After the abomination that was the year 2005 I started the year 2006 feeling cynical about what lay ahead. Having transitioned (or should I say, regressed) from a happy-go-lucky optimist into a bitter pessimist the first thought that sprang to mind was the various ways that this year could possibly screw me over some more. Yeah, I was that messed up. A self-absorbed, victim-playing hopeless case who felt that the world owed him a favour. I’d slap the shit outta this version of me if I had the chance to meet him.
Anyway, by this point I had already began my Bachelor Of Arts (Communications major) university degree by correspondence so outside of work and training I was focused on that. It suited me just fine as it allowed me to study at home at my own pace, be my own boss and work in total solitude. It also tested my discipline and time management skills as I still had deadlines to adhere to. Thankfully, my work hours were not very demanding so I was able to balance study, work and training rather effectively.
Speaking of training, there was another change coming. I arrived too early for work on one particular day and so I took a walk around the nearby shopping centre to kill some time. I browsed through a bookstore during the walk and stumbled upon a book that would force me to once again re-evaluate my workouts.
The book’s title? Boxing’s Greatest Workouts.
As a gym rat that loved boxing I bought that book in a heartbeat and read it on the train ride home and for the next few days afterwards in my room between workouts and study sessions. Hell, I probably studied that book a lot more diligently than I did my university notes and texts! I examined each and every workout from all the boxers featured, studying the similarities and differences of their training programs and also their diet and amount of time that they spent in the gym. Not gonna lie, I felt intimidated while reading about their daily sessions. Two, three, four hours in the gym, hundreds of calisthenics, hours of shadowboxing, bag work, pad work, getting up at dawn to run come rain, hail or shine…..sheesh!!! During my own workouts I was already winded after less than twenty minutes of shadowboxing, had yet to cross the one hundred-rep mark in push-ups and crunches and was too socially withdrawn and lazy to go outside to run whereas these guys put in the hard work hour after hour, day after day, week after week……and that was before they put their conditioning and their lives on the line against another fighter looking to knock their blocks off in the ring!
Forget about being gym fit, fighters are a different level of fitness, strength and toughness. They would put many athletes to shame.
Anyway, after I had read the whole book several times over it was time to once again overhaul my training regimen. I wasn’t going to pursue a professional boxing career but I could still train like one. Having grown accustomed to shadowboxing I decided that it was time to step up, choosing workouts from that book that suited my fitness level and did not require too much time and fuss.
But there was an obvious problem; I did not own any equipment required for even the simplest of boxing workouts, nor did I have anything in the house to improvise with. At least when it came to strength training I was able to get away with using my school backpack in place of weights. I had nothing to improvise with when it came to punching bags.
Oh yeah, at this time I had enough money in the bank to buy myself a weights set so my school backpack was all but retired, used only when I decided to do weighted push ups, squats and pull-ups.
But I still had no bags, no jump rope, no gloves, no focus mitts…….so how did I get my boxing training off the ground?
I simply dug deeper into my imagination and pretended that I was hitting real targets. Taking my shadowboxing to another weird level, I moved and threw combinations at an imaginary heavy bag that hung in the middle of my bedroom, went crazy at an imaginary floor to ceiling bag by my bedroom door, dropped bombs at invisible focus mitts that were held by my imaginary trainer and even created sweet gym music with an imaginary speedbag that was mounted on my bedroom wall.
And I also skipped like Floyd Mayweather jr with my invisible jump rope, repeating all his tricks without once falling over!
Not bad, eh?
As you can see, I did these workouts behind closed doors in my bedroom. It was cramped and stuffy as hell in there, but my drive and determination overcame those limitations. Also, I knew that I looked silly during these boxing sessions, punching at air and sparring with ghosts, so yeah, no way in hell was anyone going to see that!
Still, I worked up a good sweat and I felt invigorated afterwards. Man, if this won’t carve up my physique then I don’t know what will.
After a few months of training like a boxing champ as written in that book and mixing it up with strength training and calisthenics (during which I gradually began to build up the reps for the push-ups and abdominal exercises I performed) I was absolutely floored by the results – muscles on my arms and legs became defined, my chest and back widened considerably, my fitness levels shot up through the roof and most of all……after five-odd years of working out I had finally achieved that Holy Grail of physique goals, the almighty six-pack abs!!!
