When you see the word ‘boxing’, what springs to mind? Sylvester Stallone? Eye Of The Tiger? Silk bath robes? (That’s what they are, right?) Let’s face it, beautiful supermodels, a lean physique and not a black eye in sight isn’t what you’d normally associate with this combat sport.
But that’s exactly what’s been happening in gyms all over the world as Sport England reports that the number of women taking part in boxing once a week has increased by 30 percent since 2005. Gone are the days of dusty boxing rings and cigar-smoking trainers – it’s all about luxe gyms, fun atmospheres and a strong, sculpted body. Move over Sly, we’re all feeling a million dollars, baby. Limber up your uppercut and your rear hand, and don’t forget your mouth guard!
How women’s boxing became popular
Predominantly recognised as a male sport, boxing has come to the forefront of fitness since the Victoria Secret supermodels credited the contact class with honing their catwalk-worthy physiques into strong, sculpted figures. Fast forward to 2015 and the famous Gotham Gym in New York, where a new trend is growing thanks to the next generation of celebrities showcasing their jabs and hooks for their strong social media audience… suddenly a new fitness movement had arrived.
“Our boxing classes are often 100 percent sold out these days,” says Pip Black, founder of Frame Gym. “There’s definitely been an increase in Framers wanting to use boxing gloves and punch bags.” So why are we suddenly channelling our inner Rocky?
“I think the popularity has increased because A-list celebrities and top models have made it feel more glamorous and less intimidating. A lot of people may have been put off by having to go to an old-school boxing club which is heavily male-dominated, but now places are offering good-quality classes and people are getting hooked,” Pip tells us. “It’s the best adrenaline rush – you just want more and more!”
The benefits of boxing
“Boxing really is the best sport – not only for increasing self-esteem and confidence, but also for relieving stress, anxiety and depression,” says Cathy Brown, former professional boxer and personal trainer at The Third Space Gym. “Boxing isn’t about aggression, it’s about staying relaxed in the storm. The impact of hitting the pads releases serotonin (a neurochemical that maintains mood balance) and has an overall calming effect.” A tempting notion the next time your boss doesn’t follow through on that pay rise… again. But how will this affect how you look? “To start with, it’s a whole body workout – you’re working your heart to the max with HIIT intervals, whilst also working on more sustained cardio throughout the whole class,” Pip tells us. “Although classes vary, you’ll often be doing additional exercise circuits in between reps such as jumping jacks, burpees, crunches and squats to work your body from head to toe. You’re also working on power, strength, coordination and flexibility.
“Throwing punches engages muscles in your shoulders, back and abs that you probably never knew existed, without having to do reps of weights. As you’re working in all planes of motion, you’re burning a huge amount of calories and will see results very quickly. It’s important to take the time to stretch afterwards to keep muscles long and flexible.”
How to start boxing
Starting a new fitness regime can be daunting at the best of times, but when a new technique is involved it’s easy to duck out and hit your regular Zumba class. “A lot of people feel that they have to be fit or have some sort of boxing training before starting boxing, but no other training can get you prepared for boxing other than boxing itself,” Cathy explains. “To be honest, it’s going to be hard the first time, whether you’re fit or not, but that’s the beauty of it – seeing and feeling those results. I would advise that you do your research on the club and the instructor first, go to a class, watch and see if you like how they are teaching, talk to the instructor and see what class they advise given your experience.”
Ok, you’ve found the right class, you’re ready to go, when a horrifying thought enters your head: what if you actually do hit like a girl? “If you’re nervous about the technique, then a class with punch bags is going to be better than having a sparring partner with pads, as the punch bag doesn’t move and you’re not going to hurt anyone if you happen to be a bit uncoordinated,” Pip suggests. Phew!
Boxing at home
If your humble local gym doesn’t have boxing equipment to cater to budding Hilary Swanks, you can perfect your swing from the comfort of your home with the right boxing gear. “Boxing at home is doable, but be prepared to kit out a space properly,” Cathy warns. “You will need a four or five foot boxing bag that hangs from the ceiling or the wall (make sure your wall is sturdy beforehand, as the bags are heavy), boxing gloves and wraps to protect your hands.” If needed, you could also use a wrist support.
And you might want one vital addition – a partner. “Boxing is great to do at home, plus it’s a fun couple’s workout,” Pip says. “If you didn’t want a bag, you can cut costs and save space by investing in a jump rope and a set of gloves and pads. The fantastic thing about boxing is that you can actually get a really great workout in just 15 minutes in the morning, so you can have longer in bed!” Amen to that.
The boxing warm-up
Skip for 10 minutes.
The boxing workout
Make sure you stay in your boxing stance at all times and move on your toes: if you’re right-handed, it’s left foot forward; if you’re left-handed, it’s right foot forward, keeping your balance through the middle and not leaning on the front foot. (There’s a reason they call it footwork!) Make sure you turn your hips through on the cross and the hook and push your hips up and through on the upper cuts. Bring your hands back (guard up) to your cheek bones after every shot.
Complete six rounds of three minutes with one minute rest in between
- Double jab, right cross, roll out (roll your shoulder to take the “punch”), come back with a right cross then left hook.
- Jab, right cross, left hook, roll out, then come back with a left hook then right uppercut.
- Jab, slip to the right (lean to the side as if dodging a punch), slip to the left, left uppercut, right cross, left uppercut, right cross.
