The boxing ring has always held a certain undeniable appeal for me. It's a naked and unapologetic Darwinian drama where the strong not only survive but are usually the last ones standing.
Boxing also measures something that few other sports can -- the ability to mete out and take punishment. I've always wanted to try it, to tap into its smoky gym roots, but from a safe, non-threatening distance. Recently, I discovered a good way to do this -- cardio-boxing classes built around a fighter's training regimen.
Such classes are easy to find -- among others, Crunch, Gold's Gym and Bally Total Fitness offer them -- and come in many shapes, sizes and skill levels. The classes, which gained a wide popularity in health clubs during the late 1980s and early 1990s, provide a superior workout by building stamina, increasing agility and developing foot and arm speed. It's rare in such classes that students are actually allowed to spar -- you have to know the basics to do so, otherwise someone will get hurt. Instead, most classes focus on two pillars of boxing -- conditioning and technique, largely through bag work and punching drills.
I decided to try the boxing workout at the Westside Fencing Center in Culver City taught by a 37-year-old gentleman named Ganious. He's fit, muscular and pleasant, despite the fact he refuses to divulge any of his other names. He was raised in Brooklyn and relocated to Los Angeles only about a year ago, and already he's learned that often in this town one name will get you further than two.
His classes usually range in size from two to 10, and from age 20 to around 65. Luckily -- or perhaps unluckily -- I was in a class with just one other person on a weekday afternoon.
Ganious was careful to assess any injuries or other physical limitations, and tailored the workout accordingly. He outlined what the class would entail and showed me how to put on hand wraps and where punches should land. (Hit your opponent with the knuckles of your index and middle fingers, anything else and you're missing your target and diminishing your power.) All good.
The first half of class focused on conditioning. It started out innocently enough -- jogging in place. But each minute or so, the routine was changed or ratcheted up in terms of difficulty. So jogging in place became sprinting in place, which then gave way to high-step sprinting (knees to waist level at least). Finally, hopping was added to the mix -- up and down, at least 6 inches off the ground. All this had my heart working overtime.
Then, things got tough as I learned a downside to a two-person class. During subsequent sprints and hops, Ganious stood behind us and physically held us back or down. My own dead weight wasn't enough, now I had to fight his strength. Even in relatively short bursts, no more than 30 seconds at a time, the task was just too much for me on a couple of occasions. I had to stop, catch my breath and get a sip or two of water.
After some abdominal work, stomach crunches and leg scissors, we moved to the gloves. Compared with the warmup, the boxing portion of the class was far less labor intensive, but was a lot more fun. There wasn't going to be any sparring; instead it was a few pointers in boxing 101.
The key is footwork, a dance of offensive and defensive postures. Unless you're in proper position to transfer your weight to the punch, even if it lands, it's not going to do any damage. Likewise, if you can't move out of the way, you're destined for some face time with the canvas.
We finished up the class throwing basic punches. The targets were Ganious' hand pads. I jabbed with the left hand, returned to the basic fighter's stance, then struck with the right. The speed at which I performed didn't exactly produce enough wind to break any windows, but I did pick up the pace as the lesson progressed. In all, I threw about 200 punches -- a fact my shoulders reminded me of the next day.
Overall, cardio-boxing was a real physical challenge, pushing me past my fitness limits several times, while also giving me a renewed appreciation for the sweet science.
Martin Miller can be reached at email@example.com.