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How celebs get their kicks and stay healthy

The sweat is on. Liz Connor discovers why kickboxing is a great way to amp up your post-summer workout routine

Hard hitting: kickboxing
Hard hitting: kickboxing

By Liz Connor

What do Idris Elba and models Martha Hunt and Gisele Bundchen have in common? Aside from winning the genetic lottery, they all apparently use kickboxing as their secret weapon to stay in shape.

This combat sport offers a satisfying full body burn and involves punching and kicking with bare feet at either an opponent or a bag. It borrows moves from multiple types of martial arts including full-contact karate, Muay Thai, and boxing.

While it won't be on the Olympics schedule next summer, the sport has been given provisional acceptance by the International Olympic Committee, so it's likely to grow in popularity in the coming years.

Kickboxing can feel intimidating for a first-timer, but many of today's classes combine martial arts moves with high-intensity cardio, allowing people to build up their confidence and get a taster of the sport in an approachable way.

If you're looking for a fast and furious way to get the body of a Victoria's Secret model or DCI John Luther, getting in on the fight club might just be the answer. Here are some of the health perks to know...

1. It's a total body workout

Kickboxing is an effective form of cardio for total body toning. Although it looks as though you're mostly using your legs and arms, kickboxers engage their core and glutes to throw their whole force behind each kick and punch.

It's also great for building a six-pack. "There are very few exercises that engage so many of our core muscles collectively as throwing a roundhouse kick," says Ben Leonard-Kane, co-founder and trainer at London kickboxing studio Flykick (flykick.co.uk).

"This is because when you kick, you're balancing on one leg, while rotating different parts of your body through different axes. You're engaging the majority of both your 'moving' (abdominals, obliques, abductors) and 'stabilising' (transverse abdominal, pelvic floor) core muscles."

Balance, power and stamina are all needed to master the non-stop jabs, crosses and kicks involved in a match. Many hybrid classes also involve intervals of cardio, so expect to be slayed with non-stop squats, burpees, planks and press-ups.

2. It gets your brain in gear

As well as being a workout for your body, kickboxing challenges the brain too. Unlike other forms of cardio where you run through the moves on autopilot, kickboxing requires total concentration to remember the combinations and dodge your opponents' attacks.

Even when you're recovering from an all-out burst on the bag, your brain is still engaged as you size up your next move and stay light on your feet.

3. It can help to fight stress

Had a stressful day at the office? Thirty minutes of kickboxing is all you need to blow off some mental steam and achieve that feel-good fitness high.

"There are numerous studies that show kickboxing is an effective form of stress relief," says Leonard-Kane.

Kickboxing fans include Gisele Bundchen
Kickboxing fans include Gisele Bundchen

"While you are punching and kicking the bag, letting go of all that stress in a constructive manner, your body releases endorphins that relieve pain and aid in decreasing depression and anxiety."

4. You can burn some serious calories

Hitting and kicking a heavy bag takes brute strength, so don't be surprised if you're totally wiped out by the end of your first class. HIIT-style kickboxing classes also get you working at 70 to 90% max heart rate, which is the sweet spot for torching fat, building muscle and toning your body.

When you give 100% effort in a high-intensity class, you also reap the benefits of the 'after burn' effect - where the body continues to burn calories for up to 24 hours after your workout is finished.

"The high-intensity nature of a kickboxing session means you can burn a surplus of 1,000 calories in a class," says Leonard-Kane.

"Let's not forget, kickboxing is fun too!" he adds. "Training, as well as being challenging, should also be rewarding and enjoyable, and kicking a punch bag, particularly when you catch that sweet spot, is extremely gratifying."

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