I don’t care what Jon Snow says. My winter has already come and gone. In one 24-hour period.
Instead of White Walkers we got Snowzilla, which was just as terrifying. I’m over it. Summer is coming, and it can’t get here soon enough. Time to get serious about moving.
Not, like, to the next kingdom or anything. But actually moving our bodies.
First, though, a sidebar for all my well-meaning body-positive activists out there:
Please stand down.
This has nothing to do with getting skinny, achieving some ideal body type or conforming to societal standards of beauty and desirability. (Just ask Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Ashley Graham, seen here killing it at the gym in all her Size-16 curvaceousness.) This is about being able to walk outside your door and into a sunny day, full of promise, without feeling weak, sick or tired. While many of your public awareness campaigns do indeed inspire, understand that they cannot detract – or distract – from basic biological facts. The human body was designed to move, and the range of lifestyle diseases tied to inactivity has zero f’s to give about your selective outrage. Exercise is not a shaming tactic, elitist trend or neurotic fixation. That others with warped perspectives have chosen to co-opt it as such, changes nothing.
The data is in. And it’s conclusive. Exercise and movement are essential to preserving, building or reclaiming health. Period. Your body doesn’t care that you’re all up in your feelings about it. It will exact the same price for negligence either way.
Are we good? All on the same page? Great. Moving on.
Yes, I know it’s the end of February. I’m late. But this post is happening anyway. For there’s still plenty of “new” left in 2016 yet. And if you think about it, what seems late is actually right on time.
That’s because some of us who started off like gangbusters on January 1 have already started waning on the exercise front. (Not you, of course. Your program is tight. But the struggle is real for others, and this post is for them.) The “New Year, New You!” gym enrollment specials have long expired. Folks are settling back into routine. What started out as five workouts per week gradually slid down to three and then, by last week, a brisk walk. To the mailbox. We’re on the slippery slope, and we know it. But we tell ourselves there’s still time to rally.
It’s that dangerous tipping point between barely getting any exercise in, and giving up altogether.
I can’t let that happen on my blog watch.
That’s why I say now (and not last month) is the perfect time to refocus on fitness. And why not aim high? Success leaves clues, so it makes sense to look at how some of the world’s best trained athletes get that way, and then figure out together what we can use to get stronger in our own everyday lives.
As Adonis Creed (son of Apollo) in the latest Rocky franchise movie, Michael B. Jordan is a beast. His chiseled physique came thanks to this trainer-led regimen, designed to emulate if not exceed a boxer’s actual conditioning program.
This is the Cheesecake Factory menu of workout schedules. My heart rate rose just scrolling down the list of cardio, ab, upper body and plyometric exercises, but the kicker was when I got to what I thought was the end, only to catch this little footnote:
Every workout day ends with 3 hours of boxing. [heavy bag, speed bag, mitt work and jump rope.]
Oh. Is that all?
I have no way of knowing exactly what drew you to this post, or what your fitness goals are.
Maybe all you wanted was the green smoothie recipe, and you got lost on the way back to your search results.
Or maybe last week you found enough Cheetos crumbs in the sofa to bread a piece of tilapia, a reminder that your winter break was more Netflixing than gym flexing.
Or maybe you’re already working out semi-regularly, heard (correctly) that boxers are among the best conditioned athletes in the world, and want to pick up some new exercise tips.
Some of you may have even had some coaching in the past and can no longer get to fitness boxing, kickboxing or MMA classes, but still want to stay active on your own.
And now after reading the routine and watching the clip you’re pumped up, thinking some of Michael’s training action might be just the thing you need to get your workouts back on track.
Don’t be ridiculous.
Unless you’re already supremely conditioned, this regimen is way above your pay grade. It’s way above my pay grade. It will destroy the both of us. Not at first, of course. We’ll start off with a bang. But one day the following week, we’ll go to get out of bed, and nothing will move.
One step at a time, grasshopper. One step at a time.
The truth is, you can get a pretty decent at-home boxing workout if you know where to look, are already familiar with the basics of good technique – either through training at a fitness boxing gym, or with a personal boxing or MMA coach, or through tutorials – and set yourself up with just a few core pieces of equipment. I did it, and compared to other home gym set-ups that are reliant on high-end equipment, it’s nothing that will break the bank. Or your back.
