“The first 15 minutes are the hardest,” she told me.
“Okay,” I nodded. I fought off the fear of looking stupid by preempting any supposed judgment about my lack of coordination/skill/athleticism with an onslaught of information.
“But just so you know, I haven’t been to the gym in like…a year and a half. And I just got back from a Eurotrip where I ate all the pizza and gelato. Plus, I’ve never done this before in my life. And did I mention I have the coordination of a baby giraffe?”
When I first arrived at ILoveKickboxing.com’s Astoria studio in early June, I was immediately greeted by my personal trainer for the evening, Amanda Adamczyk. Young and friendly and full of energy (but clearly a tough cookie and not someone you would want to mess with), Amanda and I sat down to talk about my fitness goals. Anxiety at the thought of working off that winter bod next to super-fit gym rats who’ve never even heard of a winter bod let alone had one would’ve turned me off from even trying out the kickboxing studio a few years before; recently, though, I decided I didn’t have time for all that noise and instead decided to focus on long-term health and happiness. Improved coordination, self-defense, and self-esteem were at the top of my list of goals, followed by community involvement and finally, increased strength and physical fitness. Ultimately I was looking for a new skill to learn, one that could potentially develop into a passion and pave the way for growth, friendship, and even enjoying exercise as opposed to viewing it as a chore (at best) or worse – a punishment.
Any fear I might have had immediately dissipated during my first class. For one, nobody in there could be described as a “gym rat.” Yes, there were some incredibly fit and toned athletes, some more advanced than others, but nobody had that snooty attitude associated with meatheads and models. Also, there were a ton of bodies that looked just like mine – but not only. Some were taller, shorter, bigger, smaller, apple, pear, hourglass, stick figure – name a body type and it was represented. There was also no clear-cut demographic – men and women of all ages and orientations were there to work out, sweat a TON, and have fun. Feeling like I fit in is one of the things I like best about ILKB, and is what inspired me to upgrade my Groupon package (details on that later) to a full membership.
So what exactly happens during an intense kickboxing class, and what is the story behind ILoveKickboxing.com-Astoria?
I recently sat down with one of ILKB’s best trainers, Marc Delacruz, to get the inside scoop on the kickboxing studio, its workout routine, and how he “lost an Olsen twin” through kickboxing.
“I’ve been working at ILoveKickboxing-Astoria for over 6 years – I’ve been here the longest out of all of the trainers,” Marc told me one day after class. “We’ve been at our studio on Steinway for a little over a year – our old studio used to be on Broadway and 43rd but we came under new management and moved to our current space.” Conveniently located off the Steinway M/R train in the old Furniture & Futons building, you can’t miss ILoveKickboxing.com written in big letters above the studio doorway – right across the street from the Dunkin’ Donuts.
The irony is not lost on the trainers. “Turn to face the Dunkin’ Donuts and step into a left-leg runner’s lunge!” trainer Katrina Rose yelled out to a class of 20 during the next session’s warm-up stretch (fun fact: Katrina is a contestant on Team Miley on this year’s The Voice!). “No, you can’t have Dunkin’, ” she added. “And anyways, if you’re going to spend your calories on a donut, at least pick a good donut – something better than a stale chain’s leftovers!”
When I asked Marc how he got involved in kicboxing and what made him decide to become a trainer at ILKB-Astoria, he told me “I started out as a member before becoming a trainer. My sister actually brought me to the studio, I had never done kickboxing before. I used to do a lot of weight training and was pretty bulked up – I got to be a pretty big guy. But even though I was lifting weights, I wasn’t in the best of shape – at 225 pounds, I was out of breath walking up the short flight of stairs to get to the subway. I knew that wasn’t right and that something had to change – it wasn’t all about bulk and mass, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for your body; it’s about building those lean muscles that give you strength and agility. I started coming to the studio about five or six days a week for two years.”
In the first six months – and starting out as a total beginner – Marc lost 40 pounds; over the course of the next year and a half, he took off another 35, shedding nearly 75 pounds (“an entire Olsen twin,” he chuckled) in just two years. The studio managers noticed Marc’s focus and skill, and asked him if he would be interested in becoming a trainer – a position he’s now held for about 6 years. In addition to leading ILKB classes, Marc has since gotten involved in grappling and competitive jiu-jitsu – something he never would’ve envisioned prior to kickboxing.
Such crazy weight loss – and maintenance – stories are not uncommon in the kickboxing studio. People boast shedding tens of pounds and pant sizes in relatively short amounts of time, depending on training frequency and diet. So what is it about kickboxing that makes it so effective compared to other forms of exercise?
It’s a combination of different types of exercises and activities that utilize and target every muscle in the body to maximize fat loss and increase lean muscle mass. The first 15 minutes of class – arguably the most challenging part – consists of high-intensity interval training to warm up the muscles. Students jog around the room doing high knees, butt-kickers, and side shuffles before returning to their respective places for any varied combination of jumping-jacks, burpees, bicycle crunches, squats, and lunges (to name a few). This high intensity interval training circuit, known as HIIT training in the fitness world, is essentially a mix of cardio, body weight training, and ab conditioning. Following the HIIT portion of class is a cool-down stretching period (to ensure that your muscles are nice and warm before getting into the serious kickboxing) and finally, the bag rounds.
