From a distance, boxing looks like the least Covid-compliant exercise possible: a contact sport with more sweat than you ever dreamed and a presumably concomitant amount of heavy breathing. But look again: there’s not much actual contact in a boxing class. It’s you against the bag, and the bags have been socially distanced since before the term was invented.
So, for my first live-action aerobic class in more than a year, I found myself in Kobox, a boxing gym in London. Perhaps I was overexcited to even be there, but I was dazzled from the start. The receptionist was on furlough from performing in The Phantom Of The Opera. Everyone in the class was built like a model, and possessed of a seriousness of purpose that made me think they’d been told to attend as part of their induction into the SAS. Aidan, the instructor, had a PhD in the legal definition of art. They were the kind of people who made you wish David Bowie was still alive, so he could write a song about them. If you weren’t wishing that already, which of course you were.
Everyone has their own formula for how much harder they work under an instructor than when they’re doing their own workout, or one online: mine is live = online + ∞ (yes, I did Google how to type the symbol for infinity, thanks for noticing).
The class followed a classic HIIT (high-intensity interval training) formula, divided into four-minute blocks: four on the bag; four of floor work; one minute resting in between. The floor work was burpees, mountain climbs, bicycles, a lot of Emom (every minute, on the minute), which is basically a ruse to get you to do hard things faster than you want to. Fortunately, it was dark, so nobody could see me getting slower and slower, until every minute, on the 45 seconds, I was sitting the rest out. It has a disco feel – thanks to the extreme darkness and rad southern rap soundtrack – so that all I could see were my trainers, which was fine as they were by far the most aesthetic thing about me.
Bags were a different story. If you’ve ever done any boxing, you’ll know the basics – one and two are fast, straight jabs with alternate hands; three and four are hooks, semi-rounded side-punches; five and six are uppercuts. A projector beamed routines on to the wall, and everyone went for it. You could feel the pent-up rage thumping into the bags. “What have all these beautiful young people got to be so angry about?” I wondered. “They should try being perimenopausal and losing a minor dispute with Europcar.”
I felt as strong as an ox and as fast as a gazelle. My bag wasn’t moving at all, however hard I punched it, and I didn’t care. Aidan, in between motivational yelling, was dancing about, which absolutely, positively met the legal definition of art, as far as I was concerned. My heart rate went so high I should scientifically have died. Sometimes, to backflip Joni Mitchell, you don’t know what you miss till it’s back.
What I learned
Boxing is a known endorphin sport, due to the combination of the cardio intensity and naked aggression. I was on a high for about a day and a half.