While you can’t jump into a competitive kickboxing class without prior experience, plenty of fitness studios and material arts gyms cater their kickboxing class to beginners to help you learn the basics and build a solid foundation to start reaping the benefits of the sport.
An Introduction to Kickboxing
Kickboxing is a combat sport that utilizes punches and kicks. In traditional kickboxing, kickboxers train to compete and test their skills against other kickboxers in matches, bouts, or fights.
However, in recent years, there’s been a rise in the popularity of cardio kickboxing, where individuals can learn the basics of kickboxing and develop their physical and mental benefits of the sport without having to compete.
Finding Your Stance
Before throwing any strikes, you need to find your fight stance. Start by standing in a neutral stance with your feet hip-width apart.
If you’re right-handed, you’ll take a step back with your right foot for an orthodox stance. If you’re left-handed, you’ll be in a southpaw stance with your left foot back. The foot that is forward is called your lead side. The back foot is your rear or dominant side.
Unlike in boxing, where your feet are bladed, your hips should face forward in kickboxing. Your toes can face forward or on a slight angle, whichever is more comfortable for you. Keep your elbows tucked tight to your rib cage, and your hands should be at the cheek or eyebrow level.
Understanding the Strikes
Kickboxing utilizes a mix of punches and kicks. There are multiple kinds of punches, but the four basic punches are the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. Any of these punches can go to the head or the body.
- Jabs are straight punches from your lead side
- Crosses are straight punches from your rear side
- Hooks are punches to the side of your target. They can come from the lead or rear side.
- Uppercuts are upward from your rear or lead side.
There are also multiple kicks, but the most commonly used are the roundhouse, switch kick, and teep. These three kicks can go to the head, body, or legs.
- Roundhouse kicks are when you connect the shin on your rear leg to your target. You generate power by stepping across your target with your lead leg and rotating your core to swing your shin into your target.
- Switch kicks are essential roundhouse kicks from the lead side. However, before you throw the kick, you must switch stance with a quick shuffle of the feet.
- Teeps, also called foot jabs, push kicks, or front kicks, are when you place the sole of your foot on your target and push it forward using force from your hip. You can throw teeps from the lead and rear sides.
Types of Kickboxing Workouts
The basis of kickboxing working is learning how to punch and kick. However, the target for your strike may vary depending on the gym and the goal of the workout. Some standard kickboxing workouts are shadowboxing, bag work, pad work, touch drills, and sparring.
- Shadowboxing is when an individual works the techniques of their strikes without making contact with anything. Many kickboxers shadowbox as a warmup. However, by increasing the speed and intensity of your strikes, shadowboxing can be a great cardio workout and is an excellent way for beginners to learn the proper technique before making contact with a target. You don’t need any gear for shadowboxing, but you can wear gloves or use hand weights to build strength.
- Bag work is when an individual works their strikes on a heavy bag or punching bag. Many cardio kickboxing gyms focus on bag work because it allows kickboxers to take the workout at their own pace, and it’s easy to coach a group of people at once. It’s also a great workout if you want to focus on technique and movement. You only need gloves and hand wraps for bag work. You don’t need shin guards.
- Pad work is a partner drill where one person holds pads (often Thai pads in kickboxing) for the other person to strike. Pad work is often faster than bag work and gives the kickboxer a more practical application for throwing strikes on a person. Pad work is often the go-to workout for personal training or one-on-one coaching. Pad work is a different skill than kickboxing, so it’s essential to work with a trained pad holder, such as a coach or instructor, to minimize injuries. You only need hand wraps and gloves for pad work, no shin guards.
- Touch drills are partner drills where individuals practice strikes on each other. Touch drills are often face-paced but have low power. The goal of a partner drill is to learn the proper placement of stikes on another person. It’s also an excellent way to develop your defensive skills. Touch drills may look like sparring, but they’ve controlled interaction and are best for people who are more advanced kickboxers. You will need hand wraps, gloves, and shin guards for touch drills. You can wear a mouthpiece if you want.
- Sparring is when two kickboxers freestyle their strikes on one another at 60 to 80 percent speed and power. The goal of sparring is to prepare an individual for a competition and is only for advanced kickboxers, as there is a high risk of injury if not done correctly. You will need hand wraps, gloves, shin guards, and a mouthpiece for sparring. Many people also choose to wear headgear.
Get our fitness newsletter
Stay on track with your fitness goals and get inspired! Sign up for the GymBird newsletter for twice-monthly expert fitness and nutrition tips.
Types of Kickboxing
You may notice a few different ways to describe kickboxing when looking for a kickboxing gym or workout. You can place kickboxing types into one of three categories; competitive contact, non-competitive contact, and no-contact.