- Stretch arms with a cross-over move, obliques with a side bend and chest by stretching arms behind your back
Can’t get to the gym? Try shadow boxing
- Begin in a boxer’s stance with your left foot forward and your right heel raised to come onto the ball of your right foot. Bring your hands together in fists either side of your chin (holding hand weights for an increased challenge).
- Extend your left arm straight out in front of you, turning your hand as you do so, so your palm faces towards the floor. Rotate your hips to the right slightly at the same time. Bend the elbow and rotate your hips to return to the start.
- Straighten your right arm in front of you, pivoting on the ball of your right foot as you do so and bringing your right hips forwards at the same time. Bend the elbow and rotate your hips to return to the start.
Boxing combination exercises
Boxing + kwaito = bokwa
This new class is billed as an effective total body workout, combining South African dance steps and boxing. The instructor explains the sequences using letters and numbers and as with any dance-inspired class, it may take a little time to master the steps. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t pick them up straight away, it shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the class. The music adds to the infectious nature of the class, as well as spurring you on to work harder. You can try Bokwa at Nuffield Health, Fitness and Wellbeing Centres.
Pilates + boxing = piloxing
This workout promises to deliver a more toned physique by combining the power, speed and agility of boxing with the sculpting and flexibility of Pilates. Created by Swedish dancer and trainer Viveca Jensen, Piloxing has many celebrity fans including Glee star Heather Morris. Participants wear weighted gloves (which are a heavier glove, often with a mesh palm) throughout the class, which consists of boxing, standing Pilates and dance. Check out piloxing.com to locate your nearest class or to buy a workout DVD.
Boxing for strength
For a 30-minute boxer-style workout, founder and head boxing coach at Total Boxer, Matt Garcia, recommends a simple combination of shadow-boxing, bounces and press-ups (repeat three times):
Boxing exercise round one (3 mins)
Stand in a ‘boxers-stance’ (feet shoulder-width apart, one foot back, knees bent, back heel off the ground, chin down and arms in a fight-ready position. Your right hand should protect the chin, left hand slightly advanced). Hold your abs tight and allow your waist to turn as you punch out at head height or above, slowly and controlled at first, breathing out with every punch, steadily speeding up while maintaining control. Rest for 30 seconds.
Round two: press-ups (3 mins)
Keeping your body in a straight line and hands shoulder-width apart, touch your chest to the floor and push up. Stay controlled throughout and pause if you’re tired, then go again until the end of the round.
Boxing exercise round three (3 mins)
Back into your boxers-stance, bend your knees and bounce straight down and up. Feel the stretch in your thighs and mix every fifth bounce with a real low drop, then back up and bounce. Mix the bounces up with punches as you return to an upright position.
Boxing pad work
Boxing with your partner is a great form of exercise, and it’s a real stress reducer. It’s important that you both have some technical knowledge about holding the pads and boxing technique beforehand. Two minute intervals are recommended before switching it around.
Celebrities who box
“When I’m at Good Morning Britain, I start the day off at 4.30am by getting moving as soon as I arrive in my dressing room. Stretches, a few squats and some press-ups help wake me up. Running on the spot, sprinting up stairs, or a bit of shadow boxing helps get the blood pumping and makes a difference if you do it every day. The amount of time the average person spends at work is more than 90,000 hours of their life, so it’s worth thinking about how you could make some of that time work for you!”
Nowadays, a lot of people know Davina more for her fitness than her TV work, but she wasn’t always so passionate about it. “I always did skeleton fitness all the way through my life,” she explains. “My teens and early 20s were spent clubbing four nights a week, so I was exercising on a dance floor for six hours a night, and that was amazing cardio. Then, I stopped clubbing and I gave up smoking at the same time, and immediately put on about a stone. I started going to the gym, but it was only when I got older that I realised I needed to get a bit more serious about it.
“When I was pregnant with Tilly, my second child, I ballooned, and she was a massive baby. Afterwards, I met personal trainers Jackie and Mark Wren, who were local to me in Surrey, and got them to train me. Mark is a former marine, and Jackie is a former gymnast. They trained me separately, but he was into weights, boxing, skipping and yomping (which is walking while wearing a massive backpack), and she was more into aerobics and stretching, so they were a brilliant duo.
“They got me into the shape of my life. I’d never looked that good. I went to an awards ceremony and I remember standing on the red carpet thinking ‘God, everybody’s taking my picture a lot, that’s weird!’ and then suddenly everyone was saying ‘Oh my God, look at Davina’s body!’ I realised that people had noticed that my body had changed shape, so I spoke to my agent about doing a workout DVD with Jackie and Mark because they’re amazing, and people wanted to know how I’d changed my body. He told me not to do it because it’s tacky! But because Jackie and Mark really did change my life and we had an amazing relationship, our DVDs felt real and I think people liked that. We did 10 or 11 years together of workouts before Jackie got an injury that meant she couldn’t film any more, but we’ve stayed good friends and they’re on my platform, Own Your Goals. It’s been an amazing journey – when I met them, I never thought it would lead to this, but it’s been brilliant and it’s lovely to know that I’ve influenced people’s health in a positive way.”
Ever wondered how supermodels like Alessandra Ambrosio and Gigi Hadid stay in shape amidst their busy schedules? Well, if you trail their Instagram accounts (and believe me we do!), you’ll see that many attribute their super-toned physiques to regular boxing classes. This demanding, full body workout provides rapid results with the added benefit of being a great method for venting stress. Win-win!