I’m 20 minutes into boxing class and I’ve already done a ridiculous amount of burpees, pushups, and squats. My face is beet red and my shirt is soaked through with sweat—and I’ve still got another 30 minutes left to go.
I’m pushing my body to its limits—and I love it. I think?
For most of my life I’ve been your average, garden variety gym-goer, never veering too far from holistic mind-body-soul workouts used to straighten out my mental state and give me a good stretch. I tried out boxing on a self-dare. (I’ve got this masochistic voice in the back of my mind that loves a new challenge—even if it’s out of my wheelhouse.) I wasn’t planning on jumping into the ring or transforming my body; I just wanted to try something different.
I’d always had a naturally strong upper body (my muscles don’t flinch when I’m carrying super heavy grocery bags and I’m never concerned about trekking an oversized duffle of dirty clothes to the laundromat), but was never able to properly control that strength and often ended up with pulled muscles. I hoped that boxing would help prevent injury, and also limit the pain I often experience from my Plantar fasciitis (when inflamed tissue spans the bottom of your foot).
Still, I was incredibly intimidated by boxing. I’d seen those people running around the perimeter of city blocks sporting boxing gloves and doing burpees—and it never seemed very inclusive or accommodating to different fitness levels. I knew I’d be a fish out of water.
I walked into the throes of Church Street Boxing in Lower Manhattan to find myself amongst an array of unique and sweaty humans. Every punch was choreographed as instructors walked around their respective groups to make sure shoulders, forearms, wrists, and torsos were all positioned correctly with each individual swing. I grabbed a matching set of gloves from a side bin and waited for the rest of my class to arrive while I continued to gawk at the action around me.
We began with calisthenics: bear crawls, jumping jacks, pushups, mountain climbers, and a run around the block—which could have easily sufficed as its own workout but was very much not even remotely the end.
Back at the gym, I arrived panting. We talked about the proper way to use your strength without throwing your whole arm out, and then we started jabbing, in a circle, with our instructor. With each combination (a.k.a. different kinds of punches) we did a series of burpees until the entire group had finished multiple rounds of this. Then another run around the block, and running up and down the stairs of the multi-level building. Finally, we finished off with various other combos.
My sweat-drenched body was eager to meet the cold air outside as I limped to the train. I knew I should have spoken up about my foot and its history, but felt embarrassed by being new and needing adjustment during my first class. I found myself at home with a bag of ice on my foot wishing I would have swallowed my pride and simply asked to not run. The next morning I had to wrap my foot just keep it compressed enough to walk.
The next few days were rough. My arms were impossibly difficult to lift above my waist and my foot was still throbbing; I had to roll it out on a tennis ball at work when I wasn’t up walking around.
The next class I attended had a different instructor and a brand new set of faces, but the same vibe: so much sweat and strength swirling around the room as trainees punched bags and did situps to a loud and guided count. I made it through a similar round of workouts and immediately cornered my instructor after he announced a run around the block. “I have a major foot injury that doesn’t allow for me to put pounding pressure on my foot…May I have a modification?” He allowed it, and prompted to me to do lunges across the length of the gym floor. “Perfect! Yes! I can do that!” I said. The workout was still incredibly hard, but I didn’t end up having to ice my foot for the next week just to recover.
I continued to go to different classes, trying out new clubs and boutique boxing studios, and I did find things I really loved about boxing, like having to be agile while springing my arm forward…all the while protecting my face. And having to use my center of gravity to keep my body grounded on impact.
Boxing also reiterated this: My body responds and reacts differently to each workout, so I have to be mindful of what I need to do in order to keep moving forward in my fitness life. Boxing might not ultimately be my thing, but it sure taught me to acknowledge my injuries and speak up for my body.