While kickboxing involves physical contact with other participants, many gyms and fitness studios are developing kickboxing-inspired exercises so individuals can gain the benefits of kickboxing without the physical contact that comes with a combat sport.
Related Kickboxing Resources
If you'd like to try kickboxing, check out these related resources from GymBird:
- Kickboxing for Beginners
- Top Kickboxing Benefits
- Best Kickboxing Workouts at Home
- Is Kickboxing Aerobic or Anaerobic?
An Introduction to Kickboxing
Kickboxing is a full-contact sport that involves a mix of kicks and punches. The type of gym someone chooses to attend depends on the exercise and ultimate goal of their kickboxing journey.
From a fitness perspective, there are different kickboxing workouts depending on whether someone is training to compete or wants to learn kickboxing for health benefits.
Finding your fight stance is one of the first things you’ll learn in a kickboxing class. Your fight stance is the position you’ll be in anytime you engage with your bag or opponent. In your kickboxing stance, and feet are hips width apart with a soft bend in the knees.
Your hips are square with your target, with one foot slightly back and another slightly forward. Feet can face forward or slightly turned out on a 45-degree angle. You must be in a proper fight stance before throwing any strikes.
Kickboxers can stand in an orthodox or southpaw stance. Orthodox is right-hand dominant, meaning your left foot is forward, and the right foot is back. Southpaw is left-hand dominant, meaning your right foot is forward, and your left foot is back.
Kickboxing uses a mix of punches and kicks, also called strikes. Punches are hand strikes, meaning the hand makes contact with something, either a person, bag or pad. Kicks are leg strikes, meaning the shin or bottom of the foot makes contact with something.
There are multiple kinds of punches, but the four basic punches are the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut.
- 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.
Like punches, there are also multiple kicks, but the most commonly used are the roundhouse, switch kick, and teep.
- Roundhouse kicks are the most commonly used kicks in kickboxing. 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. Roundhouse kicks can go to the head, legs, or body.
- 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 to the head, body, or legs from the lead and rear sides.
Workouts for competitive kickboxing tend to mix bag work, pad work, touch drills, and sparring.
- Bag work is when the kickboxer works combos or drills on a heavy bag. Bag work is done individually or by a coach or instructor.
- Pad work is when the kickboxer works combos or drills on pads held by another person, usually a coach or another kickboxer.
- Touch drills are when two kickboxers practice combos or drills. Kickboxers wear gloves, shin guards, and mouth guards for touch drills.
- Sparring is when two fighters simulate a fight, practicing their strikes on each other at a high pace and volume. Kickboxers are typically fully suited when sparring, which means they wear gloves, shin guards, mouth guards, and headgear.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of kickboxing without hitting someone or getting hit by someone, you can try a cardio kickboxing class. Cardio kickboxing classes will have you working your strikes on a bag, or they may have partner drills where you’re combos on pads.
There’s also always the option of working with a personal trainer or kickboxing coach. Working one-on-one is a great place to start if you’re interested in the contact element of kickboxing because coaches know how to control their speed and power and can ensure you have the proper striking technique and defense to try contact kickboxing safely.
Different Types of Kickboxing Gyms
There are many technical aspects to kickboxing, and the best way to get started is to attend classes at a kickboxing gym.
- Competitive martial arts gym: If you want to learn the competitive sport of kickboxing, you’ll want to attend a competitive martial arts gym. These gyms work with professional and amateur fighters who either have competed or plan on competing. Competitive martial arts gyms also tend to focus on more than kickboxing and will incorporate other aspects of different martial arts.
- Contact group fitness gym: A contact group fitness gym is a place for individuals who want to train like competitive kickboxing without the pressure of competing. These gyms are a great place to start if you want a well-rounded kickboxing experience without the intensity that can come with a competitive gym.
- Non-contact group fitness gym: For people who want the benefits of kickboxing without hitting people or getting hit by others, that’s where a non-contact group fitness gym comes into play. In a non-contact gym, you either work on a heavy bag or pads but never make contact with another person. These are often great places to start if you want to learn basic punching and kicking techniques.
