Kick Some Life Back into Your Running
by Cynthia Roth
If your daily run is leaving you less than inspired and you're simply not seeing the gains in speed and performance you'd like, it's time to mix things up. Rather than adding another hard run to your schedule and thereby tempting fate (suffering the wrath of the gods of injury, staleness and burnout), why not get the zip you're looking for by adding some boxing-based fitness classes?
Many runners shy away from cross-training in general and group fitness classes in particular - and who can blame them? Running is pretty much a solitary sport. It's simple, clear - and, when you're done, you're done. You don't want to waste your time on workouts that don't directly relate to running - or, worse, with learning curves that rival rocket science. Then there's the embarrassment factor of performing in a group.
Kickboxing, with its straightforward one-two combinations, attracts both hard-core athletes and dancing divas. And the classes are fun, so you forget to be shy.
Boxing-based fitness classes had their genesis in the '90s and are credited to Billy Blanks. An accomplished Tae Kwan Do instructor and entrepreneur, Blanks produced a video of his "Tae-Bo" version of martial arts and took it to the masses via infomercials. Fitness facilities responded with programs such as Cardio-Kick, Kickboxing, G.I. Jabb and Turbo Kick. These classes continue to proliferate on health club fitness schedules just about everywhere.
Formats vary, but each provides an intense cross-training experience that won't batter your legs. They have the added advantage of being fat-burning monsters. Doing a one-hour class can burn 400-700 calories (depending on body weight and intensity level), to say nothing of dealing with an entire day's worth of stress.
Boxing-based classes are essentially interval workouts. Boxing, like sprinting, involves brief, explosive bursts of power, followed by recovery intervals. Drills last from 30 seconds to three minutes and will increase your heart rate as much as a sprint around the track. This way, you get your interval training in without overstressing your running muscles.
Like in traditional boxing, kickboxing's basic moves are predicated on proper body stance, with technique being the key to maximal energy transfer. The boxer's stance establishes balance, engages the core muscles and provides the coordinated launching pad necessary for explosive moves. The emphasis on upper body strengthening may also be just the boost you need to keep your arms and shoulders from sagging during the last few miles of a race.
In contrast, cardio kickboxing classes are designed to keep your heart rate in a steady aerobic state for 40+ minutes. They place a large demand on your lower body (that's the kick). Think of it as a five-mile tempo run.
Classes begin with an 8-10 minute warm-up, introducing the basic moves (jab, cross, hook, uppercut, front-kick, side kick, bob and weave). Then the instructor slowly builds fight patterns, using directional changes to work on core stability and lateral movement. You conclude with a cool-down, stretch and often strengthening exercises (squats and push-ups).
Incorporating a single weekly kickboxing class into your schedule will help you build muscle strength, coordination, flexibility and endurance - improving your overall running economy and speed. So the next time you race, you'll get all the benefits of adding that hard running workout without suffering the injury, staleness or burnout that often come with it.