Martial arts and kickboxing based workouts have taken gyms by storm, and these same moves can instantly energize your aqua classes. The benefits of integrating martial arts moves into pool workouts is that buoyancy reduces impact. Jumping moves that were not possible for some participants on land can be performed in water. The resistance of water also slows down movements. Participants are less likely to hyperextend knee and elbow joints, reducing the risk of injury. Here are tips on how to introduce these moves into your classes for a great, total body workout.
Benefits of Aquatic Kickbox Training
- Improve endurance
- Improve agility and coordination
- Increase power (speed x strength)
- Improve balance and core stability
- Increase ROM
- Improve posture and alignment
Basic Moves and Program Design
The basic lower body moves for aquatic training in shallow water include walking, jogging, cross-country skiing, jacks, kicks, rocking and jumping. If you’ve done any amount of aquatic training with clients, your participants should be very familiar with these. To successfully introduce kickboxing exercises, you can progress activities from these base actions. Always begin with something familiar then gradually add variations.
The basic lower body moves for kickboxing include front, side and back kicks. More advanced variations include jump kicks. Turn kicks require a higher skill level. In general, it's not necessary to include too many different styles of kicks as it can mentally overload your participants. If taught correctly, the front, back and side kick variations and combinations will provide a great workout that's fun and energizing without being overly complex.
Each of the kicks can be progressed from a familiar base move. For example, to introduce front kicks, have participants start with a basic jog. Cue for people to enlarge the move and bring their knees higher. Encourage participants to use their arms for balance. Cue to extend the leg from the knee for a front kick. Remind participants to engage abdominals and keep their backs long. The power of kicks comes from the hips. The pelvis should tip back slightly as the leg is extended.
Lower level participants should keep kicks lower. A kick's height is determined by the height of the knee lift. Focus on pushing through the foot and imagine striking a target with the ball of the foot. Once the movement is established, encourage participants to increase speed for 15 to 20 second intervals. Then make the move smaller, continue jogging and allow participants to catch their breath.
Skill drills such as the one for front kicks can be intermixed with endurance drills to provide mental breaks. Since good form is essential, participants need to concentrate. To prevent mental and muscular fatigue, break up the moves. Add running sprints across the pool, lateral traveling, jacks in place, squat jumps, rope jumping forward and back - whichever endurance exercises you and your participants enjoy most and provide challenge to various muscle groups.
Side kicks can progress from a rocking move side-to-side, also called a pendulum or tick-tock move. Cue participants to use arms for balance. Continue rocking side-to-side and add wide knee lifts. Then cue participants to extend from the knee to a side kick. The foot should be dorsiflexed to strike with the heel and side of foot. The abdominals are engaged and the back is long. The knee, foot and ankle remain in alignment.
Back kicks can be introduced from a cross-country skiing base move. Remind participants to keep their backs long and to lean forward slightly. Add alternating knee lifts. Enlarge the move by bringing the knee up towards the chest. Increase intensity by focusing on pushing through the heel of the back foot. Emphasize to participants that it's fine for the kick to be low. The priority is to maintain a long, neutral spine position.
Upper body moves are equally fun and challenging and include a variety of punches, strikes and blocks. In the beginning, it's best to keep things simple. Add more complex combinations over time as your participants become more familiar and comfortable with the moves. Start participants in an athletic ready position. Cue to stabilize shoulders and abdominals. Make a fist with both hands and hold fists next to your waist, palms up. Drop to a neutral working position where the knees are bent and shoulders are submerged. Alternate punches front, aiming at the imaginary opponent's solar plexus. The arm rotates to a fully extended palms down position. The striking surface is the first two knuckles. Remind participants to maintain a neutral wrist and to avoid snapping or hyperextending the elbows.
To teach the fighting stance, have participants face you with their feet hip width apart and step one foot back. Pivot on the balls of the feet so one shoulder is in front and the body is angled. Have participants pivot again and face front to check their foot position. Their feet should still be shoulder width apart. This is important as the foot and ankle should always be underneath the knee. When the hips rotate with a cross punch, it's critical that the foot pivots so the knee remains aligned with the foot.
From the fighting stance, a jab is a punch from the forward arm. The cross is the punch from the back arm. A hook punch comes across the front to strike an opponent's jaw or temple. The upper cut comes from below to strike underneath the opponent's chin. Punches can be introduced at slow speed. Once everyone understands the move, then you can encourage sprint intervals. All of these elements can be combined in numerous fun combinations.
Leadership and Empowerment Techniques
The beauty of aquatic kickboxing classes is that you can incorporate participants of different levels in once class. As the instructor, it's important to foster a non-competitive environment. Through clear demonstration of how to progress exercises, you can empower participants to work at an individual pace. To stimulate participants to energize their moves, create scenarios of villains attacking from the front, then back and front again. Tell participants to imagine that they are Bruce Lee! Encourage sprint running drills when it's time to leave the villains behind. Be playful and have fun.
Another great dimension to add to class is to integrate the "Kiai." Kiai is a Japanese word that can be loosely translated as "spirit shout." It is derived from "ki," which is the Japanese term for the more popularized Chinese term "chi" and means spirit or inner energy; and "ai" from "awasu," which means to unite. The kiai serves to unite the spirit with the voice to bring out the inner warrior and focus power. It involves deep abdominal breathing and a contraction of the abdominal muscles in combination with a shout. Once your students get comfortable with the kiai, your classes will project a highly motivating and inspiring energy.
Aquatic kickboxing moves are adaptable to both shallow and deep water. Kicks can be performed in deep water if a stabilizing move is included in between kicks. Upper body moves such as punches, blocks and strikes can also be performed in deep water classes. Class design should include a buoyancy warm up to adjust to the water environment, joint warm up and movement rehearsal. The class should be designed in an interval style, blending skill drills with cardiorespiratory endurance sets. Class should conclude with a thorough warm down that includes dynamic range of motion exercises as well as flexibility moves to the extent that water temperature permits.
A great feature of aquatic kickboxing moves is that no equipment is required. You can incorporate equipment, but it's not necessary. The only mandatory requirement is to have high-energy explosive fun. So, don't wait. Just add water and kick, punch and block your way to total fitness in the pool. The basic moves are:
- Upper Body: Punches
- Jab, cross, hook, upper cut, speed ball work
- Upper Body: Blocks
- Middle defense...best suited to water
- Upper Body: Elbow Strike
- Lower Body: Kicks
- Front, side, back, jump kicks...keep it basic and safe
- Lower Body: Jumps
- Hamstring curl jumps to avoid being swept
- Squat jumps to increase power for jump kicks
- Lower body: Knee strike combinations
For full visual demonstration of the above moves performed on land, check out Sean Hayden’s article The Kickboxing Workout and Paul Frediani’s articleBoxathletics: Foundations for Boxing.