Work out like a boxer

By Marylene Vestergom

Doing the same old fitness regime can be boring, but did you know your body actually craves variety? Over time, doing the same old thing becomes less effective, and the repetitive nature can contribute to overuse injuries. To push through those plateaus, it’s important to shock the body and get different muscles activated, and there is no better way than to introduce a new activity.

Boxercise anyone? At Toronto’s Centre Ring, former Canadian Boxing Champion Wayne Bourque, along with his stable of trainers, take their members through a series of workouts that impacts their fitness level — physically and mentally.

“All physical activity is great,” says Toronto’s Greg Wells, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Toronto and author of Superbodies, “and so anything you can do to move your body is ideal. Considering that 85 per cent of the population doesn’t get enough physical activity to prevent a chronic disease, I think boxercise can be beneficial.”“I’ve been going to Centre Ring off and on for a long time.,” says David Innis. “Personally, I just feel great that I can keep up with the workout, which is reaffirming for me at my age, 65, that I can still do it. I can even show up some of the younger members, which is great for my ego. Besides, I always feel energized and positive when I’ve done a class. For the past 10 or 12 years, I’ve been dealing with Type 2 diabetes, and I find I need an intensive workout to keep that under control; because I don’t want to have to take medication, that’s the easy route. For me, it’s about staying away from the pharmaceutical industry for a long as I can.”

At Centre Ring, the classes are open to everyone: all fitness levels and ages, men and women. And although as a newbie you might feel intimidated, you’ll find the trainers are eager to help you and members are not shy to offer tips. But don’t worry, boxercise is non-contact. The only thing you will be hitting will be a 120-pound heavy bag that will tone your muscles and help relieve stress.

“The reason why I love this type of exercise is that it combines a number of different types of activities all into one,” says Wells. “Boxercise is a great cardio workout, as it elevates your heart rate and keeps it elevated for a long time; so it serves as an aerobic training and cardiovascular conditioning. And also because you’re moving quickly, you’re trying to be as explosive as you possibly can. So you’re working not just your cardiovascular fitness but you’re improving your strength at the same time. Cardio training causes the release of a molecule called AMP Kinase, which extends your lifespan. Strength or resistance exercise activates a molecule called mTOR, which may extend your health span: the length of time you can live without a getting chronic illness. So the combination of those two factors is tremendously beneficial.

The third aspect of boxing that I love, which is similar to any racquet sport, is that you’re interacting with your environment. So when you’re boxing, you’re dodging and ducking around the heavy bag. So anytime you’re interacting with the environment, your brain is getting all sorts of stimulation, which is great from preventing age-related cognitive decline. So that would be the X-factor for boxercise; your cognitive ability will be training at the same time as your physical abilities.”

What can you expect:

A good boxercise program offers a full-body workout, says Bourque. “It is classified as a HIIT workout (high intensity, interval training).  “The key is to go at your own pace; you will improve with time and practice. In a few weeks you will begin to notice changes, especially when it comes to your arms and shoulders. I have someone in her 80s taking one of the classes, and she finds the workouts a great way to keep fit and start her day.”

“We will teach you the various punches – from the jab, hook and combination,” says Bourque. “You’ll also do some old-fashioned skipping, abdominal exercises, and we’ll also work on strengthening your arms and legs. And just for fun, we might throw in a few burpees, push-ups and/or rock climbers for good measure. But because it’s a circuit, your body will experience a total body workout similar to how boxers train. I like to call it ‘Tough Love.’”

“The workout is great and everyone is very helpful,” says 66 year-young Ruth Henry. “As there are different trainers, each has their unique style; so as you get better you can try their classes, it’s never repetitive. One thing for sure, an hour spent at Centre Ring is all you need.”

For Bourque, Centre Ring is a place where everyone gets respect. Over the years, he has seen first-hand how his classes have made a difference. “There is no question members are more toned and fit, but what’s even more revealing is how people leave the class. They’ve just experienced an hour of ‘Tough Love’ and they’re walking out the door taller and more confident.”

The secret behind Centre Ring is the program Bourque developed and the trainers who help deliver it. They make the classes fun and if you put in the work, you will get results.

This past year, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, Indigo published a book called The World Needs More Canada. Bourque was selected and featured in the book, as one of the “cultural makers of our land, who inspire us, challenge us and reflect who we are for all the world to see.”

That’s one reason why tough love not only describes Centre Ring but Wayne Bourque.