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...Be a Boxer?

Learning how to throw a one-two punch takes more than a cute workout outfit.
Tuesday May 22, 2007.     By Jessica Herman
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

The melodic din of grunting and punching muffled through the thin hallway wall was a good sign that I had arrived at my destination. The past week's worth of anticipation imagining myself as the next Hilary Swank turned quickly into anxiety as I opened unmarked door of JABB. Gazing at the predominantly male crowd of boxers in training sporting cut-off shirts, beaters and old sweats and huddled in packs, I felt suddenly self conscious about the matchy-matchy green and pink spandex get-up that I brought for workout attire. I wasn't at David Barton Gym anymore.

A petite woman (who turned out to be co-owner Dominic Pesoli's wife) at the front desk quelled my bemusement, and the cartons of Vitamin Water on the ground and punk-rock gym shirts for sale on the wall indicated that I hadn't landed so far from my kind of civilization. Bucking up and getting ready to swallow my pride, I enrolled in one evening of Boxing Camp—one of six one-hour Boxing 101 sessions. I warmed up to the place, and it warmed up to me, as soon as an instructor offered to lend me his hand wraps since the gym had run out of them. Before I could try the one-two punch, the instructors were calling me 'sweetie' and giving me props for my good effort.

The skinny: Undoubtedly the popularity of the sport has spiked a few times over with the recent slew of films, from Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man to Rocky VI. But for former pro boxer Michael Garcia and amateur boxer and trainer Dominic, the fire for fighting has been burning strong for a few decades. Today the three-year-old boxing gym finds a mix of professional fighters and "white collar types" looking to spice up their workout routines.

The getup: Basic gym wear is the way to go—shorts or pants, sneakers and a shirt that looks better with sweat. If you're planning on boxing more than once a year, you'll want to buy hand-wraps (which cost about $10) to protect your knuckles and support your wrists. The studio provides everything else, such as the focus mitts, gloves and mats for abdominal workouts.

The payoff: Boxing is a great cardio-vascular workout; it's high-intensity, anaerobic exercise for short durations of time, like sprinting as opposed to jogging. And between twisting at your waist, jump-roping and punching, you're working your whole body.

Wear and tear: The first half-hour was a test of arm-strength and staying focused on the tasks at hand—the one-two punch, 45-degree stance, keeping the chin tucked, elbows in and fists up—along with jump-roping and jumping jacks to keep your heart rate up. The going got tough during the second half, when we went from a squat and sprint-intensive exercise to three sets of suicides, at which point I was on the verge of calling it quits.

The commitment: Jabb welcomes one-time visitors who aren't ready to commit to a class or membership, but those who catch the bug are best off signing up for the six-week boxing camp to learn the basic exercises and drills to then practice on their own.

The cost: Adult boxing training camp costs $155 for six one-hour classes; one month memberships (which require no initiation fee) cost $40 for 21 and older, $25 for 20 and under; $7.50 for day pass.

Difficulty level: Undoubtedly the most challenging part of the class was the speed bag, the smallest of the punching bags that hangs about a foot long, suspended from a board. The idea is to peck at the bag with light punches at an even pace, but unless you hit it just right, it starts swinging in a circle like a headless chicken—not so conducive to rapid, succinct punches. Otherwise, anyone who's in reasonably good shape can do it.

The verdict: If I had my choice, I'd probably choose to work with an instructor the whole time. Unlike the punching bag, he did hit back (lightly, of course) in attempt to keep my fists in check, and he motivated me to put my all into my punches with snippy comments like "Imagine your boyfriend cheated on you." Two hours after the class ended, I was still feeling the high, swinging punches and jabs in the air until my triceps could take no more.

If you're interested in throwing a few punches, visit


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