These days I train mostly at my local Orange Theory Fitness gym which I LOVE (more on that in a future post), but I still keep my DIY fitness game strong because I believe in mixing things up and having a solid home workout program to fall back on. Always.
Because 30-foot-snow blizzards.
Tomorrow it might be something different, but today I rotate my DIY home boxing workouts between two programs (#1 and #2 below). Note: The third option (#3) I no longer do because while it was an effective workout, it got on my nerves. I included a review of it here for those who prefer traditional aerobics classes, but in my opinion it’s not a suitable option for serious students of Muay Thai-based kickboxing, or traditional boxing.
Michael Andreula: The Kickboxing Heavy Bag Workout. Billed as the “World’s Greatest Kickboxing Workout In Your Home.” And it’s true. For your DIY cross-training dollars, this is the best heavy bag workout you can buy. I searched long and hard to find something comparable to my old fitness boxing classes taught by (mixed) martial artists and professional boxing coaches, and Michael’s program outperformed them all. (The website was so basic I almost didn’t order it initially, fearing a scam. Turns out my fears were unfounded. This is the real deal.)
The video download set features two-full length workouts (50-60 mins), two shorter segments (8 minutes and 20 minutes, respectively), and a dedicated dynamic warmup routine (2 minutes) that can be combined with the latter two options for a total 30 minute circuit. Michael provides excellent cueing on form during the workouts, but there is also a dedicated 6-minute Basic Kickboxing Techniques segment at the end of one of the full-length videos, covering proper stance, punches and kicks. (There are also bonus .mp3 formats available, along with no-equipment adaptations.)
That said, I always default to my favorite, which is the 50-minute “Attack” workout. It’s a mix of Muay Thai kickboxing training with intense drills and resistance training. When the video starts, the first thing you notice is that this is a regularly-scheduled class at an actual gym with actual gym members…not some cheesy set with staged props and background exercisers. Also, there’s no heavy reliance on static stretching moves. I love that he uses a broad range of dynamic stretching and mobility training throughout, in sync with the most current findings and studies on high-performance training. (To learn why everything we were taught in gym class about stretching is wrong, check out this article.) Attack features a brief warmup, followed by various combinations interspersed with freestyle “attack” rounds, cross training exercises to include burpees, balance exercises and “Bag Up, Knees Up” weight resistance drills against the heavy bag, plus a dedicated cardio sprint drill (I improvise with a speed jump rope circuit, due to space constraints). The workout winds down with some ab exercises incorporating the heavy bag, and dynamic movement as a cool down. By the end you are positively drenched, but everything happened so fast you barely noticed the time go by. I never grow tired of Michael’s coaching style, which is a cross between an auctioneer and a boot camp drill sergeant. But always upbeat and motivating.
As if all that weren’t enough, Michael also has a top-selling .mp3 audio-only version of his training system titled The Complete Mobile Workout Series, available for download on iTunes:
It includes a variety of 12 mobile workouts of different durations (which you can combine), and also provides no-equipment adaptations, including the use of soup cans as hand weights for shadow boxing, if that’s all you’ve got. It covers everything from shadow boxing, boxing conditioning, heavy bag work, kickboxing, MMA, cross training, core conditioning and weight training. Great for training on the road, anytime, anywhere.
Either way, whether video or .mp3 workouts, your DIY training needs are met.
Boxing Yoga. An excellent conditioning companion to any fighter’s program, this is a perfect way to get the benefits of yoga, stretching and mobility training on your recovery days. I’m not going to get into a lot of detail here, because some friends and I already gave it a full review in my previous post titled: Boxing Yoga Blitz: 4 Yogis and a Black Belt review new UK-based workout video. You can read all about it there, plus pick up a special 15% discount code if you decide to order.
Addiction Fitness Heavy Bag Workout. I’m just going to be honest here. This is the Jane Fonda of the kickboxing DVD realm. If you’re a guy, or a woman who favors traditional martial arts and boxing, you’ll definitely want to skip this workout in favor of Michael Andreula. Addiction, while physically challenging and fast-paced, has a definite “pink” aesthetic and thus is more likely to appeal to women looking for more “cardio/aerobics” than actual kickboxing. (I’d classify it as kickboxing “lite.”)
