Putting punch into workouts

An ever-changing mixed martial arts regimen draws a lot of women

Staff WriterJuly 14, 2009 

— There's been only one chart-topping Top 40 song since Joanne Kroll opened her new business, and its title totally fits: "Boom Boom Pow."

Kroll, 49, spent two decades as a criminal defense lawyer in Maine, but she got burned out and decided to make a big change -- from law to mixed martial arts. Now, she's the owner of an LA Boxing location in Durham.

The brutal boxing-meets-jujitsu form of mixed martial arts gained popularity in the 1990s after the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has revitalized pay-per-view fighting. Nearly 3 million people watched the ninth season finale of "Ultimate Fighter" last month -- and that included more men under 50 than watched the U.S. Open or Major League Baseball that day.

But men aren't the primary customers at Kroll's club, which opened in early June.

"The majority of our members are women," Kroll said, "and they're usually in mid-30s to late-40s."

This late baby boom and early Generation X clientele goes against the national line for clubs such as LA Boxing. According to Kroll, the split is usually 60-40 male.

Elizabeth Seney, a middle-school teacher in Durham, was in a boxing and kickboxing class with all men a few years ago before she became the Durham club's first customer. She attributes the high percentage of women to the nonthreatening environment.

"People realize, 'Oh, I'm not in a ring, nobody's trying to beat me up,'" she said. "It's fun, you have to think, and the trainers vary the workout every time."

There are even two women on the club's fight team, including Seney, 32, who joined the team last week.

Yes, fight team.

The eight-person team boxes and spars weeknights in the club's full-size professional boxing ring. "It's certainly something you're not going to see in your everyday gym," Kroll said.

The general workout programs won't land customers on the receiving end of the brutal smackdowns that pro fighters such as Chuck Liddell deliver, though. It's usually the customer and a 150-pound punching bag.

But the workouts are no less intense: Each session burns between 800 and 1,000 calories, on average. To put that into perspective, according to the online calculators NutriStrategy, the average 190-pound man burns 860 calories running for an hour at a 10-minute-mile pace.

The mixed-martial-arts-style workout's kickboxing and short bursts of activity deliver a full cardio workout, along with resistance training that works several muscle groups.

For those comfortable with a challenging workout and aiming to lose weight, the results can be tremendous. Seney has lost 18 pounds since the beginning of June.

"I've never been this successful just working out at a gym or with diets," she said. She credits the always changing workout, something Kroll agrees with.

"I just know that this is it, as far I'm concerned," Kroll said. "It's a tremendous workout, and the workouts are different every day you come to it. You could never get bored with it."

katherine.miller@newsobserver.com

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