What Happens To Your Body When You Kickbox

When you think of modern fitness trends, you probably think of intense spin classes, soothing yoga sessions, and demanding indoor rowing workouts. But one exercise trend that has stayed the course in athletic circles for years, thanks to its mass appeal and killer results, is kickboxing. Not only does the high-intensity combat sport draw in a wide variety of people, but it boasts an array of physical, mental, and even emotional benefits that are relatively unmatched.


Kickboxing is an umbrella term for several types of combat sport, including Muay Thai, savate, cardio kickboxing, and more. While there are many sub-genres of the sport from which to choose, one thing remains constant throughout all types of kickboxing: the ability to work up a sweat. 

By now, you're well-aware that regular exercise benefits your health and well-being, but you may be wondering what benefits you can actually expect from dedicating time to kickboxing each week. Turns out, there's quite a lot that happens to you body when you kickbox.

Kickboxing could lead to some injuries

While it may be tempting to practice your punches, kicks, and combos daily, even professional kickboxers keep their training to five or six days per week at most (via Men's Health). Kickboxing every day — or performing any high intensity interval training or extreme cardio every day with no recovery time — could potentially put you at risk for injury, so be sure not to overexert yourself. Most pros recommend practicing for about 30 to 90 minutes three to five times a week, depending on your commitment level and overall goals. When you are just starting out, you'll likely want to ease into training with three one-hour sessions per week.


Going to a few classes several times a week can provide some killer benefits with a low risk of injury — as long as you give yourself some well-deserved downtime in between sessions. According to a study on kickboxing injuries published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the most common injuries associated with the sport are easily addressed strains of the shoulders, back, hips, knees, and ankles. Sprains and tendonitis were the second and third most common type of kickboxing injuries, respectively. The instances of these minor injuries, however, presumably decrease with proper recovery time and stretching prior to working out.

Overall, the study says there is a low risk of serious injury associated with kickboxing, making it a "safe form of exercise for fitness purposes."


Kickboxing is a full-body workout

Forget rotating between machines at the gym to ensure a complete fitness regimen. With punching, kicking, and darting, you'll get a full-body workout from kickboxing alone. When done with proper technique, kickboxing engages your entire core and targets almost every muscle group, making it an efficient and fun way to get — and stay — fit.


Fitness pros say you can think of the cardio-heavy combat sport as endurance, speed, and power training all in one, as noted by Women's Health. There are even elements of strength training to the sport, especially if you are taking out your aggression on a heavy punching bag. And yes, there is actual science to back up these anecdotal claims by kickboxing enthusiasts. Several peer-reviewed studies on the fitness benefits of kickboxing have also found that the sport is a complete workout in itself, with one 2017 study published in Biology of Sport finding that many kickboxers work their upper and lower body in equal measure during the average session.

You'll get stronger

Contrary to popular fitness myths, you don't need to lift weights to build muscle mass. Even a cardio-heavy exercise like kickboxing will help build your strength, especially if your training routine involves regularly hitting and kicking a weighty punching bag. Even if kickboxing is the only exercise you do, you'll get toned thanks to the natural combination of cardio and strength training.


Since you are targeting every muscle group with the intense combat workout, you're likely to notice increased strength all over. According to a 2014 scientific study in the Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, participants who kickboxed for approximately one hour per day three times a week reported improved muscle strength in both their upper and lower body in just five weeks. Kickboxing trainers and pros say you'll especially notice more strength in your shoulders, arms, legs, back, abs, and glutes, given the combination of kicks and strikes.

It will keep your cardiovascular health in check

Kickboxing is a high-energy, heart-pumping workout that is scientifically proven to benefit heart health (via Healthline). As part of a 2014 study published in Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, participants who kickboxed three days a week for one hour at a time increased their maximum oxygen uptake significantly in just five weeks, which indicates an increase in overall cardiovascular health.


Improving your cardiovascular health can reduce your risk of heart disease and address high blood pressure, which are two of the biggest health concerns in the United States. As Time pointed out, studies show that even 60 seconds of a HIIT workout like kickboxing can offer the same gains in heart and lung health as 45 minutes of less-intense exercise. If you are especially interested in upping your heart health through kickboxing, you may want to try a cardio kickboxing class which focuses less on combat and more on elevating your heart rate for cardiovascular conditioning.

