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Kick & Punch / December 2019
Kristen Geil, Reebok Contributor

I Trained Like a Pro Boxer for a Week—Here’s What Happened

Pound for pound, professional boxers are some of the fittest athletes on the planet. Ever wonder how they get that way? It’s even harder than you’d think.

It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m using a boxing glove to hold a business card against the side of my face while a fleet-footed, super-fit boxer gently punches in my direction. My mission: to keep the slim piece of stock glued to my cheek, not letting it drop to the floor under any circumstances. My trainer tells me it’s good practice for not letting my guard down and making myself vulnerable to an opponent. Mostly, I’m worried the card’s ink is going to rub off on my sweat-slicked skin. 
 
Record scratch, freeze frame: You might be wondering whether I’m training to become a pro boxer. The answer is no, but sort of. After a year of taking group classes at TITLE Boxing Club and a few months of mitt work, I wanted to up the ante a little. Professional boxers are incredibly fit and ridiculously quick—how do they train to get that way? And could I follow their routine for a week? 
 
To find out, I enlisted Courtney Belcastro, a veteran trainer at TITLE, to build a program that would push me to the max, perfect my technique and maybe make me a little less terrified of getting hit. Schedule in hand, I got down to work. Here’s what happened.
 

Day One: Cardio Conditioning + Defensive Mitt Work + Heavy Bag Class

My head is spinning when I see what’s in store today. I’m supposed to run for 30 minutes before even putting on a boxing glove? And chase that with an hour-long class? I am nervous about what I’ve gotten myself into (and how many sports bras I am going to run through before laundry day).
 
Conditioning turns out to be a big focus of the week. Boxing rounds may only be three minutes, but they are like full-on sprints: heart rate up, blood pumping, no chance to catch your breath. You better be fit or you just might slip the wrong way and get nailed with a body shot. 
 
 
After running, my trainer starts our defense session by asking to see my fighting stance. I assume what I think is a credible fighting pose. “Oh, I can fix that right away,” he says, as I look down at my leggings and wonder how it’s possible that I don’t know how to stand correctly. It’s going to be a long week.
 

Day Two: Technique Mitt Work + Strength Training 

 
After sleeping harder than I can remember in a long time, I arrive at the gym the next morning feeling surprisingly good. I begin my 15-minute jump rope warm-up. Props to the pros: Although I once mastered this skill as a fifth-grader, as an adult I struggle to jump for just one full minute. 
 
Today’s session focuses on technique, making sure my jab and cross use max power without over-throwing my punches. “Do less” becomes the mantra as I focus on punching straight out instead of winding my arm up like I’m throwing a baseball.
 
In the afternoon, another trainer and I practice footwork between strength-training sets. “Wherever your feet are in the ring, they should be positioned so that you can drop down into a low squat,” he tells me. Light bulb moment—that’s the fighting pose from yesterday! Lesson one, check.
 

Day Three: Cardio Conditioning + Defensive Mitt Work

 
It’s speed intervals on the treadmill today, reinforcing my belief that a minute on this machine is most definitely five times longer than a regular one. In defense class, I learn how to take a body shot (crunching into the hit and blocking my organs with my forearms) and, less successfully, how to not flinch every time a punch comes my way. Turns out, keeping your eyes open is key in professional boxing. Laugh if you want, but it’s easier said than done. 
 

Day Four: Conditioning-Focused Mitt Work + Lower-Body Strength Training

Belcastro takes the reins for my most intense workout yet. With the clock set for eight rounds of three minutes, we move around the ring in a blur, Belcastro calling out combinations that my brain doesn’t fully process. Between rounds, I do “active recovery”: sprints, burpees, squat jumps and more plyometric movements. We top it off with a finisher on the Assault bike and med ball slams, which leave me panting on the ground for a solid 10 minutes.
 
Mercifully, the lower-body workout later that day looks fairly easy, but after an accidental couch nap at 5 PM, there is no way I am leaving the house again, especially not to go to a gym.
 
 
No big deal, Belcastro reassures me. “It’s okay to adjust the volume of the workouts as the week goes on—that’s what we’d do with a real fighter,” she says. Pro boxers prioritize recovery to maximize fitness gains. How refreshing.
 
With that in mind, I head to bed early.
 

Day Five: Strength Training + Recovery

Fittingly, the next day on my plan calls for more recovery—after an hour-long strength training session, of course. Recovery equals yoga, stretching, cryotherapy or visiting an infrared sauna—“anything that feels good,” my schedule says. I go with the infrared sauna visit, because, I mean, what else?
 

Day Six: Heavy Bag Class + Mitt Work

 
After five days of boxing intensives, my footwork and fighting stance are much improved, and it feels second-nature to keep my gloves glued to my cheekbones when I’m not hitting. During our mitt work session, Belcastro comments that my hits are sharper and that I am chasing her around the ring and backing her into corners, instead of the other way around. I am finally feeling like a fighter.
 
 BoxingGlove

Day Seven: Defensive Mitt Work + Technique Mitt Work

 
The finish line is in sight. In my final defense session, my trainer pulls out—of all things—a foam noodle, like the ones you see in swimming pools, that he proceeds to try and hit me with as I slip, roll and counter-punch my way through the session. 
 
Everything I’ve learned this week comes together during my last mitt work session: longer combinations, more complicated moves and stronger crosses that use the power of my entire body. I even score a hit so hard that my trainer’s mitt flies off, a personal victory even if it only happened because I messed up the combination with a punch he wasn’t expecting. 
 

That’s a Wrap!

 
So, what did I learn this week? Ironically, I learned that sleep matters. Between training, a full-time job and teaching group fitness on the side, I found myself exhausted during the day and crashing harder than ever at night. Recovery is a crucial part of training.
 
Also, repetition is everything. Perfecting the jab so that it goes straight out and back without extra effort and bouncing from side-to-side so you’re never caught flat-footed—the only way to get better at these things is doing them over and over again. 
 
And lastly, cardio conditioning is king. You’ll never last eight rounds in the ring without it. 
 
After a week of boxing boot camp, am I ready to sign up for my first fight? Absolutely not. But the next time someone tries to hit me with a pool noodle, they’re in for a big surprise.
 

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Kick & Punch / December 2019
Kristen Geil, Reebok Contributor