Competitive contact kickboxing
Competitive contact kickboxing is for individuals interested in competing in kickboxing. A person in competitive contact kickboxing will do a mix of bag rounds, pad rounds, partner drilling, and sparring.
Gyms that offer competitive contact kickboxing also work strength and condition with weights or HIIT classes in conjunction with kickboxing. While some competitive kickboxing gyms are open to newcomers, most people understand the basics of striking and defending before they start competitive contact kickboxing.
Non-competitive contact kickboxing
Non-competitive contact kickboxing is for individuals who want to train like competitive kickboxers but want a slower-paced environment. Non-competitive contact kickboxing includes a mix of bag rounds, pad rounds, and partner drilling, but typically no sparring.
Non-competitive contact kickboxing gyms can be excellent places for beginners if you’re okay with the contact element of kickboxing.
No-contact kickboxing (cardio kickboxing)
No-contact kickboxing is for people who want the benefits of a kickboxing workout but aren’t comfortable hitting or getting hit by another individual.
No-contact kickboxing, also called cardio kickboxing, is primarily a bag work workout but may include pad work, depending on the gym. Many start with cardio kickboxing before getting into contact kickboxing because it’s a safe and pressure-free zone to get comfortable with punching and kicking.
How to Prepare for Kickboxing
If you’re interested in starting your first kickboxing workout or joining a kickboxing gym, there are a few things you should consider to help you prepare and set yourself up for success.
- Learn boxing before starting kickboxing. Boxing and kickboxing are different sports and different workouts. However, kickboxing uses many elements of boxing, and it’s often more accessible for people to learn just punches before they add in the kicks.
- Make sure you have the proper equipment. The most vital equipment you’ll need is hand wraps and boxing gloves. Kickboxing and boxing use the same type of glove, but make sure it’s a boxing glove, not an MMA glove. MMA gloves expose the fingers and have a lot less support and padding. You can find hand wraps and gloves online, or many kickboxing gyms sell or rent the equipment.
- Warm up every part of your body before you work out. Kickboxing is a full-body workout. You’ll soon notice that you are working your arms and legs and are using your back, core, hips, ankles, and nearly every other part of your body. Take the time to warm up properly with light cardio, such as jump roping or shadowboxing, and dynamic stretches.
Kickboxing Tips for Beginners
Once you prepare for your first kickboxing workout, it’s time to find the right gym and the most qualified instructors and set the right mindset.
- Find a gym that offers introductory classes. It’s easy to get excited and want to jump into a kickboxing class, but make sure you find a gym that caters to beginners. Ask if the gym has an introductory course or offers beginners one-on-one coaching to help you get comfortable with the kickboxing techniques and to show you how to use the equipment, like the heavy bags or pads.
- Work with a qualified kickboxing coach. You want to ensure you’re learning the proper technique to minimize injuries. Skilled kickboxers have years of experience perfecting the technique, and to get the best workout and stay safe, you’ll want to find a qualified kickboxing coach. Unfortunately, unlike other disciplines like yoga or weight training, there are no certifications for kickboxing, and many corporate kickboxing gyms don’t have qualified instructors. However, you can ask coaches and instructors about their experience. Ask them how long they’ve been kickboxing if they’ve competed, and where they got their training. If they have been kickboxing for less than three years, have no competition experience, and gained training through a corporate program at the gym they’re teaching at, they’re likely not qualified coaches.
- Be okay with failing. You cannot learn kickboxing overnight. It will be challenging, and not every strike you throw will be perfect. Enter kickboxing, knowing it will be a journey and try to enjoy the process. Every time you fail is an opportunity to learn and try again.
Sample Kickboxing Workouts for Beginners
You will need gloves, hand wraps, and a heavy bag or pads for this kickboxing workout. You can shadowbox the rounds if you don’t have access to equipment or a gym.
- Jump rope (3 min)- Start with a leisurely pace for about 30 to 45 seconds. With every 30 seconds, try picking up the pace. Once you’re comfortable with the rope, try incorporating different footwork, such as jumping on one foot at a time or jumping in and out like a jumping jack. If you don’t have a jump rope or you’re new to jump rope, you can phantom jump rope without the physical rope.
- Speed ladder (3 min)- Footwork is essential to kickboxing, so it’s good to start with a speed ladder to warm up your feet. Begin with a simple footwork drill, like one or two feet in each box, then build up to more complex drills. If you don’t have a speed ladder, you can use chalk to draw boxes on the ground or do the movements without the ladder.
- Shadowbox (3 min)- Freestyle shadowbox any combinations of punches and kicks you want to loosen up your body. This shadowbox is a warmup, so keep a slow pace and focus on the technique of each strike.
*Each round is 3 minutes long. You can take a 30-45 seconds rest between each round. Each round uses the number system to indicate the punches (1-jab, 2-cross, 3-lead hook, 4-rear hook, 5-lead uppercut, 6-rear uppercut).