This is for Zumba fans who want to take things up a notch. You can interpret that any way you want.
Pros: In terms of effectiveness, this will rival anything in the category of cardio aerobic classes. The pace is brutal and nonstop, and you will need a significant amount of endurance to power through it. Comes with five 55-minute (approx) workouts, one for each day of the week. Each day’s workout is split into two 22-minute parts (to work each side), plus a 10-minute cool down. Also included is a sixth instructional DVD. So you’re getting a complete workout system here, with different focal areas – upper body one day, lower body another, core yet another. There’s a decent balance of kickboxing moves with strength training and aerobics, and the on-screen cues help you remember what you’re supposed to be doing at all times.
Cons: The production quality is low budget. Cutbacks, apparently, included four walls and a ceiling, as the entire series was filmed on what looks to be an office building rooftop overlooking California smog and freeways. The music, a cross between club, techno and early-90’s-porn-soundtrack, is awful in an oddly hypnotic way, though it does succeed in keeping everybody in sync and on beat. While these things don’t actually impact the effectiveness of the workout, they can pose a distraction. The head trainer Merle Leonard yells out combinations as if she’s running a cheerleading camp, and her verbal cueing can sound unnatural and forced. People who hung out in clubs a lot in their twenties and who dig the whole “Rah-rah, team, let’s go!” vibe of a traditional instructor-led aerobics class, will love this workout. Others will find it laughable and annoying. (Sorry, but our continued friendship requires that I keep it real. Otherwise, where’s the trust?) The cool-down that comes with each workout is thorough, but the warm-up is nonexistent so you are on your own there. Please factor that in before you begin. Note: One thing I worry about here, is that the frenetic pace makes it too easy for beginners to become sloppy and start flailing all over the place trying to keep up, especially with jabs, crosses, etc. While there is a separate instructional DVD that covers form and technique, there is no cueing on form during the actual workout, so if you don’t already know what you’re doing, or have good muscle memory, you could potentially injure yourself.
Summary: I know it seems like I have a lot of issues with this workout. And I do. So why include it? you ask. Because it gets the job done. Annoyingly, yes. But it gets the job done. A P90X grad, I was ruined after the first Addiction workout. I mean, laid-out-on-the-floor-for-15-minutes-trying-to-catch-my-breath ruined. That’s why I initially overlooked all its flaws, because it met my criteria of being a punishing, calorie-scorching, full body workout that actually works. But after a while all those little nuances started to grate on my nerves, and the whole thing became too much. A lot of “Woo-hoo!!!” women love this type of workout, which is also why I guess the makers decided to slap pink all over it to remove all doubt, but it’s just not my style. So I went back to Michael Andreula’s workout. That said, I recognize that there is a definite audience for this type of cardio kickboxing format, and I can’t knock the fact that for them, Addiction is an excellent way to burn mega calories. A good rule of thumb is to check the review comments on Amazon. If they resonate with you, this might be the exercise program for you.
So those are the workouts. If none of these are your style, you can check out the Kettlebell Kickboxing workout I reviewed here, but that’s more kettlebell and Tabata-oriented than kickboxing, which is why I didn’t group it with these offerings. (Still, it’s an excellent program that I continue to keep in my overall DIY rotation, when I want to take a break from boxing.)
Let’s talk equipment for your home boxing gym.
YOU WILL NEED:
The equipment I use consists of nothing more than a muay thai bag hanging in my basement, boxing gloves with hand wraps, speed jump rope and a high-quality yoga mat (which does double duty as a stable foundation for jump rope drills). You can do pretty much everything else using just your body weight.
Why a muay thai bag over a traditional hanging bag? Because it doubles my workout options. I can perform low-to-high kicks as opposed to just straight boxing drills. A Muay Thai bag offers full upper and lower body cardio and weight resistance training, with a greater range of motion. Other types of bags include traditional (hanging) heavy bags, and freestanding training bags with a base that typically needs to be filled with sand or water to provide stability.
The key is to use what you have and modify where needed. When I tested the Addiction workout, I was able to use my regular Muay Thai bag for the bag portion and then switch to a plyometric box – or even a sturdy dining room chair or end table – for certain bodyweight drills where they were using the base of the freestanding bag as support. And if you don’t have access to a bag, or don’t want to buy one? Simply choose a no-equipment version of a boxing conditioning workout. As mentioned earlier, Michael Andreula has several audio cross training workouts that you can do on the road using no equipment at all, with just your phone or .mp3 player.
