If you’re over 40 and in the amateur ring, boxing most likely isn’t (and isn’t going to be) your career. But you can pretty much guarantee that it will change your life.
I’m not trying to convince you of something, I’m mostly reminding myself. It helps to remind myself, because boxing will gobble up your life and body and leave you with little, if you let it. Being an amateur boxer after 40 is sort of like owning an exotic, voracious racing beast. Only weirdos like you love these things, can’t get enough of them, and are willing to put the incredible amount of time and energy into training and upkeep.
And I’m not even really joking. Here’s what I mean…
1. Boxing Draws the Intensely Passionate
In my experience, there are mostly two reactions to boxing: people find it to be sheer brutality they can barely stand to think about, much less watch… Or it gives them a massive jolt of juice, and they can barely tear their eyes away.
I fell into the first category for most of my life, but when I stumbled into boxing for fitness, then began to watch my trainer, Bonnie Mann, bring amateurs into the ring — I got my first jolt of the juice. It was bizarre, exotic, empowering. It was as if some channel in me that had been blocked up for 40 years was suddenly opened, and I was flooded with energy.
The intense rush swept me right into competitive boxing, and suddenly the stakes changed. Not only was I a wife, mom of three boys, and full-time corporate marketing person — boxing began to take it’s first fat weekly paycheck of heart, time, and pain out of my life.
This meant I had to do a lot of re-scripting of the way my personal universe ran.
The life I thought I had wanted now chafed. I was no longer willing — after decades of doing it — to be at home for my family’s needs every single night of the week. I was no longer willing to give up most of who I was for other people. There was something big, something powerful, something only for me that I wanted, and to get it I had to quit giving everyone else all my time and energy.
If I hadn’t done it, I don’t know if my marriage would have lasted, and I definitely wouldn’t be the same parent I am now.
Some days I think I owe boxing my life.
This is not a small change to go through at age 42. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
2. Boxing Demands a High Standard of Training at the Lowest Levels
Part of the reason boxing has such incredible power to change your life is because it requires an intense commitment at even the very lowest levels of the sport.
You can’t stroll into a boxing gym one day, hop in the ring and spar with someone (any gym worth their leather would never let this happen anyway), and expect to come out well.
There’s a fairly sizeable learning curve.
The moves only come after months of practice. It takes time to overcome your basic “flinch” and “turn away” impluses. The tiniest moves (advancing on the jab, basic pivots, footwork) may come easily in practice, but are magically, mysteriously, painfully absent when you’re under fire.
And basic fitness shape is nowhere near boxing shape.
Even basic boxing shape is nowhere near boxing sparring shape. And sparring shape is related to, but not the same as, competitive fighting shape.
If you’re over 40, you definitely want to be in good shape, and hitting the local boxing gym for some regular classes every week will be all kinds of awesome for you. But to get up to sparring level, you’ll need all that, plus serious interval training.
To spar, you need to be training 3-4 days a week, with intervals, minimum.
To compete, you’ll need a 6-7 week “training camp.” That means you eat right and train hard and very specifically for the opponent you expect to meet (or to increase your strengths and minimize your weaknesses) for about 2 months.
You’ll probably be in the gym 4 or 5 days each week, although not all those days are boxing-specific; you’ll work on cardio, speed, accuracy, explosion, power, etc. in addition to hitting the bags and sparring. You have to stay mentally focused, and be extremely careful not to get injured toward the end of that period of intense training. And I don’t mean blood or bruises, I mean the kind of injury that would nix your fight.
If you’re over 40, you’re not likely to want to maintain that level of fitness for more than just a training camp. Because, you know, you have a life outside boxing. (Sort of.)
3. Boxing Takes a Physical Toll
The main reason I’m not in the boxing gym more than about twice a week during regular times is that it takes a fairly large toll on your body.
Even just hitting the speed bags and heavy bags for 10 rounds is going to cause some aches and pains and build up a cumulative pain in my joints. After several years, and plenty of minor injuries (sprained wrist, broken rib, torn rotator cuff x 2) to teach me my boundaries, I’ve learned how to create a boxing training regimen that works for me.
Actually mixing it up in the ring during training has a lot of potential for damage, and it’s good to learn to minimize sparring damage early on.
Interestingly, the chances for getting injured during your actual boxing match (if you are competing in the amateurs, not the pros) are far lower than your chance for getting injured during training.
Mostly that’s because you are only there for a very short period of time. Amateur rounds are typically 2 minutes each, and you only get three of those. Even though you’re both fighting all out, looking for the knockout or at least for blood and damage, it’s over before you know it, and there isn’t really enough opportunity for someone to get seriously hurt.
Several things to know if you’re over 40 and interested in competing in boxing…
First, everyone you fight will be within 10 years of your age, so you’re likely to get harder ring work at your gym, where everyone is 20 years old!
However, everyone you fight will have given up just as much as you have, and may have trained harder.
Maybe they don’t have kids still at home. Maybe they have not avoided interval sprints like you did. Maybe they’ve been training longer than you have.
You can get beat easily.
But you can also win.
And that’s pretty damn good.