Kickboxing for Beginners

Whether you want to get into the exciting world of combat sports, or you’re just looking for an awesome cardio workout, kickboxing is a great choice. With over 15 years of martial arts experience, I’ve seen a lot of different approaches when it comes to combat sports.

So I made this guide to give you a bird’s eye view into what kickboxing is, and what a typical kickboxing workout looks like.

Table of Contents
1. Guard
2. Stance
3. Footwork
4. Distance
5. Punching
6. Kicking
7. Kickboxing Workout


1. Guard

Boxing guard

Advanced fighters use a number of different guards, each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses. For beginners, it’s best to go for the basic kickboxing guard.

To do it, you need to have your dominant hand in the back. If you have your right hand in the back, this is called an orthodox stance. If your left hand’s in the back, the stance is called southpaw.

In this guide, whenever I say “right” and “left” hand, it’s from the point of view of an orthodox stance, because that’s the most common.

Your elbows should be facing down, and you should hold your hands up. In terms of height, your gloves should be at the height of your cheekbones. At the same time, your eyes should be able to see over your gloves. Keep your chin down, and your body slightly bent.

You need to be relaxed while standing in your guard, and you should always return to it after throwing a punch, and while moving. While kicking, you should also never drop your hands. Otherwise, you leave your head open to attacks.

2. Stance

Just like the guard, put your dominant foot in the back. Your feet should be diagonal to each other, a little over shoulder width.

Your front toe, and your back heel need to be on the centerline. Keep your knees slightly bent, and have your weight evenly distributed between both legs.

3. Footwork

Footwork is one of the most vital aspects of kickboxing. There are a lot of ways to do it, but if you’re a beginner, stick to the basics.

3.1. Walking

In kickboxing, the most common way to move around is the step-drag. Step with your left foot, and drag your right foot along. 

Avoid spreading your legs too wide apart. Use small steps. After you make a step, make sure you maintain the same distance between your legs.

Imagine you’re holding a rubber band with your feet, and you’re constantly trying to keep it taut. When you step with one leg, the rubber band pulls your other leg along.  If you keep your legs too spread after you step, the rubber band will break. If you keep your legs too close to each other, it’s going to fall off.

If you can’t visualize it, and find yourself with your legs too far apart, then do it with an actual resistance band tied around your feet. 

3.2. Pivot

The pivot is a very versatile technique. You can use it for both offense, and defense. On the offense it lets you attack from angles that are harder to defend. On the defense, it allows you to avoid attacks.

It’s also very important for delivering strong kicks like roundhouses and low kicks.

Keep your left foot in place, and swing your right foot clockwise. Keep your guard up. Experiment with different degrees of pivots. Start off by pivoting at 45 degrees, then at 90, then at 180.

Try to pivot counter-clockwise. This is a very important move, so you should get comfortable with it.

4. Distance

Before we go into specific techniques and how to practice them, we first need to talk about distance. Kickboxing looks at three distances: full, half, and close. If you can judge what the distance is between you and your opponent, you’ll know which strikes you can throw, and which ones you can’t.

As you train, you’ll discover which distance you’re most comfortable at, and that’s true for everybody – every fighter has a distance they prefer and focus on. There are even some who try to go for an all-rounder approach, so they can feel at home no matter the distance. Whatever the case, this is something you’ll have to determine for yourself over the (hopefully) years you’ll spend kickboxing.

4.1. Full Distance

Full distance is when you can only reach your opponent if you fully extend your legs. It’s the best distance for throwing roundhouses, sidekicks, and front kicks.

This range is perfect for fighters who like throwing wide, powerful kicks. Facing off against such a fighter can be very intimidating, because you feel like it’s impossible to reach him. Any time you try to close the distance, you run the risk of getting caught by one of his powerful kicks. 

But if you favour fighting at this range, you need to beware of overextending yourself. If your opponent likes to get in close, he’ll look for any opportunity to close the distance. And since full distance fighters like to throw kicks with long recovery times, they run the risk of exposing themselves.