Equipment for Kickboxing
No matter the boxing gym or style of kickboxing, you will need hand wraps and boxing gloves. Hand wraps are long pieces of cloth that you wrap around your hands and wrists to keep them safe. You wear your hand warps under your boxing gloves, which are also necessary for safety, adding support and cushion to your hand when making contact with a bag, pad, or person.
You’ll also need shin guards to protect your leg if you’re doing contact kickboxing. You may wear shinguards in non-contact kickboxing, but it’s not necessary. In more advanced and competitive kickboxing, your coach or instructor may suggest elbow pads, knee pads, mouthguards, and headgear.
What to Wear Kickboxing
Kickboxing is a sweat-intense workout requiring you to move in all different directions. So, before you head to class, let's talk about what to wear.
Your first order of business is to find comfortable, sweat-wicking fabric that allows for easy movement. Shorts, tank tops, t-shirts, sports bras, and leggings are all excellent choices. The key is to make sure the clothing is fitted, so it doesn’t get twisted while punching and kicking.
You’ll also want the right ‘kicks’ (aka shoes) with good stability and traction tol help with side-to-side movements and balance. Protective gear like gloves is another critical clothing item you don’t want to do without.
The extra padding will help protect your hands and wrists from the shock of the punches.
Kickboxing vs. Boxing
Boxing and kickboxing are similar in that they’re contact combat sports—however, traditional boxing only uses punches. In contrast, kickboxing uses the same punches as boxing with the addition of kicks.
There are many types of punches, but the four basic punches in boxing and kickboxing are the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. These punches in both sports can be to the head or body.
Kickboxing brings in the addition of kicks. Like punches, there are many kick styles, but the primary ones are the roundhouse, switch kick, and teep (also called a foot jab, push kick, or front kick, depending on the kickboxing style). Kicks can go to the head, body, or legs. Some kinds of kickboxing also utilize knees and elbows.
Another difference between the two sports is the stance or how fighters stand. Boxers have a bladed stance, meaning one foot is forward, and the other is behind them like they’re standing on a board. In a bladed stance, the fighter is almost sideways, with their lead hip and shoulder facing their opponent.
Kickboxers have more of a square stance. Fighters will still have one foot forward and one back, but the hips and shoulders are facing forward, squaring up with their opponent.
The equipment and attire in boxing and kickboxing are slightly different. In both sports, you use the same style of hand wraps and boxing gloves. You wear shoes in boxing and kick boots in American kickboxing, but most other material arts, including most kinds of kickboxing, are done barefoot.
In many material art traditions, wearing shoes on gym mats or in a ring is disrespectful. However, many non-contact and cardio kickboxing gyms allow shoes.
There are many styles of kickboxing, all taking elements from each other and other forms of martial arts (such as mixed martial arts). While there are a lot of similarities between types, there are slight nuances in how fighters pace themselves and utilize their strikes in a fight.
- Muay Thai- While many material art enthusiasts claim Muay Thai is not kickboxing, the sport of kickboxing does come from Muay Thai. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and is growing in popularity across western countries after securing Olympic recognition in 2021. Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs because, in addition to punches and kicks, competitors can also throw elbows and knees, allowing for eight different strikes. Another aspect that separates Muay Thai from other forms of kickboxing is the clinch, a technical aspect of close-range fighting. Because of the clinch, Muay Thai is the best style of kickboxing to learn if you’re interested in self-defense.
- Japanese Kickboxing- Japanese kickboxing emerged in the 1950s and mixed karate techniques and Muay Thai rules. The Japanese style emphasizes fast kicks, high output of punches, and forward attacks. There are no elbows or clinch in Japanese kickboxing.
- Dutch Kickboxing- Dutch style uses many Japanese and Muay Thai elements but has a distinctly faster pace and only uses punches, kicks, and knees, no elbows. The Dutch style is fast-paced, forward attacking with an emphasis on heavy punches and low kicks. Like the Japanese style, there are no elbows or clinch.
