Samantha Whitaker tries a new boutique boxing gym that really packs a punch in the fitness arena
Boxers are renowned as being among the fittest athletes. But if I’m totally honest, I’ve always found the sport too aggressive to really enjoy watching – let alone try it myself. So Total Boxer’s slogan – ‘get fit, not hit’ – sounded like it might be a good compromise.
I’m not going to lie, though: when I entered the small, North London gym, populated with leather punch bags and posters of boxing greats, I felt a little intimidated. But then Matt Garcia, founder and CEO, came jogging down from his upstairs office with a huge smile on his face and a labrador at his heels, and my shoulders dropped an inch. ‘You’re bound to be a bit nervous but you shouldn’t be,’ he said. ‘Almost everyone that trains here hadn’t done any boxing previously.’
As Matt strapped up my hands, greeting people by name as they arrived, my shoulders dropped a little more. The class was small, half were women, and everyone smiled or said hi when they realised it was my first time. During the warm up – rope-skipping or shadowboxing (sparring with an imaginary opponent) – Matt taught me the basic boxing technique, leaving me to practice on my own but quickly correcting me when my technique slipped. Fitness & Skills is a circuit class and, after a quick stretch, we went straight into three-minute bursts of punching bags, shadowboxing or sit ups, to loud, pumping music. Matt pulled each of us out in turn for one-on-one pad work in the centre – but it wasn’t embarrassing, as everyone trained with steady, blinkered focus.
As a sport, boxing demands aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and flexibility. The Fitness & Skills class is open to everyone and develops real boxing skills alongside fitness training. Total Boxer also offers FightReady, a 90-minute advanced session, which is a bit more technical and includes touch-sparring. Then there’s BoxingYoga, a revolutionary new yoga workout that directly targets the areas needed by athletes in the fighting arts, as well as bespoke personal training programmes and Corporate Box, which brings the Fitness & Skills class to the workplace.
Matt is just as passionate about the business as he is about boxing. ‘There’s no more effective training for body and mind than boxing fitness,’ he says. ‘It has everything: it’s challenging, fun and incredibly fulfilling as real boxing skills take shape and develop.’ Matt’s personal training business and experience as an ABA boxing coach means that he has trained all levels, from absolute beginners to competition fighters, so establishing Total Boxer seemed like an obvious thing to do.
At the moment, the gym is hidden – tucked between a post office and Konk recording studios opposite Hornsey train station – but it won’t be for long. Matt’s already scouting for a bigger venue locally, but the plan is for two or three venues, and then a franchise. He’s also in talks with decision-makers at leading gyms who are keen to feature BoxingYoga on their timetables. But there’s no hurry: ‘I’ve been building and selling businesses since I was 22, so there’s no real pressure other than my ambition to deliver on quality,’ says Matt. ‘It needs to be communal and unintimidating. Real boxing training but without the ego. Financially, I’m not trying to hit numbers. I’d much rather it was a slow, organic process,’ he adds.
The size of the venue means that class sizes are small – around 10 people – and the class I did was sold out. Total Boxer has an online booking system, which makes it easy for members to schedule their classes and shows Matt how attendance is steadily growing. ‘Some people who train here are now getting involved in the business – helping me write newsletters and blog entries,’ he says. ‘In return, I let them train for free – but I almost had to fight for that as their love for the club is so much that they were prepared to do it for free.’
As we stretched at the end, I felt equally pumped up and chilled out. Our glowing faces and the steamed-up mirrors were testament to our exertion. ‘I treat every session as if it’s the last one,’ says Matt. ‘I make sure that it’s executed professionally, that people enjoy it and get a good work out. But that’s a very natural thing because I just enjoy it so much.’
To find out more, visit www.totalboxer.com.