I Found an At-Home Cardio Workout I Like Just as Much as Running, and I'm Not Giving It Up

POPSUGAR Photography | Sarah Wasilak

One month into social distancing at home, I was getting bored of my regular fitness routine: run in the morning before work, afternoon walk in the evening before dinner, sleep, repeat. Not to mention, running every day can certainly take a toll on your body — no fitness expert in their right mind recommends doing that! My future husband and I decided to clear the living room space (we basically just rolled up the rug and let it rest against the wall and pushed the coffee table to the side — a little redesign doesn't call for much in a 760-square-foot apartment), and downloaded the YouTube app for our Smart TV.

People always talk about the workout classes they're streaming online, so I figured there would be one waiting there for me. Staying true to my brand, I went straight to the POPSUGAR Fitness YouTube channel and turned on a 40-minute boxing and kickboxing workout with Christa DiPaolo of Boxing & Bubbles. The video proclaimed to "torch 500 calories," which is about how much I burn during a six mile jog. As a runner with a low resting heart rate, it definitely takes me a hot second to reach my aerobic zone. Being the negative Nancy that I am, I decided to keep my outlook as such: complete and total skepticism. But I turned on the cardio strength program anyway.

Aside from the fact that Christa DiPaolo is toned, tough, funny, and easy to listen to, she's also relatable — cursing her way through a workout, as one does when things get hard, and understanding when she needs to slow down for her viewers. She knows when to carefully break down the moves — the punches, the jabs, the upper cuts — because cardio kickboxing routines are certainly a lot to wrap your head around when you're a newbie like I am. But that's what I loved about them immediately: these sets were mentally stimulating, and that made the time go by even quicker.

The first time Christa told me to "head Southpaw," I was like, "Oh! That's the movie where Jake Gyllenhaal is shirtless 90 percent of the time, so sure, take me there."

In the next few days, I flew through all of Christa's courses for POPSUGAR and ended up becoming a member of her own B&B Squad (future husband was along for the ride, too). As I do with anything that will benefit my health, I really committed to becoming better at cardio kickboxing. I bought three-pound weighted gloves and continued to use my full laundry detergent bottles as weights, since dumbbells were widely sold out across the internet at the time. Clearly, I missed that boat.

Soon after, I came into contact with the Obé Fitness team, learning that the company recently launched a series of cardio boxing classes, which Obé cofounder Mark Mullett says was a decision to "bring the newest trends in fitness to his global community," plus, it's a fun way to get drenched. And that brings me to my next point: little miss negative Nancy (yeah, hi, that's me!) was sweating buckets during these workouts. Cardio boxing and cardio kickboxing routines, especially when accompanied by a pair of weighted gloves, are hard work mentally and physically. I really couldn't believe how aerobically challenged I felt during a 40-minute session.

Practice is the key to mastering every new activity, and I still don't look super polished or graceful making transitions between moves. I also don't remember what every pose, punch, or stance is called, so I do mess up regularly. We all make mistakes. The first time Christa told me to "head Southpaw," I was like, "Oh! That's the movie where Jake Gyllenhaal is shirtless 90 percent of the time, so sure, take me there." But I'm continuing on this cardio boxing path because I finally found a workout that makes me sweat as hard as running does and also challenges me to get tough in new ways.

I wanted to learn more about cardio boxing and cardio kickboxing, so I reached out to Christa DiPaolo and Obé cardio boxing instructor Alex Scolari for some fast facts. These awesome fitness influencers — who both got their start in Billy Blanks's famous Tae Bo classes in LA — had the answers to all of my burning questions. Scroll down to see what I discovered about my new favorite workout, aka the reason why the rug is still rolled up against the wall over there in the corner.

Cardio Kickboxing Workout
Courtesy of Christa DiPaolo

Cardio Kickboxing Workout

POPSUGAR: Is cardio kickboxing a better workout than running?

Christa DiPaolo: Cardio kickboxing offers a ton of benefits and has a definite edge over running. Kickboxing burns more calories, engages every muscle in your body, including your brain, reduces stress, improves coordination, and boosts confidence. You are literally learning a skill; it keeps you 100 percent focused and it's fun! The mind-body connection is by far my favorite benefit. Yes, boxing and kickboxing makes you smarter . . . unless you get hit in the head sparring or you're in a real fight, but that's another story.

PS: Approximately how many calories does cardio kickboxing burn?

