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Olympic Sports Fiftysomethings Should Try: Boxing

The 'sweet science' delivers about as sweet a workout as you can get

August 1, 2012

This is the fourth article in a five-part series from writer Matthew Solan on Olympic sports that fiftysomething readers can take up to boost their fitness.

At the London Games, men and, for the first time, women will duke it out in a boxing competition that casual fans of the sport might not recognize. Far from the brutal, bloody competition shown on pay-per-view and depicted in movies, the Olympic event emphasizes skill, technique and execution. Amateur boxers wear headgear, unlike the pros, and their bouts consist of three three-minute rounds for the men, and four two-minute rounds for women. (Professional bouts can last for 12 three-minute rounds.)

Male boxers in London will compete for medals in 10 weight classes, the women in three. Cuba, Russia and Ukraine are expected to collect the most golds among the men; only 114-pounder Rau'shee Warren is considered to be a strong American contender. In the women's competition, which begins on August 5, the U.S. has higher hopes, led by 132-pound Quanitta "Queen" Underwood and 165-pound Claressa Shields. Host Great Britain has strong contenders in all three women's weight classes. (Learn more about Team USA's boxers here.)
 
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Olympic fighters win by knocking out their opponents or scoring the most points. One point is awarded for every punch landed with the marked white part of their glove on the opponent’s head or upper body. The boxer judged to have won a round (usually by landing the most successful punches) is awarded 10 points; the loser gets nine. Any boxer with a 12-point lead automatically wins.

Your Boxing Workout

You may think of yourself as a lover, not a fighter, but you don’t have to hurt anyone to enjoy the extraordinary fitness benefits of boxing training. A recent informal American Council on Exercise survey of top exercise physiologists and athletic trainers rated boxers as the second-most fit athletes, behind only decathletes. Many boxing clubs, gyms and fitness centers offer boxing classes that will help get you in fighting trim.

In addition to the obvious physical and emotional benefits — increased upper body strength and muscle tone, improved balance and footwork, and the ultimate stress reliever of being able to punch something (a bag, not a person) as hard as you can — boxing training also builds mental prowess. “It promotes awareness and improves your ability to make quick choices, and it keeps your eyes sharp and your motor skills and coordination intact,” says Bonnie Canino, 50, a former world featherweight champion and the owner of Canino’s Karate and Boxing Studio in Dania Beach, Fla. “There is no time to think about anything except what you are doing at that moment.”
 
Boxing workout sessions vary, but many follow this basic format:

After 20 minutes of warm-up exercises and three-minute rounds of jump rope and shadow boxing, you move on to bag training and practice major stances and punches, such as the jab, cross, hook and uppercut. Boxers use two types of punching bags: the small, teardrop-shaped “speed bag,” which hones reflexes and repetitive punching skills; and the much larger "heavy bag," for practicing power punching and body blows. To promote greater speed, agility and stamina, coaches will weave free weights, rowing machines and medicine ball exercises into the workout, along with plyometrics, quick jumping exercises that boost muscle elasticity.
 
Boxing training is inexpensive. Hand wraps and a good pair of training gloves are the only gear you'll need to purchase. (Many gyms have gloves you can borrow, but your own pair should be more comfortable, not to mention sanitary.) Hand wraps, which are worn under your gloves, protect bones and tendons from injury and support your wrists and thumbs.

Your gloves should be matched to your size or body weight so they add comfort and protection without putting stress on your arms, says trainer Santi Magno of boxing-4-fitness.com, who recommends 10 oz. gloves if you weigh 120 pounds or less; 10-12 oz. gloves if you're between 120 and 160 pounds; 12-14 oz. gloves if you're between 160 and 180; and a 16-20 oz. pair if you weigh 180 pounds or more. Be sure to wear your hand wraps when glove shopping to ensure a proper fit. And choose gloves with hook-and-loop straps; they're not as snug as lace gloves, but you'll be able to put them on without help.

(MORE: Synchronized Swimming: An Olympic Sport Fiftysomethings Should Try)

Boxing can be a fierce workout. You can expect to burn about 350 to 800 calories per hour, depending on your weight, gender and workout intensity. In the beginning, you may find you need a day off from exercising to recover, Canino says, but don’t let that discourage you. Boxing can also accommodate many physical restrictions. “You do what you can," she says, "just like in life." If one element of the workout is beyond your physical ability, a good trainer can suggest a substitute exercise to keep you moving.
 
The best part of boxing training is that it can make you feel like you really are the greatest. As you gain confidence and stamina, you may even decide to try a round or two of actual sparring. As Canino says, "If you can box, you can do anything.”
 
Where You Can Get in the Ring

Besides dedicated boxing gyms and clubs, many local and franchise gym sites offer boxing workout classes. Here are five sites that can help you find a class near you: iSport Boxing, GymsNearYou, LA Boxing (a national chain), the Title Boxing Club and BoxingGyms.com.