Boxing Anniversary

Yesterday was my (and Tom’s) second anniversary of starting to work out at Cappy’s boxing gym. When Tom and I went for the first time two years ago, we were sore for a week. The boxing fitness class is a one-hour workout divided into three-minute rounds with only a few seconds in between. On that first day, we did about six rounds of jumprope to start, which seemed like a cruel joke. We said later that we’d both been thinking after the first round, “Whew! I survived three minutes of jumprope—hooray! Oh-oh, what’s next?” And the answer, several times, was “more jumprope.” You have to be kidding, was my recurring thought.
Also on that first day I remember doing “ring-rope” and “side-to-side medicine-ball chest pass,” two drills that we now count on doing in almost every workout. “Ring-rope” means crouching low to duck under the rope and into the ring, then ducking back out, then back in, back out, back in… for three minutes. The rope is just over knee-high, so in addition to the aerobic effects of crouching and standing as fast as you can, you also get a tremendous groin and hip stretch and a burn in the upper legs. “Side to side medicine ball chest pass” involves two people face to face about four feet apart. Together they step sideways as fast as they can, in a sort of skip or gallop, while flinging the medicine ball back and forth straight across at chest level like a basketball pass (but with a much heavier ball). This gives you a huge cardio spike and an upper-body workout at the same time.
The refrain on that first day, at least in my own mind, was always, “You have to be kidding….” Nonetheless I was pretty sure going in that I was going to want to continue. I’d been working out on my own at the Y or another gym for three years. All of a sudden I realized I was bored and wanted to try something really tough. At the end of that first boxing class, I pulled out the checkbook and signed up for five more classes. I was so worn out that I could hardly hold the pen to write the check. Tom and I immediately went out for Chinese food.
Tom and I went to his gym the next day to try to work out our unbelievable soreness. We jumped rope, walked on the treadmills, and played a little basketball. I went back to Cappy’s three days later and felt intimidated when it turned out that that night’s class was being taught by Julia, not by Cappy. I had wanted everything to be predictable. (I’m not that way any more—maybe because of the boxing classes?) I remember that Julia had the class do a round of crossovers and doubles (jumprope). I started to be able to do crossovers, but as soon as my technique started to smooth out a little, I’d be exhausted and have to take a short break. Then I’d start over and try the doubles (jumping a little higher and turning the rope faster, so that it goes under your feet twice per jump). I’d manage to do one and then I’d stop to reorganize my feet and my rope. Julia said, “The idea is to just keep doing them—do one and keep going with a whole string of them.” Again I thought, you have got to be kidding.
I took one of the extra jumpropes home and started practicing on days I didn’t go to boxing. Gradually I built up my rhythm and stamina. Jumping rope is still hard because, like a lot of other parts of the boxing workout, as you get better, you naturally try to go faster or do something harder. It has not yet become rote or easy or boring.
Cappy mixes up the workouts, substituting a large variety of drills while keeping a few of the basics like jumprope, ring-rope, and the side-to-side medicine ball pass. Lately, one of the more difficult drills has been “crunch-punch,” in which you lie on your back with your feet straight up and grasping a heavy bag that is hanging above you. While holding the bag in place with your feet, you crunch up and punch the bottom of it as hard and as long as you can. Another one that Cappy recently introduced, which some of us like to complain about, is to do crunches while a partner stands over your feet and throws a medicine ball down at you. You have to both catch and return the ball while you’re in the top position in the crunch.
When I do some of these hard exercises, or simpler ones like pushups, which I’m terrible at, I sometimes feel like I must be a real weakling. Then I get a bit of perspective and remember that these drills are really hard, and I wouldn’t have been able to get through three minutes of them two years ago without taking a substantial break. It feels great to be fit.

The Sound of One Glove Boxing

Tonight was a first. I went to the boxing gym for the usual 5:30 fitness class and I turned out to be the only student. I kidded around with Cappy and Mike (who was on his way out) that if nobody else showed up, I was leaving, because I was afraid Cappy would kick my a**. Which he obligingly confirmed that he would.
Years ago I would have been so self-conscious that I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the situation, which amounted to a free personal training session. Instead I would have desperately wanted to leave. I can remember several times when I tried taking private guitar lessons and could not stand to play (let alone sing) by myself in front of someone who was watching, evaluating, and “helping.” Something—a combination of years and varied experiences, I guess—has taught me to concentrate, set aside self-consciousness, and be in the moment when it would be easier to be distracted or worse. At least at Cappy’s Gym, anyway. I don’t know if I would be any less self-conscious if somebody asked me to play them a song on the guitar. I should try out that idea.
It says a lot about the atmosphere at Cappy’s that I would feel as comfortable there as I do. He has a gift for giving individual attention without making you feel too scrutinized. During one round of jumprope I thought about the fact that people would soon start arriving for the 6:30 class, and my inclination was to dread that , thinking I couldn’t handle other people seeing me exercising by myself—maybe it was okay to work out alone with Cappy, but not with other gym members watching. I’m happy to say I quickly abandoned that mindset and concentrated on what I was doing.
Sure enough, at about 6:15 two or three people came in. I couldn’t hear them talking over the music and the punching bag until Trisha called out in my direction, “It’s Fran’s own special class!” I instantaneously ran through my mental habit (from grade school) of realizing that I was being mocked, and ran right on through it to today’s reality that I was not being mocked. I flung my gloves in the air in a joking triumphal gesture at Trisha and then went back into my own little world of punching the bag.
I’m glad to have lost a lot of my unwarranted self-consciousness over the past few years. I think it’s connected to being married to someone who never judges me and also to having left Chicago, where all those grade-school adventures happened.
The workout went well, but I didn’t get as exhausted as I normally do because we spent a bit more time talking and adjusting my movements. I did stumble onto a useful way of visualizing how to use the legs and the back, instead of the arms and shoulders, to throw punches. As the fist is shot forward, brace the muscles all down the back of the body by imagining you’re braced against a wall behind you. This visualization was a useful addition to my growing awareness of keeping my shoulders back while punching at full extension. I don’t claim to have all of this down pat, but it is fun to try to create a mental picture that I can describe.