Boxing is one of those fitness trends that’s almost always in the periphery – never completely fading out of sight, but never taking the world by storm (à la Zumba). And while Billy Blanks helped introduce the world to a more aerobics-friendly version of kickboxing when he developed Tae Bo in the ’90s, cardio kickboxing’s harder, tougher cousin – boxing – remained mostly out of sight.
That’s starting to change. New boxing franchises, such as TITLE Boxing Club and 9Round, are stepping away from the gritty, hard-nosed atmosphere of old-school boxing facilities and are creating environments that are welcoming for just about anyone. And frankly, it’s about time. According to the ESPN Degree of Difficulty Project, which sized up more than 60 sports based on required athletic skills to determine which sport is most difficult, boxing came out on top.
Top Benefits of Boxing
Boxing as a sport requires a high level of athletic prowess: strength, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, endurance, nerve, and power, just to name several required attributes. Boxing as a fitness activity enables the average person to hone those same athletic skills, all without having to take a punch. If you’re hoping to get in great shape and improve your health, you just might want to sign up for a membership to your local boxing gym. There are a number of reasons why.
1. Enhanced Cardiovascular Health
You hear it all the time: You need to do cardio to protect yourself from heart disease, burn calories, and lose or maintain your weight. But “doing cardio” doesn’t have to mean hopping on a treadmill to log your required minutes – how boring is that?
The whole point of cardio is to place a moderate amount of stress on your heart and lungs so that they’re challenged enough to make beneficial physiologic adaptations to support the higher level of physical activity. But how you choose to place stress on your heart and lungs is up to you. As long as you keep your heart rate up during your workout, there’s no reason you can’t punch, kick, and jump your way to a healthy heart at your local boxing gym.
2. Improved Total-Body Strength
All that punching, kicking, and jumping requires a surprising amount of strength. Think about it – most professional heavy bags weigh at least 100 pounds.
During a boxing workout, you may punch or kick a bag hundreds of times, requiring your upper body, lower body, and core to engage as you make contact with the bag. Plus, most boxing gyms incorporate other strength training moves into a boxing workout. For instance, when I took a class at a local 9Round, I did squats, pushups, planks, and weighted medicine ball exercises all within the context of my fast-paced 30-minute circuit workout.
3. Better Hand-Eye Coordination
You may not think about the importance of hand-eye coordination and its affect on total health, but hand-eye coordination plays an important role in a person’s gross and fine motor skills. Individuals with good hand-eye coordination tend to have faster reflexes and reaction times, and tend to have better physical coordination as a whole. This is particularly important during aging, as coordination and balance become compromised, increasing the risk of falls.
Boxing can help hone hand-eye coordination. When you’re tasked with punching a speed bag (a lightweight boxing bag suspended from a disc that turns and bounces quickly with each punch), or you’re paired up to spar with a partner (practice punching your partner’s padded mitts), you must be able to see the target, react to the target, and hit the target, all while the target is moving and changing position. It’s tough, but with practice, your hand-eye coordination improves substantially.
4. Decreased Stress
Almost any form of moderate to intense physical activity can decrease stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise increases endorphins, boosts mood, works as a form of meditation, and improves sleep, all of which help reduce stress.
But sometimes you need more than a walk around the block to help you forget your stressors. I know when I’m feeling most stressed, I need to “leave it all on the field,” so to speak, and sweat out my frustrations.
Boxing is a great outlet for stress for two reasons: First, during a boxing workout you typically transition between high intensity bouts of exercise and moderate intensity recovery periods. When you’re pushing yourself through a couple minutes of high-intensity punching or kicking, you don’t have much mental power left to worry about how awful your job is, or how dirty your house is. And even during rest periods, you’ll be focused on sucking wind and mentally preparing for the next round, not stressing over your packed schedule.
Second, there’s an incredibly cathartic release when you get to take some of your stress out on a punching bag. It’s an empowering feeling to punch your stress to smithereens.
5. Improved Body Composition
Boxing is great for improving body composition – and some might say it’s great for weight loss. Personally, I don’t promote “weight loss” because I don’t think it sends the right message about health goals. Ultimately, if you want to lose weight, what you really want to do is improve your body composition – to increase your muscle mass and decrease your fat mass.
