Less Stress, More Focus: Boxing Is the Mental Health Workout I Never Knew I Needed

Photo: Getty Images/Nastasic
When I first moved to New York City, I joined a gym to maintain my weightlifting routine. But before I knew it, I found myself enrolled in weekly boxing classes to improve my cardio, strengthen my muscles, and try something new. The biggest benefit I realized, though, had nothing to do with my physique.

“While some people may have the impression from movies and TV that boxing is chaotic, the sport is actually very meditative due to the high level of focus it requires,” says FightCamp trainer Aaron Swenson. “By fully concentrating on the task at hand, you are forced to switch off the outside world and avert these daily stressors. The workout leaves no room for daydreaming or creating a mental to-do list.”

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Boxing doesn’t only boost concentration in the moment—it lends to more focus post-punch, too, which means less time for nagging thoughts. “Controlling your hand speed, footwork, and head movement involves a high level of mental focus, resulting in feeling more alert and attentive after your workout and the hours afterward,” says Swenson.

What I always found most intriguing was that even if I didn’t have time for a full 50-minute class, practicing punches and footwork on my own at home for 15 to 20 minutes allowed me to tap into the same mood boost. According to Swenson, that’s the beauty of boxing: You don’t have to jab, cross, hook, and uppercut until you’re out of breath—even short boxing seshes can prove beneficial.

While I absolutely found the concentration aspect of boxing to get me out of my head and into the moment—which was huge for me considering I had debilitating anxiety at the time—I admittedly also loved the ability to release pent-up nerves.

“Our oldest instincts are fight or flight; our body thrives when we get these two responses sharper by the habits we do daily,” explains Rumble Boxing co-founder Noah Neiman. “Not only is it cathartic to ball up your fists and blow off some steam by letting your hands fly, but as you improve your skill set, you’re actually improving that fight response that’s been ingrained in our DNA since the dawn of humankind. When we hone our natural survival skills, we are more likely to project power and confidence.”

It’s because of all of this that, after a hiatus from the ring after moving out of the city, I find myself revisiting boxing once again. Of course, in the seven years since I first started boxing, the fitness industry has changed. Luckily for me, that means that now instead of having to buy a gym membership and hope that the boxing classes align with my schedule, I can run down to my basement to punch it out in my very own ring.

Just like cycling classes transformed into in-home sensations with brands like Peloton and boutique HIIT classes became accessible with platforms like Les Mills and lululemon Studio, a boutique boxing experience is now accessible from home with FightCamp. While I love the community aspect of in-person group fitness, I find that honing my boxing skills at home allows me to focus even further on myself and the task at hand since there’s no one else in the room to absentmindedly compare myself to. It’s just me and the FightCamp trainer on my screen.

In general, FightCamp encourages members to “train like a fighter,” which means boxing two to three times a week and rounding it out with strength training and recovery sessions, Swenson says. With that in mind, now that I’ve picked up boxing again, I’m using it to supplement my days off from Orangetheory Fitness.

The result? I feel like no matter what’s going on in my life—even if I can’t make it for an hour under the orange lights, or if I’m feeling entirely overwhelmed by a jam-packed schedule—I have the opportunity to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

And if I start to feel stress creeping back in, my bag is waiting for me in my basement. “That’s the great news: When [the endorphins and emotional benefits of boxing] do wear off, you can just ball up your fists for another knuckle therapy session anytime you want,” Neiman says.

See how it feels to do a few punches yourself with this quick boxing workout:

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