Bow to your sensei

Look like a million dollars, baby, after some butt-kicking kickboxing.
SWEAT OF YOUR BROW Cardio Kickboxing at POW! Mixed Martial Arts has students perspiring within minutes.
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Cardio Kickboxing, POW! Mixed Martial Arts
The overpowering stink of feet sucker-punches me when I enter POW! Mixed Martial Arts. This stench-melange of dirty socks, teenage boy and aged cheese is unpleasant, but after a few minutes I stop noticing. This could be because I now reek, too. But there’s no time for pondering; I’m too busy sweating.

There are two kinds of kickboxing classes: combat-oriented ones, where you wrap your hands and focus on the technical aspects of punches, jabs and kicks; and cardio-centered ones that resemble traditional aerobics classes with shadow-boxing thrown in.

At POW! you get the best of both, and you get to feel like a badass at the same time. The gym’s not much to look at with its white-painted brick, tattered red carpet and black wrestling mats. But Lyndon, the instructor, leaves me begging for mercy with a mix of jump-roping intervals, squats, jabs and kicks, all set to pounding Nine Inch Nails.

If you haven’t jumped rope since your paste-eating days, know this: It’s hard. Three minutes with that rope is like an hour on the treadmill. And Lyndon has us picking up the rope over and over again.

We wrap our hands, jam them into gloves and pair off for a little sparring while Lyndon keeps close watch on our form.

Sweaty and sore, I’m happy when I can step out for a breath of fresh air. But punching things sure is fun. Tuesdays, 7–7:45pm.

Cardio Kick, Equinox 900 N Michigan Ave
With its gleaming tile and crisp, earth-colored hues, Equinox could be a swank dining spot. But Suni’s cardio-kickboxing isn’t all sizzle and no sweat: At one point during the aerobic frenzy, I nearly knock my glasses off my face. But what a workout—even Suni’s cool-down is exhausting. With about three dozen of us jammed into the cardio room, though, I’m ready to throw some real punches at Mr. Space Invader next to me. Check equinoxfitness.com for winter class schedule.

Cardio Boxing, Know No Limits
This place is the Cheers of health clubs—a friendly joint where everybody, it seems, knows your name. Melissa’s class is unlike any I’ve attended, a circuit-training mix of strength and cardio work with a boxing theme. Because there’s only one other student, Melissa has time to help me with the speed bag and ensure proper form on my dreaded pushups. She has us squatting and hefting a medicine ball, then punching a bag and her mitted hands. This is a fun, high-energy workout with plenty of boxing emphasis. Mondays, 6:30–7:30pm.

Coed Kickboxing, Chicago Fitness Center
A sign saying BLOOD MAKES GREAT MOUTHWASH provides an alarming welcome to the boxing room. But Jeff, a well-muscled and tattooed Chicago firefighter, makes the experience slightly less scary. Jeff teaches me and another newbie the basics of punching and kicking in good form before combining moves in a more heart-pumping way. We aren’t exactly panting, but I feel it the next day. Wednesdays, 6:30–7:30pm, Saturdays, 11am–noon.

Cardio Kickboxing, GoTime
Instructor Brytne does a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it overview of a jab, cross, hook and uppercut and shows several kicks—then pays no attention to our form. Soon, she’s combining everything so fast it’s hard to keep track. Brytne is friendly, though, and the dance music keeps us hopping. I leave feeling like I’ve had a nice aerobic workout, but for a real kickboxing experience, I’d jump in a different ring. Thursdays, 6–7pm.

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