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In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a chronically anxious person. In fact, I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. But, even if you are fortunate enough to not have anxiety as your unwelcome “friend” that comes knocking most days, you’ve likely encountered it as an occasional unwanted visitor. Between financial stress, relationship challenges, job changes, health scares, or simply the unknown, there are countless reasons why our anxiety levels might spike. I seem to find all those reasons and more, and thus, I feel like anxiety is my little shadow following me everywhere I go. I’ve tried meditating, tapping, yoga, breathwork, and walking, and while each of these have helped at least somewhat, I have yet to find a potent, reliable, anti-anxiety elixir.
When I saw an ad pop up for FightCamp, an at-home boxing workout, something about the woman pounding away at the sleek, white bag spoke to me. I immediately envisioned myself pummeling out my nervous energy, anxiety, and tension while getting in a great workout. Plus, exercise is often cited as an effective way to manage anxiety. But, before I could talk myself into shelling out the financial commitment for the full FightCamp experience, I decided to talk to a few experts about boxing for exercise and if boxing workouts can help quell anxiety.
So, keep reading for expert input on the benefits of boxing, what to expect from boxing workouts, and whether boxing is an effective way to reduce anxiety.
Meet the Expert
The Benefits of Boxing on Mental Health
Boxing is a killer full-body workout, toning the arms and legs, strengthening the core and improving balance, cardiovascular fitness, agility, and speed. Like other forms of exercise, it also produces endorphins, which are the feel-good, mood-boosting chemicals that make us feel happier and decrease pain. Boxing has unique benefits as well. “I think all exercise is beneficial for your mental health if done correctly, but boxing has that special ability to instantly relieve stress,” says Purpuri. “There’s nothing quite like punching a bag and really letting go, and it also allows you to pick up a skill and feel positive about acquiring knowledge and technique.” This builds self-efficacy, which in turn can improve your self-esteem, confidence, and pride. So, not only does boxing help you break down and blast away stress and frustrations, offloading the negatives, but it also helps you build up your confidence and belief in yourself, adding positives.
Can Boxing Help Ease Anxiety?
Research has demonstrated that shadow boxing (boxing with an imaginary opponent) can effectively reduce anxiety and depression. “Any pent up feelings of anxiety or emotion have a very direct way of being released [through boxing]. Picturing that person at work who doubted you, that dream job you may have missed (for now!)—the everyday anxieties you may face can be envisioned and punched away,” says Purpuri. “It’s great for letting off some steam.”
Wolch agrees that boxing builds mental toughness and diffuses anxiety. “Boxing can be empowering and relieve anxiety by pushing you to your physical and mental limits,” he says. “It can humble you in a way no other sport can because of the physical punishment and pain involved.” Though this might sound intimidating, the payoff may be worth it. “It can show you what you’re truly made of when your back is against the wall and you have the choice to either quit or press on. Once you make that decision to press on, there’s not much else in life that can scare you,” explains Wolch.
Is Boxing Suitable For Anyone?
The good news is that fitness boxing should be safe and appropriate for most people as long as you listen to your body, take it at your own pace, and get some training on proper technique and form. Doing so can help prevent injuries and ensure you reap maximal benefits from the workout. Purpuri says that regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, you can get started with boxing. “Everyone should do it—as long as you’re not injured for participating in a dangerous manner,” she notes.
What Is a Boxing Class Like?
FightCamp has a huge library of over 600 on-demand workouts to suit your fitness level, desired workout length, skill, and goals. You can sort them by length, number of rounds, level, target number of punches, and instructor. The instructors are all former professional boxers, and they not only bring the know-how, but the energy, motivation, and guidance as well. Different workouts have different focuses and goals, such as lower body, speed development, pure punching, or combo buildup. Most of the workouts incorporate calisthenics or bodyweight strengthening exercises like pushups, planks, squats, jumping jacks, and jumping rope, so you’re hitting both cardio and strength components during the workout. The app keeps track of the number of punches you’ve thrown during the workout, and each workout has a target number to hit. If you’ve ever taken a SoulCycle class, you might be familiar with the famed (or dreaded?) leaderboard. FightCamp has an in-app leaderboard so you can fire yourself up with virtual competition and see how you stack up as your fitness improves.