Fuelled by the favourable results I continued with these shadowboxing workouts every morning after studying before work (around this time I was rostered in the afternoon shift), putting in an hour or an hour and a half of training before lunchtime. I would finish these sessions completely drenched in sweat, heart beating fast and breathing hard yet feeling like a champion and by the time I got to work the endorphins and good vibes from my morning training sessions powered me through my shift. I was focused and energized the entire day and even my quality of sleep had improved. While I wouldn’t call myself the most talented boxer out there I definitely felt more confident walking through the streets at night, though I never sought to put my skills to the test in a street fight.
Not bad for a professional shadowboxer, huh?
By the way, on that same year I traveled to Germany with my sister for the FIFA World Cup. Two weeks of fun exploring Berlin during their Summer and mixing it up with the friendly people – it was bliss!
I was also doing rather well with my university course through correspondence, achieving grades that I could never get while I was in high school and, dare I say it, having fun while studying. Perhaps being my own boss was really my best mode of study.
I had also made a few friends at my workplace.
Yes, you can say that the year 2006 was a complete turn-around from 2005. I felt like I was slowly climbing out of the abyss I had fallen into and becoming reacquainted with the sunshine.
But not completely.
I hate to say it but for the most part I was still that brooding chump with the chip on his shoulder. Given the good run that I had been through it does seem ridiculous and selfish on my part that I still chose to be a bitter little loser unable to let go of the past. I guess some wounds take longer to heal than others and my immaturity was a lot stronger than I thought.
So yeah, while I was happier this year I still had that ‘me against the world’ mentality in me. Pathetic, isn’t it?
But at least now I was a brooding chump with a six pack!
The year 2004 had ended on a pretty high note. I had money in the bank, I was in good physical shape and while employment was on-and-off (that’s casual employment for you) I was still a pretty happy camper. Nothing could possibly bring me down.
Not so fast, Kid.
Little did I know that the year 2005 was to be the very worst year of my life. How bad? Let’s just say that the year 2003 seemed like a vacation in comparison.
On paper, it was supposed to be a great year of exciting new transitions. It was my twentieth year on this Earth, I was due to finish my TAFE course later in the year before beginning my university degree via correspondence and, the biggest prize of all, a family trip to Europe was on the cards for sometime towards the middle of the year.
Indeed, there were some exciting times and significant changes ahead but a couple of crippling tragedies undid all of that and rendered the year 2005 as one to forget.
At the end of January I rang in my twentieth birthday, finally bidding farewell to my roller-coaster teenage years. I felt a strange combination of excitement and nerves on that day, because while I was relieved to finally leave my teens behind I was also anxious about the prospect of being an adult. I no longer had any excuses to fall back on as far as acting the fool was concerned, I had to grow up for real.
Sometime in May, the family and I took a two-week trip around Europe, exploring parts of Italy, Germany, France and England. Apparently, it was my parents’ reward for my sister and I for completing our schooling.
Two weeks of exploring iconic cities, taking in the sights, the culture and the FOOD……if that was our reward for successfully finishing school (and in my case, getting out alive) then all those years of homework and assignments was totally worth it.
That being said, I also discovered during this trip that I had grown to detest long flights. As a child I didn’t mind them. In fact, there was a time where I looked forward to sitting on a plane. But apparently, the adult version of myself was not a fan. Cramped seats, broken sleep patterns, jet-lag, lack of fresh air, rude passengers that recline their seats too far back, turbulence……..
Urgh!!!! GET ME OUTTA HERE!!!!!
Still, the torturous plane rides were totally worth the trip. It was a fabulous two weeks.
But behind the scenes, cracks were beginning to form.
I’m not going to reveal the details of the events that ruined the year – it’s too personal – but all I’m going to say is that the family suffered a couple of significant losses. The first was a heartbreaking loss that tore us up inside and left us grieving for some time but the second one brought my entire world as I knew it crashing down around me, as though I had survived a hurricane or bushfire but was left with absolutely nothing to show for it.
That was it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Forget about the good times, the completion of TAFE and seamless transition into university, the generous wage, even that trip to Europe. In my mind, the year 2005 can go screw itself.
Scratch that, the whole world can go hell!
