June 8, 2009 / 10:04 AM / 10 years ago

White collar boxers learn to roll with the punches

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When Muhammad Ali advised: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” he probably wasn’t talking to hedge fund managers.

A woman sparring at Crunch fitness center in New York City, 2008. REUTERS/Crunch/Handout

Nevertheless, bankers, Wall Streeters, attorneys and teachers, all kinds of professionals, male and female, are putting on boxing gloves for fitness, escape, release and fun.

“There’s as much chance of meeting a CEO in a boxing gym as on the golf course,” said Peter DePasquale, whose book, “The Boxer’s Workout”, lays out for everyone the methods boxers use to get in shape.

“Boxers call it working the floor, shadow boxing, hitting the heavy bag, jumping rope,” DePasquale explained.

“The routine is an outstanding workout, simultaneously cardio, strength, multiple arms and legs together, and hitting something for stress relief,” he said in an interview.

The word has spread.

At a Crunch fitness center in the trendy West Village of New York, personal trainer Rob Piela was grinning from ear to ear about the huge boxing ring that suddenly appeared in the exercise room.

“There’s nothing better than putting on those gloves,” Piela, a former Golden Gloves semifinalist, said. “But of course it’s not the same as walking into an old stinky boxing gym.”

For that experience Piela visits Gleason’s Gym, across the river in Brooklyn. The oldest boxing gym in the country, it literally reeks of atmosphere.

“Everyone tells me it smells, but I don’t smell it. There’s no air conditioner. I don’t have great ventilation. I don’t paint the walls, I don’t paint the floors,” said owner Bruce Silverglade.

Gleasons, founded in 1937, has hosted most of the boxing greats. It’s also where Robert De Niro trained for the film “Raging Bull” and Hilary Swank for “Million Dollar Baby”.

And where, Silverglade says, over 330 women now train alongside professionals and serious amateurs.

“Boxing gyms are surviving because of the business people,” he said.

“Women have much better attitudes than the men,” he added. “Women say ‘teach me.’ Guys are macho and think they already know how to fight.”

Piela says it’s become common to see women enter Gleason’s toting Louis Vuitton bags and wearing stiletto heels.

Gleason’s legendary trainer Bob Jackson, the first to admit women to boxing class, is widely credited with starting white collar boxing.

“I began the program 30 years ago,” he said, “for people who would never be fighters but wanted to get into shape.”

“None of the boxers had money, so I hired some to teach. That was my bright idea,” he said.

Trinity Boxing Club in lower Manhattan specializes in white collar boxing.

“You name a profession, we have it,” said manager John Snow. “We’re heavy on financial, social workers, attorneys, and celebrities.”

Trinity brings both the physical and mental lessons of boxing directly to the business world through a corporate training program called Go the Distance.

“We work on goal setting,” Snow said. “on the persona of the fighter - self-reliant, focused, disciplined. You roll with the punches and keep going.”

Slideshow (4 Images)

At 72, Jackson, agrees that boxing builds character: “I had a bad temper when I became a boxer. I had to learn temper means a black eye, a tooth knocked out. When you see red you see nothing.”

“Boxing is a humbling thing, even for great boxer,” DePasquale added.

“You test yourself. Boxing is getting through. It’s life.”

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