Kickboxing is also a workout for your brain

Kickboxing not only puts your body to the test, but it challenges the mind too. The combat sport is all about strategy, technique, and precision, making it a killer workout for your brain. This intense concentration tests your mind-body connection and focus, sharpening your reflexes and cognitive ability. A 2017 article published in Scientific Reports reviewed workouts requiring balance and coordination like kickboxing and found such exercise regimens are scientifically proven to improve memory in healthy adults.


In a 2022 interview with Verywell Fit, kickboxing pro and trainer Raquel "Rocky" Harris outlined how exactly kickboxing benefits one's memory: "Complex kickboxing combinations require mental effort. To perform, you have to memorize the order, then you have to eliminate your surroundings and focus. With focus, you can continue the movements for an entire round. Challenging yourself to continue a pattern for an entire round will improve your overall memory, focus, and sharpness."

You'll increase your stamina and endurance

The average kickboxing session is between 60 to 90 minutes of high-intensity exercise. Giving it your all mentally and physically for that amount of time is bound to be tiring when you are first starting out. But sticking with the sport will increase your stamina and energy over time, which is a big perk for those who struggle with fatigue or often hit a mid-day slump.


A 2017 study on kickboxing published in the Biology of Sport reports that the combat sport is scientifically proven to have a positive impact on a person's overall cardio and muscular endurance. Not only will this increased stamina help you get through a class, but many kickboxers say the sport helps them feel more energized throughout the day. Certified personal trainer Marty Kelly told Byrdie that he believes kickboxing is ​​"arguably one of the best and most fun ways to improve endurance [and] stamina," adding that "the more you do it, the more your endurance improves."

Kickboxing can improve your overall coordination

Successfully landing strikes and kicks with the proper form and technique takes a good dose of hand-eye coordination, so it's no surprise that the complex movements and general multitasking required for your standard kickboxing session is scientifically proven to improve overall coordination over time. 


Studies have even found that regular kickboxing improves coordination even in the most extreme cases. One 2012 study published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy found that kickboxing can strengthen neuromuscular control in people with multiple sclerosis, a condition marked by issues with mobility, coordination, muscle control, and balance. That's a big endorsement for the benefits of kickboxing on coordination, even if you're just clumsy in your daily life.

Coordination can be especially helpful as you age or if you're otherwise prone to coordination-based injury. As martial arts sporting website ONE reports, kickboxing is really good at training your muscles, which can help you avoid certain injuries.


The combat sport is proven to improve your balance

Along with improving coordination, studies have found that kickboxing can improve your overall balance, a skill that can also help you avoid injuries in your everyday life. This proven benefit of kickboxing can be especially helpful as you age, which is a life stage in which balance tends to deteriorate but is arguably more essential than ever to avoid life–threatening injuries from falls.


There are two types of balance: anticipatory balance, which is when you anticipate the need for balance (like maintaining your center of gravity while picking up a weighty box or hitting a heavy punching bag), and reactive balance, which is the mind-muscle coordination that happens when you trip or slip and have to recover suddenly. Fitness pros say that kickboxing improves both types of balance, helping to reduce your risk of falls or muscle weakness, as noted by Time.

It can make you more flexible and agile

When done under expert instruction, kickboxing can help to safely stretch and condition the groupings of malleable elastic fibers that make up your muscles. This careful lengthening and strengthening can help make your muscles more resilient to stress, having a noticeable impact on your overall flexibility, especially in your hips and shoulders.


In a 2014 study on the impact of kickboxing on healthy men in their 20s who trained three times a week for five weeks published in Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, kickboxing had a scientifically significant impact on their overall flexibility. Participants in the study also showed more flexibility after working out than before, indicating that kickboxing was responsible for the shift in agility.

Bettering your overall flexibility and agility can help you avoid muscle strains, pains, and injuries in your everyday life, which is especially valuable while you age and for those prone to muscle weakness.

You'll improve your posture

As New York City-based certified personal trainer Marty Kelly told Byrdie, "being on your toes and finding balance" is essential to proper kickboxing technique. To properly engage your core and find your balance while participating in the combat sport, you'll need good posture during the session. For many, this training necessity quickly transfers over to their everyday life, improving their overall posture even when they aren't throwing punches.


