Hitting the fitness mark

Fancy throwing off the shackles of the working week with some high-testosterone scrapping?

A growing number of Aussies are saying "no" to the mind-numbing repetition of the treadmill and weights bench, and "yes" to the hardcore fitness benefits of a few rounds in the ring.

It's an adrenalin-pumping work-out that can leave you too breathless to talk and lying spent on the floor at the end of the hour, say enthusiasts.

In 2009-10, 78,000 Australians were boxing regularly, with a further 215,000 taking part in martial arts training, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' triennial examination of the $2.9 billion fitness market.

Ibisworld senior analyst Ian MacGowan said the popularity of mixed martial arts and boxing classes was surging in Australia, among both men and women.

“There has been a real spike in interest around 'fighting fitness',” MacGowan said. “One of the things we've seen has been a change in product offering, to make classes more readily available to people with a range of skills and fitness levels.”

For those who are keen to discover their inner Mike Tyson, low cost of entry makes the sport cheap to try. Group lessons at specialist boxing gyms cost about $10 and, aside from hand wraps, there's no equipment or special clothes to buy.

Chief among the attractions is the rapid rise in fitness that can result from kicking and punching your way through a couple of one-hour classes a week.

Brisbane Boxing head coach Khuram Nasir said new clients who trained this frequently – and hard – could see significant gains in both fitness and technical skills within a month.


During classes at his boxing gym, rounds of kicking and punching are punctuated with sets of burpees, push-ups and skipping – and those who have time for chit-chat aren't working hard enough.

“If you want to lose weight you can go on a treadmill but there's no one on your back,” Nasir said. “Here, I'm on your back. There's no rest in the hour. You're smashed after it, but for most of them, that's what they want. It's a total body workout and you're acquiring a skill at the same time.”

Forty-three-year-old builder Chris Lawry said the whip-cracking approach was pushing him to regain the fitness he enjoyed in his younger days playing football and cricket, before the demands of work and a young family took precedence.

“I'm not overweight but I have a bit of a belly I want to get rid of,” Lawry said. “I tried to do home fitness and go for a run, but I was not as motivated as with this. It's a good solid workout and you're left on the floor in a pile of sweat at the end.”

While Nasir was adamant that competitive male egos were best left in the locker room, Lawry said competition within the group was an additional spur.

“If you're standing next to a guy who's punching hard and looking great, it lifts your game a bit.”

It's not only men who enjoy the stress release and endorphin rush of pounding a punching bag or shielding more vigorously than the next person.

At Boxing Works, in Darlinghurst, half the 500 regular clients are female, with many women looking to improve their self-defence skills along with their fitness.

Boxing Works founder Larry Papadopolous said women found the atmosphere of the boxing studio less intimidating than the regular gym, in part because of what it did not have: “no major weights area and no mirrors”.

The chance to burn 600 calories in a session – a similar level to that delivered by an hour's run, with a muscular workout thrown in for free – is also appealing to women.

As is the sort of body that can result.

“Boxing gives you a lean and strong physique,” Papadopolous said. “It's about keeping your weight down and becoming lean and ripped like a race horse.”

And because it's low-impact, those whose racing days are over can still keep donning the gloves, long past the time shin splints and knee injuries have forced their retirement from the running track.

“Fighting in the ring is a young man's game, but boxing for general fitness can be a lifelong thing,” Nasir said.

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