The bulk of the workouts are made up of a certain number of “rounds”—usually four, eight, or ten. These are blocks or certain punch combinations, and you follow along to copy the sequence. Numbers fly up on your screen and you perform the corresponding punches. For example, 1 is a jab, 2 is the cross, 3 is the lead hook, 4 is the rear hook, 5 is the lead uppercut, and 6 is the rear uppercut. It takes a few times to really learn the numbers and punches, and to be able to follow along, but the app goes at your pace, and there are plenty of beginner workouts and tutorials. There are also kicks and dedicated kickboxing workouts.
Whether you do FightCamp, another at-home boxing workout program, or in-person classes, most boxing workouts combine similar elements—you’ll do both boxing-specific drills and technique work, as well as strengthening and conditioning exercises for your general fitness. Since it’s hard for me to muster the discipline and motivation to do core exercises, push-ups, and jump rope, I love that they are sneakily incorporated into the workouts. The gamification aspect of the experience makes the time fly by, too. Because I’m competitive by nature, I like being able to track my stats, see my progress, and vie against other at-home boxers.
I’ve really enjoyed boxing so far. I’m by no means the next Ronda Rousey—at least not yet. But, I find myself looking forward to my workouts, which is about as good as it gets for exercise, and far more valuable in practical terms. Boxing as a means to control my anxiety has charted a somewhat surprising path. In all honesty, when I first started, I think it increased my anxiety. It’s challenging to learn a new skill and since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I found myself getting flustered trying to get the punches right and keep up with the flashing numbers. Because I wanted to improve every time, I noticed myself getting stressed before I started each workout, anxious to see how well I was going to perform (you can see how badly I needed an anxiety cure!).
It’s not that often that we start from square one with a brand new skill in our adult lives, so naturally, we should give ourselves grace during the learning period. But, that sort of leniency and understanding isn’t my natural MO. I did my best though, and after a few workouts, not only did the pre-workout anxiety go away, but also the moderate level I always carry dipped significantly during and after boxing. Pounding away at the punching bag really did release pent up angst, tension, and nerves. Now that I’m a couple months in, I look forward to my daily dose of anxiety relief as much as watching my stats trend upward and my strength and fitness improve.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the boxing workouts are working for me, both physically and for my anxiety. I’m what I’d call a “doer,” or an active type of person, so boxing feels like a more natural fit as a self-care tool for my anxiety than something calmer and sedentary like meditating. I would definitely give boxing classes a try if you’re a fellow anxious person, or just happen to be dealing with an unaccustomed bout of anxiety or stress. My only piece of advice would be to be more patient with yourself as you learn the ropes than I was.
Shop Boxing Essentials
Whatever sort of route you take for your boxing workouts—FightCamp or otherwise—there are a few products that will make your experience a bit more comfortable. And let’s face it, new stuff is always fun.
If you're new to boxing, these shoes may look a little funny—but that's kind of the point. Boxing shoes are quite different than running shoes or your average sneaker. They are lightweight to help you float like a butterfly, and designed to provide greater balance, stability, and support for directional changes than running shoes.
The FightCamp package comes with boxing gloves. Otherwise, you’ll definitely want your own.
These shorts allow you to move without restriction, kick to your heart’s content, and won’t ride up even if you sweat a lot. Plus, it’s always nice to have pockets.
Boxing wraps are crucial to protect and support your hands inside your boxing gloves.
Zheng Y, Zhou Y, Lai Q. (2015). Effects of Twenty-four Move Shadow Boxing Combined with psychosomatic relaxation on Depression and Anxiety in Patients with Type-2 Diabetes. Psychiatr Danub. Jun;27(2):174-9.