“Jab, cross, bend, two upper-cuts!”
Michael’s instructions echo all around the small studio. With rivulets of sweat running down my neck, I can’t help but feel a swell of resentment every time I hear the voice. I glance back at the screen in the front of the room – “Round 6” with the seconds counting down at an achingly slow pace. I wasn’t sure that I would last to the end of the hour.
My quest to achieve a healthier lifestyle over the summer months led me to discover Title Gym. Nestled among the lush and luxurious on Boston’s Newbury Street, Title Gym has equipment and training fit for any regular health club, but their specialty is boxing. The clientele is a mix of hardcore gym rats and young women in search of the best #fitspo body. The gym offers classes in total body boxing and kickboxing, with an emphasis on muscle building.
From the outside, Title Gym is well-lit like any fitness studio down the street. The owner Mike Musto greets me upon entry, eager to set me up with the proper equipment. My class requires hand wraps and boxing gloves, the former of which I had no idea how to use. Musto sends me straight to the instructor Michael, who expertly wraps my hands in long, circular motions.
I am then guided to the rows upon rows of punching bags, hanging from the ceiling by a mere chain. I choose one towards the edge of the boxing area, close enough to watch the instructor and close enough to make a break for it if necessary – exercising has never been my forte.
I take a look around the room, sizing up my competition. There are a couple of bros, all muscle tanks and testosterone, in the front of the room. Towards the back, there is a young, fit-looking couple and behind them, a woman not unlike myself (but clearly more experienced as she wraps her hands like a pro). Next to me are two hijabis who also look like first-timers. Overall, I start to feel less out of place on seeing this eclectic mix of people. I instead direct my focus to the front of the room where a screen displays a timer in bold red letters. Like most workouts, I assume this will begin with some stretching and light cardio.
This was not like most workouts.
Our instructor immediately has us bouncing on our feet. Then we move into squats and, much to my frustration, I already feel a dull ache in my thighs. Michael begins to call out repetitions for us to complete: three squats, five jumping jacks and three jumps into squats. We continue this “warmup” for 15 minutes, which feel like an excruciating 45 minutes.
The class pauses for a water break, during which I chug more than half of my water bottle. I feel a smidge of regret as the water sits heavily at the pit of my stomach. We move on to the boxing portion of the class. I feel ready to take on any opponent – in this case, it is the punching bag – as I strap on my gloves.
Michael teaches us a variety of hits including jabs, crosses and upper-cuts. At first, I mimic the boxers I see on TV with their mean hits. The owner, Musto, comes over to gently correct my technique.
“Swing around with your fists,” Musto says kindly, mimicking the action on the other side of the punching bag.
To my surprise, his kind tone encourages me to perfect my hits. Though I don’t come close to this goal by the end, I pick up on the nuances between a weak hit and a solid hit. Proper technique, including hip movement, feet placement and posture, helps me strengthen my hit.
I am elated when Michael calls out “active rest” because I assume that means it is break time.
As it turns out, that assumption is both right and wrong. Though it is a breather from the tough punches, it is not meant to slow down our heartbeat. During our active rests, we complete a variety of low-impact exercises including jumping jacks, bicycle crunches and, of course, squats. I try to keep up but eventually I unstrap my gloves to give my poor fingers a breather from being curled for so long.
The last fifteen minutes are dedicated to the cool down, which as expected, is no less intense than the first two sections of the workout. We each grab a medicine ball and I consider how much I would be judged for asking for a lighter ball. The lightest one is 8 pounds, but with the intense workout we had just finished, I didn’t think my arms could support the heavy ball in the air.
It takes a lot of unattractive grunting and heavy breathing, but I am able to get through the exercises. One requires us to swing the ball from one side to the other. In my mind’s eye, I imagine myself dropping the ball on the ground, or worse, on my foot. Another requires us to do sit-ups, but we are only allowed to touch the floor on count five. As a result, Michael prolongs the five seconds with a cruel “foooooour… five”.
With thighs burning, hands smarting and body sweating buckets, he finally calls time at 8:30 p.m., exactly an hour later. I stagger out of the gym on shaky legs soon after, a sense of accomplishment blooming in my chest.