It may look a lot like aerobics, but cardio kickboxing is a big step up in its focus on working and stretching muscles, summoning balance and bringing out a little of the inner martial artist.
Some 20 students in the Ashland YMCA's cardio kickboxing class are clearly boosting their heart rates, sweating profusely and trying valiantly to keep up with their teacher, Tiazza Wilson, who mastered the martial art of kickboxing as a teen, growing up in Morocco.
"It's a fact, cardio kickboxing is a high-intensity cardio workout, and everyone expects to sweat and get pretty tired during the 40-minute cardio segment — but everyone can also take it at their own pace," says Wilson, 30.
Like many aerobics workouts, the class starts with stretches. Moving into the cardio segment, Wilson, wearing a head-set microphone, barks out commands while electronica music blasts an engaging beat. The workout then moves into resistance, with a pair of 5-pound weights, and a mat session, then a cool-down to soothing Hawaiian music.
You'll also find kickboxing classes at Oz Fitness in Medford, where it's called Turbo Kick. Instructor Holly Howell says it's a preformatted workout with intense, three-minute anaerobic bursts to "killer music," accentuated with punching sound effects and timed to 148 beats per minute — and with no body contact or martial arts.
"It's wonderful. It has the Turbo section, a finesse section that's slower, so you can work on form and a cool-down," says Howell, noting that women enjoy the choreography, men like the kickboxing and both love the workout and fitness.
Kickboxing, notes Wilson, works not just the legs, but gets at the glutes, abs and back in a big way — and also forces you to counterbalance the extended leg, so you're working a lot of muscles you don't even know about.
Although the class is open to anyone, it draws mostly women. They laud it for its uncanny ability (along with proper diet) to trim off the unwanted pounds — and, in addition to the fitness moves, they drill with hypothetical responses to attacks.
"I've been doing it for a year, and I lost 100 pounds," says a trim-looking Dodie Noles. "I did it five nights a week. It changed everything. I cross-trained with weights and water aerobics and moved my diet to soy products, whole grains and lots of vegetables."
Heidi Redtfeldt, also trim after six years of cardio kickboxing, calls it "a great workout and the core of my fitness regimen. It's made me leaner and stronger."
For Wilson, kickboxing came not just as a workout but as a survival skill. After almost being raped by two men in Morocco, Wilson, then 14, sought out and mastered kickboxing and competed through her teens. She came to America in 2001 and graduated in accounting from Southern Oregon University.
She is a belly-dance teacher, choreographer for Sahara Bellydancers and the Oregon Conservatory of Performing Arts dance team and owner of the Fitness Dance Studio in Medford (www.tiazza.com).
While cardio kickboxing may seem a bit intimidating, Wilson stresses that it's noncontact, and students get the latitude to set their own pace and build strength, endurance and coordination.
"Cardio kickboxing takes a lot of coordination and flexibility, and that comes with time. A lot of people can't do it at first. It is difficult to build up to it. It's a serious class, but that doesn't make it not fun. Fun is something you bring to it," says Wilson, adding that she teaches "a little bit of self-defense, introducing real situations" of responding to an attack and moving smoothly from one attacker to another.
While a cardio kickboxing workout seems to cover all the bases — stretching, cardio and resistance — Wilson advises cross-training with such workouts as Pilates and yoga.
Workouts at Oz are held at 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays and 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays. Information is at www.ozfitness.com, or call 773-2454.
Wilson teaches her classes through the Ashland and Medford parks and recreation departments. The sessions are held Wednesday evenings at the Ashland YMCA and comes with membership. A session at the Santo Community Center in Medford costs $26. To register, call Medford parks at 774-2400 or Ashland parks at 488-5340. Wilson can be reached at 621-4812.