Boxing is an incredible mechanism for improved body composition because it perfectly combines muscle-building strength training moves and calorie-torching bouts of cardio. By regularly participating in a boxing program and following a nutritious eating plan, there’s no reason you won’t see changes in your shape and improvements to your fat mass percentage. And if you’re hoping for a pat on the back from your bathroom scale, you’re likely to see changes in your weight as well.
Boxing Gyms: What to Expect
There are basically two types of boxing training: Training that focuses on teaching boxers to compete in the ring, and training that focus on helping “everyday athletes” get in better shape. Some gyms offer both types of training.
The basic difference between the two forms of training is that athletes who want to learn how to compete in boxing must learn to land and take punches with human opponents. They have to learn to hit and be hit by a competitor. Gyms that teach boxers to compete typically have boxing rings in their facilities and offer opportunities for boxers to fight one another.
If you have no interest in taking a punch (I know I don’t), you’ll want to look for facilities that offer classes and programs outside of the ring. The basic skills are the same – you learn to jab, upper cut, and hook; you work on footwork and speed, core strength and agility, and power and flexibility. In some cases, depending on the facility, you’ll also learn MMA-style (mixed martial arts) kicking sequences.
The good news is, with today’s fitness-friendly boxing clubs, just about anyone can walk in and get started, regardless of baseline fitness. Because most boxing classes focus on body weight exercises, you can go at your own pace and ramp up the intensity only as you see fit. A membership at a gym like 9Round (which is quite possibly the most “average person-friendly” boxing gym around) costs about $50 per month and includes unlimited sessions, a pair of boxing gloves and hand wraps, plus trainer-led workouts at every session.
If you don’t have a 9Round or TITLE Boxing Gym in your area, just search for local boxing gyms and check their websites for fitness training classes. Call the facility and ask if you can try a class for free, or at least watch a class before you join in. The facility you attend should be welcoming, classes should be held by certified trainers (preferably with a certification or experience specifically in boxing), and the facility should be clean and well-maintained.
Boxing at Home
If you like to exercise without a gym membership, you can also set up your own boxing workout at home – but you need to purchase some equipment to get started. It’s a good idea to buy a 75- to 100-pound bag (a long, cylindrical bag that can be hung from a stand or a sturdy ceiling beam), boxing gloves, a medicine ball, and a jump rope. These four items combined enable you to run through boxing sequences, cardio sequences, and strength training sequences to put together a full home workout.
You can actually pick up a set that includes a heavy bag stand, speed bag, heavy bag, jump rope, and gloves for about $200 from Sports Chalet. All you’d need to purchase separately is a medicine ball, which you can pick up at a local sporting goods store for $60 or less, depending on weight.
Example Home Workout
With the items suggested, you could run through the following workout in about 30 minutes, all without needing a partner to box with:
- 5-minute steady jump rope warmup
- 3 minutes heavy bag work, cycling between 30 seconds of all-out punching and 30 seconds of “recovery” punching at a slower rate
- 3 minutes of speed bag work and cardio, cycling between 30 seconds of alternating punching with the speed bag and 30 seconds of jumping jacks
- 3 minutes of core work – one minute plank, one minute medicine ball oblique twists, and one minute leg lifts
- 3 minutes of strength work – one minute of medicine ball squats, one minute walking lunges, and one minute staggered pushups on the medicine ball (rolling the ball between your hands for each pushup)
- 3 minutes power work – one minute broad jumps (jumping as far as you can, back and forth), and one minute per leg of side-kicking the bag (kicking the bag with the bottom of your foot as you kick your leg out laterally and lean your torso to the opposite direction)
- Repeat the heavy bag sequence
- Repeat the speed bag sequence
- 3-minute cool down with a slow and steady jump rope
If I had a boxing gym within a 15-minute drive of my house, I’d sign up in a heartbeat. Boxing is one of the most effective, concise ways to get in shape and maintain your physical health, and it’s a lot of fun too. I actually plan to buy a heavy bag and some boxing gloves soon, just so I can incorporate boxing into my standard home workout.
If you want to do the same, my best piece of advice is to take a few classes at a gym before you transition to exercising at home. Working with a trainer can provide you with a good series of exercises and the safety skills necessary to maintain a home boxing workout.
Have you tried boxing? Would you consider joining a boxing gym?