Few things are as cathartic and satisfying as strapping on your boxing gloves and hitting a heavy bag with all your strength. And even better: With every jab, cross, hook, and uppercut in a boxing workout, you’re pushing your physical and mental strength to new limits.
“As Rocky said, ‘It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep on going,'” says Noah Neiman, the co-founder of Rumble Boxing. And while you won’t get sucker-punched during your average boxing group fitness class, any type of boxing workout will build resiliency and physical results, says Neiman.
“Whether it’s lifting weights, running or jumping rope, hitting the heavy bag, or shadowboxing, the boxing training methodology [improves]strength, agility, cardiovascular response, and dexterity,” he explains.
Convinced you should make boxing workouts a part of your fitnessroutine? Here, learn the benefits of boxing and tips for boxing beginners so you can find your inner fighter.
What Is Boxing? Plus, the Main Types of Boxing
Boxing is a combat sport between two people, both wearing protective gloves. In a match, boxers aim to strategically land punches on each other and avoid getting hit for the duration of the bout.
The good news is that your introduction to boxing doesn't have to be quite so intense. In fact, boxing is now a popular fitness activity, with studios dedicated to specific varieties such as shadowboxing, heavy bag boxing, mitt work, and more. There are several types of boxing you can try when you're looking for a beginner boxing workout.
Instead of facing a real opponent or a heavy bag, a shadowboxing workout entails facing your own reflection — or your “shadow,” hence the name — to practice combinations of punches, footwork, and more. Because shadowboxing doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere, it’s an accessible entry point to beginner boxers, notes Gideon Akande, an NASM-certified personal trainer and three-time Chicago Golden Gloves champion.
Plus, shadowboxing is ideal for practicing technique, he adds. “Oftentimes when you put a target in front of somebody — such as a heavy bag or a person — they forget about their form,” explains Akande. “They’re distracted by their target. Shadowboxing allows you to slow things down, focus on form, own your technique, and visualize.” (ICYMI, Peloton has finally expanded into boxing.)
Heavy Bag Boxing
Heavy bag boxing is what you'll see in most boxing group fitness classes, and you'll have to wear hand wraps and boxing gloves to participate. The heavy bags can help you develop cardio conditioning, punch power, and proper punch placement, says Neiman. Plus, hitting the heavy bags gives you more of a strength workout, since the equipment weighs between 70 and 150 pounds and provides plenty of resistance to work against, adds Akande.
Not to mention, you feel strong as hell after a heavy bag session. "It's incredibly cathartic to ball up your fist and wail it against something," says Neiman. "It's like a stress ball, but more badass."
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Mitt Work or Sparring
In mitt work, your coach or partner will hold mitts or pads (think: baseball gloves, with extra cushioning around the palms) while calling out certain combinations of punches and moving around the ring to simulate a boxing match. Sparring is the next step: You'll spar with an opponent, which means you'll both try to land punches and defend yourselves — but without going full force so no one gets hurt. Sparing is not a full-on boxing match.
"The right type of sparring is an invaluable tool to test your skills and identify weaknesses," adds Neiman. "Sparring doesn't mean you stand toe to toe trying to take your opponent's head off. Sparring, especially for those just starting out, is the application of the skill set you build up training."
The Benefits of Boxing
Intrigued by the different forms of boxing you can add to your routine? Luckily, no matter which type of boxing workout you try, you’re going to get some major health benefits. Learn more about the benefits of boxing from the experts.
Develops Core Strength
Boxing is one of the best core workouts you can do, says Akande. “A lot of people don’t realize how much your core is utilized,” he says. “That’s because of the rotation that generates the power in your punches. It’s all shoulders twisting and turning, and the core is what causes that motion to occur.” Think about it: Every time you throw a punch, your torso (from your shoulders to your hips) twists dynamically to support your punch’s power. Creating that rotation takes a ton of core strength — and your abs will feel it afterward, including your rectus abdominis, your transverse abdominis, and your obliques, adds Akande.
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Strengthens the Upper Body
No surprises here — boxing is a killer upper-body workout. "Your arm is a lever," explains Akande. "The further you extend that arm, the more weight it takes on from the lever's focal point at the shoulder." And when you're throwing jabs and crosses non-stop, you'll be extending your arm long over and over again — which exhausts the muscles.
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In between punches, you'll also hold your arms up in a "guard" position (fists clenched, guarding your cheeks, and elbows tucked down in a straight line under your wrists). Maintaining that position requires engagement in your biceps, triceps, and back as well, notes Akande.
Finally, don’t forget your posterior chain — more specifically, your back muscles, including your lats. “When you throw your punches out, you have to pull them back in,” explains Akande. “Those small back muscles that don’t often get a lot of love, respond by getting sore very quickly until you develop that resilience and endurance.”
Improves Coordination, Rhythm, and Timing
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" — sound familiar? When professional boxer Muhammad Ali used this turn of phrase, he was tapping into boxing's reputation as a graceful, almost ballet-like sport.
“Boxing is known as ‘The Sweet Science,'” shares Akande. “It’s not just brute force and sheer strength. The movements are very flowy and move from one side to the next.” As a workout that requires nimble footwork, agility, and hand-eye coordination, taking a boxing class is a surefire way to improve your mind-body connection.
Combines Cardio and Strength
Workouts don't get more comprehensive than boxing. It's not only a total-body workout — challenging your upper body, your core, and your lower body — but boxing also combines both cardio and strength to really pack a punch.
“Primarily, your boxing workout is going to work your cardiovascular system,” says Akande. For example, many beginner boxing workouts are formatted in “rounds” of three minutes of boxing and one minute of active recovery — with little true recovery throughout the class. However, you will get strength work from punching against the resistance of a heavy bag or a mitt. (Heads up: While shadowboxing offers less resistance, since it’s a bodyweight workout, you can add a strength component by holding 1 to 3-pound hand weights during your boxing session.)
Relieves Stress and Improves Mindfulness
When you're in the zone, hitting your cross-hook-cross combo with precision and power, your brain is single-handedly focused on one task — and that's a good thing. "You can't really think about too many other things while you're boxing," points out Akande. "It automatically shuts off what may have been distracting you at work, at home, or in the world. You're focused on the moment and what you're doing, where your feet are, and where your upper body is."
Plus, there’s a reason people joke about heading to a boxing workout after a stressful AF day. “It’s very cathartic,” acknowledges Akande. “[In boxing,] you have the opportunity to safely throw all of your weight, power, and energy into a bag with little repercussion. It allows you to get some stress out and to do so safely, while also getting the exercise benefits.” (And don’t forget, any type of regular exercise can protect you from the negative effects of stress and reduce symptoms of depression.)
The Basic Boxing Punches
When you show up to your beginner boxing workout, your instructor will likely talk you through the basic boxing punches and your boxer’s stance (TL;DR: feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and staggered with your non-dominant foot in front). Here, Akande and Neiman share their best tips for each boxing punch so you’re ready to hit the bag running.
The Best Boxing Workouts
While there are plenty of studios to get your heavy bag fix, you can also take on beginner boxing workouts at home with minimal or no equipment. Try these boxing workouts to find your inner fighter and feel like the badass you are while improving cardiovascular conditioning, upper body strength, and core stability: