The popularity of kickboxing and other martial arts among women has rapidly increased thanks in part to Hollywood. Movies such as Tomb Raider, Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill show women dominating the martial artist role, thereby sparking an interest in the arts for many of those who watch.

“After watching movies like Charlie’s Angels, you really feel good because you know that exact sense of strength and power that the actresses are portraying,” University of Wisconsin sophomore Lisa Chowdhury said. “I actually went to kickboxing for the first time just because it sounded fun. Then, after you watch movies with martial artists, you can relate to those powerful feelings, and there’s a sense of pride.”

Lori Devine, fitness director for UW Recreational Sports, said this trend is following the popular trends in the movie industry.

“It’s human nature to try to mimic and follow pop culture, and part of pop culture is Hollywood and movies like Charlie’s Angels,” Devine said.

Statistics provided by IDEA Health and Fitness Association show a rise in popularity among women in martial arts that coincides with the increased number of martial arts-based movies furnished by Hollywood. This year, 40 percent of fitness centers surveyed offered martial arts classes, compared to only 12 percent in 1997.

“Fitness boxing has been popular for almost a decade … and there are always new trends developing,” Devine said. “We try to keep up with the latest trends to keep people interested.”

According to Devine, the newest trends include balance, strength, and core training, along with yoga and pilates, all of which are already offered by UW Rec Sports.

Most of today’s kickboxing classes are unique and untraditional, combining martial arts with various creative twists appealing to women. One example of this is martial arts “fusion classes”, which join sports like kickboxing with other popular fitness techniques such as yoga, step aerobics, pilates, and even ballet. The classes appeal to women who may not be interested in learning how to fight in traditional martial arts classes but, like Chowdhury, just think it sounds fun.

Experts say the classes provide a good total cardiovascular workout, along with stretching and strengthening, if those elements are integrated. The training improves strength and endurance, muscle tone, coordination, balance and flexibility, plus consistently challenges the body.

According to, kickboxing will reduce body fat, tone and condition your body, increase strength and self-esteem, teach self defense, and relieve stress.

“You feel more powerful and more self-sufficient after participating in classes like kickboxing,” said Shauna Swart, UW senior and fitness instructor at the SERF.

Swart teaches UW’s own kickboxing class, Box Blast, an adaptive fitness boxing method. Swart explained the purpose behind the class: “We want to be on top of things so we keep people’s interest, keeping up with whatever’s in and what everybody wants to go to.”

One hour Box Blast classes are offered at the SERF on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:15 p.m. and Friday at 12:05 p.m. Swart says her average class has about 60 participants, though it varies with the time of year.