If you want to maintain full distance with your opponent, you need to have:

  • Strong kicks that discourage your opponent from getting in close
  • Very strong and fast front kicks to keep your opponent at bay
  • Good jabs and footwork to get some range from an advancing opponent

4.2. Half Distance

In half distance, you can strike your opponent with your arms either fully or partially extended. This range is perfect for jabs, straights, low kicks, and front kicks. Roundhouses can also be very potent at this range, but if you’re not careful, your opponent could jam your leg.

Fighters who focus on half distance need to have a well-rounded skill set. You need to have good, solid punches, as well as strong kicks. At this range, you need to anticipate attacks from a wide array of angles. From low kicks, to punches, all the way to devastating roundhouses. 

It’s probably the hardest distance to fight at, but it’s also the most common. This is why every fighter needs to be familiar with it. If nothing else, then just because of the great reflexes it helps you develop. If you get good at fighting in half distance, it will make you a better fighter at both full and close distance.

However, half distance requires the widest array of skills. You’ll need:

  • Good punching skills
  • Strong kicks
  • Very good footwork
  • Very good defense

4.3. Close Distance

Close distance is when you can hit your opponent with hooks and uppercuts. In Japanese kickboxing, at this range you can also throw knees and elbows.

This distance is very limited in terms of attacks you can throw. But it’s also limited in terms of the attacks you’ll need to defend against. You can jam most of your opponent’s kicks before he’s had the chance to throw them. The only kicks you need to worry about are low kicks, and maybe front kicks. But if you’re this close, they’re very easy to stop.

The issue in close distance is getting there. In most cases, you’ll have to eat a kick or two, especially if your style revolves around getting in close. Also, your punches need to be strong enough to keep your opponent from getting away. You also need to have the endurance to sustain your opponent’s counter attacks.

So, as a close distance kickboxer you should work on:

  • Very strong punches
  • Footwork that allows you to close the distance to your opponent
  • High endurance and pain tolerance, since getting close and staying there often means you’ll have to take a hit or two

5. Punching

General tips:

  1. Be relaxed
  2. Get your body weight behind your strikes
  3. Don’t telegraph

5.1. Jab

Benefits of the Jab
  • The fastest punch, because it’s the closest to your opponent
  • Great for testing your opponent’s defenses
  • Sets up your power shots, as well as your mid-range kicks
  • Makes it harder for your opponent to close the distance
How to Throw a Jab
  1. From your guard, punch with your lead hand, palm down
  2. Rotate your lead hip, and synchronize your strike with your footwork. There are three ways of going about it:
    1. Do a step drag with your lead foot. For maximum power, make sure your foot lands at the same time as your jab
    2. If you’re doing it in place, rotate your lead foot as well as your lead hip. Rotate the foot on your toes in the direction of your hip. Like above, the rotation should end at the same time as the jab lands
    3. Do a drag step, combined with a hip rotation. This gives you the longest range. It’s also the easiest way to get your whole body behind the jab. The drawback is that it takes the longest to recover
  3. Retract your hand back to your chin
  4. Keep your back hand up at all times

The jab is a straight punch with your lead hand. While not as powerful as most other types of punches, many coaches rightfully say that it should be a kickboxer’s best punch. See, the jab isn’t meant to be a knockout punch.

Its main purpose is to set up your power shots. Jabbing allows you to test your opponent’s defenses, and get a feel for how they react. Their reaction – be it a slip, block, or anything in-between – lets you spot openings in their defense. That way, you can follow up with a more powerful punch or kick.

5.2. Cross

Benefits of theCross
  • Very strong power shot. Can be used to end the fight
  • Very easy to pick up as a beginner
  • Very versatile – can fit into a lot combinations
  • Can be used to intercept different types of punches
How to Throw a Cross
  1. From your guard, punch with your back hand, palm down
  2. Rotate your back hip in the direction of the punch
  3. At the same time, rotate your back foot on your toes. Your knee should face forward, at around 45 degrees
    1. One variation is to lean into your front leg. That way you get your head off of the centerline. This makes it difficult for your opponent to counterattack
  4. Retract your hand back into your guard
  5. During the whole time, your front hand should stay up

A or cross is a straight punch with your back hand. It’s one of your strongest punches for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s thrown with your dominant hand. This makes it very easy to put a lot of power into it, because it’s the hand you’re most comfortable using.