Such line of thinking manifested itself into my personality. As a kid and for most of my teens, I was considered a ‘very nice guy’ but during that second half of 2005 and up until my late twenties a flick had switched. I was still well-mannered to people that I met, to family and to the few friends that I had, but deep down I had become a brooding, cynical, aloof and quick tempered piece of work that felt as though everybody was out to get him. I began to view the world as completely empty and worthy of throwing against a wall, seething with rage at what had become of my situation and it was a cold day in hell before I trusted anyone outside of my inner circle.
Was it a completely immature and unnecessary response to the tragedies? You bet it was. Was it a waste of life? Heck yeah! Looking back now it feels rather embarrassing knowing that I had wasted most of my early twenties being angry over something that happened in a single year that I had little control over. I know now that I could have and should have handled it better but I guess playing the victim seemed easier at the time.
It’s even more astonishing to know that I managed to keep up that bitter attitude for so long, even long after the problem was resolved!
Thankfully, I didn’t pick up any dangerous vices or turn to crime, mainly because there was a saving grace. Despite the storm raging all around me, one constant remained in my life to provide both relief and structure: working out. I mostly stuck to the same routine that I had been performing during the previous year (including those door pull-ups!) but there was a new addition to my arsenal: Shadowboxing.
You see, ever since the Rocky series had motivated me to storm through the HSC I had gradually become a big fan of boxing. Any news story concerning the sport grabbed my full attention and even just watching boxing highlights on TV during the news (boxing matches were not screened on free to air TV and youtube wasn’t around yet. Or perhaps I hadn’t found it yet) left me feeling pumped and I found myself studying and imitating the punches and movements that I had witnessed.
From there I started purchasing boxing magazines and read them from cover to cover. The sport had consumed me!
One day after work I decided that I wanted to try something new and interesting during my workout. I skipped the usual backpack and bullworker workouts and tried my hands at shadowboxing. A few days prior I had done some quick internet research on the proper way to throw basic punches and combinations, as well as the proper stance, foot placement, defense and head movement. I saved some documents before printing them, studied them for the next few days and once I felt confident enough, I trudged into the spacious living room, got into my best boxer’s stance and came out swinging, punching, bobbing, weaving, shuffling and doing my best imitation of Rocky Balboa.
You know what? After that one session, I gained a greater respect for boxers everywhere, whether they compete in the ring or do so for exercise purposes. After just five (yes, FIVE) minutes of intense shadowboxing, I was absolutely knackered. I fought through the pain and kept on dancing before I finally threw in the towel and it seemed like an eternity, like I had literally survived a twelve round championship bout.
But upon gazing at the clock, it turns out that I had only been shadowboxing for about eight minutes.
Eight minutes and already I’m out for the count. Wow!
Sorry for the boxing clichés but I couldn’t help it!
Ok, in my defense, I got too excited and went all-out from jump rather than pacing myself and gradually building up intensity. Also, I held my breath at times while punching, which is a big no-no in boxing as it depletes a fighter of their stamina, speed and striking power. There’s a reason why you hear boxers grunt or make a hissing sound through their mouthguard whenever they punch and even when they make sudden shuffling movements in a given direction.
I also made the mistake of tensing up whenever I punched, as though I was punching someone in the face as hard as I could, which was wrong since the purpose of shadowboxing is to practice one’s combinations and technique, loosen up the body and to also sharpen movement, defense and reflexes. The arms must also be loose and relaxed when striking air to avoid injury and friction to the elbow and wrist joints and the rest of the body also had to be loose to retain mobility.
Anyway, I finished up those eight minutes of huffing and punching with a series of push ups and crunches before resting up and hitting the showers, totally exhausted.
And boy, did I feel it the next morning and got to know exactly how many muscles are involved in the sport of boxing. It aint just the arms, shoulders and chest, folks. My back, lats, core, glutes and legs were also on fire – every muscle was literally torched!
Wow! What a workout!
And this was achieved after only eight minutes of shadowboxing followed by a few push ups and crunches. Sheesh! I can only imagine how sore competitive boxers must have felt following a day of training and especially after a fight, win or lose. This was not a sport for wimps.
Still, it felt great to add another workout to my routine. Until then, my regimen was strictly limited to lifting my backpack, a bit of work with the bullworker and closet door once in a while and walking to and from the train station for work. In other words, mostly similar to what I had been doing for the past two years. It was time for a new challenge and shadowboxing gave me something new to work on and also served as a good cardio workout.
