What Is the Difference Between Cardio Kickboxing & Kickboxing?

By Heather Vale

Kickboxing is a full-contact sport, derived from martial arts and boxing, which involves kicks, strikes and punches. Cardio kickboxing, also known as aerobic kickboxing or fitness kickboxing, is an aerobic workout based on kickboxing moves, and is usually done without resistance or contact. It’s a simple and clear distinction, but many people, including health clubs and gyms that hold classes, refer to both as simply “kickboxing.”

History of Kickboxing

Kickboxing as we know it today was born out of 1970s American karate tournaments. The idea was that adding kicks and punches to traditional karate would make it easier to objectively score the game and allow participants to fully utilize their skills. Today the mixed martial arts style of fighting, made popular by the Ultimate Fighting Championships, heavily draws on kickboxing as well as various martial arts disciplines.

History of Cardio Kickboxing

Some people credit karate champion Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo with being the original cardio kickboxing routine. Launched in 1989, it was the first popular workout to utilize taekwando and boxing moves, but was not referred to as cardio kickboxing.

Cardio Kickboxing® is claimed as a registered trademark by martial arts champion and former full-contact karate judge Frank Thiboutot, who created his workout in 1992. Based on tournament kickboxing, it promotes the use of select equipment in cardio routines.

Les Mills’ BodyCombat, launched in 1999, is another form of fitness kickboxing featuring karate, boxing, taekwondo, tai chi and muay thai moves. In addition, there are many more programs, both on DVD and offered in health clubs, that combine aerobics and kickboxing.

Features and Benefits

Kickboxing is not, strictly speaking, a martial art, but a combat form inspired by martial arts. Sometimes traditional boxers study martial arts to perfect kicks and then make the transition to kickboxing.

When training in kickboxing, even just for fun and exercise, form and proper technique are very important to prevent injury. When ready, students often get the opportunity to spar with each other, usually delivering their blows more softly than they would in a tournament match. Kickboxing is also taught for self-defense purposes and serves as a rigorous physical workout.

Cardio kickboxing combines moves from kickboxing, boxing, mixed martial arts and even regular aerobics, but strikes are usually delivered into the air toward an imaginary opponent. It's great exercise, mentally stimulating and an empowering confidence booster; however, it’s not very useful for learning self-defense techniques, because proper form is not emphasized as much as the need to keep moving and have fun.


For regular kickboxing, MMA-style grappling gloves are usually used rather than traditional boxing gloves. You’ll also need comfortable workout clothing that allows you a free range of motion, but no shoes, because kickboxing is usually done in bare feet, like most martial arts. In addition, you will need floor mats; pads, dummies, speed bags or heavy bags to practice striking; and possibly hand wraps or protective padding.

For most aerobic kickboxing, nothing is required except standard gym clothing, including proper athletic shoes. Some teachers also encourage use of grappling gloves or hand wraps, which mainly help with form and attitude rather than serving as any type of protection. With actual Cardio Kickboxing®, you can expect more equipment, including pads, punching bags and skipping ropes.

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