The second reason is the leverage you can get by striking with your back hand. Compared to the jab, a cross lets you get your bodyweight behind your punch much more easily.

Another source of power is the distance your hand has to travel to get to its target. As we know from our physics classes at school, force is equal to mass times acceleration. In this case, mass depends on how well you can get your bodyweight behind your punch. And acceleration is increased by the distance your hand has to travel.

Unlike the jab, however, the cross is slower, and it gives your opponent a lot of time to react. This is why you should always set it up with other strikes. A classic combination is a left front kick, followed by a jab, cross, and a right roundhouse.

5.3. Left Hook

Benefits of the Left Hook
  • Comes from a side angle that’s difficult to defend
  • Good option for body shots
  • Can easily hit the side of the chin, which can knock your opponent out
  • Can target the liver – another sure way for a knockout
How to Throw a Left Hook
Left hook
  1. From your guard, throw a curved punch with your lead hand, palm down. Your elbow and forearm need to be parallel to the ground
  2. At the same time, rotate your lead hip, and the toes of your lead foot.
    1. Alternatively, you can pivot on your lead foot, in order to get more power into the punch
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
    1. If you’re hitting a heavy bag, bounce your hand back to your guard
    2. If you’re shadow boxing, use the momentum of your strike to swing your hand back to your guard
  4. Keep your back hand up

Left hooks can target several areas that can lead to a knockout: the side of the chin, and the liver. It, along with the right hook, is one of your best options when it comes to body shots.

When you’re in punching range, body shots in general are also a very potent weapon. They can knock the wind out of your opponent, which can make him unable to continue the fight. Combine them with some well-timed low kicks, and you can become a very dangerous close distance fighter.

Another benefit of the left hook is that it comes from an outside angle, which is very difficult to defend against. It requires your opponent to shift their entire body, which can expose them to other angles of attack. 

5.4. Right Hook

Benefits of the Right Hook
  • Good for body shots
  • You can get a lot of power into it
How to Throw a Right Hook
Right hook
  1. From your guard, throw a curved punch with your back hand, palm down. Keep the elbow and forearm parallel to the ground
  2. At the same time, rotate your back hip, and the toes of your back foot.
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
    1. If you’re hitting a heavy bag, bounce your hand back to your guard
    2. If you’re shadow boxing, use the momentum of your strike to swing your hand back to your guard
  4. Keep your lead hand up

This is one of the most difficult punches to land, and there are a couple of reasons for that. 

First, it comes off your back hand, which means it has more distance to travel. This is something it shares with all strikes you do with your back hand, but the right hook gives your opponent even more time to react. 

Because in addition to being thrown with the right hand, it also has a curved trajectory which makes it much easier to see. With a straight, it’s much harder to quickly gauge how close the punch is, because it’s moving directly at you. But a hook’s curved trajectory makes it much easier to see.

This is why it’s vital to combine it with other strikes. This could turn your right hook into a very potent finisher.

5.5. Left and Right Uppercuts

Benefits of the Uppercut
  • A lot of fighters don’t expect it
  • Comes at an angle that can easily penetrate an opponent’s guard
  • Easy to get a lot of power into it
How to Throw a Left Uppercut 
  1. With your lead hand, throw a punch at a 45-degree angle, palm up.
  2. At the same time, rotate your lead hip, and the toes of your lead foot.
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
  4. Keep your back hand up
How to Throw a Right Uppercut 
  1. With your back hand, throw a punch at a 45-degree angle, palm up.
  2. At the same time, rotate your back hip, and the toes of your back foot.
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
  4. Keep your lead hand up

To get more power, you can crouch down a little, and dip the same side’s shoulder. Then, rise up as you throw the punch.

Uppercuts aren’t thrown as frequently as other types of punches. One of the reasons for this is the fact that your head is exposed while throwing them, unlike the jab and straight, where your head is protected by the shoulder of the punching arm.

