- Kickboxing is not only for toning muscles, it is perfect for co-ordination and helps with mental focus and clarity.
James Mworia, Centum CEO
James Mworia, the Group CEO of Centum Investments, says he is an amateur Muay Thai boxer amid laughs. He does kickboxing for fitness and for the past four years he has been training with his personal trainer, Geoff Wenwa.
At 5 a.m., we meet at the Colosseum Gym at Adams Arcade, Nairobi, and despite the early morning chill, it is a full house. Among them is Titus Karanja, the Sidian Bank CEO, who is catching his breathe after his workout.
‘‘You know when you set your mind to do something, you are going to wake up at 4.30am...every day,’’ says Mr Mworia.
The Centum CEO picked kickboxing because he was looking for a high-intensity exercise with a variation of movements and that required focus.
He wanted something different for his fitness, cardio, strength and endurance. The quick moves in a kickboxing class give him the rush he seeks when he works out.
‘‘I wanted something that I complete in less than 60 minutes due to my time constraints. I gave kickboxing a try and I got hooked,’’ he says.
He trains at least four times a week. His personal trainer Geoff says of all the people who frequent the gym, Mr Mworia is the one who trains the most and his rigorous regime is paying off.
‘‘He was not looking like this four years back,’’ the trainer says.
‘‘He was looking like a CEO. He doesn’t look like a CEO anymore.’’
Mr Mworia says aside from building stamina, kickboxing is good for strength, fitness and it is the best way to start a day.
‘‘It gives me energy and stamina to perform my duties at a very high standard while remaining energetic throughout the day. My thinking is a lot clearer and since I started, I am able to get a lot more done in a day at work with a significantly higher level of efficiency,’’ he says.
‘‘Today I can work up to midnight and I feel strong. I couldn’t do that before. And I can do that Monday to Monday.’’
When he started, the Centum CEO was not using the shin guards to cover his legs.
Geoff says when one is not wearing the guards, it helps in conditioning of the knee. The bare punching hardens your shins and core muscles so much that when someone hits, you do not feel anything.
‘‘Initially it is painful... not the kind of pain like it’s going to kill you. One gets used to it,’’ Geoff says.
It took Mr Mworia six months to get used to the kicks. In the six months, you have to be consistent to get used to the pain.
The Centum CEO starts his day at 4:30 a.m. and by 5 a.m., he is at the gym. He trains for one hour and heads home to drop his children at school, sometimes.
At least twice or thrice a week, he ensures he gets home by 6 p.m. to help his children do their homework and sleeps by 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. after an hour of reading.
Going to the gym by 5 a.m. every day and the intense workout, he says, has built up his self-discipline. He was able to commit to a diet plan.
Geoff says for Mr Mworia, they had to start with a diet plan first because he was ‘‘really big.’’
‘‘But after you get fit, you can control what you eat. You need to manage your weight first before you can manage the weights in the gym. Go slow on the carbohydrates, sugars and fats, especially at night. Control your portion sizes, have a large breakfast, medium lunch and small dinner. When it comes to fitness, 70 per cent is in the kitchen,’’ the trainer says.
Initially, Mr Mworia says, the exercise was hard but over the years he has become addicted. Even when he travels, he carries his kit and works out. He combines the kickboxing with lifting light weights and other cardio exercises.
At the Adams Arcade gym, an average session lasts an hour. The level of intensity depends on a client’s level of fitness. One starts with warm-up, stretching to prevent muscle tear, then mastering the techniques of the how to punch, kick and elbow.
After the class, the kickboxers do stretches to help avoid cramps and the buildup of lactic acid which can really cause aches and pains.
Aside from helping in shedding excess fat, the kicking in different directions, squatting rapidly, running in place, is good for building confidence especially for women who master self-defense skills and become fit, says Geoff.
“Kickboxing is not about violence. By teaching you how to punch doesn’t mean you go punching people or picking fights. Actually, the more you get to learn about boxing, even if you’re a violent person, the more you’re going to learn to calm down. You’ll become an easy guy. It teaches you discipline,’’ says Geoff.
Anne Kinyanjui, lawyer
Anne Kinyanjui, a partner at Iseme, Kamau & Maema Advocates, comes into the Colosseum Gym at Adams Arcade; does warm-up exercises and then stretches for five minutes.
She then teams up with her personal trainer, Jeff Njuguna, for a 30-minute kickboxing session. This involves an intense combination of punches, kicks, knee and elbow movements, perfect for tightening the core and firming the back.
‘‘For warm-ups, Anne does five rounds of 20 squats and 10 push-ups, mountain climbers and a custom exercise that starts as a squat, then you jump forward, squat, jump back again, then go down and do a push-up because it combines different things, hitting different parts of the body in one set,’’ says Jeff, who is also a manager at the gym.
The warm-up exercises and stretches get the muscles prepped for kickboxing, help in blood flow and ensure the body is warm. But this does not mean that you can walk from a Bikram yoga class and start kickboxing.
