More women try their (gloved) hand at aerobic boxing

September 01, 1992|By New York Times News Service

New York -- "RIGHT!" barks Tony Canarozzi.

Kristen Connolly, 25, a researcher for the Wall Street firm Tudor Investments giggles and pushes her right arm toward her colleague, Stacy Beecher, 24. Ms. Connolly grins impishly, like a little girl on a playground trying to see just how far she can go. Her punch is tentative, soft, halting.

"Jab! Jab!" Mr. Canarozzi yells.

Ms. Connolly exhales into two quick left jabs. She purses her lips and breathes faster.

It's 6:45 p.m. at the Institute for Fitness, a tiny private gym at 76 Beaver St. in the Wall Street area where Mr. Canarozzi is the boxing coach. Four other pairs of professional women have also traded success-dress for cotton shorts and T-shirts. Their hands have been wrapped in strips of protective cotton, their flawless manicures tucked into red Everlast boxing gloves. They're suited up for the latest rage on the fitness frontier: aerobic boxing.

The trend doesn't appear to have hit Baltimore area gyms, however, where step- and aqua-aerobics remain the newest exercise innovations. Several health clubs, however, said they had read about aerobic boxing in industry publications and might consider it for the future.

Since the mid-1980s, when Ivy League-educated Wall Streeters started sliding into sweaty gyms to punch bags, jump rope and, eventually, face off in rings, A. J. Leibling's "sweet science" has been popping up more and more in the popular consciousness. There was Mickey Rourke, then "Diggstown." Last month, Allure magazine pictured the actress and model Carre Otis sparring in a gym. Dan Golomb, chairman of the Everlast Sports Manufacturing Co., noticed a sudden surge in the sale of small-size boxer shorts. ("The ones the women typically buy," he said.) Aerobics studios across the nation began offering boxing classes.

"Our clients wanted more than aerobic dance," said Nicole Chevance, manager of the Jeff Martin Studio on the Upper West Side. "The response to the first classes this summer was amazing. And it was all women."

A typical boxing workout begins with 15 minutes on the Stairmaster, followed by five 3-minute rounds of fast-paced jump rope. Next comes 10 minutes of punching, first a heavy bag, and then a smaller speed bag, followed by 15 minutes of drills in steps, ducks and punches. After that, the would-be boxer faces a partner holding "focus pads" -- cushions meant to absorb punches with 1,000-pound force -- and practices punching in 10 3-minute rounds. A 100 sit-ups and a 3-minute round of fast-paced shadow boxing end the session.

Lilly Rivera, a personal trainer at the private gym of a Wall Street investment firm who began boxing two months ago, estimates that the workout burns 600 to 800 calories, more than most aerobics classes that last as long, and offers more-rounded training. Besides upper- and lower-body development, she said, boxing teaches coordination, quick reflexes and agility.

The fascination of pugilism for women is already moving beyond the tidy, mirrored confines of aerobics studios. Women are beginning to enter the ring at Gleason's Gym, the Brooklyn boxing center where professionals train.

"There's been a tremendous increase in women, mostly the lawyer and MBA types," said Ira Becker, an owner of the gym. "But we trained Twyla Tharp and more actresses than I can name.

"Initially, they see the value in terms of fitness, but eventually it goes deeper. Eventually they want to spar."

When the first punches connect with the body of another, they make a thunk: a particular, determined, relentless sound; a scary sound that Norman Mailer once described as "a heavy ax in the distance chopping into a wet log."

For women learning to box, the ax-into-wet-log sound is just as shocking as that of Ibsen's Nora slamming the door. The sound of a woman landing a punch is the sound of a shattered taboo.

Mr. Canarozzi, a former middleweight who trains women at the Institute for Fitness as well as at Gleason's, protects his prodigies from the shock of the sound. After the first 30 minutes of his workouts, hearts are racing, endorphins surging. He barks orders for every exercise, every drill, assuming all responsibility for the initiation of violence and removing it from the conscience of his pupils.

"Duck to the right! Duck to the left! Jab, jab! Right! Duck to the right! Duck to the left! Left hook! Right! Right!"

Ms. Connolly's impish grin tightens. She bends, sways and slams into the focus pads that Ms. Beecher is holding. Each punch comes with the kind of gasping grunt that Gestalt therapists dream of. Her teeth are bared. She punches again and again. She punches until Mr. Canarozzi yells, "Stop!"She stops. She giggles. She swings her Breck girl ponytail and stares at her boxing gloves.

"Gee," she says.

Later, Ms. Connolly called boxing a stress reliever. "You're concentrating so much that nothing else matters," she said. "Afterward, I feel totally clear and calm."

Other women who have entered the ring agree.

"It takes intense concentration and precision, a combination of physical and psychic energy," said Wendy G. Finch, 33, a sales director for Chanel, who boxes three times a week at Gleason's. "When I leave here, I am clear, self-confident and peaceful."

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