The six, three-minute individual bag rounds are arguably the most fun part of the class. For each round, the instructor demonstrates a different combination of moves utilizing various types of punches (including jab, cross, uppercut, hook, and backfist) and kicks (such as the front kick, side-kick, and round-house kick) to create a choreographed routine. While you work on perfecting your form and technique to some really awesome music mixes (chosen at the discretion of the class’s trainer and as varied as Britney Spears, Jay-Z, and 80s rock), the instructors walk around the room to offer feedback and corrections – and to make sure nobody gets injured.
“Everything is pre-set according to the franchise’s website for trainers – we don’t choose which muscle groups or combinations to do – that comes directly from the ILoveKickboxing.com franchise, which is nation wide,” Marc informed me when I asked him how the workout routines were chosen. “We try and mix it up – we never work out the same muscle group back to back. And even though it’s pre-set, we try to add our own thing to the mix – for example, if we see that something is too easy or that you guys are just blowing through a combo, we’ll switch it up, add things in, make it more challenging so you get the most out of your workout.”
The same goes for the fitness and diet tips, which are pre-set by the franchise and shared throughout the class in the form of the “fitness tip of the day.” Avoiding processed foods, eating smaller meals more frequently, cooking at home as opposed to eating out, and drinking natural supplements like apple cider vinegar and green tea are some of the studio’s words of wisdom. Of course, trainers still manage to add their own flair to the fitness advice. “YOU GOTTA EARN THAT PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE!” admittedly basic instructor Tas Shantanu is known to scream out during an added impromptu burpee session. “Hey,” he argues, “I didn’t choose the basic life; the basic life chose me.”
The last component of the class besides the cool-down stretch is the 5-minute partner round. Two trainers demonstrate various combinations where you work with a partner to throw punches into an actual glove. It’s less a hard-core sparring technique and more to give you a sense of what it would be like to put your glove into contact with an actual person (as opposed to a bag) when using these moves. “Obviously we aren’t training UFC fighters and the partner round isn’t meant to be a place to try and knock someone out,” Amanda told me on my first class; but it is good practice for those wishing to familiarize themselves with self-defense techniques.
So what differentiates ILoveKickboxing.com-Astoria from any other workout studio in the city? And what would make a person decide to upgrade their discounted trial-class to a full-blown membership?
For me, it was a couple of different things. First off, the trainers really take the time to personalize the workouts and tailor it to your experience. If you’re injured, they encourage you to pay attention to how you’re feeling and what your body can and cannot handle. If you’re a beginner still building up your strength, they show you how to modify the moves until you get there. They also genuinely care about creating a warm environment and a sense of community – whether it be by hosting a Fourth of July BBQ with their sister studio in Bayside or organizing one of their monthly “DJ Nights” where students are encouraged to show up to class dressed to the theme and ready to party (past themes have included EDM, Michael Jackson, Halloween Party, and even a Luau!). They are also extremely friendly on a personal level – when I entered the studio for my second class, the trainers already knew me by name, asked me how I was doing/how my day was going, and enthusiastically welcomed me into the space.
While the sense of community and kind attitude of the trainers played a key role in my decision to become a member, one of my favorite things about ILoveKickboxing.com is the heartfelt commitment to charity work the studio embodies. Each month, class attendants can support a different cause by checking into the studio on social media and using a specific hashtag, which is written on the whiteboard at the front of the studio and repeated out loud during the warm-up stretch. One month, for every check-in accompanied by the hashtag #kicksforbricks, the studio donated one brick to the construction of a school for underprivileged children overseas. Another month, ILKB donated a bowl of food to an animal in a shelter if students checked in with the hashtag #care4animals. It’s simple and easy and requires nothing but a check-in to do good unto others as you do good unto your body. ILKB also stepped up during the natural disasters this year in Houston and in Puerto Rico, taking up a collection box to send supplies to both places in need.
When I asked Marc how the charities were chosen and why charity work plays such an important role in the studio, he told me “we partner with an organization that works with all charities – it’s actually a relatively new concept to the studio, it was an idea our co-owners Kevin Hu and James Lee brought in just this year. Our partner organization helps us choose which charities to donate to. Sometimes it will depend on the time of year – right now it’s October which is breast cancer awareness month, so we are donating to that cause. It’s really cool and something that everyone can get easily involved in and help out.”
As a trainer who is passionate about helping others reach their goals, Marc says that he is devoted to motivating others to become the best, most healthy version of themselves. “If you have a good program with good instructors who motivate and push you to succeed, it’s hard to fail.”
If you’re interested in checking out the studio yourself and seeing what it’s all about, you can read up on them on their website here or here. They typically run a trial promo which includes a personalized consultation with an instructor, 3 classes (the first of which includes a personal trainer staying with you the whole time to teach you the proper moves), and a free pair of gloves – all for $20.
Similarly, you can find offers on Groupon, which vary depending on availability. I started out with a $50 Groupon voucher, which included all of the above but was 10 trial classes instead of three.
You can also visit them in person at their Astoria location (32-43 Steinway St, Astoria, NY 11103), or give them a ring at (718) 606-0196.