Fitness with a Punch

“Jab right!” “Hook left!” “Kick side!” These are just a few of the commands you will hear coming from an aerobics studio near you. This is not a martial arts class or a kick-boxing match; it is Tae Bo, the latest fitness craze. If you check it out, you will find people of all ages and shapes punching and kicking in sync to the latest tunes.

Tae Bo participants are encouraged to tap their internal aggression by adopting a “fighter” mentality. Combinations of punches, kicks and speed drills challenge participants mentally and physically. In some classes, participants wear boxing gloves, hand wraps and focus pads for light contact drills.

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The fitness industry avoided martial arts in the past because they felt that the movements were unsafe for the average person. But individuals like Billy Blanks, creator of Tae Bo, have found ways to combine the two. The Tae Bo marketing push, 1997 to 1998, merged martial arts and fitness, which helped promote similar programs. People began looking for Tae Bo classes at local gyms and recreation centres, hoping for the benefits claimed on infomercials: increased fat loss, muscle tone, strength gain and an overall feeling of wellness. If some fitness centres were not using martial arts movements in their classes, they soon added them.

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Tae Bo Brings Excitement to a Boring Workout Routine

Businesses realized Tae Bo’s power to draw crowds. “The fitness industry was lacking excitement,” says Liliana Galvis, fitness director of the Vancouver Downtown YMCA. “We needed something new to generate interest. Tae Bo was an innovative thing, everyone wanted to do it.”

Because Tae Bo is trademarked, fitness centres became creative with class names to attract participants without infringing on Tae Bo territory. Names that fitness centers have used include Cardio-kickbox, Boxercise, Boxerfit, Box Aerobics, Thai-boxing, Karate-cise — even “Y Bo” at the Calgary YMCA.

People who do not usually participate in aerobics are also drawn to these classes. According to Galvis, more men participate in martial arts inspired workouts than in traditional aerobics: “Martial arts are male dominated. The crossover of martial arts to the fitness world seems to have encouraged men to attend fitness classes.”

Gone today are the leg warmers and highly choreographed dance steps of yesterday’s aerobics. Today you will find men and women of all fitness levels working out side by side, using movements that were once reserved only for martial artists. Martial arts inspired fitness classes are beyond trendy. They have become a staple of fitness centres everywhere.

2001 Pacific Rim Cover. "Veiled Propositions" Cover Story. Image of woman wearing wedding veil.

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