But that is what makes uppercuts unexpected, and a great addition to any kickboxer’s arsenal. Left uppercuts are stronger than the jab, and can catch your opponent off-guard.

Right uppercuts can be devastating at close and mid-range, but should be used sparingly, because they leave your head open to a counter left hook. But in the right circumstances, they’re the perfect option for targeting the head or body.

5.6. Left and Right Overhands

Benefits of the Overhand
  • Comes at an angle that goes over your opponent’s guard
  • Leaves you protected while you’re throwing it
  • Works well by itself or as part of a combination
How to Throw a Left Overhand
  1. With your lead hand, start throwing a jab. At the midpoint of the punch, rotate your hand clockwise, until your thumb is facing the ground. Your elbow should be facing away from your body, at roughly 45 degrees
  2. At the same time, rotate your lead hip, and the toes of your lead foot.
    1. Alternatively, you can pivot around your lead to get a better angle around your opponent’s guard
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
  4. Keep your back hand up
How to Throw a Right Overhand
  1. With your lead hand, start throwing a hook (or a wide straight, if you want a tighter arc). At the midpoint of the punch, rotate your hand counter-clockwise, until your thumb is facing the ground. Your elbow should be facing away from your body, at roughly 45 degrees
  2. At the same time, rotate your back hip, and the toes of your back foot.
    1. Just like the left overhand, you can also pivot around your lead foot to more easily get around the opponent’s guard
  3. Retract your arm to your guard
  4. Keep your lead hand up

Overhands are one of my favourite types of punches. They can be incorporated into a number of combinations, and they can go over an opponent’s guard. You can use them to go on the inside of your opponent’s hook. Overhands can offer great reach, and are a good option for both closing the distance, and as a means of giving you some breathing room while retreating.

The way you naturally lift your shoulder while throwing them protects your head, and if you don’t drop your elbow during retraction, it leaves the head unexposed during the entire duration of the punch.

But as much as I like overhands, don’t rely on them too much. While their trajectory makes sure your head is protected at all times, it leaves your ribs exposed for quite a while. So, if your opponent weaves under your overhand, they can land some very nasty body shots.

So, it’s best to use overhands as part of a combination, or as a counter to hooks.

6. Kicking

6.1. Front Kick

Front Kick – Benefits

  • Easy to do
  • Great for stopping and opponent who wants to get in close
  • Can knock the air out of your opponent
  • Very good for gaining distance from your opponent

How to do a front kick:

  1. Lift your knee. Your leg needs to be bent.
  2. Extend your foot, and kick with your foot, toes facing upward. Try to kick with your heel, because it provides the most power. 
  3. Get your leg back to your guard
  4. If you’re kicking with your back foot, don’t step forward. After you kick, swing it back to its starting position
  5. During the kick, keep your guard up

Sometimes called a “stop kick”, or “mae geri”, the front kick is one of the most versatile tools a kickboxer has. 

A lead front kick is a great way to close the distance. Done with the back leg, it’s one of the best ways to increase the distance, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by an opponent offensive.

When it comes to the striking surface, the front kick is quite a forgiving technique. You can kick with the heel, the balls of your feet, or with the whole foot. Kicking with the heel gives you the most power, and kicking with the balls of your feet gives you the most precision and range. Kicking with the entire foot is the easiest to pick up. But that comes at the expense of power, so always try to kick with your heel or the balls of your feet.

But whatever you do, don’t kick with your toes! They’re one of the most brittle parts of your body, and kicking with them could lead to injury.

One last point is keeping your guard up. A lot of people like to drop their hand when they throw a front kick. The idea is to drop the same hand as the leg doing the kick (e.g. dropping your left hand when doing a left kick). The problem I have with this is that it leaves your head wide open.

While it’s true that it’s difficult to punch someone while they’re doing a front kick, more advanced fighters can easily side step your front kick and clock you in the head with a hook or overhand.

So, don’t drop your guard while you kick. In addition to protecting you, it makes you faster if you follow up your kick with punches, because your hands will have less distance to travel.

