Women’s boxing: how to get started
When Hilary Swank punched her way on to the big screen in 2004 in Million Dollar Baby, boxing lost its masculine image. Now, inspired by female boxers at Rio such as Nicola Adams, many more of us are discovering the joy of women’s boxing.
The sport was first showcased at the 1904 Olympic Games in St Louis, USA, where women boxed with no protective kit, in long-sleeved blouses and baggy trousers tucked into socks. But its debut was short-lived as the sport was soon banned for being too dangerous and unladylike.
Dogged ever since by this attitude, eradicating stereotypes is an uphill struggle. ‘Many people don’t like the idea of women’s boxing because they don’t want to see them get hurt,’ says Rebecca Gibson, head of development at the Amateur Boxing Association of England (www.abae.co.uk).
The ban on women’s boxing in the UK was finally lifted in 1996 when the ABAE upheld medical opinion that women were in no more danger from boxing than men. Women’s boxing has gained a boost from recent government investment in the sport and the move to allow women to compete at the 2012 Olympics.
What to expect from women’s boxing
In amateur boxing you score points by landing blows on your opponent in the scoring areas, which are behind the ear (on the headguard) and the chest area, above the belt. ‘You are awarded points for each punch by a panel of ringside judges and there are four two-minute rounds as opposed to 12 two-minute rounds in professional boxing when fighting for a title,’ explains Gibson. A few women do compete professionally (there are now 16 licensed female professional boxers in the UK), but it’s considered more dangerous than amateur boxing as headguards aren’t worn.
Training sessions at boxing clubs can be mixed or women-only. ‘The session will introduce a boxing technique, such as how to land blows properly,’ explains Marianne Marston, women’s boxing trainer at London’s Rooney’s Gym. Then you do three-minute rounds in the ring, practising with bags and pads. ‘We encourage people to practise simulated sparring, where they try to tap their partner on the shoulder or tread on their toes – it gets them moving and is great for co-ordination,’ says Marston.
Next up is a conditioning session. ‘This includes high-intensity cardiovascular work, like skipping, strength training with weights and core exercises such as push-ups, then stretching. It’s similar to how a boxer would train.’ No punches are thrown, but women who show talent are encouraged to take the sport up competitively. ‘I’ll suggest it if I think she is capable of it,’ says Marston.
Boxing training is an intense workout, as Marston explains: ‘You’ll burn off around 800 calories an hour. It’s a mix of exercises.’ And learning to punch properly will utilise all your upper body muscles. ‘A punch isn’t just thrown by the arm, proper technique requires it to be a whole body movement,’ she says. ‘Each session targets different parts of the body.’
Many women are attracted to the idea of boxing training because it’s a real tension reliever. ‘I think women secretly enjoy punching out their aggression and daily stresses. It works as a good pressure valve,’ says amateur boxer Lucy O’Connor, 31, who boxes for the Royal Navy Boxing Association (www.rnboxing.org.uk) and is a member of the 2012 Olympic squad.
If you’re put off by thinking boxing is a man’s sport, think again. ‘Coaches are very positive about teaching women because they pick up the skills very quickly,’ says Gibson. Acceptance of women’s boxing is growing rapidly, but often it’s ignorance that holds it back. ‘Negative opinions about boxing tend to come from people who know nothing about it. One of the most satisfying things for me is seeing people change their opinion once they’ve seen female boxing,’ explains O’Connor.
If you’re worried about boxer’s nose or a fat lip, be reassured as the risk is lessened by protective head gear. ‘There’s risk in any sport,’ says O’Connor. ‘I’ve had more facial injuries from hockey than boxing. And if you’re cut in a fight, the referee is likely to stop it to prevent any further damage.’
A ringside doctor is present at all times. ‘All boxers undergo medicals when they box, and they wear gloves, mouth guards, a tuck-under groin guard and chest guards,’ explains Gibson.
The British Medical Association has vociferously opposed boxing, for both men and women, because it believes there is risk of long-term brain damage. However, a study published in the British Medical Journal argues that this isn’t the case in amateur boxing as bouts don’t last long and headguards are worn.
Itching to get your gloves on? Visit the ABAE website (www.abae.co.uk) for details on joining one of their affiliated amateur boxing clubs. Other clubs like London’s Rooney’s Gym (www.rooneysgym.com) also offer a number of boxing lessons for women.