First it was indoor cycling, then CrossFit; now boxing is having its moment in the fitness-trend spotlight. New boxing gyms are opening all over the country, and everyone from adventure athletes to supermodels are climbing into the ring. And with good reason: “Boxing works the entire body through a combination of resistance training and high-intensity intervals,” says Leyon Azubuike, owner and head coach of Santa Monica, California's new Gloveworx studio—in other words, it's a proven formula for getting major results.
And unlike other impact sports such as running or weight lifting, boxing can be practiced at any age because its weight-bearing load is relatively small. “It's a lot of your own body weight, torque, and momentum using natural physics," Azubuike says. "You don't have a ton of weight on your back or your legs, or a ton of pressure on your knees or shins."
It also works all the major muscles, thanks to the quick, explosive movements necessary for sparring. Plus it gets your heart rate up. "The more you twist, the more you end up sculpting your muscles and strengthening your core," says Azubuike. Shifting your weight side to side activates your glutes, hamstrings, and quads while striking a bag forces you to engage your abs to maintain your balance and serves as resistance training for your upper body."
If you’re curious, try taking a class or simply spending some quality time with a bag. For non gym-going types, these three alternatives are a great way to incorporate the skills and fitness gains of boxing into your daily routine.
In the Pool
You don't need a punching bag for resistance if you've got the power of water. During a swim workout, spend 30 to 60 seconds after each drill shadowboxing in the deep end. (Your head should be above water, but your shoulders should be under.) It's a great way to mix it up and add a cardio burst between laps, Azubuike says, especially if you're swimming at consistent, moderate pace.
Set yourself in a defensive stance, then raise your fists to shoulder height and punch straight out, alternating arms, snapping out and pulling back in as quickly as you can. For more variety, alternate sets of shadowboxing with underwater running-in-place.
After a Run or Bike Ride
Before heading out for your cardio workout of choice, leave a pair of light hand weights—2 to 5 pounds each—near your end point. When you finish, pick up the weights and start punching. "Bring your hands to your chin and punch straight out at eye level until your shoulders start to burn," says Azubuike. "Set them down for a minute, then repeat two or three more times."
Start with basic jabs (punching straight out) or one-two jab-cross combos (punching straight out with one hand, then twisting the hips and torso and punching across the body with the other), and aim no lower than your chin and no higher than your nose. Once you've got that down, add in hooks and uppercuts.
Between Weightlifting Sets
Boxing can also serve as active recovery as you rest between strength-training circuits, keeping your heart rate up so you burn more fat and boost cardiovascular fitness. Every few sets, pick up your light weights and shadowbox as described above—or take turns with a buddy wearing focus mitts and throwing punches.
In fact, you get an added benefit anytime you spar with a partner: It forces you to react quickly to unpredictable movements, and lets you practice offensive as well as defensive skills. You'll get more of a workout when you're the one throwing punches, but even bobbing, weaving, and bracing against your friend's impacts will work your core and improve your technique.