MANILA, Philippines – Like a lot of people over the past few years, I have gained quite a bit of weight, and in the uphill journey to get back into shape, I’ve come to love boxing.
There’s nothing quite like punching shit – whether that’s a heavy bag, a speedball, or your trainer’s mitts – to release all the pent-up shame and frustration you have over your body. After a good year of internally beating myself up for “letting myself go,” throwing punches for an hour every couple of weeks turned out to be exactly what I needed.
I know boxing gyms to be sweaty, harshly-lit places where coaches do not think twice about teasing me about my weight, commenting on my looks, or underestimating what I can do, and where once I’ve even had the unfortunate experience of being groped.
For some reason, learning to box in such an environment made me feel more legit. As it turns out, body shaming and toxic masculinity make for good fuel for throwing punches. And besides, aren’t boxing gyms supposed to be a little dingy and a little gritty?
There is nothing dingy or gritty about Electric Studio at the Podium, which is brightly-lit and buzzy, and filled with beautiful people, mostly women, flitting about in color-coordinated athleisure.
I was there to try rhythm boxing for the first time as part of the anniversary party of made-to-order athleisure brand Hustle Manila. One of the brand’s founders, Butts, is a fitness instructor at the studio, and was to be our rhythm boxing coach that afternoon.
The fact that Electric Studio is known for its spinning classes made me skeptical about rhythm boxing there. I’ve tried spin class only once before and was overwhelmed by the pace of it, but even more overwhelmed by the instructor reminding everyone at every turn that we are strong, we got this, we just need to push a little harder – like a peppy cult leader with perfect abs.
That spinning experience was a little too bright and positive, a little too detached from reality for my taste, and I thought that if rhythm boxing was anything like that, I might not be able to take it seriously.
It certainly didn’t ease my skepticism when the class was summoned to the boxing room, referred to, as we would be for the rest of the day, by our timeslot, “2 pm” – just like in spin class. Slipping a pair of quick wraps on I rushed to take up my pre-assigned spot in the front row.
‘Fight club meets night club’
The disco-lit boxing room – with an individual punching bag and a small square footage of space for each participant – was the antithesis of a regular boxing gym, where harsh lights and shared spaces guarantee at least a few stares, possibly judgmental, from other people.
Conversely, the rhythm boxing room at Electric Studio was, as Butts later described to me, “fight club meets night club,” enabling the same carefree abandon you would bring to a crowded dancefloor, where you know no one is really looking.
Before the class started we were instructed to grab two sets of dumbbells – a lighter one and a heavier one – for the weight training part of the class. I was slightly scared picking out weights, thinking I might not be able to keep up when we reach that part of the class.
There wasn’t enough time to panic too much though. We only had 45 minutes, and Butts moved from one part to another pretty quickly. We started with a warm-up, and a quick tutorial of basic boxing moves: jab, cross, left hook, right hook, uppercuts, plus some footwork and some bobbing moves.
I’ve done many one-on-one boxing sessions before, but Butts was able to quickly and easily explain proper form in a way I’ve never encountered. Of course, with a full class he had no way of checking if every single student was executing the moves right, but his cues were specific enough that you could evaluate yourself easily.
The sequences were perfectly paced. We tried several different combinations in time to the music, which was mostly dance-pop. In the dimness of the room and with a punching bag to myself, I was able to really pay attention to my form and mindfully attempt to throw each punch correctly.
The dreaded weight training part turned out to be challenging but doable, and when I did have to stop for a few seconds, there was no feeling of being judged or shamed for it.
Maybe the best part about that class was that no one remarked on the way my body looked. The only focus is on what it could do, and as the instructor reminded our class repeatedly, our bodies could do amazing things.
As I said earlier, those types of motivational platitudes tend to fly over my head. But in that class, Butts kept it just a pitch below overly-positive so I could actually still believe him. He turned out to be right – I got to the end of the 45-minute class out of breath and exhausted, but ultimately proud that I made it through most of the exercises.
Between the music, the lights, a space and punching bag that belonged only to me for those 45 minutes, and perfectly-timed parts where we could freestyle and punch out our own combinations, I was surprised to find that despite my doubts, I had actually enjoyed rhythm boxing class.
After rage-punching at sweaty boxing gyms for the last couple of months, it was in rhythm boxing class that I discovered something new about this workout that I’ve come to enjoy. Apparently, boxing doesn’t always have to be fueled by frustration – sometimes, it can also be fueled by fun. – Rappler.com