Punching those pounds away

I wrote the following story ran for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. It ran in both papers on Tuesday, Nov. 12; it runs here, in its original form with links.

“Fun,” “social” and “a great stress reliever” aren’t exactly terms Rocky Balboa would have used to describe his workouts. But then, Title Boxing Club isn’t Mighty Mick’s Boxing gym.

Title Boxing is a new millenium take on one of man’s oldest sports, replacing pugilism with a peppy workout designed to burn calories and tone muscles. Title opened its first new age boxing gym in Kansas City in 2008. It franchised the operation two years later and in May opened its 100th club, which are spread throughout 27 states. Title moved into North Carolina this past summer; it currently has two gyms in Charlotte and one in Cary, with plans to open more in both markets.

If you’re still envisioning Mighty Mick’s — a dark, dank, depressing, put-up-your-dukes dungeon located in an otherwise abandoned Philadelphia flatiron — and wondering why the popularity, again, Title Boxing is a far cry from the boxing gyms of old. Cary’s club, for instance, is located in an upscale retail/apartment community, has a glass facade, is carpeted and despite the intense workouts that go on within, is devoid of the stench of sweat-soaked dreams.

“We’re not a gym,” says Joe Saele, who owns the Title Boxing on Ayrsley Town Boulevard in Charlotte, “we’re a club.”
The distinction, according to Title Boxing, is several fold.

“In a normal gym,” says Max McGee, general manager of the Cary club, “you have the musclehead factor — guys standing around trying to impress one another. “Here, all you have to do is show up and we’ll do the rest.”

Charlotte club member Brian Richards elaborates: “They push you,” says Richards, who joined the club the first day it opened. “Before, in group workouts, I was on my own, and  I didn’t push myself hard enough. Here, the instructors push you hard.”

“There’s no cheating yourself,” adds Jim Bakey, 23, of Holly Springs.

Unlike the more traditional boxing gym, where you might leave with a black eye or cauliflower ear, the only contact you have here is with a traditional “heavy” bag (a k a, a body bag).

“You don’t get hit, there’s no spit-in-the-bucket,” says Saele. “We appeal to soccer moms. In fact most of our members are women.”
Max McGee, general manager of the Cary club, says, when they opened in September, about 80 percent of their clientele was female. “It’ll level out to about 60 percent,” he adds, based on memberships at other Title facilities.

Then there’s the club’s Trainer’s Circle, an arc of benches where participants arrive early to wrap their wrists (required, mainly to prevent wrist injury from punching the bag), talk to the trainer and talk to one another.

“It’s very social,” says Lauren Orlando, a 29-year-old who makes the drive from Chapel Hill to the Cary club several times a week.
And there’s mandatory trainer interaction with each club member.

“The trainer is required to touch each bag at least once during a session,” says McGee. And it’s not a social call. During the punching sessions, for instance, the trainer may don oversized punching mitts and get the boxer to spar with him — at a faster pace.

Title offers various hour-long classes, but its most popular is its “Power Hour.” The hour begins with 15 minutes of cardio and strength exercises, followed by 30 minutes of eight  3-minute rounds of boxing with “active resting” in between, followed by 15 minutes of core workouts. The initial 15 minutes consists of a flurry of movement — running, jumping jacks, squats, lunges; the final 15 minutes involves planks, pushups, and various takes on the sit-up.

The boxing segment relies on four main punches: cross, jab, hook and upper cut, all of which are gone over by the trainer with new boxers. In rapid succession, the instructor yells out various combinations — “cross, cross, jab, cross, cross, jab” — and class members try to keep pace. Each three-minute round is timed on a well-watched digital stopwatch on the wall.

Title boasts that you can burn up to 1,000 calories during a single Power Hour.

Brian Housle, a senior exercise physiologist with the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham is a big fan of boxing workouts. A kickboxing instructor himself, he says the workouts cover it all. “Cardio, strength, coordination, balance, agility — it’s a total body exercise,” says Housle.

He is, however, skeptical of the 1,000 calories per hour claim.

“It’s not an imaginary number,” says Housle. “But its unlikely that the average person could burn that many calories per minute.”
“On a moderately strenuous bike ride,” Housle explains, “the average person will burn 6 to 10 calories per minute. That’s about 300 to 500 calories per hour.”

“To burn 1,000 calories in an hour you need to burn 16 to 17 calories per minute, and that’s very, very, very, very, very vigorous activity,” says Housle. It’s also activity performed by an already big, muscular fit athlete, he adds, because it would take a lot of muscle mass to burn that many calories.”

Regardless of the CBPM (calories burned per minute), Title Boxing guarantees that if you stick with the program by going at least three times a week for three months, you’ll see results — or your money back. (Those results, adds McGee, are mutually determined by the club and member at the start.) Drop 100 pounds and you get a year’s free membership.

Cary club member Bakey, a physical therapist, doesn’t care about weight loss. A marathon runner who has clocked a personal best of 3 hours and 20 minutes, he’s just in it for a good, hard workout. He uses a different gauge to determine how good of a workout he’s had.
“After the first class,” he says, “I came home and laid on the floor for two hours. I was spent. But it was a good spent.”

* * *

What a fledgling boxer should know

* The four punches used (as defined by ringsidebygus.com):

Cross — power punch thrown with the boxer’s dominant hand. It’s also called a straight right, right or straight punch.
Jab — punch thrown quickly with the boxer’s leading hand straight from the chin in direct line to the target
Upper cut — thrown at close range, with either hand. The jaw or the solar plexus is the target.
Hook — inside power punch; a short, sideways punch delivered with the elbow bent so the arm forms sort of hook. The temple, side of the jaw, ribs and liver is the target.

* There is no hitting of fellow classmates. The only hitting is of the 100-pound heavy bags, about 50 of which are in each gym.

* Boxing gloves are provided to first-timers.

* Physical concerns? As is the case when you start any exercise program, Duke Diet & Fitness Center Senior Exercise Physiologist Brian Housle says you should consult a physician beforehand if there are concerns about your health. While there can be a lot of wear and tear on the wrists and shoulders, Housle says learning proper technique from the start should mitigate those issues.

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