BOXING SEEMS TO be having its moment, partially popularized by the likes of supermodels Bella Hadid and Gisele Bündchen. It’s cool now. But to be quite honest, I can’t think of boxing without picturing a montage of a red-bandana-ed Rocky Balboa delivering blows to cattle carcasses, hitting speed bags and working out in a freight rail yard, encouraged by his grouchy, hot-tempered trainer croaking, “faster, faster” and “speed, speed!” Easy for Sylvester Stallone, whose upper body is built like a Norse god’s. But mine? More like a Tyrannosaurus rex’s. After all, I’m a writer, not a boxer.
But recently, I learned that Stallone—the muscle-bound boxing hall of famer who, back in the ’70s, had a pregnant wife and a meager $106 to his name—wrote the screenplay to Rocky in three and a half days. I thought, if Stallone could push himself to write an Academy Award winner in three and a half days, I could try my hand at boxing. So I decided to let go of my arm-strength inferiority complex and sign up for a class.
I arrive at the gym a little early, and the first thing I notice is the enormous, bold sign that reads, “Core is everything.” Almost instinctively, I rub my hand against my belly, regretting the salty, char-crusted, ooey gooey pizza (piled high with grated parmesan) I had two days ago. Then, I spot my trainer—trim and enthusiastic, with a salt-and-pepper beard and tattoos etched on both arms. After a friendly introduction, he slips my hands into a pair of boxing gloves. Immediately, I feel like a badass, even though my gloves are princess-pink, and I haven’t punched anything yet. My boxing classmates and I line up in front of a row of heavy bags, as the trainer goes over the basics—how to stand, pivot and punch correctly.
After a series of jabs we move into variations of the straight punch, namely hooks and uppercuts. “You’re right handed, right?” He asks me, noticing my complete lack of hand-eye coordination on my left side. “That’s alright. It takes practice. Keep going, keep going!” I quickly realize why boxing is so popular. It doesn’t just give my arm muscles—triceps, biceps and deltoids—a great workout, it puts my whole body to work. I can feel it in my back, too. After landing a punch, my trainer tells me my arm needs to retract in a swift motion, the repetition of which develops the teres major muscle of the back. He also notes that a punch’s power comes, in large part, from the core, which explains why my abdominals are groaning awake. Not to mention, the footwork involved engages my glutes, quads and hamstrings, and the hand-foot-eye coordination puts my brain to the test, too. In other words, it’s a full-body burn.
By the end of the hour-long class, we are pounding away at the heavy bags with such intensity that it sounds somewhat like a crackle of fireworks going off, or several hundred lightning bolts splitting the air. “Come on! That’s right. Keep going!” my trainer yells at us. Whatever it is, this intense burst of energy, this collective force, these bouts of all-out effort—it feels good, and that’s partially because it doesn’t feel like a workout at all. I might not become a boxer in three and a half days, but suffice to say, I am, well, hooked.
Put a Ring on It
Five local gyms to meet your match
Straight Right Boxing & Fitness
Little Rock & Springdale
“Eye of the Tiger” got you pumped up? A session at Straight Right will leave you feeling like a champ. The gym has branches in Little Rock and Springdale, and offers two free classes so you can test the waters. (straightrightfitness.com)
This gym trains all sorts—amateurs and champs, kids and adults—and offers classes that’ll yank you out of any fitness rut, no matter how deep. Sign up via their Facebook page for a free trial membership. (facebook.com/GillespieBoxing)
TCB Fight Factory
The folks at TCB assure us classes are far from intimidating, and they know all about starting small. It doesn’t matter if you want to take up the sport for competition, self-defense or simply need to throw a punch for fun—let the trainers know your goals, and they can help you meet them. (tcbfightteam.com)
At this chain of NWA gyms, workouts change every day and integrate moves from boxing, kickboxing and other martial arts. The facilities boast a circuit-style setup, with a new workout starting every three minutes—meaning, you can join in anytime. (Several locations, 9round.com)
A Kick Above
If you’re excited to give boxing a try, but have major gym anxiety when taking group fitness classes, Kim Leverett offers one-on-one classes that cover the fundamentals of boxing and will get you jabbing in no time. (akickabove.com)