- American Kickboxing- Also known as full-contact kickboxing, this style rose in the 1970s and combines elements of full-contact karate and western boxing. One of the most significant differences between American Kickboxing and other kickboxing styles is American Kickboxing does not allow strikes below the waist, so opponents can only kick to the head or body, no leg kicks. You can also not throw elbows, knees, or clinch.
History of Kickboxing
The earliest use of the term kickboxing comes from a Japanese boxing promoter named Osamu Noguchi. Noguchi wanted to start a martial art based on karate but allowed full contact techniques.
In the 1970s, the first full-contact kickboxing (called full-contact karate) made its way to the US, with the first world championships in Los Angles in 1974. That same year, Don Quine, Judy Quine, and Joe Corely started The Professional Karate Association (PKA).
PKA morphed full-contact kickboxing into what people know today. However, due to legal problems, they shut down in 1985. PKA executives partnered with a group of US promoters the following year to start the International Sport Karate Association.
The organization expanded to Europe and, by 1991, was in more than 60 countries. Today ISKA trains and certifies officials and updates rules and regulations while recognizing champions and world-rated contenders in more than twenty types of martial arts and combat sports.
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.
Benefits of kickboxing
People choose kickboxing because it’s an excellent workout, but many individuals also find it beneficial to their mental health and overall well-being.
It’s a full-body workout
From the name, you might think kickboxing is a leg workout, but you’ll quickly discover kickboxing is a full-body workout. You will build leg and arm strength from punching and kicking, but you will also develop a strong core. The base of all of your strikes comes from the core, and as you master your technique, you’ll feel how strong your core is in not only powering your strikes but keeping your body balanced in your movements.
Kickboxing builds cardio, strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility
Kickboxing can help develop your cardio, strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility, depending on how you structure your workout. For a cardio-focused kickboxing workout, you’ll want to focus on constant strikes, prioritizing speed over power on your punches and kicks.
If you want to build your strength, you can slow down your workout and focus on technique to make power in your strikes.
Kickboxing requires flexibility, balance, and mobility. You don’t need to be perfect in those areas to start kickboxing, but the more you work on your technique, you’ll notice more flexibility and mobility, primarily in your legs and hips. You’ll also improve your balance and grow more comfortable standing on one leg to throw kicks.
It can make you feel empowered
Some people start kickboxing because they want a fun workout, but it’s also an excellent base for self-defense. Even if you’re not in a contact kickboxing space, you’re still learning how properly strike.
And beyond learning how to punch and kick, many gyms teach defensive moves, such as slips, rolls, and blocks, in case you need to defend an attacker.
Many people find that understanding the basics of kickboxing makes them feel more confident and empowered because they have the knowledge and tools to protect themselves if needed.
If you’re looking to push your physical activity with a full-body workout that builds cardio, strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility, consider checking out a nearby cardio or contact-kickboxing gym.
Before signing up for a membership, talk to the gym representatives about the type of kickboxing workout you can expect to determine if it’s right for your body and fitness goals.
Best Gyms for Kickboxing
Kickboxing is a fan-favorite among competitive fighters and MMA pros, but it’s also a popular workout for people seeking a high-intensity routine that combines strength, cardio, skill, and strategy.
Several specialized studios, boxing facilities, and nationwide gyms offer kickboxing classes of all levels from experienced trainers and instructors. Here are some top picks to consider when looking for your next kickboxing class.
Title Boxing Club
Title Boxing Club is a national chain known for its high-intensity kickboxing and boxing workouts. The signature high-intensity kickboxing class features plenty of punches, elbows, knees, and kicks that begin with and move through a progression of warm-up drills, shadowboxing, HIIT exercises, 3-minute rounds on the heavy bag, and strength work. Title Boxing Club also offers traditional boxing classes and MMA style workouts.
9Round is a circuit-based kickboxing gym with locations worldwide. A 9Round Kickboxing workout includes 9 training stations, three-minutes each, for a 30-minute full-body blast.
