Give injuries the one-two punch

Safety tips for Tae-Bo and other martial arts enthusiasts

Have you kicked your way into the latest exercise craze? If not, the hype surrounding this workout might reel you in. Tae-Bo, generically known as aerobic kickboxing, offers an intense cardiovascular workout. It integrates aerobics, kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do and self-defense, and sets them to the fast beat of techno-music.

Coined “The Future of Fitness,” Tae-Bo has become one of the hottest fitness trends in recent years. Heavy advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements and some strong statistics-Muscle and Fitness magazine rated aerobic kickboxing as the No. 1 calorie burning exercise compared to other aerobic workouts-have caused an explosive demand for aerobic kickboxing classes in health facilities across America. And while experts are excited about this new interest in fitness, they warn you to consider safety before you jump on the bandwagon.

Seven-time national karate champion Billy Blanks is responsible for all the excitement. His home video series, promoted through a nationally run infomercial, promises “to get you in the best shape of your life,” with a money-back guarantee. Although the Tae-Bo Website (www.taebo.com) advises beginners to limit participation to three times a week and get a physician’s approval, it doesn’t tell you that participants run the risk of-as with any other high-impact exercise-musculoskeletal injuries. Also, aerobic kickboxing may cause you to use your body in unfamiliar ways. “When you do typical exercises like running, you’re basically staying on one plane. But kicks are almost a three-dimensional exercise. Therefore you should go slow,” explains Dr. Joe Estwanik of the Sports Science Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The wrong move or repetitive stress can lead to muscle injury, tendonitis or joint inflammation.”

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) agrees, pointing out that beginners need a solid level of fitness before starting any martial arts workout. According to the ACE’s spokesperson, Mark Anders, “Even basic Tae-Bo videos or introductory classes require a moderate level of fitness.” Here are some other guidelines for enthusiasts:

  • Don’t begin an exercise program without a warm-up. “You should get at least a half hour warm-up routine prior to any workout. This lessens the risk of injuries,” advises Michael Jhon, a part-time martial arts instructor.
  • Don’t ignore your body. If you need a break, take one. You shouldn’t feel pressured by your own expectations or your exercise group to continue longer than you can handle.
  • Don’t ignore form. “It’s important to do things correctly,” Jhon warns. Poor breathing and sloppy kicks can be physically harmful. Also, don’t perform high kicks until you get accustomed to the routine and build up flexibility. In addition, don’t lock your joints when you throw punches or kicks.
  • Don’t wear weights or hold dumbbells when throwing punches. “That’s too much stress on your joints,” Anders cautions. “Although some people think weights give them an extra workout, it’s really not a good idea. It’s dangerous.”
  • Don’t sign up for a class without making sure the instructor is properly certified. “Regardless of the form of exercise, you want to know that the individual leading the class knows what the risks are for injury or
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