Self-defense and a great workout? Yes! Boxing is undoubtedly an effective workout. It combines intense cardio with explosive strength and power and, if we’re being honest, it’s pretty aggressive. It’s a workout based on the principles of fighting. Boxing can be pretty intimidating.
But it doesn’t have to be! There are so many reasons to work boxing into your fitness routine, or if you’re brand-new to working out, even more reasons to start here. Boxing offers many benefits for the body—from improved physical performance to weight maintenance—and for the mind, including improved focus and stress reduction.
Read on for all the great things you can expect from putting on some wraps and getting sweaty on a punching bag.
What is boxing?
Boxing is a fast-moving, hand-to-hand combat sport that was first formally documented in the late 1600s, though humans may have been fighting other humans since the dawn of the species.
It differs from sports like wrestling or karate in that contact with your opponent can be made only with the hands (in most cases, hands sheathed in boxing gloves) or, if you’re kickboxing, the hands and legs. It features different types of punches and kicks in coordinated sequences that train the body to move quickly and forcefully.
Boxing workouts can take many forms, depending on the gym or type of class. In a class setting, there may or may not be sparring, where you’re paired “in combat” with another participant; most likely, you will be working with punching bags, standing kickboxing bags or pads, which a partner will hold and you will hit. Although you don’t take down your opponent—or your fake punching bag opponent—with your entire body, the sport relies on every muscle for balance, endurance and agility. You’re moving a lot and exerting a lot of force with every movement.
Who is boxing good for?
Boxing can be a great workout option for people of varying fitness levels. It does require a fair bit of endurance to get through, but many instructors are happy to adapt the pace and pair people of similar levels together when possible so everyone gets the most out of their time.
“Boxing is incredible for people at all levels of fitness. If your goal is to build lean muscle mass or lose weight, boxing can help with that,” Tommy Duquette, former USA National Boxing champion and co-founder of Hykso, told us. “It’s even being used across the U.S. today to help slow the progression of tremors and counter other negative symptoms for Parkinson’s patients.”
If you’re already fit and regularly active, or play another sport at any level, boxing can be a helpful complement.
So, that’s everyone from fitness newbies to gym rats to athletes to Parkinsons’ patients. Boxing is an all-around great option across the board.
Does punching a bag build muscle?
Yes, punching a bag does build muscle. Punching a bag during a boxing workout will work your upper body muscles, your core and will help you build upper body muscle.
Physical benefits of boxing
“Combat sports are without question the most physically demanding of all the sports,” Duquette says. “A recent study published by ESPN confirms this: It put together a panel of doctors and sports scientists who looked at 60 of the most popular sports in the world and ranked boxing a far and away the most physically demanding.”
Think of it this way: When you box or participate in a workout inspired by boxing, you’re firing up the connections in your brain and body that you would be using if you were in a fight, for real. This means your body accesses the intensity and the resources it needs as if it were trying to survive… which is about as intense as it gets.
This means your cardiovascular system has to work extra hard to pump lots of blood and oxygen through your entire body, strengthening its endurance and capacity for hard work. (Hello, easier to walk up the stairs!)
Plus, the moves performed in a boxing workout are generally compound. That means you’re working several large muscle groups at the same time to execute a sequence of “attacks.” (Think jab-cross-jab-uppercut-roundhouse kick—there’s a lot going on!) You have to engage your abs, back, glutes, legs and arms, not to mention all of the muscles supporting your joints to move quickly while staying upright and exerting force. This builds muscular strength and stability and improves balance and agility, all things that keep the body in fighting shape (get it?) for day-to-day movements and tasks. This makes you less prone to injury.
Plus, as Duquette mentioned, boxing weight classes build muscle and can melt excess fat away, both of which can increase your metabolism and keep your weight in its happiest place.
Boxing is definitely not a calm, quiet workout, but the benefits for the brain can be found in the intensity. It requires a lot of focus and concentration to hit a target, especially when you’re asking to do so for extended periods of time. Mental stamina is just as important as the physical, and practicing this over time improves your ability to do so in class and outside the gym.
“Boxing gyms offer an incredible way to get out all of that aggression and frustration that life throws your way,” Duquette says. We could all use a little of that! It’s a great stress reliever and can help move pent-up tension from your body through your limbs into a bag. That energy transfer is very valuable.
Plus, he adds, “it’s also an excellent way to increase hand-eye coordination and motor movement.”
From kickboxing to traditional sparring classes, ClassPass’ platform hosts a ton of studios that can help you get your sweat on. Each one offers a full-body experience that is sure to leave breathless, drenched and oh-so-calm (goodbye, commuter rage!)
While many offer boxing wraps and gloves to borrow or rent, definitely check in advance to see if there’s any gear you need to bring from home.
If you’re still a little intimidated by the idea of a sparring class, check out a kickboxing-inspired class to get a feel for the moves along with athletic conditioning like push-ups, sprints and burpees.
If you’re dying to try sparring, consider taking a friend along. That way, the fist coming at the pads you’re holding (or at your face) will be a familiar one.