Round one and two focus on functional movement training and strength with dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, and other equipment. Round three through eight feature punching and kicking various bags to build power and coordination. Round nine ends with abs and core work to finish out your workout.
UFC Gym offers a variety of martial arts classes, including kickboxing, in several US and Canadian locations. Their Boxing Conditioning program is open to all skill levels and it combines strength work and cardio conditioning for total body balance. Each 50-minute class takes you through a series of seven 3-minute rounds, alternating between speed and power.
Local Martial Arts Studios
Privately-owned, local martial arts studios often offer kickboxing classes for various levels. You may need to call around to several in your area to find a schedule that works for you.
In addition to specialized kickboxing and martial arts studios, you can also find a variety of kickboxing classes in some large gym chains like Crunch Fitness, Equinox, Life Time Fitness, LA Fitness, 24-Hour Fitness, and the YMCA.
A Word from Ashley
I'm Ashley Walton, Cofounder and Chief Content Officer at GymBird, and I thought I'd add my two cents to this article.
If you're like me, you may find that kickboxing can be intimidating at first. I've found that it was relatively easy to ease into kickboxing workouts at home. Through online workouts and virtual instructors, I've learned proper kickboxing form and all the basic moves, without any equipment and working out within the comfort of my own home.
Something that surprised me when I started doing kickboxing: it truly feels empowering. I'm dipping into the natural strength of my body and learning how it can be used for both mobility and self-defense. I found that learning how to properly punch and kick felt really cathartic.
I've never put my moves to the test in combat or sparred with an opponent, but I love how kickboxing has improved my strength, balance, form, mobility and overall body-awareness.
If you're looking to casually mix up your workout routine (like me), or if you're potentially looking for a hobby that's full of passion and camaraderie, kickboxing is great to try!
Kickboxing can be a dynamic, fun workout that incorporates different strikes and kicks, and there are many ways to approach kickboxing. More and more gyms offer fantastic kickboxing fitness programs, and you can choose from classes and workouts with a different focus.
You may want to try kickboxing as a competitive martial art, at a combat gym, or at a no-contact gym. And you can choose from a variety of kickboxing styles, including Muay Thai, as well as Japanese, Dutch, and American style kickboxing.
FAQs About Kickboxing
How do I avoid wrist injuries while punch training in kickboxing?
Whether you’re sparring with a partner or taking your frustrations out on the bag, protecting your wrists from excessive wear and tear is a top priority. To help avoid, or at least minimize the risk of injury to your wrists while punch training in kickboxing, you’ll want to wear hand wraps and gloves during training.
If possible, work with an instructor to learn the correct technique for wrapping your hands and how to find the right fitting gloves. You’ll also want to avoid going too hard or heavy too soon and focus on gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts.
And of course, allow your wrists to rest and recover between training sessions. Overtraining can increase the risk of injury.
Is it essential to spar with a partner in a kickboxing workout?
Sparring with a partner in a kickboxing workout gives you a more realistic experience, especially if you’re training for competition.
Real combat situations involving a partner allow you to practice and refine techniques, improve timing, develop strategic thinking, and adapt your tactics based on your opponents skill level.
That said, if your goal with kickboxing is to just get a good sweat session in, there are alternative training methods you can use to improve your kickboxing skills, such as shadowboxing, bag work, pad drills, and technique-focused exercises.
Is kickboxing effective for cross-training with other sports?
Absolutely! Kickboxing is very effective for cross-training with other sports. Not only can kickboxing enhance your athletic performance, but you can also learn new skills that you may be able to apply to other sports.
Cross-training with kickboxing workouts may improve cardiovascular conditioning, total-body muscular strength, agility, coordination, balance, core strength, mental toughness, and self-defense skills.
Before you add kickboxing to your cross-training routine, make sure to consult a qualified kickboxing coach or instructor to receive proper instruction and to develop a training plan that aligns with your specific goals and the demands of your primary sport.