Boxing isn't just for hard-core athletes duking it out in a ring (although, how badass is that?). The sport has seen a boom in recent years as it's been adapted for the fitness world, and it's now the workout of choice for many regular exercisers looking to spice up their routines.
Of course, boxing itself isn't actually new. "Boxing goes back to the earliest human civilizations and has been popular in the modern world for hundreds of years," says Tommy Duquette, co-founder of the at-home boxing workout program FightCamp and a FightCamp trainer. "Boxing has arguably been the most popular sport in the United States over the past several hundred years, and fighters such as Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson transcended sport and became international icons."
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That doesn't mean you have to make like Muhammad Ali to take up boxing yourself. Today's version of the workout isn't necessarily designed to get you in the ring for a match — but it'll get you in shape just the same. "The boxing workout is the best pound-for-pound physical workout in existence," Duquette says.
If you live in a big city, you'll likely find a boutique workout studio dedicated to boxing nearby, where instructors will coach you through a mix of punching combinations and body-weight exercises. There are also at-home programs, like FightCamp, that make it easy to turn your living room into a makeshift boxing ring.
Most boxing classes are between 30 and 60 minutes and come with an individual punching bag for each class participant, though in some studios, your hits may be directed at a partner. You'll slide your hands into boxing gloves (generally provided by the gym or available to rent) and follow the instructor's cues. And if you're in a studio, you can also expect all those other things you love about group fitness classes — a dark room, pulsing music, motivating instructors and peers who are sweating right along with you.
But why choose a boxing workout over any other class? These six benefits of boxing will convince you it's worth a try.
Boxing Builds More Than Just Arm Strength
Sure, you'll be throwing your fair share of jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts during the workout, but those moves require way more than arm strength. Boxing strengthens and tones the entire body, Duquette says.
You'll assume a boxer's stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, a position that requires power from your legs and core strength to help you turn, according to Harvard Health Publishing. "Throwing a strong, fundamentally sound punch involves generating force through the legs, the core and the arms," Duquette says.
Read more: The Beginner's Guide to Women's Boxing Gloves
It Can Improve Your Coordination
Boxing is a great way to work on your hand-eye coordination, especially if the class involves hitting a target. This can have real-life implications like helping you feel more alert or making it easier to do everyday tasks like navigating around your busy kitchen, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Boxing May Ease Stress
There's just something about throwing punches after a bad day that can change your outlook. "Hitting a bag is stress-relieving," Duquette says. "After three months with FightCamp, over 50 percent of our users report stress relief as one of the key benefits."
You'll feel stronger, more confident and more in control over the course of the class as you hit and punch to release tension. A small May 2014 study published in the Japan Journal of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences found boxing-style exercises can promote feelings of relaxation and put people in a better mood. Plus, like with any challenging workout, boxing will unleash the same feel-good endorphins responsible for the "runner's high" you've heard so much about.
You'll Burn Serious Calories
All of those heart-pumping jabs and uppercuts torch calories. How many you burn during a typical class depends on several individual factors, but women can expect to burn about 400 calories in an hour and men about 500. Duquette says professional boxers can burn upwards of 800 calories during an hour of training. And in case you're wondering: Yes, boxing can lead to weight loss if that's your goal, so long as you're creating a calorie deficit at the end of the day.
Read more: A Step-by-Step Boxing Training Program
It's a Killer Cardio Workout
If you've ever watched professional boxing, you know it only takes a few minutes until a fighter's huffing and puffing and covered in a sheen of sweat. Look no further for proof that boxing qualifies as aerobic exercise.
"Boxing works your entire body and combines periods of anaerobic, aerobic and strength building," Duquette says. "Boxing was HIIT before HIIT was a thing." HIIT, of course, stands for high-intensity interval training, and, according to the American Council on Exercise, it can keep you burning calories — including from fat stores — for hours after you cool down.
The cardiovascular benefits come from the fact that you'll rarely stop moving when you're boxing. Bursts of body-weight moves like jumping jacks or burpees up the intensity between bouts of boxer bounce-steps where you'll catch your breath. As the workout taxes your heart and lungs, it'll boost your endurance, too. And over time, like with any regular cardio exercise regimen, you'll gain benefits like increased blood flow, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a sharper mind, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
You'll Learn Some Self-Defense Skills in the Process
Hopefully you'll never have to use them, but boxing does have some practical applications. "You're learning an actual, real-life skill while simultaneously getting a good workout," Duquette says. You'll feel more prepared, just in case, outside of class — but you'll also feel empowered and confident throwing punches in the studio, too.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Punch Up Your Exercise Routine With Fitness Boxing"
- American Council on Exercise: "8 Reasons HIIT Workouts are So Effective"
- Cleveland Clinic: "From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout"
- Japan Journal of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences: "Effects of Acute Boxing-Style Exercise on Affect and Mood States in Young and Middle-Aged Adults"