/50 mix of the sport and art form and the far-from-artistically inspired for-use-on-the-streets-or-in-the-field curriculum and if I’ve learned anything, it is that survival is not a spectator sport. In a confrontation in the streets, the ONLY important thing is that what you use WORKS and disables the opponent BEFORE he has a chance to harm you—you are not being graded or working for points. Artistry and form are for tournaments. Considering that America has degenerated into the kind of country it is with the kind of people loose on the streets that are and with fully 4% of them being clinically confirmable sociopaths, I would suggest that if you are a largely Schilleresque live-and-let-live type, that you engage in bona fide martial arts training, preferably grappling as over 70% of all street fights end up on the ground, and enjoy health benefits as a welcome side order rather than take an aerobics course and dupe yourself into believing that it gives you, as a byproduct, some kind of martial arts advantage on the streets; that could very well prove fatal.

    I might add here that of all the known and recognized sports, wrestling is the second best all around body conditioner…learned this a long time ago…it was said that tennis is the single best with wrestling a photo finish second. Swimming, at least at that time, ranked a distant eighth, which I found surprising.

  • delta6

    I have the original set of Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo tapes and have used them for over ten years with no injuries or problems. They’re the best on the market for getting in shape and losing weight. And there is a warm up section at the beginning. Billy gives you the proper instruction in doing the kicks and says you not to extend your kicks so there is little risk of injury unless you bring it on yourself by your own mistakes – That’s not Billys fault. There is risk to every exercise – weight lifting, running, skiing, tennis, etc. So what are we supposed to do stop it because we may get hurt. Get over it and wise up.

  • bob wire

    whatever blows your dress up.

    Karaoke works for me, but it’s not for everybody. It’s very easy to embarrass yourself after a long night of power drinking.

    I loosen up and get better as the night progress. I like to limber up with a few Yager-bombs and then back down to an occasional Patron with Budweiser chasers.

    In no time, I’m taking request! “Far,Far Away” seems to be the most popular I’m asked to sing.

    • Robert Smith

      No, no… It isn’t Karaoke.

      It’s Sushi and Saki. I keep in great shape (round is a shape) with the low fat Sushi and Saki.


      • http://naver samurai

        Too bad some ninja didn’t come out of the dark and take you. FOR GOD AND COUNTRY!

  • Sicklemaster

    Did you see the picture of the girl at the top of the article. She appears to be doing a side thrust, with her hands in the wrong position for the technique, and her foot is turned up at an incorrect angle for any kind of contact. If she contacted any target with that appendage, it would tear her foot up. Even if she was doing a straight-foot-position thrust, her angle is too high. Her kick height is not bad but nothing exceptional. Even doing a roundhouse kick, her foot position is still bad. That would spell injury right there.

  • Joe

    Cardio Kickboxing: Healthful Or Harmful? Only if your the recipient of the person doing the kicking, is it harmful


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