November 11, 2013

The latest workout trend? Put up your dukes and box

Want to get in shape? Those could be fightin' words. Some people looking to get fit are mixing it up at a new generation of clubs that builds workouts around the sport of boxing.

Want to get in shape? Those could be fightin’ words.

Some people looking to get fit are mixing it up at a new generation of clubs that builds workouts around the sport of boxing.

Title Boxing Club is a new 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. The clubs are spread throughout 27 states, and Title moved into North Carolina this summer. It has two gyms in Charlotte and one in Cary, with plans to open more in both markets.

It’s a far cry from the dank boxing haunts of old. Cary’s club, for instance, is 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.

Other gyms offer boxing workouts as part of a broader mix that can include kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Title Boxing appears to be the only gym focused primarily on boxing workouts, though they also offer kickboxing.

Appeals to women

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 “heavy bag,” also known as 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 that when it opened in September, about 80 percent of the 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. During the punching sessions, MeGee said, the trainer may don oversized punching mitts and get the boxer to spar with him – at a faster pace.

Title offers various hourlong classes, but its most popular is its “Power Hour.” The session begins with 15 minutes of cardio and strength exercises, followed by 30 minutes of eight three-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 situp.

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.

Burn 1,000 calories?

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 it’s unlikely that the average person could burn that many.”

On a moderately strenuous bike ride, he says, “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.

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.”

Joe Miller is a North Carolina-based writer covering health and fitness. Read his blog at

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