Zella in Your Corner: 3 Basic Boxing Drills to Know Before You Get in the Ring
This October, Zella observes 10 years in the activewear industry. To get into the celebratory swing of things, the Nordstrom-exclusive brand is honoring the occasion with a special capsule collection dedicated to a burgeoning sport with some serious fighting spirit: women’s boxing.
While female competitors have been throwing punches since at least the 18th century, boxing has been largely considered a macho, male-dominated sport for most of its history. Even today, physical aggression is seen as a man’s specialty, despite female fighting phenoms like Claressa Shields and Cecilia Braekhus making regular ESPN headlines. But the world of women’s boxing is only ramping up—and we’re hoping this new collection inspires a few more million-dollar babies out there.
For one, it delivers a full-body workout that tones almost every muscle and incinerates up to 900 calories an hour. (That’s twice as many calories as your average foray on the elliptical machine.) Boxing’s inherently short bursts of extreme cardio are proven to burn more fat than a steady-going cardio session and continue to burn calories post-workout. It’s also incredibly empowering and fun. When you’re punching bags and lifting weights in fast and furious drills, your endorphins are cranked to 11. You’re building strength, honing hand-eye coordination and learning practical self-defense skills. You’re firing on all cylinders, pummeling the day’s stresses away.
Not into human combat? No problem! In fact, most boxing students never step into the ring. Some don’t even spar (when two people practice fighting against each other). It’s a choose-your-own-intensity sport where you control the level of involvement. What matters is you’re getting your heart rate up, working muscles head to toe and managing stress in a healthy way.
To get you started, we’ve asked two Seattle boxing trainers to show us some basic boxing drills you can do at home or at your local gym using weights for strength and a bag for resistance. Many fitness gyms have at least one punching bag hanging around, but you can always get one for home (an intro bag-and-gloves kit starts around $100 at most sporting-goods stores). Or you can stick to the squats and weights until you’re ready to visit your local boxing gym.
If you’re nervous about being the only woman in the boxing gym, don’t be. You might be surprised by how many fierce ladies we saw at a recent class at Seattle Boxing Gym, which is where we shot our how-to videos with the help of our amazing guest trainers, Kellsie Pence and Zasha Sepulveda.
Squats are great for promoting overall mobility and balance, while strengthening your leg muscles (especially your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves). But they also encourage lots of core abdominal activity, and the addition of punching keeps your arms in the game—so you’re getting the most out of these short cardio workouts. Kellsie recommends doing these two drills in 30-second intervals for at least two reps each.
Want strong, sculpted arms fast? Grab some hand weights (1 lb. for beginners, 2 lb. for intermediate and 3 lb. for advanced), assume the boxing stance you learned in the above Uppercut Squats, and get those arms punching, bobbing and curling. After you’ve done a full round of these three 30-second moves, you can repeat the drill or return to the Continuous 1-2s to finish up a full two minutes. Then start all over again.
Heavy-bag drills are the bread and butter of boxer training. They’re obviously a great way to practice your power punches, jabs and hooks, but they also offer resistance, which is key to building muscle strength and improving balance. Plus, you get the deep satisfaction of punching something! After you’ve completed the three 30-second moves, repeat the drill all over again to feel the burn. Remember, always punch wearing proper boxing gloves.
We met Kellsie and Zasha over the summer at the Seattle Boxing Gym, where they each teach group classes and offer private training lessons. Currently seniors at the University of Washington, these hardcore trainer ladies discovered the rewards (and demands) of the sport as members of the highly exclusive UW Boxing Club.
Nordstrom: How long have you been boxing and what prompted you to start up the sport?
Kellsie: I’ve been boxing for about five years. By the time I reached my sophomore year I was really struggling mentally and needed some kind of physical challenge to keep me going, which is when I saw that UW had a boxing team. I thought, what could be harder than boxing? The tryouts were brutal and made you challenge yourself mentally as well as physically, but making it onto that team made it all worth it. I fell in love with the sport. I threw myself into it and never looked back.
Zasha: I started boxing my freshman year of college. I tried boxing briefly my junior year of high school, [and] I really enjoyed it. I also knew that the UW team would be very hard to get on and I love challenges. Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d stick with it this long but three years later, I still consider it my best impulsive decision ever.
Can you describe how many hours you train during a typical week? What’s an average workout look like?
K: During the off-season, I train usually five to six times a week for maintenance and because I love it. But during a fight camp, I usually do two-a-days with a run in the morning, plus weights and bag work or mitt work in the evening. A typical workout is usually a set of sprints, some kind of weights either for explosive power or muscle building, and then some bag work.
Z: Once the boxing season officially starts, I train about three hours [a day] Monday through Saturday—so approximately 18 to 24 hours a week. Before practice, I’ll usually run three to four miles. After I run I’ll do a 20-minute ab workout. And on certain days, I’ll add some leg lifts as well. Then I go to practice and do boxing drills for two more hours.
What’s the most difficult aspect of being a female boxer?
K: The most difficult part, at least in Seattle, is the lack of competition, especially now that I’m off the UW team [due to a maximum four-year term on the team]. When I was on the team I had this easily accessible group of fighters at other colleges (granted, I would often fight the same person a few times, but I was still getting fights). Now it’s hard to find sparring partners as well as opponents. I’m going to have to start traveling for fights, which will be fun but time- and money-consuming.
Z: I often lose my femininity, especially among males. They have a tendency to think that because I like such a rough sport, that I’m a brash female. I am not. I like the color pink and getting my nails done before fights. I hate getting dirty and being in the mud. I just also really like boxing. So sometimes I have to remind people that although I am a boxer, I’m also a lady.
What’s the most exciting aspect of being a female boxer?
K: The most exciting part is being able to beat people up! Especially because I don’t look like a competitive fighter. It’s always funny to surprise people with what I do—that I actually compete.
Z: You definitely gain awe and respect from virtually everyone who knows you’re a boxer. I always get the same comment: “Oh man, I better not mess with you! You could beat me up.” Yes. Yes, I could.
Do you see the future of boxing opening up to more women? And do you consider yourself a mentor for younger students who might want to box more competitively?
K: I already see it growing and opening more to women—as evidenced by the new Zella line! It’s so exciting to see younger girls getting into the sport and growing up to be amazing athletes. I’m a little jealous, I wish I would have started earlier. But it’s great to see how much it’s growing because the discipline and the values you see being perpetuated by the sport are wonderful things. The boxing community is truly a family no matter where you are. You occasionally still see the old-school sexist coach, but those [types] are easily avoided and the ones that value and respect female fighters far outnumber them.
Z: In the three short years I’ve done boxing, I’ve seen a rise of female boxers in not only the collegiate ranks, but amateur and pro ranks as well. I can only imagine where it will be in the next five years. I do see myself as a mentor. I know the training process, the preparation before a fight, and the emotions before and after a fight. I know how it feels to win, but I also know how it feels to lose. To guide individuals through the same path I’ve gone down gives me great joy because I know how much boxing has done for me, and I can only imagine what it can do for them.
What’s the first Zella item you’re going to buy from Zella’s boxing capsule collection?
K: The first thing I’m going to buy will be the shorts because they are super cute and look like the shorts we wear to fight in—but waayyy cuter.
Z: Definitely the shorts. Not only are they cute and accentuate the waist very well, but they’re so comfortable.