The holidays are over, and I'm forced to get back to reality—and back in shape. After a couple of weeks of celebrations and plenty of sweet potato pie, I needed to kick my cardio up a notch to burn off the effects of too many holiday treats. However, I didn't want to spend a bunch of hours pounding away on a treadmill or swishing my legs on the elliptical. Thankfully, an unexpected friend came to the rescue—Groupon.
The message in my inbox offered five kickboxing classes for a reasonable price. I was intrigued. I'd never tried kickboxing before. I hoped to enter this unknown territory with a friend, but everyone I asked either said they weren't available or looked at me as if I'd asked them to sign up to fight in the Peloponnesian War. I went alone.
Although I had never kickboxed before, I have been to a few boxing and mixed martial arts gyms, and they all smell the same—like sweat. At fight gyms, the message is clear: You're there to work. I walked in, showed my Groupon voucher to the staff, and signed an extensive series of waivers stating that I would not blame the gym if I got hurt, wussed out, or couldn't handle the workout.
The class started with an light jog around the small space. At that point, I was thinking, "this couldn't be so tough—I'm a professional athlete, and we're just running laps." Easy enough. Next was a core workout consisting of crunches, bicycle kicks and planks. But there was a twist. In this class, you compete with a partner. So if you want to be the best, you have to outwork the person with whom you're paired.
After a torturous 10 minutes of abdominals, it was on to the meat and cheese of the class. Sensei Alex was our instructor, and he had a really good rhythm to the class. We spent the next 20 minutes boxing and kicking to a beat. This is when I started to realize this was no ordinary workout. Maybe it was just the metaphorical holiday hangover, or maybe it was just the street meat I inhaled on the train to the gym, but the session started feeling tough in a hurry.
All of the kicking was a new experience for me. I'm used to playing sports with my hands. So although the boxing was easy, the kicking made me feel like a fish out of water.
By far the toughest part of the class was working with the bag. Throwing punches and kicks in the air gets tough; it gets even tougher when something is on the receiving end. Your body responds differently. You put more effort into it and the sensation is jarring. Even with Alex's emphasis on proper technique (incorrect form is how people get hurt), it still felt hard.
Then there's the competition. My partner was a woman who'd been attending the classes on a regular basis for a few months and had already lost 25 pounds. At first glance, she didn't look like one of the toughest people in the room, but believe me, she was. She pushed me throughout the workout, making me work harder and harder to keep up.
The most difficult exercise she pushed me through was a series of kicks to the bag where the goal was to strike as many times as possible within 30 seconds. As the drill wore on, I started to slow down, but my partner wasn't having any of it. She challenged me not only to finish the drill, but to pound out as many reps as possible before time expired.
To be honest, I really needed that. Her encouragement was similar to the pressure that coaches put on players during practice and games. It felt like the type of push I get from my teammates or coaches every day during the basketball season.
Another thing I really liked about the class was its emphasis on discipline. In kickboxing, you have to pay strict attention to what you're doing, otherwise you can get injured. A woman who lost her focus from fatigue wound up using the wrong technique and broke a toe. Knowing the risk involved, the class was like a forced meditation, requiring you to place all of your attention on the task at hand.
Sensei Alex showed me how to kick if I have to defend myseld. So watch out folks, because I learned techniques for taking down a full-grown man pretty quickly.
I've already attended all five of my Groupon classes, but I'm ready for more in the months ahead. The class is tough, which is another reason why I like it. Every time you finish something tough, you feel accomplished and stronger. By the end of this month, I might feel tough enough to want to go an actual round against someone. But probably not against that partner of mine (she's really tough!).
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