Even if you think you never want to step into a boxing ring, there are many good reasons to try a boxing class. It builds coordination, strength and is a great cardio workout. With several options out there, you may have no idea which class to try since there are so many — from kickboxing to muay thai.
“There’s often a fear of trying something new, and more so when it looks violent or aggressive,” says Dana VanPamelen, co-founder of hit house, a muay thai fitness studio in New York City. “A fight gym looks intimidating when you have people punching each other, but that’s not what you’re going to do.” Instead, a beginner class will educate you about the sport, introduce techniques and have you do drills with punching bags or while someone holds pads. In other words, no actual fighting is involved, period.
With that established, here’s what you should know to confidently walk into a boxing class.
FITNESS BOXING IS NOT FIGHTING
With everyone from big box gyms to boutique studios to boxing gyms offering these classes, there really is something for everyone. But it can also be confusing to know what to expect in a class. Fitness boxing or kickboxing classes tend to focus less on precise punches and kicks and often include other bodyweight exercises. These classes can be a great workout, but don’t expect to be Rocky anytime soon.
On the other hand, boxing, kickboxing and muay thai gyms and clubs home in on technique so you develop good combat skills, whether or not you wish to fight some day. You’ll get a sweaty, challenging workout at these places too.
THERE ARE THREE MAIN STYLES
There are several styles of combat fighting. Some common ones offered are boxing, kickboxing and muay thai. In boxing, you wear gloves (most gyms provide them for free or for a small charge) and only throw punches: jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts. Kickboxing, as it sounds, adds kicks. Muay thai is a type of kickboxing in which you also use your knees and elbows, kick with your shin and, in the ring, you’re allowed to grab your opponent, explains Roger Luri, head instructor at Kensho Martial Arts in Chicago.
Unlike boxing, which often teaches defensive moves like slips and ducks, in muay thai you typically keep your hands up and, if you are fighting, try to catch or block a kick with your shin, explains Tyler Scott, co-founder of Hit House. “If you try to dodge a kick, you’ll get punched or duck right into a kick.”
Even if you’re only going for fun, “learn to do the techniques properly so you are able to progress and not hurt yourself,” Luri says. One key thing is punches aren’t all in your arms — the movement initiates from the floor and involves your entire body. “Think of your arm as an extension of your body,” Luri says. “Boxing is all about your body movements.” Similarly, when kicking or kneeing, you use your entire lower body to power those movements and make contact.
BE PREPARED TO SWEAT
As noted above, no matter what style of class you choose, boxing engages your entire body, plus you have to use your balance and coordination. And then there’s the HIIT aspect. “You are doing rounds or cycling your intensity level in the rounds,” Luri explains. “It’s one of the best exercises you can do because it involves these high-intensity intervals.” You’ll likely feel it the next day — in a good way.
GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME
“Martial arts is a mind-body activity. You’re learning to coordinate your physical body along with your mind and be focused,” Luri says. Another advantage is it requires your complete concentration. People tell Luri they forget their worries during class and only think about what they are doing. So, in addition to literally punching out your stress, you may experience other mental benefits.
THERE’S A COMMUNITY FOR EVERYONE
Classes, teachers and gyms can vary quite a bit. “The most important thing is to find a class that works for you. Find somebody who’s going to nurture you, teach you the right techniques and where you will be able to progress as you go along, because that’s what’s going to keep you doing it,” Luri says. If you don’t like the first place you go, try other locations until you find somewhere that feels like a community.