Kicking Fitness up a Notch

Courtesy photos.

Courtesy photos.

They run a kickboxing gym, but Donna and Glen French would rather have a family than a fight.

The pair, who opened an ilovekickboxing.com studio on South Hurstbourne Parkway in September, say they work to create a place where everyone feels comfortable and welcome, regardless of how they’d characterize their capacity for cardio at their initial visit.

“Here we’ve got every fitness level, every experience level, every age group,” Donna French says of the gym. “It’s a very diverse group in virtually every respect.”

Incidentally, that diversity applies to species. The Frenches frequently bring the family Pomeranian, fittingly named Able, to the studio with them. During the workouts, of course, Able hangs out in his crate and leaves the barking to the instructors.

The studio has at least three instructors on the floor during every session – one of whom is assigned to guide new attendees, or “first-time friends.” And while there’s no shortage of shouting as instructors transition from one workout move to another, most of the yelling is meant to be more encouraging than punishing.

“You got this, you got this,” Glen French shouted at multiple participants December 3 as they were in the throes of what he calls the “ferocious 15” – the cardio-heavy 15 minutes that open each hour-long session.

He also threw out the occasional “You’re KILLING it,” referring to attendees by name, regardless of whether they were running along the perimeter of the red and black padded floors or marching in place. Once the warmup was over, he ran around the floor giving  participants high 10s.

The ferocious 15 leads into a few minutes of stretching to prepare for the six three-minute rounds of kicking and punching that follow. As I took my place along the row of punching bags dedicated to first-timers, instructor Maritza Meredith instructed me and others on how to put on our boxing gloves.

As the rounds began, another instructor, Karen Estrada, gave me advice on proper form and encouraged me to kick and punch harder.

“Kick him!” she’d yell, referring to the punching bag. “You’re not going to hurt the guy.”

The sixth round at the punching bags ends with a one-minute speed round, after which attendees pair off for partner drills designed to hone hand-eye coordination and technique. After a few partner exercises, instructors guide participants through a cool down.

Donna and Glen French work to ensure the sense of community outlasts the workout. When new participants arrive, a member of the studio staff sits down with them at one of the two large red padded pews in the entryway to discuss fitness goals and sources of motivation. Donna French says this information helps instructors know how to encourage each attendee when the workout gets tough.

“We try to create an environment where you want to come instead of have to come,” she says of the efforts to make each workout personal.

Member Amber Henry says she joined after her first session, and she’s not the only one.

“I only needed to do one class, and I fell in love right away,” says member Jennifer Risseeuw.

Risseeuw, who has always been athletic, says she’s never been in better shape and attests that the benefits of the sessions go beyond the physical.

“This sounds cheesy,” she says, “but you really feel like you can conquer the world when you’re done.” VT

ilovekickboxing.com Louisville is located at 221 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. #105. For more information, visit


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