With the rise of boutique studios, at-home workouts and a number of A-list celebrity fans, boxing is quickly becoming the number one workout for honing a strong and toned fighter’s physique. Victoria’s Secret models swear by it, Tom Hardy uses it to bulk up ahead of his films and singer Ellie Goulding even says the sport helped her overcome anxiety and panic attacks.
As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about getting a black eye in the process, as many studios and classes are now geared towards non-contact fitness.
Thinking of throwing some punches this winter? We spoke to some of the UK’s top boxing experts to find some pretty convincing reasons why you should strap on some gloves and step into the ring.
If you’re looking to tone your abdominal muscles, crouching in a fighting stance is a fast and furious way to target your midsection and whittle away body fat. “Having a strong core is definitely one of the benefits of building up your punch power,” says Olu Adepitan, head of fitness at BXR London. “Your core muscles are a vital link between the lower body and upper body and help transfer force during the punching actions.”
The good news is you don’t have to reach Mohammad Ali levels of greatness to reap the benefits, either. “Even beginner level boxers will get amazing core strength gain,” says Adepitan. “This is simply through having good punch technique and engaging the core muscles correctly.”
Whether you’re looking to drop a dress size, get bigger arms or achieve Action Man-levels of abdominal definition, boxing is one of the best forms of cardio to target the entire body and see results, fast. Popular HIIT-style boxing classes get you working to 60 and 90% of your maximum heart rate, and studies have shown this sweet spot can help burn fat more quickly and increase endurance.
“I don’t think any muscle escapes,” says Anthony Fletcher, a boxing trainer at KXU. “It’s one of those workouts where there’s no isolation; when you throw a punch, you’re using your toes as much as you are your hips and your shoulders, so it’s impossible for your muscles not to work.”
If you struggle with racing thoughts after a day firefighting a busy inbox, boxing is great way to switch off the mind and knock out stress. “When you box, you’re aware of your own body because you have to get into a position that’s alien to you all day. If someone tells you to stand with one foot forward, one foot backwards and put your hands up, you’re suddenly forced to be very mindful of where your body is – how it looks and how it feels,” says Fletcher.
Punching away at a heavy bag is also a great way to get a feel-good rush of endorphins. “There’s lots of scientific evidence that training the cardio respiratory system is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health,” agrees Adepitan. “Regular boxing can have a profoundly positive impact on issues like depression and anxiety, and it also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better and boosts overall mood.”
Forget running or Pilates – boxing has the edge over its competitors because it’s considered one of the most effective forms of fitness for real life self-defence situations. “We’re not teaching our clients to go out and bash people’s heads in,” says Fletcher, “but a lot of my my female clients say they want to take up boxing to improve their self-confidence in situations where they might feel vulnerable or threatened.”
He believes it’s also great for getting ahead in the workplace. “I have one client who owns three companies, and finds that her assertiveness in the boardroom when dealing with difficult characters and customers at work, is totally transformed after a morning of combat sports.”
One of the best things about boxing is that it can be a much cheaper (yet just as effective and demanding) alternative to other heart-pounding hobbies. “A pair of gloves can be as cheap as £20 and a pair of wraps can be £5,” says Fletcher, adding that many gym classes will often provide the equipment too. “Obviously there are more expensive gloves and collector items out there, but when you’re just starting out, it can be very inexpensive.”