I’ve always been impressed with the lean and agile bodies of competitive boxers and mixed martial artists – think Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee in their prime.
Their super-toned physiques seemed to move with such ease and fluidity, very much like dancers, and then…jab, punch, kick! Just like Ali’s famous words, they’d “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” Inspired by the beautiful movements of Ali and Lee, I set out to try one of the hottest workouts around.
Non-competitive kickboxing is a hybrid of boxing, martial arts, and cardio all rolled up into one powerful form of exercise. While kickboxing’s roots come from full-contact combat and self-defense techniques, the fitness industry has made it safe and effective for everyone, including children.
It’s also a full-body workout that challenges all major muscle groups, improves aerobic capacity, decreases stress, improves focus and boosts endurance, according to the American Council on Exercise. It requires a higher level of intensity than many other aerobic exercises, and so promotes greater gains in balance, stability and strength, and can burn more than 400 calories per hour!
Its benefits extend to the psyche as well, as I was soon to learn.
Though there are numerous places in Raleigh to take up some form or another of kickboxing, I settled on LA Boxing, the largest franchise of its kind, for one reason: Safety. Professionally trained boxers, kickboxers, and mixed-martial arts fighters lead the drill there, so I thought they’d know what they were doing. Plus, the first class is free!
The reason for caution is that the risk of injury with kickboxing is high. More than 29 percent of kickboxers surveyed by the American College of Sports Medicine said they’d been injured, and 43 percent of those who do it four or more times a week have been hurt as a result. Backs, knees, hips and shoulders suffer the brunt.
So I will admit I had a little trepidation about working out in a boxing gym. I pictured a dark, sweaty place filled with shirtless juveniles taking direction from gravelly voiced old men (a la Rocky).
Boy, was I a million miles from the truth…
Legit, but brightly lit
LA Boxing is in a suburban strip mall off Creedmoor Road in North Raleigh. When I arrive, I find a brightly lit, clean, and quiet environment. The vibrant colors and well-organized space have me in good spirits instantly.
There are rows of heavy punching bags, speed bags, a boxing ring, and an open area for mixed martial arts.
I am the first to arrive, greeted by instructor Mike Scoggins. He is clearly a lean, mean, fighting machine, yet so friendly and funny, I feel as if I’ve known him for years.
The other clients – about 10 men and women of all shapes, sizes, and abilities – start to spill in. Most of the people who show up for this 6:30 a.m. class are regulars, and you can tell.
Mike keeps the tone relaxed and informal. We start on the open floor with boot camp-like exercises to warm us up and loosen our joints: Jumping jacks, mountain climbers, push-ups, burpees, and lunges.
I notice that everyone is working at his or her own pace, with variations on the same exercises (note to self: this is good). Mike is encouraging, and he does most of the exercises with us.
Next, I learn some basic kickboxing moves like bobbing and weaving, the forward jab, the cross jab, and hook and upper cuts with knee strikes. The moves are awkward and feel foreign to my body. Maybe I look like an idiot, but no one is laughing. In any case, my heart is pumping!
I realize that I’m learning a routine of repetitive moves, and then a combination of those moves. The repetition keeps me focused on proper technique as I try to get in that zone where the body and mind start to work in tandem. Mike is right there guiding me and correcting my moves.
Finally, the gloves come out. The ones Mike lends me are sunshine yellow, which feels appropriate. I get one on, and as I’m struggling to put on the other, a kind woman in the class comes over to help. Then we move over to the heavy bags, and I jab, punch and kick them. My hands, legs, and feet are hurting (this will definitely take some getting used to). Overall, though, I feel fantastic and am sweating bucketfuls.
As the hour comes to a close, we start a cool-down on the floor that involves abdominal work and yoga-like stretching. That must-have feeling of euphoria has come over me, and I am elated over this latest adventure in exercise for Walter. Notably, I leave the gym feeling like I can conquer the world, and so can you.
LA Boxing has two Wake County locations: In Raleigh, at 6300 Creedmoor Road, No. 126; and in Cary, at 935 North Harrison Avenue. A first kickboxing class is free; monthly memberships that offer unlimited classes are $54 to $84 per month depending on the length of the membership. Go to laboxing.com/raleigh for more information.