- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

It's easy to tell when Holly Giarraputo misses a boxing lesson. "My co-workers say I'm a lot more calm after I box," the 29-year-old political lobbyist says.
Ms. Giarraputo's experience offers one example of the stress-relieving properties inherent in the sport known by its admirers as the "sweet science."
Not all practicing pugilists want to step into a boxing ring, though.
Many, like Ms. Giarraputo, choose not to spar actually step into a ring and trade blows with an opponent. They use the sport's demanding regimen as a way to unwind from the frenzy of urban living while whipping their bodies into shape.
Local boxing students can pick up some skills at their health clubs, some of which offer classes involving punching drills. Or they can get boxing lessons at Downtown Boxing Club on F Street NW or Too Fierce Boxing on Colorado Avenue NW.
Those who trade blows in the ring do so with oversize gloves and headgear to minimize the chance of injury.
Ms. Giarraputo began boxing at the Downtown Boxing Club two years when a friend introduced her to the spartan gym.
"Once you come a couple of times, it's addicting," says Ms. Giarraputo, who tries to box about three times a week, schedule permitting. "I didn't come here to learn how to beat people up. It's an amazing workout from head to toe," she says.
She doesn't spar, at least not yet. She does get in the ring, though, to pummel gym owner Dave White.
Mr. White absorbs her blows with boxing mitts and body padding. He doesn't hit back. He doesn't have to hit back for her to get a good workout.
"You don't think that three minutes in a ring is hard, but it's exhausting," she says.
The club smells like a typical gym. Members aren't treated to a series of gleaming treadmills or television sets to distract them from their sweaty chores. No cranked-up boombox can be heard above the grunting sounds of the students.
Mr. White keeps it that way for a reason.
"Nobody agrees on the music in a gym, so we have no music," he says. "You can't be distracted while you're doing this," he adds of the lessons.
• • •
Mr. White's students engage in the types of exercises made familiar by Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" they shadow box, jump rope, pound the heavy bag and do push-ups and sit-ups.
Mr. White, a former amateur boxer himself, says a small group of students choose to spar. A few of them dream of amateur boxing careers. Most simply have an affinity for the discipline boxing demands.
"There's something about getting in the ring and doing this demanding, kind of risky sport, and doing it properly, that appeals to people. It's the hardest sport there is," the barrel-chested owner says.
He admits the class isn't for those half-heartedly attempting to get fit.
"I don't recommend it for those just starting out [on an exercise program]," he says. "It's not easy." Then he adds, "It's probably fun, but not anybody can do it."
The best students, he says, have been doing cardiovascular workouts over an extended period or play rigorous sports such as soccer.
Monthly memberships at the club range from $75 to $100, depending on the time of day a pupil wants to come.
The club features a simulation boxing ring, but not every student is comfortable with actually sparring at first. "When they see the progress they make, they're more comfortable with the idea," Mr. White says.
Brandon Daniels, a 19-year-old waiter from the District, credits his boxing work for packing muscle onto his lean frame.
"It's not just static muscle. That's not really helpful. It's almost like explosive force. It builds force for everyday use," Mr. Daniels says.
Mr. Daniels, who also lifts weights, says a boxing workout does much more for one's physique than traditional exercises. He recalls watching a fellow student shed more than 20 pounds during only a couple of months through intensive boxing training.
"The fluidity of motion is much higher [with boxing]. You really train your muscle groups," he says. "You're constantly in motion. You have to learn how to train your breath."
• • •
Students at Too Fierce Boxing need look no further than the owner's chiseled physique and belt for inspiration.
Lisa "Too Fierce" Foster sits atop the world as women's boxing's Junior Featherweight champion.
"I've always been in pretty good shape," says the 34-year-old Miss Foster, who ran track in high school but she wasn't in boxing shape.
"There's a difference," she says flatly. Boxing demands a higher degree of cardiovascular fitness, better-developed abdominal muscles to absorb body blows and strong arms to deliver knockout punches.
To get there, she increased her running schedule, began extensive abdominal exercises, performed traditional calisthenics and skipped her fair share of rope.
"You step it up every couple of months. You get to the point where your muscles are actually breathing," says Miss Foster, whose picture in the gym hangs next to a framed shot of Muhammad Ali hovering over an overmatched Sonny Liston.
Some turn to her gym as a place to spar, while others choose her personal training sessions. The latter run from $50 to $75 a month, while the former can run $65 a month for unlimited visits.
"I teach them how to punch correctly," she says. "The key to the sport is technique. [With it] you'll get the results you want."
Her students find boxing is a perfect way to release the frustrations of the working week, she says.
One woman, who works at the Pentagon, lets her accumulated tensions out on the heavy bag, Miss Foster says. "She'll say, 'Lisa, I need you today'" Miss Foster says. "Then she'd wear that bag out."
For safety's sake, students entering the ring are fitted with 10-ounce regulation headgear. It won't prevent a black eye if a blow lands just right, but it offers a measure of protection.
Men use either 14- or 16-ounce gloves, depending on their size. The heavier the gloves, the more protection they offer. Female students spar with 12- to 14-ounce gloves. Amateur female boxers, by comparison, use either 10- or 12-ounce gloves.
All sparring boxers wear mouthpieces. Men also don athletic supporters, and women wear chest protectors.
Despite the layers of protection, the sport still carries the risk of injury. For that reason, Miss Foster doesn't let anyone spar when she isn't there to oversee the action.
Rich Salke, owner of Rich Bodies Gym in the District, says boxing is an "extremely cardiovascular" workout.
"You're moving all your major muscles and your respiratory rate is going up," says Mr. Salke, who, at his clients' recent requests, is considering installing a heavy bag in his gym for boxing sessions.
He downplays the chances for injury.
"As long as it's supervised, I think the risks are very low, at least not any more than with any other conventional exercise," he says.
Boxing student Abe Peay, 22 of the District, began training with Miss Foster nine months ago. To watch him throw an assortment of jabs and uppercuts is to watch someone with a gift for the sport.
He calls amateur boxing a "dream," but he is realistic about the sport and its demands. For now, he feeds his craving for boxing by sparring with fellow students.
He can't content himself merely with pummeling the heavy bag. "Sparring is the real sport," he says.
Many of those taking boxing lessons around the District fall in the 12-to-34 age range, but Mr. Daniels takes comfort in seeing a few students in Mr. White's club boxing well into their 50s.
"This is something I want to do [when Im older]," Mr. Daniels says.

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