I mixed up both workouts every other day, weights one day, boxing and bodyweight the next. It challenged my stamina and strength even further and I noticed more changes to my physique. My shoulders, chest and back broadened, my chicken legs at last began to catch up with the rest of my physique and I felt fitter than ever.
However, those abdominals still refused to come out and play. One step at a time, I guess.
All the sadness, anger and depression I felt were channeled into working out, learning how to box and following the sport so I had something to distract myself with. I guess you can say that I had become a boxaholic, guilty as charged! Hey, it was better than picking up a drug habit or becoming a delinquent with a big chip on their shoulder.
And taking a look at myself in front of the mirror and seeing some more changes was definitely a positive. I guess it wasn’t all bad after all, not that I would want to revisit that year again in a hurry.
And that, dear readers, was the worst year of my life and how I dealt with it.
How to get into a proper boxing stance:
Note: This is for a right-handed (orthodox) stance. Simply reverse the leg and arm positions for left-handed (southpaw) stance
Raise your hands, right hand by your chin, left hand slightly in front. Shoulders should be loose and relaxed and elbows tucked into your sides
Turn your trunk slightly towards the right so your left jab can shoot straight towards the center with minimal effort and to present a smaller target for your opponent. You shouldn’t be ‘squared-on’.
Right leg back, the toes of the right foot pointed towards the right, feet shoulder width apart. Bend slightly at the knees so they are not stiff.
Keep your chin down.
Body should be nice and loose
Moving in your boxing stance:
Lead with your front foot to advance, lead with your back foot to retreat
Lead with the front foot to slide to the right, lead with the back leg to slide to the left
Pivot with the front foot when spinning out to the side. Position your back leg based on which direction you’d like to go
Don’t bounce too much on your toes and never jump while moving
NEVER cross your legs when moving
Keeping your feet planted when punching will generate more power
From your boxer’s stance, shoot out your lead hand, straight down the centre
Can be aimed at the attacker’s face, chest or even abdomen, though that requires you to crouch
You can take a step forward to add power
‘Turn’ your hand as you jab
Remember to exhale whenever you jab
From your boxer’s stance, shoot out your rear hand, straight down the centre
Turn your body, swivel your hips and turn your feet with this punch. Don’t just punch from the arm, use your whole body
But be careful not to over-commit to the pivot so as not to lose your balance or injure your knee
You can step forward as you punch to add power
This punch can be aimed at the face, chest and abdomen
Breathe out whenever you punch
From your boxer’s stance, dip your lead shoulder slightly
Quickly swivel the hips and turn that front foot (as though you are squishing something) as you turn that hooked front arm over
This punch can be aimed at the attacker’s temple, jaw and body
Breathe out whenever you punch
The Rear Uppercut:
This punch requires you to slip to your right (or left if you are a southpaw)
Slip to the side that favors your rear hand. Dip slightly at the waist and rear knee, torque that waist slightly
Drive up from your legs from the ground as you torque your waist forward and come up with that rear fist in an upward motion
You must be very close to your target if you are practicing on punchmitts or a heavy bag
This punch can be aimed at an attacker’s chin, chest and mid-section
Breathe out whenever you punch
The Lead Uppercut:
This punch requires you to slip to your left (or right if you are a southpaw) and to lean slightly forward
Slip to the side that favors your lead hand. Dip slightly at the front knee and pivot slightly at the waist
Drive off the floor with your feet (mostly from the front), pivot from the front foot and the waist as you drive that lead uppercut upwards.
This punch can be aimed at your opponent’s chin, chest and mid-section
Breathe out when you punch
From your boxer’s stance, bend slightly at the knees and waist to avoid an incoming punch
Ducking a punch is NOT squatting – you only need to get low enough to avoid the punch, not squat down all the way to the ground
Bend from the waist, not your back, to avoid injury
Keep your hands up as you duck. This is not an excuse to drop your hands
Slipping punches (left and right):
From your boxer’s stance, bend your knees slightly and lean slightly from your waist to the left or right
Again, no need to over-exaggerate the move. As long as the punch sails past you it is all good
Keep your hands up when slipping
You can follow slips with a punch as you get back on balance – the cross or rear uppercut if slipping towards the rear leg, the hook or lead uppercut if slipping towards the front leg depending on the distance between yourself and your target