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The History of Cardio Kickboxing Classes

by | Class Formats, Group Fitness History, Main Blog

The cardio kickboxing workout has come and gone, (and come and gone), but what is the future of this workout? Is it destined to fade out or is it experiencing a new wave of energy and popularity? Is cardio kickboxing the new black?

To gain perspective on what cardio kickboxing or boxing inspired workouts have become, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane for historical context.

Where It All Began (sorta)

From a group exercise perspective, our first memory of cardio kickboxing was most likely Tae Bo with Billy Blanks. Developed by Mr. Blanks, Tae Bo became one of the best selling workout videos during the 1990’s and catapulted cardio kickboxing as a fun and effective workout for the mass public without traditional martial arts training. As a result, gyms started to offer cardio kickboxing classes and instructors began adding this format to their skill set. Many became certified in Tae Bo while others taught a freestyle kickboxing class creating their own content.

Then Along Came……

Turbo Kick (since sold to Beach Body), by Chalene Johnson. Turbo Kick became one of the hottest cardio kickboxing workouts that combined cardio kickboxing and “simple dance grooves” for a cardio workout. This was marketed as a pre-choreographed format requiring certified instructors to pay a subscription fee for ongoing content called “Rounds” they had to learn and music to use for class.

Cardio kickboxing group fitness classes reached a critical mass in the late 90’s and early 2000’s due to the popularity of Tae Bo and Turbo Kick. Instructors became devout and loyal followers and helped launch the popularity of the pre-choreographed format. They became the touchstone for what cardio kickboxing could be in a group exercise schedule.

Fast Forward to Present Day

The good news is cardio kickboxing and boxing inspired workouts are alive and well and continue to be a much sought after workout. Equinox alone offers 44 different boxing and martial art inspired classes and recently became a significant minority investor in Rumble. Is this a sign that cardio kickboxing is experiencing a resurgence in popularity? And if so, what do these programs look like and how have they taken a classic workout and evolved it to meet modern day expectations?

Most programs fall into one of these 3 categories; pre-choreographed, preformatted or freestyle. There are pros and cons to each which I will discuss below.

Freestyle

This is where the instructor has free reign to choose the music, content, and class design. The name of the class may be a bit more generic such as “Cardio Kickboxing” or “Cardio Kick”. No licensing fees are required as there isn’t a brand or trademarked name to represent.

AFAA, the Athletic and Fitness Association of America offers their own cardio kickboxing training course, continuing education, and choreography workshop and ACE, the American Council on Exercise expanded their course offerings for ACE certified instructors with an online cardio kickboxing training course. These courses are more technique and science based and allow the instructor to teach a freestyle cardio kickboxing class without the licensing requirements attached with most brands. They will prepare the instructor with the proper punch and kick techniques and may touch on class design, but ultimately the instructor can create a freestyle class.

Pre-choreographed

This style is the antithesis of freestyle and offers the most structure. These programs require the instructor to use their content, follow their class design, and use their music. They provide the content needed to teach a class and the instructor must practice and memorize the class formula and teach it in compliance with the company’s requirements. These programs require a subscription fee and/or licensing fee to use the brand name and receive ongoing content.

Les Mills has Body Combat, and Beach Body put their hat in the ring with Core De Force. Piloxing offers a boxing and pilates hybrid workout and R.I.P.P.E.D. launched R.I.P.P.E.D. Rumble, all of which are pre-choreographed formats requiring the instructor to teach their choreography preset to their music. Each program offers their version of the cardio kickboxing workout. Some include dance or pilates, while others infuse athletic components or drills. The total time actually doing punch and kick combinations varies drastically with each program.

Preformatted

These programs are a hybrid between the pre-choreographed and freestyle structure. They provide content that is unique to that brand, but allow the instructor to put the content together to best suit their demographic and teaching style. The content is separated into blocks or combinations and the instructor can put this content into a different order granting some creative license to the instructor in their class design.

Urbankick is the only cardio kickboxing program that offers a preformatted option; providing content and class design templates to their instructors along with a video library of content the instructors can subscribe to.

Preformatted allows a little breathing room for instructors to be creative and make expert decisions within a structure. Some instructors may gravitate towards a preformatted program so they don’t feel constrained and locked into a template and their creative juices can flow.

Which One is Best?

With all of these options available it’s hard to imagine there isn’t a better time to teach cardio kickboxing than right now. Instructors can ride this resurgence of boxing inspired formats and choose a style that works best for them to increase their skill set and marketability. When has too many choices been a bad thing? The question is which program is the ideal program for each instructor.

Back in the day you had zero options! You could take a general group exercise certification but it was up to you to create a class from soup to nuts. It was your responsibility to choose the music, create the combinations and overall class design for the class. We learned how to do this by taking other classes from instructors and if we were lucky enough we had a mentor to take us under their wing and teach us how to teach.

This was my entre into the world of group fitness back in the early 90’s. A wonderful woman and gym owner, Elise Moore, taught me how to teach her cardio dance and step classes. She met with me weekly to train, I spent hours practicing on my own, and I team taught her classes until I was ready to teach on my own, (which was the most nerve wracking experience!). It was a long process but it set me up with the skills and confidence to grow into the instructor I am today.

For the first year I mimicked her cues, taught my classes with the music she selected, and basically copied here style until I found my own voice. I was the ultimate old-school, freestyle instructor as we all were back then.

It occurred to me that pre-choreographed formats are basically the modern day mentor. They teach you how to teach. You learn how to cue the way they want you to cue. You learn how to design the class the way they want you to design it. They provide the music you must use to teach the way they want you to teach. You will mimic their voice because they have asserted themselves as the expert for that particular format.

Why is this a bad thing? Isn’t this a natural evolution of the technological advances available to us? I was lucky enough to have someone become my mentor, but this is not the reality for everybody.

Now more than any other point in time the future of boxing inspired formats looks bright. The diversity and depth of educational opportunities available to instructors is wonderful and can only make us better. The key is to choose the best option for you and not feel like you have to stick with one option. Maybe you start freestyle and you want more content so you try a preformatted program like Urbankick to get a boost and earn CECs. Maybe you start with a pre-choreographed program like Body Combat to learn a new format, then after time, you branch out and start to teach freestyle. One way is not the best way.

Some argue the pre-choreographed formula has squashed our creative juices and doesn’t create a well rounded instructor. But maybe they give instructors a great place to start and an easy way to learn a new format. Pre-choreographed formats are not and will not be the death of cardio kickboxing or freestyle classes. Conversely, it appears these programs have kept kickboxing alive and well and propelled cardio kick into a widely popular group exercise class by offering instructors an accessible entry into a challenging format to teach. They provide consistency and continuity from one class to the next so gym members know what to expect.

Some instructors may find the structure and music requirements restrictive and can easily become stale if new content is not produced in a timely manner. It is never fun to teach a combination you don’t enjoy to music you don’t like! For these instructors, a preformatted program may be the best choice.

Having options available to instructors to perfect their craft and continue their education can only enhance and elevate the group exercise profession. The key to an instructors’ success is finding what works for them so they can KICK it with confidence! I love that there are so many cardio kickboxing educational opportunities right now for instructors and look forward to the next wave of instructors!


For More

Or check out this great article from Carrie Haines for more on the great debate beween pre-choreographed classes vs. freestyle formats.


References


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