According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, exercises dependent on core training (like kickboxing) can result in increased trunk stability and upright posture in as little as four weeks. Good posture won't only please your mother — it actually has some notable health benefits. Better posture as a result of conditioning and strengthening spine muscles can help alleviate lower back pain and tension, reduce some types of headaches, and increase one's overall lung capacity.

Kickboxing can improve your overall mental health

Kickboxing requires intense focus, which can allow you to shut off the often stressful outside world for the duration of a session. Not only that, but it's a way to productively take out your daily frustrations, like lingering anger at your boss or aggravation toward your annoying neighbors.


While diverting stress and channeling anger can certainly help your mental health, there's actual science behind it. Kickboxing helps to stimulate endorphin production, the hormones that can help relieve stress and create an overall sense of well-being. Boxing coach Tanya Morgan told Harper's Bazaar working out on a punching bag through kickboxing helps relieve muscle tension that collects due to stress and helps your brain increase the production of endorphins, creating "feel-good thoughts." Morgan added, "As you continue to punch, you will find your focus is improved, increasing your concentration and helping you forget the reasons why you are stressed."

It may help you sleep better

Physical activity of any sort is scientifically suggested to benefit sleep, even in people with sleep disorders. Though there's debate on exactly why this is, scientists generally agree that moderate exercise improves sleep. And personal experience often backs up this science. People who regularly exercise, including those who kickbox, anecdotally report improvements in the quality and duration of their rest. 


According to the Sleep Foundation, regularly participating in aerobic exercises (like cardio kickboxing) can "improve sleep quality and reduce excessive daytime sleepiness for people with insomnia." Research also suggests that "moderate-intensity aerobic activities can decrease the severity of sleep-disordered breathing conditions like obstructive sleep apnea," as the foundation noted.

Some new research suggests strength and resistance training may beat out cardio-heavy workouts when it comes to bettering sleep. Luckily, with kickboxing, you'll benefit from a combination of cardio, resistance, and strength training, meaning better sleep is likely on the horizon regardless.

Kickboxing can help you feel empowered

While exercise in general is linked to increased self-esteem, martial arts forms like kickboxing are scientifically suggested to be especially empowering and confidence-boosting. In fact, many kickboxing studios focus on confidence as a core pillar of training. While this self-image work can help make you better at the combat sport, it can also transfer into your everyday life, increasing your sense of self-worth and purpose, according to kickboxing enthusiasts (via Healthline).


In the same vein, kickboxing can also help you learn basic self-defense skills, equipping you with practical tools that can help you feel safe and confident in even the scariest situations. Certified personal trainer Marty Kelly told Byrdie that he believes kickboxing is uniquely empowering, as it helps you learn a defensive skill set while working on your general fitness and sparking self-confidence. "Learning self-defense will always stand by you," Kelly told the website.

The combat sport can help manage anger

If you have trouble managing your anger, trainers claim that kickboxing can help. Kickboxing coach Tanya Morgan told Harper's Bazaar in 2018 that kickboxing "produces a response in your body that helps to relieve tension," alluding to an endorphin response. She adds that kickboxing is a safe way to "release tension or aggression without hurting yourself, or others, helping you to work through any negative feelings and effectively overcome them."


The Sports & Fitness Industry Association reports that boxing and kickboxing are "preferred methods to release frustrations and alleviate anger" among exercise participants, adding that "hitting an object or another person in a controlled situation is particularly effective at releasing frustrations." The association also says "active visualization," like imagining the pads or punching bag as a tough boss or an ex-partner, can help channel anger to help give participants a "unique satisfaction when delivering the blows."

You'll learn about life — and yourself

Many skills you learn in your kickboxing practice can translate outside of your fitness sessions, with the sport honing values like perseverance, mental sharpness, and confidence. Kickboxing can also aid in helping you to control your reactions to stressful situations and life's various challenges. All of these skills — and more taught by kickboxing — can help better your approach to everyday challenges and carve out a better understanding of yourself.


Boxing coach Tanya Morgan told Harper's Bazaar in 2018 that kickboxing is an "excellent way of getting to know yourself," helping you "understand more about how your brain works and reacts as you develop your unique boxing style." Other trainers and kickboxing enthusiasts agree that the practice can help familiarize you with your body, your emotions, your motivations, and your overall sense of being, making it a great way to become grounded in what makes you tick.