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I was born a girly girl, 100 percent tomboy-free, and today I tap this trait as a beauty editor. Lathering up with the latest shampoos, spritzing on new perfumes, and applying the season's prettiest shades of lipstick are my job responsibilities.
Yet as my 30th birthday approached last year, I realized that all was not beautiful in my world: My True Religion jeans, which once made my tush look fab, were too tight in all the wrong places. I'd become sedentary -- likely to blow off my workout in favor of a blow-out. I had to get my butt moving.
So when a new gym called LA Boxing opened in my neighborhood, promising classes that would burn a boatload of calories, I impulsively signed up. I'd never so much as watched boxing on TV, much less thrown a punch, but, hey, how hard could it be?
I got my first clue when I walked into class on day one, past the sparring ring and the caged mixed-martial-arts area, where grapplers go at it. The room was wall-to-wall men, not another woman in sight. Swallowing hard, I sandwiched myself between the guys -- amid a sea of punching bags -- and gloved up. I got a few what's-she-doing-here? glances but shrugged them off. The gym had just opened, after all, so everyone there was a first-timer.The Workout
Our instructor, Hans, a pro fighter, had that tough-guy look you see on TV. (In fact, he doubles as a stuntman in movies.) He began calling out the warm-up -- a 15-minute series of jumping jacks, high knees, push-ups, planks, lunges (repeat!). Surprisingly, I actually kept up. Then came the tricky part: 30 minutes of punching combos -- jab, cross; jab, cross, hook; jab, cross, hook, uppercut -- mixed with more drills.
With sweat dripping down my forehead and back, I continually paused to catch my breath and skipped the jumping jacks to run in place. I wasn't alone, though. Most of the guys had beet-red faces, and I could hear them gasping for air or muttering a few choice words. All the while, Hans worked the room, making the occasional snide remark ("Don't waste this workout -- or my time!") as he corrected our form. An hour later, I had beaten my bag silly and sweated off all my makeup, and I felt as if I were going to keel over. But I was exhilarated. I couldn't wait for the second class. That is, until the next day. My ribs ached when I inhaled, and it hurt to raise my arm to put on mascara. I told myself that a little discomfort now was no match for the good things to come -- sleek arms and hips and a tighter butt.
Three days later, still feeling tender, I returned for another round. I caught the eyes of a few of the guys from the first class and gave them a heck-yeah-I'm-back grin. The music started blaring, and again we launched into a series of punching, push-ups, mountain climbers, and more. The next day, my knuckles were inflamed and my elbows were raw from all the shaking during those two-minute planks. I slathered on lotion and thought, Don't be a wimp.
Within a month, that hurts-so-good feeling became my greatest motivator. I discovered that pushing myself is a high. My aha moment came on a day I couldn't make it to boxing and instead went to my regular gym. After only five minutes on the treadmill, I grabbed a set of hand weights and did biceps curls to make my jog more challenging. I practically ran to boxing the next night in search of sweat and ruthlessness.
Today, six months into what's become my boxing addiction, this girly girl gets a charge out of being one of the boys. Working out next to a muscle-bound guy who could punch nonstop once made me question my abilities. But as my strength increased and I, too, could do it, my self-doubt faded. Plus, having an instructor who barks "Don't you dare quit on me" if you fall to your knees during a plank is the ultimate incentive: I simply refuse to wuss out.
In fact, all the right moves have earned me cred with the guys. One day after class, Mike, an instructor, asked if I'd ever been in a fight (um, no!). Danny, another instructor, has often said my form is "better than the men's." And once -- just once -- Hans said, "Those are some good hooks." It meant the world.
And then there are the street smarts I've gained. While the class isn't about self-defense, I walk alone at night with a lot more confidence -- even in four-inch heels. I credit the instructors, who instill the tactics they use in the ring: Block your face, never drop your hands, throw a hook tightly from your chest. These moves are instinctive, thanks to the constant correction -- a learning curve that's maybe quicker for women. "Because they're not encouraged to fight, women pick up proper form easily," says Rich Van Houten, owner of the gym. "Men, however, are often taught to throw punches incorrectly, which can be a hard habit to break."The Results
Six months of boxing has changed my body more than 10 years of my old gym routine. I achieved my initial goal, losing seven pounds, and officially retired those now too-big True Religions. And for the first time ever, I have sculpted arms and shoulders, killer definition in my back, etched abs, and toned legs. To me, that's more attractive than the beanpole look many women strive for.
Most of all, throwing punches has taught me that my body has capabilities I never dreamed of and that I can do anything if I just step out of my comfort zone and train to make my goal happen. Sitting in a room of my beauty-editor colleagues, I delight in being the only girl with a mean left hook -- and the red knuckles to prove it.
You can be a contender -- just suit up in these boxing essentials.The Outfit
1. Choose a high-impact sports bra like Moving Comfort's Alexis Printed bra for A/B cups ($36, movingcomfort.com).
2. Champion's buttery 02Cool Seamless Long Top, with light shelf bra, helps nix friction ($36, championusa.com).
3. Forget Rocky's sweats! Stay light on your feet in Danskin's Women's Crop Running Tight ($46, danskin.com).
4. Cross-trainers like the New Balance 1210 give side-to-side support as you shuffle ($120, newbalance.com for info).The Accessories
5. Wrangle your tresses with Goody's Resort Glamour Island Headband with StayPut Hold ($5.29, at Target stores).
6. Protect your knuckles from the heavy bag with Everlast's High Performance Hook & Loop Training Gloves ($29.99, everlast.com).
"I used to figure skate; then I tried ice hockey -- and I loved it! Today I play on a men's team in summer. Sharing the rink with the boys is great because you have to think faster to keep up."
-- Francesca Holzheimer, 27, Arlington, Virginia
"I began adventure racing as a way to be on the same team as my guy friends with whom I trained for triathlons. Little did I know we'd win Merrell's Oyster Urban Adventure Race in San Francisco three years in a row!"
-- Kathy Longaker, 37, San Francisco
"I grew up playing most every sport: soccer, softball, basketball. But football was always off-limits to girls. I love that I'm now in a football league with hundreds of other women."
-- Kelly Hamill, 28, Wall Township, New Jersey
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2009.