Boxing boosts fitness and confidence. Read this primer before you lace on some gloves

Pam Moore

THE WASHINGTON POST – Before Cary Williams opened her boxing gym in 1998, there were two major options for people who wanted to box.

“You had to be a fighter, or you had to go to a fitness gym,” said Williams, an Olympic-level boxing coach and former fighter in Santa Monica, California.

She envisioned something new: a middle ground. She created a space where participants could experience an intense boxing workout and a close-knit community, whether they intended to fight or not. It turned out, Williams was onto something.

According to a 2018 report by the market research firm IBISWorld, nearly 4,000 boxing gyms opened in the United States between 2013 and 2018. Experts chalk this up to Instagram exposure and the rise of popular studios such as 9Round and Rumble.

Elle named it one of the hottest fitness trends of 2020. If you’re intrigued, here’s what you need to know before you get in the ring.

VETTING

Because the quality of instruction can vary widely among gyms, experts recommend some basic vetting.

Overall, they advise finding a gym where the instructors prioritise your safety. No certification you can earn outweighs the importance of a coach who takes the time to ensure that you’re using good form.

Williams recommends exploring a prospective gym’s website and/or social media to learn more about classes and the coaches’ credibility.

San Mateo, California, certified personal trainer Holly Roser reminded people to read the schedule carefully to make sure your first class is beginner-friendly.

If you accidentally show up to a sparring class, she warned, “someone’s gonna whack you in the face.”

GEAR

Choose sneakers with a smooth sole and minimal tread that won’t get “stuck” when you pivot. Tami Dick, a physical therapist who teaches classes and treats patients at Corner Boxing Club in Boulder, Colorado, explained: “You want that back foot to be able to spin and pivot on the ball of the foot.”

Although you can certainly invest in boxing shoes later, beginners can get by with general-purpose footwear.

Many gyms will lend you boxing gloves and wraps for your first class, but Williams recommended buying your own sooner rather than later. Wraps are supportive bandages for the hands and wrists worn underneath boxing gloves, where it gets hot and sweaty during a workout.

She compares the gloves to bowling shoes, and said the wraps are like socks. Your coach can help with wrapping technique and can advise you on what size gloves to wear. A pair of gloves can cost anywhere from USD20 to more than USD100.

Proper wrapping is important for avoiding injuries to the hands, especially for beginners who might be strong but lacking in technical skills.

“People that are doing a bad job need the wraps more than the people that are doing a good job,” said Boxing Coach and Chief Executive of Watters Performance in Detroit Jeff Watters.

Keep in mind that although the wraps can offer knuckle and wrist protection, good form is the only effective safeguard against potential elbow and shoulder injuries.

Watters also advises beginners to wear protective headgear if they plan to spar or compete. “The point is to punch someone in the head,” he said, and with that comes an inherent risk of head injury.

THE WORKOUT

Boxing classes generally begin with a warm-up including heart-rate-elevating exercises such as jogging, jumping rope and lunges. Dick pointed out that the warm-up can be more intense than some people’s entire workout. (I can attest to this.)

The workout generally alternates between boxing and heart-pumping conditioning exercises. For the boxing portion, unless you have signed up for sparring, you’ll practice a specific combination of punches (ie, jab, left hook), according to your coach’s instructions. (If you’re at a kickboxing class, the combinations will also include kicking.)

On the coach’s command, you’ll either begin shadow boxing (throwing punches in the air) or punching a heavy bag, a speed bag or an instructor’s pads (aka pad work). Conditioning exercises include moves such as planks, squats, lunges and push-ups. Roser said the workout, which typically lasts 45 to 60 minutes, is an effective calorie burner, adding: “You feel like you’re going to die.”

That said, the workout can be modified for any fitness level – or phase of life. Roser said she boxes with all of her older clients, including one who is 74, and Williams mentioned a 68-year-old client.

“You can absolutely go at your own pace,” Roser said. Watters explained that although professionals box for three minutes before taking a one-minute break, his athletes might practice combinations for a shorter time, rest longer between intervals and dial down the intensity.

Also, you don’t have to give 100 per cent with every punch. I made the mistake of taking all of my aggression out on the bag at my first class; my neck and shoulders were sore for days.

As a full-body workout that focusses on generating power from the hips and core, boxing can serve as effective cross-training.

Dick said it’s an excellent complement to racket sports, while Watters uses it to prepare for backpacking trips.

THE RESULTS

Although many participants start boxing because they think it will help them lose weight, Williams said, they stick with it because “they just love how it makes them feel.” And that feeling isn’t just physical; it’s also mental and emotional. Boxing’s combinations take strength, speed, agility and focus. If you get in the ring with an opponent, the cognitive demands only increase. “There’s lots of strategy involved, so it really helps to keep your mind sharp,” Williams said.

It’s also a fantastic stress management tool, according to Roser. “We have so much aggression,” she says. “We have the ex-boyfriend [and the] ex-husband aggression. We have the boss aggression.” For many fans, boxing provides an outlet from life’s pressures.

Boxing gyms also create a sense of community. As Roser puts it: “Your hour is speeding by, you have an awesome group of people around you and you have accountability.” If you miss your regular workout, Roser said to expect your boxing friends to ask where you were.

Finally, boxing creates a sense of assurance that its proponents say is unlike any other. “There’s a certain confidence to knowing that if a situation occurs, you’ll be able to confidently defend yourself,” Watters said. For women in particular, he added. “It’s another layer of security.” Roser agrees. “If someone were to attack [one of my clients], they’re like, ‘I feel like I got this,’ ” she said.

That assurance can extend far beyond the gym walls. Watters told me about a client who works in finance and likes to book a one-on-one session right before a big meeting. The client told Watters that he carries the confidence boost from the gym directly into the boardroom – something he couldn’t get from going for a run. “There’s a physicality to it,” Watters said, that “you just can’t get going to the gym and doing something else.”