If lockdown has left you with fists clenched in frustration, you might find relief in the growing trend for women’s boxing.
Middleweight boxer Lauren Price’s gold-medal win in the Tokyo Olympics last Sunday was the icing on the cake — and the stress of the past few years has seen a huge growth in women taking up boxing.
‘Any sort of frustration, irritation or distress can be punched out,’ says founder of Rathbone Boxing Club in Fitzrovia, London, Manya Klempner.
Demand means the 45-year-old is opening a sister club in Camden next month. And if you’ve ever felt like being in a proper fight, this is the place to come.
The inspiration for Rathbone came when Manya had a baby and took time out from her job as a banker.
‘I wanted to lose weight and get fit and started working out with a personal trainer who also happened to be a boxing coach,’ she says.
‘Before that, crown allied department I had no interest in the sport. But being accustomed to the aggressive and competitive vibe of the trading floor, I was galvanised when he held up his pad and said, ‘Hit me harder’.
She rapidly became hooked — ‘there is so much to learn, and you can always improve,’ she says.
Manya realised there wasn’t anywhere for a 40-year-old Marylebone mum to train. ‘Most boxing gyms are very spit-and-sawdust, as well as male-dominated, which can be a bit off-putting,’ she says. ‘There are plenty of boxercise classes, but it’s not proper boxing.’
So she launched pay-as-you-go Rathbone in 2019, which teaches boxing as the sport it is but also has steaming showers, fluffy towels and is open seven days a week. They cater for all ages, sizes and genders but have recently seen a rise in young professional women wanting to get fit and fight.
‘This isn’t just a men’s sport any more… ditch your assumptions,’ says Manya. ‘It’s not about being big and buff but lean and light on your feet. Unless you want to spar it’s a non-contact sport.’
Many women turn up and say they just want to do it for fitness, and start their training hitting bags.
‘Despite initial reluctance, many ultimately decide they do want to spar. Otherwise, it’s like taking tennis lessons without ever playing a match.’
Boxing also boosts mental health. ‘When you are busy working and have kids, your mind never shuts up. You may not be the sort of person who can focus on meditation but if someone throws a punch at you, you’re forced to concentrate,’ says Klempner, who calls it active mindfulness.
‘It’s like therapy and has an amazingly calming effect. Whether you’ve a PhD, are negotiating the summer holidays or own your own company, boxing is the best leveller. Everyone is welcome — everyone can benefit.
‘One client used to wear baggy T-shirts and is now comfortable sweating it out in a practical tight crop top — not so much because of weight loss but because of her increased body confidence.’
Policewoman and former national boxing champion Rachel Bower, 38, teaches a Monday-night class at Rathbone, mainly to women.
‘I think the women boxing here — and I am really generalising — tend to be professionals who feel empowered. They use it to escape the pressures of work and/or family, and enjoy having a focus, which can take their mind off bad days.’
Anika Chiaventone, a global operations manager, 35, joined in 2019.
‘There’s a misconception about boxing being for muscular men. I think it’s 80% mental and 20% physical. It’s humbling for the ego but my confidence has improved 100%. There are still sexist assumptions about the sport — people are always surprised when I say I box.’
For those concerned about injury, Manya points out that spars are technical and strictly monitored by a coach. ‘We match women by weight and level, and you have to wear a padded head guard, 16oz boxing gloves and a gum shield.’
‘Sparring is like mindfulness on speed,’ says marketing professional Rebecca Brennan, 45, who initially started because she wanted to try something different and then fell in love with it. ‘If you don’t focus you get hit in the face.’
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