SMC's Boxing For Fitness: Hit it up to Feel Good

Though it may be the fantasy of shiny outfits and slobbery mouth guards, the ‘clang clang!' of each round, or the glossy red gloves that initially draws students to SMC's Boxing for Fitness, once there, many find a surprising path for personal growth—and not just in the biceps.

Under fluorescent lights and the soft glow of clear-story windows, dozens of students get ready for KIN PE 17. Full-length mirrors reflect a wide array of bodies clad in colorful workout gear amidst a backdrop of punching bags and an energetic coach ready for action. To help prevent injury, students wrap their hands to protect the thumb, wrist, bones, and tendons during a vigorous class.

As a former professional beach volleyball player, instructor Elizabeth Chavez is no stranger to athletics. "Physical strength goes hand in hand with confidence," she says.  Chavez is a huge advocate for physical fitness, and believes body knowledge and physical strength to be undervalued in the context of academic culture. "Tell me what class I took that was easy?" she asks, as she rattles off a list of requisites for her Master's degree in Kinesthesiology ranging from physics to biomechanics.

With a retention rate in the ninetieth percentile, this is Chavez's favorite class to teach. "It is a lot of fun," she says, "and everybody loves it." From a glance around the room of sweaty students glowing with endorphins, it is easy to tell that this is true. "At least four students come up to me at the end of each semester," says Chavez, "telling me how good, strong and confident they feel as a result of the class".

Focused students punch, kick and whack to a soundtrack of super hits as Chavez stops to guide and encourage them. Though she grants the class is aggressive, Chavez makes sure to clarify that it is not about violence. "If you're in here to kick butt," she says, "that's not the goal".  Highly energetic herself, Chavez urges the class to push their limits during a set of lunges, taunting, "I'll be 80 running circles around your sorry bottoms!"

Though most students are drawn to the class for the workout, there is a wide array of alternate reasons—and benefits—for why many find themselves battling padding nearly three hours a week.

Mechanical Engineering student Dalal Al Rowaished, 22, wanted a change from reading and math, and finds the class "Amazing!" Brazilian native Donna Grey says boxing helps "Get my angers out", when yoga just doesn't cut it. Theatre Arts major Kei Murayama, 20, who has "Never hit anything in my life", seeks to improve her acting by developing her physical awareness. When asked how it feels to be punching and kicking, Murayama replies with exhilaration: "Catharsis!"

New York native and political science student Spaine Grey, 25, talks about the benefits of boxing beyond the classroom. For Grey, working thoughts and aggression out through boxing lets him "be more patient in everyday society."

Though Chavez does not see two female boxing coaches (herself and Coach Lydia Strong of the Lady Corsairs basketball team) as that relevant in today's crossover sports world, she does believe the women who have come before in the sports world help those who remain hesitant.

Broadcast journalism student Jasmine Henderson, 22, sees boxing as "another thing to empower women," not only because "stereotypes are being broken" by the numbers participating, but that "women benefit from learning it not just for fitness, but for confidence." Biology student Marissa Carranza, 19, affirms: "It is a real confidence booster seeing yourself get stronger and punch harder."

"For me," says psychology student Erin Stallworth, "this class is the determining point for different levels in my life." Stallworth has been running miles (as part of the training regime) despite her asthma condition, and cites overcoming this hurdle as grounds for further achievement. "When I face other challenges, I remember that I accomplished this" she states, "and I can get over so much more that seemed so hard or impossible.

The message of inner confidence runs strong throughout the class. During the final cool-down Chavez encourages students to feel proud of their improvement, saying, "Remember to give yourselves credit, because nobody else out there will tell you you're doing something that great." Always jovial in her earnestness, she adds, "but don't let it go to your heads!"

At first thought, one would not necessarily associate a Boxing for Fitness class with personal empowerment. Yet the body is smart (though the brain usually gets all the credit) and one of the most tangible ways we can feel ourselves grow. By exercising, we are rewarded not only with the confidence of getting stronger, but also with a healthy dose of positive reinforcement in the form of endorphins. "Any person who gets a work out," states Chavez, "they feel better. You can check the statistics all you want, but let's be honest here."