The easiest way to defend against it is to side step, and raise your shin to check the side of your opponent’s leg.

6.2. Side Kick

Benefits of the sidekick:

  • Delivers a massive amount of power
  • Done properly, it can end a fight
  • Good way for closing the distance

How to do a sidekick:

  1. Put your back foot next to your lead foot
  2. As soon as you land your back foot, lift your front leg
  3. Lean your body at 45-90 degrees
  4. At the same time, launch your lead leg into your opponent. Aim for your opponent’s abdomen
  5. After the kick, pull your leg back, and get back into your guard

The sidekick is another great way of closing the distance to your opponent. But in addition to that, it’s an extremely powerful and dangerous kick that can end a fight outright. It’s even better if your opponent uses a traditional kickboxing guard, because then the kick can land in between his arms.

If you want, you can use the sidekick just as a distance closer, or as a quick jab at your opponent’s defense. Then, you can do it without leaning with your body. That way it’s not as powerful, but it’s much faster and harder to defend against.

If you lean while you’re doing sidekicking, then you can get your entire body weight behind it, making it a lot more potent. That power does come at the expense of speed, however. So, just like anything, it’s going to succeed or fail based on how well you set it up.

A good way to do it is to throw a jab, and lean into it a little more than usual, even overextend a little. You can then use that overextension to get more power out of your sidekick. This may sound a bit risky, but by overextending on the jab you can prompt your opponent to close the distance and punish your overextension. 

And that’s exactly what you want. Because as he’s coming in, it will be very hard for him to side step to evade that sidekick.

6.3. Low Kick

Benefits of the low kick:

  • Can discourage your opponent from getting in close
  • You can incorporate it in a wide array of combinations
  • It’s a very fast kick 
  • It’s difficult to defend against

How to do a low kick:

  1. Kick downwards with your back foot, at a 45 degree angle. Aim for the thigh
  2. While you’re kicking, pivot on your front foot so that your heel is facing your opponent
  3. Get your foot back to where it started
  4. Don’t drop your guard while doing the kick

While most people mainly associate low kicks with Muay Thai, they’re very prominent in kickboxing, as well. And it should come as no surprise.

The low kick can be done really fast, and can be weaved into a number of different combinations. It travels on a very narrow arc, which makes it hard to see coming and anticipate. While it can’t knock out an opponent outright, if done properly, it can make your opponent’s leg go numb.

In terms of striking surface, you’ve got two options. If your opponent is far away, you can kick  with the top part of your foot. However, most people prefer to kick with their shin, because that way they can transfer more power. If your opponent is very close, you can even kick with your knee, but most tournaments don’t allow that.

The easiest defense against a low kick is to pivot, so your knee is facing the kick. That way it’s going to hit your thigh. At the same time, punch your opponent’s kicking shoulder, so you take the power out of his kick. 

To get a better picture, let’s say you’re both orthodox, and your opponent is low kicking with his right leg. Pivot on your left foot, and jab his right shoulder. Make sure you put your weight behind your jab. That way it’ll take all the power out of his kick, and it’ll land harmlessly on your thigh.

Against a left low kick, the defense is similar, but with a cross instead of a jab.

6.4. Roundhouse

Benefits of the roundhouse:

  • You can get a lot of momentum and power into a roundhouse
  • If your opponent doesn’t evade it, he’s in for a world of hurt
  • Throwing a bunch of them can make an opponent hesitant to come in close

How to do a roundhouse:

  1. Kick sideways with your back foot, at a 45 degree angle. Aim for the body or thigh
  2. While you’re kicking, pivot on the balls of your front foot. You need to pivot your whole body 360 degrees
  3. Get your foot back to where it started
  4. Don’t drop your guard up while doing the kick

The roundhouse is a very dangerous type of kick. The way you spin your entire body makes it one of the most powerful kicks in kickboxing. The only way to defend against it is to evade it. Trying to block it borders on suicide, just because of the sheer amount of power a roundhouse can generate. Your best bet is to just get out of the way.

In terms of striking surface, your safest bet is to aim to kick with your shin, because the bones at the top of your foot are very delicate. It’s a very bad idea to be putting a lot of pressure on them.