‘‘Anne combines Bikram yoga with kickboxing. It’s good, and the two forms of body training complement each other, but you just can’t walk out of a yoga studio and come straight into kickboxing,’’ says Jeff.
Kickboxing is becoming a common exercise for women, but it is not particularly celebrated. Are gyms promoting violence? Jeff says ‘No’.
‘‘Most women are vulnerable just by nature and it is good when women take up a form of training that empowers them where they know that in any given situation, ‘I can handle myself, defend, and protect myself.’ It builds your confidence, not walking around scared all over the place. But also not walking out of here looking for fights,’’ he says.
Aside from that, it moulds your mental attitude. Anne, who heads the real estate, banking and finance practice, has been kickboxing for two years now.
She started out one and a half years after getting triplets.
‘‘I wanted a workout, which I would enjoy and I have always had an interest in martial arts and boxing,’’ she says.
After she committed to a strict workout regime and watched her diet, she says her energy levels started increasing. She also managed her stress much better and her health improved.
‘‘Believe me those two forms of body training (Bikram yoga and kickboxing) help me clear my head, sleep well, I’m more focused at work, I have more energy and I am more myself now,’’ said the 38-year-old.
She does kickboxing three times a week and yoga twice weekly.
‘‘Kickboxing has helped me build my strength, which has helped me with my yoga postures and my yoga has helped me get the flexibility to do some of the kicks and moves in kickboxing, so they complement each other,’’ she says.
Her punching gloves are not like the normal boxing gloves. They are mixed martial arts gloves.
‘‘With the normal gloves, you protect your fingers a bit more. With these, you feel the impact of the punches, which condition the fingers. I prefer these so that when I’ll be in a fight, though I hope not to be in one, I’m not going to tell the person, wait I get my gloves,’’ she says.
Her weight loss after child birth was not swift. It took her a while to shed the pregnancy weight as her main focus was on breastfeeding her triplets.
‘‘However, I did go into a diet plan to shed the last 10 kilogrammes and then combined it with exercise,’’ she says.
Anne adds that kickboxing is a good cardio workout for women. It is fun, works the stamina and enhances body co-ordination.
‘‘You also leave all your stress on that punching bag, or on the trainer!’’
Ghulam Samdani, GM, Ole Sereni Hotel
At Salmer Fitness Centre, up a short flight of stairs to the first floor of Karen Plains Arcade, Beyoncé’s Who Run The World (Girls) track is blasting from the speakers.
Resting on the sides of the raised mirrored section, past the rows of gym equipment, is Ghulam Samdani, the general manager of Ole Sereni Hotel.
For three years now, Ghulam has been heading to the fitness centre for kickboxing.
A full body workout, he says, which involves a lot of Karate-style kicks, throwing punches like a boxer in a ring, repetitive shoving of the knee up the trainer’s mid-section and lots of panting means kickboxing is not for the faint-hearted.
But it is the challenge and the action movie-like-fighting injected with stamina that drove him to kickboxing. “The movement is far more than one form of exercise. It is head to toe literally,” he says.
An average kickboxing session lasts one hour, but Ghulam does the sharp punches and swift kicks for two hours.
He says he was inspired by his personal trainer, Jason Okonji, a fitness fanatic who works out two hours a day.
‘‘I saw Jason train other patrons at the gym and decided to challenge myself. Three years later, I am still here,’’ he says.
The exercise that is gaining popularity among fitness enthusiasts makes for a good transition between other regular workouts like running, cycling and weightlifting.
But first things first, you need to stretch. Kickboxing puts a strain on muscles through the vigorous kicks, punches and motions, using tendons and ligaments extensively. It is therefore imperative that before you start kicking, you do stretches or cardio exercises.
Jason, also a martial arts instructor from Lamu, says stretching opens up the muscles. He stretches for more than 45 minutes a day to be able to do splits and other yoga poses.
For Ghulam, kickboxing is not only an exercise.
“In my business, it helps me keep alert. I also don’t have to watch what I eat given the industry I’m in as I’m always at the hotel,” he says.
Ghulam’s day starts at 5.15am. He then hits the gym at 5.30am. He does one hour of cardio exercises, followed by 45-minutes of kickboxing with his personal trainer five days a week.
By 9am, the general manager of Ole Sereni is at his office. At around 11am, he takes physical rounds of the hotel, which allows him to get off his seat and walk.
But from 5pm onwards, he meets with guests and team members which means he stays longer at the workplace than most office workers. ‘‘We hoteliers don’t have the luxury to follow the typical five-day, nine to five time pattern as we run a very erratic business where the demands switch in a split second,’’ he says.
‘‘Since we cannot control how our day rolls out, I do my best in following a strict discipline on my workout schedule as it helps me to stay healthy, sharp and active throughout the day.’’
Ghulam says he has learned the hard way as he used to commit all his time only at work and was not investing time on his health.
‘‘Scared of becoming a burnt out case, I started the gym regime. I believe when one starts seeing results, the motivation only builds up more. It’s all about sheer self discipline,’’ he says.