Kick Starter

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Years ago, throwing a kick in a fight was deemed cheap and unmanly. Over the last 20 years, however, mixed martial arts has helped showcase the devastating art of muay Thai kickboxing to the public, and now the best kickers in the UFC are generally regarded as the baddest men on the planet.

Today, gyms are filled with men and women throwing all kinds of kicks, as well as punches, elbows and knees. Kickboxing classes are a boredom-free way of getting a killer cardio workout while also training your abs, back, shoulders and legs. A kickboxing workout is grueling but is so technique-heavy that the mental aspect is just as hard as the physical challenge. 

“You will not be good at it for the first several classes,” says Jacob Poss, a professional muay Thai fighter and kickboxing instructor and strength-and-conditioning coach at the UFC Gym in Torrance, Calif. “Don’t try to get everything perfect the first day. There are a lot of moving parts. Get your stance and your jab down. Work hard on those two things.”

A typical class taught by Poss begins with a warm-up and stretch and then gets into combinations on the heavy bags. Because amateur kickboxing matches have two-minute rounds, Poss will have his students drill a combination for two minutes (jab-cross-hook-right round kick, for example) and then give them a breather as he teaches the next combo. After 30 minutes of bag work, the class will end with 10 to 15 minutes of abs. 

“It can be daunting for some women to hit something, especially another person,” Poss says. “But once girls get into the flow, they pick up everything faster than guys do, especially if they were dancers or cheerleaders. They are used to choreographed movement and can put it into play quickly.” 

Wrap It Up: For most boxing and kickboxing classes, you will need to bring your own gloves and wraps. Some people think they can get away without wraps, but Poss disagrees. (He prefers the old-school gauze-style wraps to the modern gel-filled models.) “A lot of people think they don’t need wraps, but more people break their hands on heavy bags than anything else,” Poss says.

Don’t Try to Prove Anything: Several times a week, Poss gets a new guy in his class who feels the need to prove himself by declaring war on the heavy bag. Don’t be that guy. “The bigger and tougher the guy, the faster they wear themselves out,” Poss says. They throw haymakers for 30 seconds and then are sucking wind and can’t concentrate on technique. I’ll let them do what they want for 10 minutes, and then I start giving them little pointers. At that point, the machismo is out of the way and they become more receptive.”

Work on Your Jab: “The jab is your most effective punch. An old boxing coach once told me, ���You jab when you are winning and you jab when you are losing. There is not a time when you are not jabbing,’” Poss says. “The jab starts and finishes a lot of combinations.”

To throw a good jab, get in your boxing stance with your left foot forward (for right-handers.) With your right hand close to your temple, keep your left hand near your left cheek, with the elbow over the middle of your foot. When you throw your jab, push off that back foot to send the punch out in a straight line. The left elbow stays pointed at the ground until the arm is almost extended. At the last second, twist the hand, snap your wrist and squeeze your fingers tight. Bring it back to the start position, like a piston going back and forth in a straight line.