It’s time to throw the gloves on, as Maddy takes you through a journey of overcoming self-image; violence is never the answer, unless the question was asked by Craccum’s badass Features Editor.
During the lockdown, I expected to find solace in my home stuck days in the same way I had before; replaying sitcoms on Netflix and indulging in unlimited snacks. Unfortunately, I found that the extensive binge sessions were not offering their usual comfort. Sitting around gave my mind a little too much time to wander. Instead, I decided to pay some attention to my physical movement. Every day, I was taking long (government-mandated) walks, running, jumping rope and struggling through YouTube workout routines. At one point, somewhere in between days 25 and 30, I boldly decided to give my brother’s punching bag a couple of weak jabs, wearing gloves that were easily a couple of sizes too big for me.
Despite my best attempts, plagued by my brother’s condescending directions and chuckles, my boxing technique didn’t exactly improve before level 2 freedoms. Before lockdown, a close friend of mine had started some boxing classes in Parnell, dropping by after uni and work. She’d talked a couple of times about how good the sessions were, highlighting the fun in learning a new routine and blowing off steam after long days of early semester stress. Eager to capitalise on my reinvigorated fitness drive, I took advantage of the student discount, my bank account set to automatically forfeit $19 a week, and signed up to Boxing Alley. Enlisting the help of my newfound workout partner, we headed in for a beginners class late on a Monday night. It had been a few years since I’d entered a gym and I’d forgotten the initial nerves that ran through my stomach when I would walk into those sweaty rooms. People were swinging and jabbing at pads with impressive speed, fuelled by their muscle memory as they punched through seemingly complex combinations. My friend assured me that the beginners class was much less intimidating – thankfully, she was right. The friendly instructor took a small group of us through the stances, movements and punches, while mixing in some cardio to keep our heart rates up. With the trainer’s guidance and light sense of humour, the 45 minutes flew by. Though I woke up with extremely sore arms the next morning, I threw my hands above my head with Rocky-like determination, hungry for the incoming challenge.
As a kid, I was extremely active. Throughout my childhood and early teen years, I played numerous sports, mainly in team-based environments. I tried my hand at football, water polo, hockey, tennis, squash and cross country, enjoying some but miserably failing at others. Overall, I was a pretty fit kid and had a genuine enjoyment of sports. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sustain this towards the end of high school. As I spent more and more time on social media sites like Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram, I became increasingly aware of my physical appearance, and my relationship with exercise shifted significantly. Like many teenagers, intense insecurity became a part of my daily life. In an attempt to mitigate those feelings of shame and self-doubt, I started to partake in a series of unhealthy diets and became far more obsessive over the exercise I was doing. My interest in improving athletic skill was replaced by a compulsion to change my body. Exercise became less enjoyable, taking the form of punishment. If I felt like I had overeaten or had a deep plummet in my self-esteem, I would make myself exercise intensely. I withdrew some of my commitment from team sports, favouring hard cardio. Instead of feeling a relief of endorphins after a workout or excitement in my athletic abilities, I felt anxious and defeated. Like many people in their early twenties, I’ve had to address the negative mindset that plagued my relationship with my body, diet and exercise. While much of this work has been mental, this short period of boxing has also been a significant help in generating a more positive relationship with my body.
For me, skill-based exercises are so much more therapeutic than cardio and body-focused movements. Team sports and more specialised activities, like boxing, yoga, cycling and swimming, place focus on skill and movement, drawing my mind away from the more obsessive thoughts about weight and appearance. While I was in an unhealthy mental state, more mundane exercises, like running, gave my brain too much space to roam. I would picture my (unachievable) ideal body and recite harsh words about my appearance. While I box, my mind plays an important role, focusing on combos and the accuracy of my movements. Instead of wandering down a winding path of self-hate, my brain is exercising too. This type of exercise seems to quell my anxieties instead of fuelling them. Working out with a friend has also helped make training a more positive experience, as we always encourage each other throughout the challenging 45 minutes. The trainers at Boxing Alley are also very approachable and friendly, teasing and joking as they fix up your form and push you through the movements (they do love burpees a little too much though). Due to the high intensity of the workouts, boxing has also helped me in the long trek to recovering a healthy relationship with food. As I push through workouts, I’m increasingly aware of how food fuels my body and recognising the importance of nutrition. I used to guiltily swap out meals if I had eaten some unhealthy snacks and feel hyper aware of every morsel on my plate. Now, I’m excited to eat food that will push me through workouts and intensely plugged into the good that comes with feeding my (slowly growing) muscles.
I’d like to clarify that I’m not actually punching and fighting with people at the gym. All of my swings are aimed at pads or bags, with collaborative and encouraging exchanges coming from my gym buddies. Most of my pent up aggression is released on inanimate objects. The classes at Boxing Alley mix both cardio and strength work with boxing technique, so the routines are consistently new. Some aspects are familiar, with squats, push-ups and lunges frequently featured, while some are refreshing, with tyre flips, ball slams and skipping popping in for some rotations. Classes rarely feel repetitive, so if you find yourself bored with exercise, boxing will offer an exciting and challenging workout. It also allows you to feel accomplished, as you pick up new skills very quickly and get so much encouragement from everyone (including the very lovely receptionist). It may seem like an extremely intimidating sport, but boxing is super accessible. Before I started, I could barely convince my noodle arms to do one proper push up. Now, I can do a few more (maybe about 7), and have a whole new type of athletic skill that I’m excited to improve on. If exercise has become an enemy of yours, and you struggle to truly enjoy your body, then boxing might be for you.