Oh man oh man oh man.
That was tough.
After arriving at Chelsea Piers and making my way to the boxing ring, I found my coach, Jason Lee, who got things moving right away...
First, we wrapped my hands. A boxer's hands are his most valuable assets and you don't want to take any chances. Hand wraps, for those who don't know, are like bandages that boxers wrap their hands in before putting their gloves on. They protect the knuckles and are basically there to avoid injury of any kind to the hands. They also make you feel incredibly bad-ass.
"Go jump rope in the basketball court for six minutes," Jason said once my wraps were on. "I'll come get you when you're done."
Almost instantly I realized that I hadn't touched a jump-rope in... I don't know, years? Needless to say, it wasn't the best display of finesse, but I got through the six minutes, thinking all the while, "I need to do more cardio!"
(Note: I mentioned in my previous post that I recently completed an intensive two-year mass-building phase. I'll write more on this later, but for the sake of this post, that process involved static weightlifting, mostly with high weight and low reps, and a meager amount of cardio, as in hardly ever. By the end of the process I had gained 20 pounds of lean muscle and added some visible mass to my body. But as I would soon find out, this is about the furthest thing from a boxer's workout, and for good reason.)
Next, Jason brought me in front of a mirror to work on footwork. He showed me my stance, where to keep my hands ("Right hand is always on the phone") and how to throw a punch with proper form. This kind of technical stuff always fascinates me. For example, I learned to always keep my elbow "in" when throwing a punch - as opposed to raising it to the side - because when your elbow lifts it signals the opponent that a fist is on its way. When you keep your elbow tucked into your abs and then punch by extending your arm directly forwards, you give no warning.
As I continued to shadowbox in front of the mirror, Jason explained that a boxer's abs are constantly engaged. He also told me that if he ever catches me not using my abs, that, well, I wouldn't like what happens next.
Once Jason was happy with my form (or tired of watching me messing up, not sure), we headed over to the bag to introduce contact to the equation. "Jab, jab, right! Jab, jab, right! Follow the man! There he is, go get him!" Using the small logo printed on the bag as a target, I circled the bag, laying down two jabs followed by a right, over and over again, trying to "knock out" little logo man. Then we headed back to the basketball court and circled one another as Jason caught my punches with a pair of mitts.
As with any technical sport, there are numerous aspects of form to keep in mind at all times while boxing, or at least as a beginner. For me, these were to keep my elbows in, my front foot pointing towards my opponent's back foot, my right hand up by my ear and, of course, my abs engaged.
"Ok, I counted two times where you weren't using your abs," Jason said in the kind of dutiful tone that a farmer would use on an old horse before walking him behind the barn, rifle in hand.
He pulled out a black padded matt and spread it out on the floor. This lead me to believe that I was going to be performing sit-ups, push-ups or some other sort of ground-based exercise. I'm cool with that. I actually find them fun. But this wasn't ground-based at all. After instructing me to lie on my back and raise my legs in the air, Jason grabbed me by my quads and hoisted me up. One second later, he's got my shins under his arms and I'm suspended, upside-down.
"Okay, sit-ups, two sets, ten reps each, let's go!"
This is why you always engage your core in boxing.
I got through the inverted sit-ups fairly well, completing both sets without tapping out, and even throwing in a few extras after the second set. But I'm used to abs. What I'm not used to is what Jason had me do next.
To build strength in my shoulders (The kind of strength that heavy dumbbell shoulder presses fail to deliver), we moved once again to the basketball court, where Jason had laid down two thick ropes, lying parallel to one another, about a foot apart. The point of this exercise was to stand at one end of the ropes, grab one in each hand and then raise my arms alternately and explosively, causing "waves" to ripple down each rope and hit the bench holding them down on the other side.
Thirty seconds of this was simply too much. And by the end, my "waves" were barely making it five feet down the line. Meanwhile, I had never felt such a burn in my shoulders. I'll admit, I approached the exercise ready to destroy it. My shoulders are strong, I thought. But by this time it was clear that my weight training just wasn't cutting it. There's no such thing as a one-rep max in the ring.
It was at this point when Jason asked me if all the training I had been doing four days a week was "functional or cosmetic". My immediate reaction was to scoff and say something like "both?" Then I thought about it for a second and realized that as girlie as it sounds, "cosmetic" is probably the best way to describe how I, along with most guys in the gym, have been training for a long time. We all want to get big. Because if you're big, you're strong, right? Wrong. It would have to be all functional training from here on out. That is, if I want to be any good at this sport.
To give my shoulders a break, I spent a couple minutes balancing on the Indo-Board (An indo board is like a skateboard with no wheels that balances on a cylinder. Think see-saw). As I struggled to keep the board balanced, Jason informed me that soon I would be doing the rope exercise while standing on one of these.
The last drill of the day was over at the speed bag, where I spent about 10 minutes just trying to hit the damn thing with two consecutive blows. It's funny how easy speed bags are made to look in movies. It seems like you dont even need to keep your eyes open. Well, I may as well have closed my eyes because I couldn't get it right. But as with everything else I did that day, I simply accepted the fact that while this was all very new to me now, I would be owning it in no time.
That wrapped up the day's session. I've got to say, it felt weird leaving the gym after performing not-so-great on the speed bag. Every time I work out, I always end with something I'm good at, or at least something that I enjoy. It picks me up and sends me home feeling like I had fun. It also makes me want to come back. I didn't really get that. Regardless, I'll be back. On Wednesday actually, for my next scheduled session with Jason. Who knows what he'll throw at me?
All I know is that once this is over, my workouts will never be the same again.