But as potent as the roundhouse is, it can be dangerous for the person doing it, as well. For one, if you miss you leave yourself open for a very long time.

It’s also not a good idea to do it if you’re a beginner. The pivot you need to do for a roundhouse is quite difficult. If your support leg isn’t spinning fast enough, you could twist your ankle or your knee, and you could end up with a nasty injury.

So, don’t attempt a roundhouse unless you’ve mastered the basics of footwork and pivoting. Also, as a beginner, don’t try it unless you’ve warmed up first. That applies to everything, but for roundhouses, it goes twofold.

7. Kickboxing Workout

Warmup – 10-15 Minutes

You can start off with some light stretching. Begin with the head and neck, and continue with your core, arms and legs. 

Once you feel some flexibility in your joints, you can start the cardio part of the warmup:

  • 30 seconds – With your guard up, start bouncing side to side
  • 30 seconds – Transition into bouncing forwards and backwards
  • 30 seconds – Jumping Jacks
  • 30 seconds – Squats. Try keeping your hips on the same level with your knees, and keep your back straight
  • Do 5 reps

You can follow along with the video below:

Shadow Boxing – 10 Minutes

If you want to do a bit of a cardio workout, you can try something like this:

  • 30 seconds – Bounce forwards and backwards. Every time you step on your lead leg, throw out a jab
  • 30 seconds – Switch your lead leg, and do the same thing on the other side
  • 30 seconds – Step forward with a jab and a straight. Step backwards with the same combination
  • 30 seconds – While having your left as your lead leg, step to the left with it while throwing a jab and straight. Then, step to the right, again throwing a jab and straight
  • 1 minute – Bob and weave with the lead leg. While you’re coming up, throw out an uppercut with the back hand, followed by a lead hook. Then, slip with the back leg while throwing an uppercut with the lead hand, and a hook with the back hand
  • Do 3 reps
  • Do a front kick with your lead leg, followed with a jab and cross. Do 10 reps
    • Do the same, but with a low kick and a roundhouse

For a more pure kickboxing workout, don’t switch the lead leg as often, and work only on one side.

Here’s a good video you can follow along with:

Focus Mitts – 10-15 Minutes

  • 1 minute – Jab-straight. Have your partner feed you a jab and straight that you slip to evade
  • 1 minute – Lead hook, back hook. Partner feeds you the same combo. Bob and weave to dodge it
  • 1 minute – Lead uppercut, back uppercut. Partner feeds you the same combination. Slip to evade it
  • 1 minute – Jab-straight, low kick with the lead leg. Then, jab-straight into a low kick with your back leg
  • 1 minute – Roundhouse, jab-straight
  • Do about 2-3 reps

Heavy Bag – 15-20 Minutes

  • 1 minute – Jab-Straight. Move your hip, so you can get more power into each punch.
  • 1 minute – Bob and weave to the side, and deliver two hooks. Have your left leg in front, bob to the left, and follow it up with a back hook and lead hook. After that, bob to the right, and follow with a lead hook and back hook
  • 1 minute  – Push the bag a little bit. Go in front of it, and keep it in position with uppercuts. Don’t let it swing back
  • 1 minute – Jab-Hook. Bob and weave, then repeat
  • 1 minute – Front kick with the lead leg, jab-cross, roundhouse with your back leg
  • 1 minute – Full-speed, full-power punching. You can do any combination you want, just don’t stop hitting
  • 1 minute – Full-speed, full-power kicking. Same as the punches – just don’t stop kicking
  • Do 3 reps

Sparring – 3-10 Minutes

Again, this really depends on your level. Start slowly, and gradually work your way up in speed and intensity.

If you can’t do it under the supervision of a coach or more experienced fighter, then just stick to the more basic sparring drills. Both of you throwing only jabs and straights, only throwing hooks, etc.

In terms of how long you should do it for, again – it depends. If you’re just starting out, do it for about 3 to 5 minutes. As you get better, you can extend that to 3-minute rounds – 2, 3 or even more rounds, depending on how fast you’re progressing.

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