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Resurrect Interest in Kickboxing

Practical Programming that works.

If you’ve noticed fewer participants in your kickboxing program over the past few years, you’re not alone. The 2002 IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey indicated that kickboxing was among the programs that have seen the most decline (IDEA 2002). Some members, thinking kickboxing was reserved for really fit participants, never stepped foot in the classes to begin with. Others made it to class but were discouraged by injuries or an intimidating instructor. You can address these and other programming challenges by developing creative, diverse programs that take assessment and training into account.

Kick Outside the Box

The more diverse a program is, the more people it will attract. There’s a wide range of potential members with a variety of workout preferences, and there is more than one way to format a kickboxing class. Lack of creativity and participant focus can stymie a program. For example, if you format a kickboxing class like a step class (group choreography performed to music), the male population may not participate. However, offer a circuit-type class sans
the choreography, and male participation could increase.

Expand your awareness of the classes people need. Keep in mind that even advanced participants become beginners again when they learn something new. Conversely, deconditioned individuals may need a low-key introductory class that focuses on the basics of proper form. Offer circuit classes, interval training, combination drills and choreography—the point is to think outside your normal patterns in order to anticipate the needs of all members.

and Reward

Programs should be a source of motivation and reward for participants. These factors are inherent in martial arts training, where students must learn, practice and perfect certain physical techniques and movements before advancing to the next belt level (color). Advancement is the motivation to continue the training. You can use these same concepts of motivation and reward in kickboxing classes, although awarding colored belts isn’t necessary or advisable. For example, when participants reach a certain level of skill and/or conditioning, invite them to attend a higher-level class. I reward students by giving them certificates if they attend every class in a registered session. They can save up their certificates to obtain prizes like bag gloves, T-shirts, hand wraps and other kickboxing-related items.

To keep people motivated, make sure they always have some achievable, realistic goal within sight. An effective way to motivate and retain participants is to create standards based on fitness goal criteria and use these standards to assess fitness and skill levels in class. Some standards I use are being able to assume the proper fighter’s stance, recognizing improper form and performing basic choreography combinations. Note, however, that a standards-based program should not demotivate participants, who should never be made to feel badly if they do not achieve certain standards. You must base the criteria on individuals’ own starting points; participants should be competing only against themselves. The standards should be flexible and dynamic. If they are rigid, problems can arise when someone reaches the highest level or is unable to attain an established standard.

Tried-and-True Training

Instructors must have the skills and knowledge necessary to lead kickboxing workouts effectively and safely. Toward that end, you must seek out high-quality, knowledgeable and experienced training resources. Here are some important questions and points to consider:

Kickboxing Experience and Credentials. Don’t evaluate a training resource simply by name recognition. Identify and verify the credentials and experience of the person or persons who actually perform the training.

Curriculum Content. What does the training include? Is it a 1-day seminar that turns out to be an all-day workout taught by a presenter whose only goal is to challenge the attendees physically, not to teach them skills and provide information? Ideally, a training program will cover and teach physical technique performance from an exercise science perspective. It will also include workout design concepts, equipment use, marketing and class format options. The content should cover both practical and lecture components. Attendees should acquire the knowledge and skills they need to lead a class that is safe and effective for anyone who participates—not just the young, athletic exerciser.

Competency Validation. A credible training program will include methods for
validating and measuring acquired skills (practical testing) and knowledge (written testing). These validations are information tools that provide instructors with a clear picture of their weaknesses and strengths.

Continuing Education. The courses should be accredited for continuing education by a reputable certifying organization. Find out how much training is available through a particular resource. Does it offer several hours of training, or is it a one-shot, one-workshop deal? Is training available via home study as well as “live,” easily accessible workshops? Training should cover a wide variety of subjects, including biomechanics, choreography, class format, program structure, equipment use and marketing.

Certification. Does the program offer instructor certification? What is the training content? A good certification program will be multilevel, providing the opportunity not only to improve current kickboxing fitness skills but also to learn new ones on a continual basis.

Proper, well-rounded education and training cannot be stressed enough. Time spent researching the best training resources is time well spent, as it will help ensure that instructors are properly prepared to lead kickboxing class.

Reevaluate and Retool

Kickboxing doesn’t have to continue its disappointing, downward spiral. Now that the initial frenzy and excitement have leveled off, reevaluate and retool your kickboxing programs to be more like other fitness activities. Address the safety and injury prevention issues directly by providing adequate training. With regard to design and structure, give kickboxing the same consideration and support you give to other programs; formats should appeal to anyone who wants to participate. Planning, diversifying, assessing and training are critical to long-term success. If you take these simple steps, your facility will not only maintain current membership levels; it will enjoy a steady source of new members as well. Kickboxing programming can once again rise to a successful level of popularity and participation.

A Comprehensive Kickboxing Program

Here are some options to consider when developing a kickboxing program:


  • circuit training (with or without equipment)

  • group fitness (choreographed to music or drill-type, where instructor calls out the movements)

  • interval training (circuit or group fitness class)

  • combination class (combining group choreography or drills with a circuit class)

  • aerobic cardiovascular training (at 40 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate)

  • anaerobic cardiovascular training (higher-intensity levels, closer to competitive training)

  • boxing vs. kickboxing (punching only vs. kicking and punching)


When you are planning the skills and conditioning breakdown, let the criteria describing each segment be defined, but dynamic. Here are some guidelines:

Orientation Class

  • 30 minutes

  • a “teaching” class, not a workout

  • short and simple

  • a good time for beginning instructors to hone their knowledge and skills

  • a safe place for deconditioned members

Beginners’ Class

  • 45 minutes

  • for novices (in skill and/or conditioning)

  • low intensity

  • single movements gradually grouped into combinations

  • good bridge from orientation to intermediate

Intermediate Class

  • 45 to 60 minutes

  • familiar movements and combinations

  • slightly higher intensity levels, introduced progressively

  • intensity dropping to accommodate the learning process as you introduce new patterns, techniques and drills, and then increasing as the moves become more familiar

Advanced Class

  • 60 to 75 minutes

  • familiar techniques, drills and combinations performed at the highest

    intensity level that is safe and achievable and enables participants to meet their fitness goals

Leave Self-Defense to the Experts

The safety issue is always worth revisiting. The idea of learning self-defense in a fitness class is dangerous. Practical and effective self-defense can’t be learned or experienced in a fitness class environment. Strikes and blocks used in a self-defense situation may be learned and practiced in a fitness class. However, the practical application, along with the adrenaline rush that accompanies a street attack, can’t be simulated. In fact, many mental, emotional and environmental aspects of self-defense training are not part of a typical fitness class. A fitness instructor who lacks in-depth, realistic self-defense training can’t teach these skill sets.

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