Kickboxing vs. Boxing: What Are the Differences and Benefits?

In a world full of stress, there’s definitely a real appeal to making your workout routine a place where you can punch it out. That may be why both boxing and kickboxing have enjoyed increased popularity in recent years and why fitness studios offering boxing and kickboxing workouts seem to be cropping up all over the place. But what’s the difference between the two?

Chris Kolba, a physical therapist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, says there’s a lot of overlap between the two disciplines, but also a lot of differences.

“Basically, boxing only involves punching and the use of footwork for movement.” Boxers are famous for dancing around the ring, but they only land punches with their hands. And boxers must land their punches on an opponent above the belt.

In contrast, “kickboxing combines punching with kicking and footwork. It can also include elbow and knee strikes,” Kolba explains. There’s also more flexibility with regard to where you can land your punches and kicks.

Because it involves more lower body engagement, kickboxing can lead to a lot more full body contact with your sparring partner or the equipment you’re working with. Plus, it works the lower body in different ways to traditional boxing — shifting your weight to a single foot and raising the leg to kick.

[Read: Your Guide to Creating an At-Home Gym You’ll Actually Use]

Health Benefits of Boxing and Kickboxing

— Full-body aerobic workout.

— Cardiovascular conditioning.

— Strength building.

— Weight loss potential.

So, is one better than the other? “Both are great workouts,” Kolba says.

With boxing, you keep both feet under your body and thrust with the upper body, so it’s a good, full-body, aerobic workout. There’s a reason rounds in boxing matches only last 2 or 3 minutes each — it’s a real workout to bob and weave to avoid your opponent’s punches while trying land your own. You’ll be out of breath quickly.

Kickboxing incorporates a lot of kicking and stretching that can be even more tiring. “Due to the addition of kicking, kickboxing can be more demanding, causing fatigue to occur much quicker. Kicking involves having to stabilize on one leg while the other leg is lifted to throw the kick,” Kolba says.

In other words, you might get a higher intensity workout a little faster with kickboxing, but you might also be at higher risk of getting hurt. “Because more body parts are being used for striking, there are more areas at risk for injury.”

Both types of exercise offer superior cardiovascular conditioning and can help you build strength and stamina. Because they’re so high-intensity, both kickboxing and boxing can be excellent ways to shed some excess pounds.

In addition to the boxing or kickboxing itself, classes in these disciplines also usually emphasize cross-training exercises to help you get into shape and conditioned for the movements. These may include:

— Calisthenics.

— Push-ups.

— Squats.

— Jogging.

Jump rope.

[Read: What to Know About Apple Fitness+.]

Health Risks of Boxing and Kickboxing

— High-intensity, weight-bearing exercise.

— Risk of muscle, tendon, bone and joint injuries.

— May cause cardiovascular stress.

However, there can be some health risks associated with both disciplines, and because they’re high-intensity, weight-bearing exercises, they may not be appropriate for everyone.

The health risks associated with both boxing and kickboxing are “similar to other forms of stressful exercise in terms of cardiovascular and breathing issues due to increased heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure demands associated with these types of exercise,” Kolba says

In addition, “there’s always the risk of muscle, tendon, bone and joint injuries due to the repetitive nature of the moves and training, both when performing techniques in the air such as with shadow boxing, and more so when hitting punching bags or focus mitts or pads.” The impact of landing a punch or kick can send shockwaves down the arm or up the leg that could lead to injury.

And if you’re sparring with another person, “there is a risk of concussion, contusions and possibly even broken bones,” Kolba notes.

[Read: At-Home Exercises for Knee Pain.]

Kickboxing, specifically, poses some additional challenges. It’s a super physical discipline, and for some individuals, such as someone with reduced mobility or inflexible joints, the kicks called for in kickboxing might be too much. Older adults and people with “lower body or balance issues may do better with boxing as there are no kicks involved,” Kolba says.

While there are some injury risks associated with both disciplines, you can manage these by ramping up slowly and learning proper technique for all the movements you’ll be preforming.

“It’s very important to get proper instruction on technique and form,” Kolba says. And be sure it’s coming from a good source. “Make sure you seek out qualified instructors and programs. It’s easy to overdo it, so it’s important to start slow and build up to the ‘normal’ class speed and intensity. The risk of injury does go up the more fatigued you are.”

If you’re interested in getting started with either kickboxing or boxing, Kolba recommends “going and watching a class or workout. Many schools and gyms will offer an intro or free trial class,” and it’s a good idea to see what you’re getting yourself into before you sign up yourself.

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