More and more women are donning gloves for an amazing workout that combines cardio, coordination and confidence building, with a growing number of gyms running interactive fitness sessions that have everyone from supermodels to mums throwing punches.
As I walk towards Anarchy Training Centre for my one-hour boxing class, my mind’s full of questions.
What if I get there and I’m forced to fight a Muhammad Ali lookalike who has fists the size of my head? What if I get punched in the face and have to sport a black eye for the rest of the month? Will it match my polka dot dress?
Why did I say yes to this?
Putting aside daunting images of bruised cheeks and missing teeth, I take a deep breath and walk in.
To my relief, there are no Ali clones to be seen. Instead, a group of people ranging in age and ability from 18 to 60, from average Joes to crazed fitness fanatics, are warming up in the middle of a room lined with boxing bags and gym equipment.
Renae Wauhop, the ridiculously fit blonde beauty of The Amazing Race fame, and her co-owner at the gym, the less pretty but more strapping boxer and trainer Glen Austin, greet me warmly at the door.
“Have you boxed before?” Renae asks.
I shake my head and explain my seasonally inspired drive to get fit.
“Boxing is actually the most amazing cardio fitness that you can do,” she tells me. “It keeps your heart rate up there, you’re burning fat, you’re using your muscles.”
Renae calls it ‘sneaky cardio’ because you’re having so much fun you don’t realise how hard you’re working.
“But it’s not just physically, it’s mentally too,” she says. “It turns you on for the
day. It really does. It’s a mental stimulation, it’s a stress relief, cardio workout… it’s everything in one.”
And it’s a workout, surprisingly, with very little skin-on-skin contact. In fact, boxing for fitness is considered to be more of a ‘non-contact’ exercise than anything else, and injuries are practically unheard of.
“If you’re a fighter you can get hurt, because you’re punching each other in the face, but if you’re just doing it for fitness you can’t get hurt,” Renae says.
By now, I’m feeling a little less intimidated and a little more eager to get punching. Then Glen hands me a pair of gloves and some fabric bandages.
Sensing my uncertainty, Renae fills me in: “When people first start, they don’t wrap their hands because they’ve never done it before, so the first session hurts their hands. But if you wrap right and wear padded gloves, you’re fine.”
Glen shows me how to bind each hand – he secures them tightly around my wrists so they can’t move – before leaving me to my own devices, pre-class.
As I wait I chat with Julie, a sales consultant and mother of two who is in her third week of boxing. Like me, she had her doubts, but assures me that boxing isn’t like the movies. Well it is, minus Sylvester Stallone and Eye of the Tiger playing in the background (unless you request it).
“I’m in my fifties now, so I want to find something that I can actually do and enjoy, and get the benefits from it as well,” she says. “Because I hadn’t done anything for so long, I was always afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to do it. But I soon realised that this is not what boxing is about. Mentally, physically and emotionally – I think it just ticks all the boxes for me.”
Julie is a bit of a boxing success story. After battling breast cancer a few years ago, she put on 12kg in 18 months. Three weeks into her boxing regime and she’s already dropped two dress sizes, and is noticing changes to her body and shape – she’s more slender and is gaining more definition to her arms and back.
“As hard as it is some days, the minute I walk in, I’m glad I’m here,” she says.
If Julie can do it, so can I. Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway.
As we’re talking, speakers blare heavy exercise tunes around the gym, signalling the start of the session. We start with five minutes of skipping before Glen asks us to partner up – Julie is nice enough to sacrifice her gym session to help a rookie.
Things begin slowly, with straight punches, and then start to heat up. Before long, I’m jabbing, uppercutting and right-hooking like a pro.
“You’re doing pretty well considering this is your first time!” Julie says to me as I continue to punch my way through her boxing mitts.
Non-stop uppercuts are soon replaced with single and double jab combos, hooks and ducking, then we swap and I become Julie’s punching bag (I still don’t believe she’s in her fifties).
Sweat is dripping from my forehead. I look at the clock on the wall, and we’ve already chewed through 30 minutes.
How did that happen?
Next, Glen moves us to the punching bags where we have free rein to attack the imaginary faces of old flames.
Ten minutes to go… For five of them, we shadow box (boxing into thin air) with weights in our hands, and then the class ends with a gruelling middle- and lower-body workout, comprising squats, lunges, ninja planking and cramp-inducing sit-ups.
After a surprisingly fast hour, I’m more than impressed with my efforts. I’m sweating like I’ve just come out of a Bikram yoga class, my arms are tingling and I can feel my heart beating harder and faster. All these signs point to exercise, and yet I’m not in my usual state of hate.
Wow. Did I just exercise and actually enjoy it?
“It’s got to be more stimulating than going for a run or staring at the black line at the bottom of a swimming pool,” Glen says, and I guess he’s right. There’s something oddly invigorating about hitting another person, even if it’s just on their mitts. So invigorating that corporate groups are lining up to book classes.
“We get bookings for corporates, whether it’s groups of two to three, or 10 to 12,” Glen says. “It’s about team building, and having a bit of fun and a laugh outside the office.” In fact, corporate groups and women make up 75 per cent of Anarchy’s clientele. It’s clear that boxing isn’t just a brute sport anymore.
“Boxing isn’t just for meatheads,” Glen insists. “I think that misconception is well and truly in the past now. Almost every girl you know has done a boxing class or a boxfit class.”
Renae agrees, adding that, while it’s now small, there’s still a stigma that boxing gyms are intimidating. “People think, ‘Aww… I’m going into the boxing ring, I’m going to get punched’,” she says. “It’s not like that at all. It gives you a sense of confidence. I notice a lot of women at Anarchy becoming more confident over time – but they’re not just confident in the sport, they’re confident in everything they do. It’s pretty amazing.”
Feeling confident myself – I aced that first class – I drive home, sweaty but content.
It isn’t until the next day that I feel the full consequences.
I’m now in a whole world of hate. Apart from the fact that I can barely lift my arms above my head, I discover things about my body I never even knew: a) I have butt muscles; b) Parts of my back hurt, so I guess I have back muscles, too; c) Boxing works a lot more muscles than I initially thought it would.
There’s the obvious – your triceps and biceps; and the less obvious – your deltoids, pecs, core and even your quads, hamstrings and calves.
I talk to Glen again.
He says that if it’s done right, boxing can work every muscle in the body, no matter who you are.
“A professional athlete can train next to a beginner in the same class and they’ll both leave exhausted because it’s what you put in,” he says. “We will be flat out on the pads and the bags for round after round after round, then we finish with squats, lunges and floor work. We make sure that you get a full body workout.”
Full body also includes the development of faster reflexes and overall functionality. “Your hand and eye coordination gets far better,” he says, “and every time you box, it will hurt less and less.”
I scoff. For the next week, I hobble around trying to alleviate the pain caused by a decade-long fitness drought. My stomach muscles now know how to cramp up all by themselves.
“Just think, when you’re sore, you’re building muscle and you’re going to have a nice bum in your bikini,” Renae grins. “That’s what I think – it hurts now but when you’re walking down the beach with a six pack…”
Yeah OK, a six-pack is pretty alluring. And once you figure out how to do the boxing combos Glen and Renae yell out throughout the session, it can be a lot of fun. The aches and pains only last a few days and hey, if it’s going get me one step closer to a six-pack, I guess I’m just going to have to go back for more.
Anarchy Training Centre, 505 Newcastle Street
Perth 0450 172 353, anarchytrainingcentre.com.au.