They say the best way to learn something new is to throw yourself in at the deep end, so when I decide to try my hand at boxing, where else should I head but the world heavyweight champion’s very own gym? No pressure.
BXR is Anthony Joshua’s exclusive London boxing gym, founded back in January 2017. Explaining the concept, the 28-year-old explained simply: “I want people to train like I train.”
As I heave open the doors and walk into the studio, I start to feel intimidated. The interior, while unmistakably expensive, has a deliberate industrial feel - a concrete ceiling and exposed brick with a painted mural of Muhammad Ali - making the space feel incredibly masculine and raw. I peek into the boxing classroom - even though the lights off, I can make out huge punchbags hanging from the ceiling through the slight red hue. It looks intense.
I’m here to try one of the pay-as-you-go SWEAT classes, ‘Boxing Skills’, a series of high intensity rounds of boxing, bodyweight exercises and ab/core drills paired with high-energy music. Within minutes of the class starting, I’m dripping with sweat. But I needn’t have been about being a beginner, the instructor pays close attention to each of us, starting with the basics and helping us build up.
The class focuses on technique and allows you to learn and hone your skills with a variety of drills on individual punch bags. We start by learning a simple routine - jab, cross, jab - before moving on to more complex drills. At random intervals, the instructor adds a HIIT element, such as ten burpees, to get our heart rate racing. After we’re done it’s on to the next drill.
“Boxing is becoming more popular because the benefits have become more evident and talked about over the years,” Dominic Felix, the trainer who took the BXR class tells me. “There used to be a lot of stigma attached to boxing, but since it has new found mainstream appeal and the fitness benefits are obvious.”
After the BXR class there’s no hiding the fact that I’ve sweated so much my liquid eyeliner has smudged and given me panda eyes - but I also feel calm, strangely, like the stresses from the day have evaporated. “Not only do these sessions increase muscle tone and physical strength, but they also help users to gain mental strength, relieve stress and feel more confident,” adds Felix. “Above all else, it’s a fun and challenging workout paired with high-energy music and dimmed lighting, which gives the added benefit of allowing users to switch off from the outside world and push themselves to the limit.”
Stress is the modern malaise and so throwing punches at a bag using our whole body is, as you can imagine, an amazing release. Add to that the fact that people of all ages, sizes and experience can take part in a boxing class, and it’s easy to see why it was named as one of the 2018 top fitness trends. “Boxing is growing in popularity day-by-day,” says boxing coach, Amy Andrews, who teaches at London gyms Kobox, BXR and Blok. “The likes of Nicola Adams helped the sport become more accessible to women, and there are also so many more options for people that want to box to keep fit - from boutique to spit-and-sawdust gyms.”
“"A lot of people believe you’ll end up with enormous arms if you box - if that was the case then body builders would be fabulous boxers."”
It’s a great all-round exercise, adds an England Boxing spokesperson. “During a session you will do intense cardio at the same time as strength training, which means you improve your fitness and tone up at the same time,” they said. Many gyms will offer “boxfit” or “boxercise” classes, during which you get the intensity of a bootcamp or HIIT class, with a focus on boxing moves. Others may focus more on technique if the studio is more specialised - either way, they’re both a great way to work out.
Boxing classes come in many forms, and for me, SWEAT at BXR was an “in-between” - I also try out a “Boxit bootcamp”, which focused highly on cardio, and a class inside a real boxing club, which is more about technique.
The bootcamp is just as you’d expect - it has the intensity of a circuits class with a focus on boxing throughout. The majority of the session is completed with a partner, although you swap and change with anyone and everyone in the class. At one point, we’re all in a line facing a partner, throw a few punches and move right to the next partner. At another, we’re working out core by laying down, sitting up, punching the pads our partner holds in front of us and laying down again.
At CityBoxer at The Ring Boxing Club we learn how to spar, block our opponent and duck out from punches. Each class is taught by either a professional boxer or professional trainer licensed by British Boxing, so you know you’re getting top-notch advice. The 50-minute class ends with a HIIT circuit. While I wasn’t dripping with sweat like I did after the BXR class, I did feel like I understood more about the sport itself.
Each class is so different but rewarding and accessible, which makes me wonder why I was so nervous before each. My fear meant I only put off a workout which I’ve now fallen in love with. “A lot of people are intimidated by boxing,” Andrews reassures me. “The whole idea of the sport is to punch people, right? But as it grows in popularity, recreational opportunities are opening up to more and more people who just want to get fit. Whether it’s a boutique fitness experience, a spit and sawdust old-school club, pads in the park or even competitive boxing, there’s something for everyone.”
For now, I’ve got into the routine of heading to a weekly boxing class at Fitness First, taught by a boxing coach. It’s fast becoming my favourite workout.
Nervous about trying it for the first time? England Boxing recommend:
:: Take a friend with you to the class and you can both support each other.
:: A fitness class is focused on non-combat techniques of the sport.
:: Talk to your instructor at the start of the class and they will be able to advise you and support you through the session.