Looking for a new way to work out? Boxing is growing as the go-to sport for fitness aficionados.
Sparring or hitting the bags can provide the motivation that toiling on a treadmill lacks. And boxing gyms are opening within easy reach of transportation and work centers, fulfilling the need for convenience.
“There’s an immediate feeling of self-empowerment and confidence you feel when you put a pair of gloves on for the first time,” says Max Padrid, a New York City investment banker who got into boxing when a coworker convinced him to tag along for a workout.
“I know it sounds a little corny, but boxing at its core is about bettering yourself. You walk into the gym and see all these competitive people. It’s addicting.”
The biggest demographic change in the sport has been the increase in women.
“When I was growing up in a boxing gym in the ’70s, there were like one or two women,” says Michael Olajide, a former top middleweight contender. “Now women in boxing have taken over. There are more women boxing than men.”
If boxing sounds like something you’d like to try, your first decision is what type of gym you should go to.
Boutique Boxing Gym or Fight Gym?
Unlike traditional fight gyms, which typically train boxers for competition, boutique gyms tend to focus on boxing for fitness—getting involved in a match is strictly optional.
Bruce Silverglade, who has owned Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn for decades, sees a healthy relationship between the boutique gyms that have sprouted up and the more no-frills, rough-edged boxing gyms like his.
“The more that these boutique gyms open up, the better off we are,” says Silverglade. “I support them totally because they are not in competition with me. A person that trains at Gleason’s is not interested in a boutique gym. They want the ‘real deal,’ a gritty type of a gym.”
Silverglade believes that the idea of getting into an actual match will eventually draw some boxers from boutique gyms to fight gyms like his. “Not everybody has what it takes to step into a ring,” he notes. “That’s what boxing is about: conquering your fears.”
Adds Padrid, “It’s about what you want to get out of boxing. If you want to make a few friends and feel good about yourself on Saturday afternoon, then a pop-up gym is right for you.”
Whether you go the boutique route or get yourself to an old-fashioned fighting gym, professional training is important because boxing is all about technique. Signs of a good gym, according to ExpertBoxing.com, is a busy ring, a lot of trainers and controlled sparring; “athletes should not be allowed to wail on each other until one quits.” Ask if you can spend some time observing before signing up.
Fitness for Boxers
Olajide, who has trained celebrities from supermodel Adriana Lima to actor Hugh Jackman, extols the virtues of boxing conditioning.
“It is the top calorie-burning activity for cardiovascular benefits and for muscular endurance and definition,” said Olajide. “You need cardio because that’s going to make the blood course throughout your body and renew your fibers and tissue, and keep your energy up.”
Padrid finds that hitting the mitts with his coach is the best preparation for a fight. He says his biggest challenge was finding a way “to fit training, running, sleeping and eating in every day without exception.”
You should try boxing only if you’re in reasonably good shape. If it’s been a while since you’ve done any significant exercise, a visit to your healthcare practitioner would be a good idea.
Here is how to get into fight-ready condition.
Increase Your Endurance
Running is a classic aerobic exercise, or one that increases your ability to keep exercising at a fairly intense rate over time…and there’s nothing more intense than a boxing workout!
Boxers are known for doing not only a lot only a lot of roadwork but also a lot of rope jumping, which is another excellent way to build endurance. In addition, interval training—such as sprinting all out then slowing it down to a jog before speeding up again—is an endurance builder.
Improve Explosive Movement with Burpees
Throwing crisp, powerful punches and being able to move dynamically within the ring demand plyometric training for explosiveness. Working with medicine balls and jump boxes can help (jumping rope is another plyometric exercise), but one of the simplest ways to build your explosive capacity is with burpees:
- Squat down with your hands on the floor in front of you.
- Kick your feet back into a pushup position and lower your body to the floor.
- Return to the squat position as fast as you can.
- Immediately jump up into the air as high as you can, clapping at the top.
Strengthen Your Lower Body
Punching power doesn’t start with your arms, but with your legs…and that doesn’t mean big, beefy calves, either.
“You don’t need big legs to punch hard and having big legs is likely to hamper your boxing conditioning,” says strength and conditioning coach James de Lacey. Instead, you want strong, sturdy legs that allow you to move easily and produce “force that can be transferred to the hands when punching.” He recommends deadlifts, leg presses and squats (including split and jump squats).
Work Your Core
Boxing with power requires strong core muscles to “transfer momentum from the legs through to the hands when punching,” de Lacey says. (A strong core also helps you hold up when taking body shots.) And while he gives a nod to “’old school’ training,” which involves a lot of situp and crunch reps, his core workout for boxers involves exercises such as hanging leg raises and barbell rollouts.
Build Your Shoulders and Arms
The advantages of strong arms for a boxer are pretty obvious. To train your biceps for lean strength instead of sheer size, focus on more reps with lighter weights in exercises such as dumbbell curls and alternating cable curls.
In addition to arm strength, you also need to build arm endurance to help you protect your face while throwing accurate punches. You can do so by practicing speed intervals: Throw nonstop punches at a heavy bag for 15 seconds, taking 15 seconds off, then another 15 seconds; repeat 10 times.
Strong shoulders are crucial in terms of both punching power and being able to keep your arms up and active on both offense and defense. The best way to build ring-ready shoulders is with exercises such as throwing an unweighted barbell out in front of you as quickly as possible, at least 30 reps per set, as well as barbell overhead presses, upright barbell rows, lateral dumbbell raises and shadow boxing with light dumbbells.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.