We all normally have at least one story that supports our idea of our hidden boxing ability. From playground fights, tussles on a night out, or even that one time on holiday when you “nearly” broke the top score on the punching machine. They are without doubt, a little exaggerated but to us (or maybe just me) it’s as real as it gets. I have always thought that if I did actually train I would be a natural. After years of putting it off I finally put this theory to the test and tried out a few of London’s boxing gyms. Best case scenario, I’d be discovered as the boxing savant that I’ve always secretly thought I was, or worse case scenario, I’d be terrible and have to work out my frustration on an unsuspecting heavy bag. Win win.
Paddington. 12 x 3
I thought it was a nice café at first, more like a place where I might go for a soy matcha latte than to get repeatedly punched in the face. The gym itself is downstairs and immaculate. There’s a big ring in the centre, heavy bags off to one side, a skipping area and a speed bag. All brand spanking new. The session is run by Ryan, an ex-boxer from East London. You can tell he’s been in a few boxing matches and from the looks of him has probably won most of them. We started off with cardio, some sprints, press-ups, sit-ups, a bit of skipping and a few dreaded burpees. Next came the ‘basics’. Stance, movement, balance and all the different types of punches. Despite being called ‘basics’ these were annoyingly hard to pick up. Eventually though, after much tuition things started to click. Not quite Ali but slowly catchy monkey.
Light sparring was next trying to touch each others knees and shoulders while jumping in and out and trying not to be hit. As it turns out I have deceptively long arms. This, I’m sure, was meant as a compliment to my boxing ability but I have to admit it made me feel a tad orangutangy. After came the real punches but thankfully body only. I’m very competitive so I jumped in guns blazing and realised that trading blows is a painful strategy to take up. Sometimes less is more and movement is a lot nicer than a rib shot. After getting schooled by Ryan, we were sent over to the heavy bag for a final few rounds of hard work. Let me just say, the heavy bag is very aptly named and hitting it repeatedly is much harder than I ever thought it would be. Even so, the 60 minute class flew by and by the end I was really getting in to it.
Great Portland Street – Flykick
On walking into the bright, white minimalist space, I donned my pristine gloves and wraps, slipped off my shoes and headed inside the contrasting, nightclub-style boxing lair. We started off with a fast and furious HIIT sequence aptly named ‘BURN’ to get the endorphins firing . After, to my complete surprise, the frantic drum and bass was replaced by gentle, yogi music, as the second instructor stepped forward to guide a ‘FLEX’ sequence. This was to help us slow down, breathe and enhance mobility. A little parasympathetic activity to balance out all that excitement from those banging beats. I never thought I would find myself lying down in pigeon pose halfway through a boxing class. I enjoyed the stretch a little too much and was hesitant to get back on my feet to face the bags for a fast-paced box and kick sequence. The space is beautifully designed from the gloves down to the changing rooms and Sandalwood bubbles. The staff were friendly and I left feeling genuinely happy but the experience felt more lululemon than Mohamed Ali…
Notting Hill – Bodyism
Notting Hill is a lovely place to visit, probably much more so when you’re visiting from South East London. Even so, for some reason whenever I’m there it’s sunny and there seems to be a overrepresentation of people who look like they might pop up on Britains Next Top Model. When I turned up the sun was (again) shining, I was feeling good and Bodyism was packed with attractive, tanned, healthy looking people. Shock. The place was like a spa, I felt pampered just walking in. Amazing changing rooms, showers and a complimentary fruity vitamin shot for a nice “boost”. The class was much more like circuits and was a mixture of exercises and pad work. This workout, although it sounds fairly straightforward, involved resistance bands, a slidey thing that you put under your feet and so many squats and lunges that I’m pretty sure after a few classes you’ll end up with a peach for a bum. The pad work was focussed on combinations, keeping your hands up and making sure you breathe. It’s not easy hitting pads as hard as you can, while trying to make sure you don’t hyperventilate. Especially when you’re trying to recreate the alarmingly loud thuds that your neighbour seemed to get when he was doing the same thing. We finished with a warm down and some stretches. One luxurious shower later I ended up doing some work in the cafe, in the sun (again) surrounded by beautiful people. The perfect interlude. This class, similarly run by ex-boxer, Georgie, from East London seemed to be tailored and designed to work on very specific muscles, without making me look too stupid in the process. An approach very much appreciated, especially in a place as distinguished as this. My Notting Hill fairytale lives on.
Liverpool Street – Kobox
This class was run by someone who referred to himself as the Beast of Kobox. That’s a good place to start, I think. I feel like it really set the tone for what was to come. Before we started, all the newbies assembled and were talked through the numbered punches. One to six, all different, all very simple. Turns out, when you’re sweating profusely, with arms like dead weights, while attempting to avoid the attention of the Beast these “simple” numbered punches aren’t so easy to remember. This was by far the hardest class. If you’re not hitting the surprisingly satisfying water-filled heavy bags, you’re doing some form of wall exercises that resemble torture. Holding medicine balls while squatting against a wall, doing burpees, weighted sit-ups, press-ups and that’s just for starters. This class is not for the faint hearted. In a large dark room, with loud music and strobe lights, it’s less about technique and much more about output. Whether you’re taking out some repressed anger, blowing off some steam or just trying to earn a night of diet-free indulgence, you will leave empty. Sweaty and empty. Spurred on by the Beast and the garage bangers I managed to make it to the end. Just. This is maybe not the best class for technique but if you want to box yourself fit, to loud music and a motivational, if slightly intimidating teacher, this is your ticket.
Victoria – Manor
Manor is a bit of a mixed gym. Weightlifters, crossfitters and boxers all share one open-plan space. Strangely though, what sounds a little bit busy actually helps you. We all know there is nothing more motivating than the potentially judgey stares of others. The session started with the usual exercises, some jogging, star jumps, a few press-ups, horrible burpees and a few of the other fan favourites. Now that everybody was warm and I was very warm, we went over to the heavy bags to work on our jabs – making sure our feet were in the right place and that we were measuring distance properly. To up the tempo at the end we moved on to hard straight punches and ended with us doing a few rounds of 30 seconds of throwing as many punches as we could.
The session ended with us holding hands and giving eachother a compliment. This could not have been further away from how I thought my boxing-whirlwind week would end. If you’re sceptical I understand, it does sound all very kumbayaaree but I have to admit it I liked it. We worked hard, we deserved our little feel good moment. Given that I am far from a morning person booking a 7:15 class, it’s safe to say, was pushing the boat out a little bit. So for you all you people who hate the morning as much as I do, there aren’t many better ways to start your days off than with a bit of exercise and a compliment.
What I thought would be a week of violence, training montages and bruises, turned out to be completely the opposite. There is so much to learn when you’re practicing the sweet science of boxing. If you’re like me and get bored easily, this is probably one of the best ways to work out. You’re always engaged, always working and you get back what you put in.
The truth is, like with most things nowadays we are completely spoilt for choice. I know from the experience of endlessly trawling on Netflix for something to watch, that we often need a bit of guidance when choosing the right thing. 12 x 3 gave me my very first taste of sparring, Bodyism gave me some tailored luxury, Kobox kicked my ass, Flykick left me with feel-good vibes, and Manor gave me a great morning boost. But, if I had to chose. Like gun to head. I would definitely go for 12 x 3. It’s such an amazing place to work out in. I got to spar for the first time and I got my first experience of the famous square circle. It’s safe to say I wasn’t the boxing phenomenon I thought I was, but it was fun finding that fact out. Also, don’t ever fight someone from East London because apparently they’re all ex-boxers and it will definitely end in tears.