Kick-start your exercise routine for a great workout

When Jim Graden travelled the world with the U.S. Karate team in the 1980s, he had no problem staying in shape. But as the former World Heavyweight Kickboxing titleholder got older, he found it harder and harder to maintain his champion physique. So when he retired from competition in the mid-’90s, he developed the Cardio Karate program to help keep fit.

Instructor Karen Iannotti kicks the heavy bag during Jim Graden’s Cardio Karate class.

When Jim Graden travelled the world with the U.S. Karate team in the 1980s, he had no problem staying in shape. But as the former World Heavyweight Kickboxing titleholder got older, he found it harder and harder to maintain his champion physique.

So when he retired from competition in the mid-’90s, he developed the Cardio Karate program to help keep fit.

“The biggest problem most people have with an exercise program is that they get bored and stop doing it,” said Graden, now 45. “You have to keep people involved if you want to get results.”

In the decade that followed, Graden, based in Seminole, Fla., certified more than 6,000 instructors in his Cardio Karate system. But even his most dedicated students eventually wanted more.

Professional kickboxers spend hours each day fine-tuning their punches and kicks on a heavy bag.

But most gyms that teach some variation of fitness kickboxing offer aerobics-style classes, with students throwing punches and kicks at nothing but air.

“To get maximum benefit from this type of program, you need to combine aerobic and anaerobic training,” Graden explained. “You need some resistance.”

That’s why boxers and martial artists spend a good deal of time pounding away on a heavy bag. But whereas a fighter might hit and kick the bag for two to three minutes at a time with a one-minute rest in between (to mimic a round in an actual match), Graden has his students work with the bag non-stop for 30 minutes at varying levels of intensity.

“This is how you get the maximum fat burn,” he said. “You have to keep that heart rate up for an extended period of time.”

Graden knew there was more to fitness than a strong heart and lungs.

“A good cardio-kickboxing program will give you a great cardio workout and much more,” Graden explained. “It will also give you overall body coordination, flexibility, balance, focus and, of course, the obvious benefits of self defense.”

Graden took his “total person” program, codified it and gave it a catchy name: the Ultimate Bodyshaping Course. This 10-week program combines fitness kickboxing with resistance training, flexibility instruction and nutritional advice.

“We focus on results,” Graden said. “We are interested in total body transformation, not just how much weight you lose.”

More than 30 years of hard training has taught Graden that the secret to achieving a goal, be it firmer buttocks or a stronger heart, is repetition.

“To get musculature and cardiovascular benefits from any fitness program, you have to do it again and again,” he said.

The typical UBC class lasts less than an hour. Students start off with a warmup — jumping jacks or jumping rope — followed by shadow fighting and static stretches. Then the students put on their gloves and head to the heavy bags for 30 minutes of punching and kicking.

“Students are not just thrown into a class . . . we have the more experienced students work as coaches so they help with technique,” he said.

“The learning curve is pretty steep and any intimidation factor fades quickly.”

Graden keeps the students pumped with what he described as “bag slamming” music as they deliver a steady barrage of jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts, front, round and sidekicks.

“Unlike the treadmill, you won’t need a TV to keep you motivated and involved,” he said. “The key is making it fun. That is the only way you will stick with it.”

For more information, go to Jim Graden’s site: www.ultimatebodyshaping.com/

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