Round 1: The first round is about warming up your punches. Start at 50 percent speed and power, and you can pick up the pace as you feel your body warming up. Throw the punches indicated in the line, and then take a second to reset.
- 1-2 (30 secs)
- 3-4 (30 secs)
- 1-2-3-4 (30 sec)
- 5-6 (30 sec)
- 3-4-5-6 (30 sec)
- 1-2-3-4-5-6 (30 sec)
Round 2: You can start bringing in your kicks in the second round. When you see “speed punches,” that means throw those punchings as fast as you can without resetting between combos. Like the first round, start with minimum speed and power, then build up once you’re comfortable with the combo.
- 1 -rear kick (30 sec)
- 1-2 speed punches (15 sec)
- 1-rear kick-2-3-2 (1 min)
- 1-2 speed punches (15 sec)
- 1-rear kick-2-3-2-switch kick (1 min)
Round 3: The third round is your burnout round, which means high intensity for all three minutes. All of the combos in this line are for speed. When throwing speed, your strikes should be light in power (think less than 50 percent) but as fast as possible.
- Lead teep- rear teep for speed (30 sec)
- 1-2 speed punches (15 sec)
- Rear kicks for speed (30 sec)
- 5-6 speed punches (15 sec)
- Switch kicks for speed (30 sec)
- 1-2 speed punches (15 sec)
- 1-rear kick-2-switch kick for speed (45 sec)
Round 4: Your fourth round is to work on building a combo. You’re going to add strikes to the combo after every 45 seconds.
- 1-2-3-rear kick (45 sec)
- 1-2 speed (15 sec)
- 1-2-3-rear kick-3-2 (45 sec)
- 5-6 speed punches (15 sec)
- 1-2-3-rear kick-3-2- switch kick (1 min)
Round 5: The last round is your time to have fun and experiment with your strikes. Start with light power and speed during the two-punch combos. Then, explode with speed and strength during the 45-second freestyle bits.
- 1-2 (15 sec)
- Freestyle (45 sec)
- 5-6 (15 sec)
- Freestyle (45 sec)
- 3-4 (15 sec)
- Freestyle (45 sec)
Cooldown: Take this time to catch your breath, slow your heart rate, and stretch your muscles.
- Downward dog (30 seconds)- Start in a plank with your wrists and elbows stacked under your shoulders. Pull your hips into the air as you allow your head to sink into the floor. Feel the stretch in the shoulders, back, and along the spine. You can pedal out your feet to stretch the calves from this position.
- Pigeon pose (30 seconds for each leg)- From your downward down, send one leg up behind you, then bring that same knee in to touch your same-side wrist. Lay the shin down on the ground, parallel to your hands, or on a diagonal. Stretch your opposite leg long behind you, letting it sink into the floor. You can stay upright with your chest proud, or you can lower yourself onto your forearms for a deeper stretch in the hips and glutes.
- Child’s pose (1 min)- Get into a tabletop position with your wrists and elbows stacked under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Touch your toes together, and sink your hips back to sit on your heels. Then, stretch your hands in front of you as far as possible.
Benefits of Kickboxing
Even if you’re not competing or sparring with others, many benefits come with kickboxing. It’s a full-body workout that strengthens, tones, and builds cardio, flexibility, and coordination. Kickboxing is an excellent base for self-defense and helps many individuals feel confident and empowered.
- Strengthen and tone your entire body- It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that kickboxing strengthens and tones the muscles in your arms and legs, but those aren’t the only parts of your body benefiting from the workout. After your first kickboxing experience, you’ll notice how much of your core, back, shoulders, and body parts need to work together for powerful strikes.
- Improve your mobility, flexibility, and coordination- Throwing fast and powerful kicks requires a lot of coordination, mobility, and flexibility. When you first start, throwing light kicks low on the bag or body is natural. Eventually, you’ll build your hip mobility, leg flexibility, and overall coordination through practice and drilling for stronger, faster strikes.
- Test your cardio- Not only are you building strength, mobility, flexibility, and coordination, but kickboxing is also a fantastic cardio workout. Even when you’re a beginner, you’ll notice how quickly your heart rate spikes during training and how hard your body is working.
- Develop basic self-defense skills- There are tons of physical benefits to kickboxing, but many people experience a confidence boost and start getting the hang of the sport. Kickboxing teaches you the basics of self-defense, and a certain sense of empowerment comes with knowing how to use your body to defend yourself if needed.
Whether you’re starting with the hopes of competing or want to gain the benefits of the sport, kickboxing is an excellent workout for beginners and expert fitness gurus alike.
Start by finding a gym or studio near you with an introductory class and qualified kickboxing instructors who can set you up for success. Remember to have fun, and don’t get discouraged as you learn the kickboxing’s ins and outs.