If you do opt to buy one, I recommend getting an industrial-grade bag from KO Fightgear, a bag manufacturer based in New Jersey. They make excellent bags which they ship direct to your door via UPS (up to 130lbs.) After learning they supplied to the military, law enforcement, fight schools and fitness centers, I ordered one several years ago, and you can see from the picture above that it shows no sign of wear despite years of use. I can’t say enough about the craftsmanship, durability and expert filling process.
In my case, because I upgraded to the top weight 150lb bag, which was too large for UPS to ship, the owners agreed to meet me halfway on the New Jersey Turnpike, then helped me load it in my SUV, after which I turned right around and headed back home to suburban Maryland. My father, who made the drive with me, did nothing but run his mouth the entire way back about how crazy I was. Are you serious?!? We drove all the way up the turnpike for a punching bag?
Yes, Dad. Yes, we did.
Listen. I knew what I wanted. The 150lb weight was what I’d grown accustomed to training with at my fitness boxing gym, and I wanted to maintain that same weight resistance and feel. It’s a purchase decision and road trip I’ve never regretted. Fast forward years later, and even my husband uses it now to do crunches and leg lifts by gripping the base of the bag while he’s on his back. Or traditional sit-ups with his feet anchored under the bag. We keep finding new ways to work it, so it’s an investment that continues paying for itself over time.
Safety Check: Make sure you consult with the bag vendor, a general contractor, a handyman or someone else knowledgeable about home construction before you attempt to install the heavy bag at home. It’s imperative that you make sure the bag is properly installed on strong support beams, otherwise structural damage can and will occur. And purchase a reliable bag hanger mechanism that can sustain regular use and bag swing. After trial and error with cheaper hangers (including the screw mechanism gradually becoming unwound and detaching from the hanger base not once but twice, resulting in the bag falling suddenly to the floor during use), I finally invested in this Ringside Wooden Beam T-Swivel Hanger coupled with the Ringside Heavy Duty Spring, and never experienced any further problems.
The second thing you’ll need is a good speed jump rope. Look for ones recommended by CrossFit folks, who use them heavily in their WODs (workout of the day) and are known to dissect a rope’s pros and cons with a level of detail normally associated with wine critics. I like the Master of Muscle Speed Jump Rope, which has earned almost 2000 near-perfect reviews on Amazon. (Who knew so many folks could get SO flipping excited over a jump rope?) It’s height-adjustable and super light. Looking at my carpeted basement floor, you might be wondering how I pull that off. My Manduka Black Mat Pro 71″ solves that problem for me. Not only does it provide excellent joint and wrist cushioning for my home yoga practice, but it is thick enough to provide a stable jumping surface right next to my hanging bag. On the carpet. It costs more, but it serves dual training purposes and is certainly cheaper than trying to lay down partial or full coverage foam gym flooring across your basement.
For bag work you’ll need protective gloves. My glove of choice for everyday boxing training is the Ringside IMF Super Bag Boxing Glove, but there are many good ones out there so just find one that fits well, is well-constructed and positively-reviewed, and which offers solid protection from impact. Under the gloves you’ll need protective hand wraps*, which you can find at any sporting goods store or on Amazon, like these high-rated Pro-Impact Mexican-style boxing hand wraps constructed with elastic. (*Check YouTube for scores of tutorials demonstrating how to properly wrap hands.) Alternatively, you can buy and use all-in-one gloves made especially for cardio kickboxing like this Harbinger 322 Bag Glove Women’s Wrist Wrap. These are similar to the type used by those in the Addiction workout video. Because I’m old school and paranoid about my aging wrists, I stick with my boxing gloves-and-wraps combo, just to be on the safe side.
Aside from that, a good pair of cross-training shoes designed specifically for hybrid workouts like my Ahnu YogaFlex, and my home boxing gear is pretty much complete, for a fraction of the cost of a high-end treadmill unit. And I didn’t even have to remodel my basement or garage to do it!
All that’s missing is Michael B. Jordan. Who can come hang out and train with me any day. (As long as he leaves that obnoxious training checklist of his at home.)