CD: Everyone burns differently and there are a variety of factors that you have to take into consideration to truly get an accurate number. For example: how much you weigh, your height, your sex, age, your exertion, etc. It's safe to say you can burn anywhere from 350-450 calories (maybe more!) per hour. An easy way to burn extra calories and feel more of the burn is to use a set of light hand weights. They add a layer of intensity and guarantee to bring the spice to your next kickboxing sweat sesh. I recommend one to three pounds. Another trick is to incorporate a boxer shuffle in between your combos so you are continuously moving. Make sure to stay light on your feet and, as always, keep the knees soft and abs tight.

PS: Can cardio kickboxing help assist with weight loss?

CD: Absolutely! Kickboxing is a full-body workout, recruiting every muscle in your body — especially your core — and burns major calories. I always encourage a well-balanced fitness regimen, which includes strength training as well.

PS: What are some cardio kickboxing common mistakes?

CD: 1. Not keeping hands in guard by your chin. Tip: Think of having a rubber band attached to your chin, attached to your fist which will "snap" and retract the punches quickly back to your guard position.
2. Not keeping the elbows tight to the body when throwing straight punches and uppercuts. For the exception of hooks and hooks to the body, the elbows should be tucked in. Tip: Think of avoiding "spaghetti" arms. Make sure to practice in front of the mirror until you master all the punches.
3. Not using the legs to execute punches. Tip: When throwing punches you need to pivot the foot, knee, and hip to fuel your punches with power.
4. Not turning your hips to the ground when executing roundhouse kicks. Tip: Think of keeping your knees in line with your toes. It's not important how high your kick is, it's about protecting your knees.

PS: Can you do cardio kickboxing with a partner at home?

CD: It's important to positively encourage and motivate one another since quarantine can be a bit stressful for couples. Maybe add in some conditioning exercises that you can do as a team. Whether it be partner push-ups, crunches, planks, etc. Try incorporating a challenge for some friendly competition, like a plank challenge or a wall sit challenge to add some spice. Just adding some fun to your daily workout routine will help you enjoy and appreciate your time together. if you're feeling really daring, get some boxing gloves and mitts and do partner mitt work for some serious boxing fun.

PS: How popular is cardio kickboxing as a workout?

CD: It was definitely the black sheep of fitness about 10 years ago . . . it was all about Spinning or yoga. Models like Adriana Lima brought boxing to the forefront and made it the hip "go-to" workout. When I first moved to Miami over 10 years ago, there wasn't a boxing gym on every corner and there weren't that many women teaching. I initially thought to be respected in the industry I would have to fight professionally. I did start training, but two herniated discs in my cervical spine kept me from realizing that dream. So I just worked my butt off teaching and making a name for myself locally. Now everyone knows how beneficial, fun, and lucrative boxing and kickboxing are globally. It is officially respected within the fitness industry which makes me so damn happy.

Cardio Boxing Tips
Courtesy of Obé Fitness

Cardio Boxing Tips

POPSUGAR: What type of workouts should you pair with cardio boxing?

Alex Scolari: Yoga/Yoga Sculpt! You may think that is a funny pairing, but it's awesome. It is important to pair a lower-impact workout with cardio boxing. In Yoga Sculpt we flow, we breathe, we tone, we still work every muscle, but in a more gentle way. Follow a cardio boxing class with yoga — you will leave feeling stronger, lighter, and physically and mentally grounded.

PS: Cardio boxing and jump rope: When pairing the two, what are some tips for staying light on your feet?

AS: Using your core is absolutely key in cardio boxing. The tighter your core is, the stronger your breath is, and the lighter you are on your feet. This in turn will help with any lower body pain or joint pain. I say in my classes, "If you can hear yourself jumping around, you are being too loud." Send all of that strength to your upper body, and to your intention: what are you letting go of today? Upper body is strong and hard, lower body is light and soft. If the boxer's bounce or boxer's stance is too much on your lower body, then cut it out and focus on your upper body. There are no rules.

PS: How can you get better at mastering the moves?

AS: This workout is always an incredible work in progress. It is a versatile, full-body workout that works you both physically and mentally. There are definitely still moments in classes where it takes me some time to get a combo, but practice makes progress. Keep coming back and you will get stronger each and every time. Try starting with a 10-minute express class — we break down the different moves in a way that is attainable. In my classes I always remind people that it isn't really about nailing each combo, it is about leaving your workout feeling a little better, and a little lighter than when you arrived.

PS: How can you burn extra calories or get in the most intense possible workout while cardio boxing?

AS: Stay moving the whole time! When the instructor throws out any new combos, it is easy as a student to stand there and watch, but instead, stay active! Don't know the combo yet? No worries. Find a jump rope, a jumping jack, some high knees, or any movement you've done in class so far. Just stay moving the entire time and remember — keep that heart rate up