Fight Clubs

Sharp - - GUIDE -

If the only rea­son you never tried boxing was that you were scared of en­ter­ing a seedy, des­per­ate, ram­shackle gym straight out of Rocky (or pretty much ev­ery other boxing movie out there) now’s your chance. New-school boxing gyms are crop­ping up across the coun­try — prov­ing the sweet sci­ence is also the sweet­est work­out

HIS IS MY FIRST TIME AT Com­mon­wealth, a night­club just south of Cal­gary’s ver­tig­i­nous down­town, dur­ing day­light. It’s also the first time in a decade that I’ll be boxing. I trained for years at dif­fer­ent gyms, first in Van­cou­ver and then Cal­gary, in my early twen­ties. I was forced to hang up my gloves af­ter a snow­board­ing in­jury messed up my shoul­der. De­spite my forced re­tire­ment, when­ever I’m stressed or ex­cited, I still throw im­promptu liv­ing room shadow boxing ses­sions. Those thou­sands of punches I threw while train­ing some­how still bris­tle at the sur­face of my mus­cle mem­ory. Boxing made an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion, so I’m here to check out a mod­ern spin on the an­cient sport.

TUn­dr­card, one of three new bou­tique boxing stu­dios start­ing up in Cal­gary this fall, or­ga­nized this Satur­day morn­ing pop-up work­out to build hype for their grand open­ing in De­cem­ber. Three in­struc­tors on stage face the crowd, the ma­jor­ity of whom are clad in sports bras and tank tops. I tuck my­self into the back left cor­ner of the dance­floor with a sink­ing feel­ing that I’m in for a thinly dis­guised aer­o­bics class. The dee­jay drops the beat and a hun­dred strangers start jab­bing the air in uni­son.

Fol­low­ing on the heels of cycling, yoga, bal­let, row­ing and even surf­ing, boxing is the lat­est sport to be trans­mo­gri­fied into a group fit­ness model. What started in New York at gyms like Gotham and Aerospace has spread across the US and Europe with stu­dios like Rebel1 in Lon­don and The Bat­tling Club in Paris, and fi­nally hit Canada with clubs like Rum­ble, Un­dr­card and The Sweat Sci­ence in Cal­gary.

It’s no sur­prise that boxing is hav­ing a re­turn to form. Jamie Mc­cart­ney works for the Cana­dian Sports In­sti­tute as the strength and con­di­tion­ing coach for the Men’s Cana­dian World Alpine Ski Team and Na­tional Wa­ter Polo Team. He’s also the tech­ni­cal trainer at Un­dr­card and ar­chi­tect of their work­out. “Since the dawn of time, mil­i­tary have been us­ing com­bat­ive sports to de­velop over­all to­tal body strength,” says Mc­cart­ney, who learned to box through a mixed mar­tial arts back­ground that in­cludes kick­box­ing, judo, karate, and jiu-jitsu. “All of your mus­cles are ac­tive from head to toe and then you’re learn­ing how to co­or­di­nate move­ment and build­ing mo­tor-skills,” says Mc­cart­ney. Boxing builds over­all fit­ness: de­creased rest­ing heart rate, in­creased over­all heart stroke vol­ume, im­proved cir­cu­la­tion and a boost in cer­tain hor­mones, in­clud­ing testos­terone.

With sweat wick­ing off my el­bows and pool­ing on the hard­wood floor, we bust out one last com­bi­na­tion: a cho­rus of lefts, rights, crosses, and up­per­cuts. No doubt boxing purists would cringe, but I found the work­out ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Boxing is girded by a pow­er­ful metaphor: life as a fight. We can all imag­ine the heavy bag stand­ing in for some ad­ver­sary, whether that’s a per­son or an idea. Throw­ing punches — re­cruit­ing ev­ery ma­jor mus­cle group to de­liver max­i­mum power through clenched fists — is im­mensely cathar­tic. Even though you’ll never trade punches in a ring, bou­tique boxing’s im­mer­sive night­club at­mos­phere re­in­forces the sport’s metaphor­i­cal di­men­sion. A pal­pa­ble level of ca­ma­raderie had swept through Com­mon­wealth. I slap high fives with the guy to my right. “Did you feel that?” asks Alex Ghabguidi. “The group en­ergy is awe­some.” Ghabguidi plans on mak­ing boxing a weekly fix­ture in his work­out regime. Turns out he’s a world-class sprinter who won three gold medals at the Amer­i­cas Masters Games in Van­cou­ver in Au­gust and is train­ing for an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Daegu, South Korea this March. I never saw guys like him in my old boxing gyms, tucked away in the seedy parts of town. Which is prob­a­bly for the best: I think he prob­a­bly could’ve taken me.

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