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Out of the office and into the ring

Lawyers, accountants and TV execs are trading the treadmill for a pair of boxing gloves. What they want is a workout with added punch.

October 02, 2006|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

SWEAT pours down Stephen Kronish's unshaven face as he whacks his boxing trainer's mitts -- a one-two punch, a few jabs, a left hook. "C'mon, keep going, let's go," the coach barks as Kronish pounds out a series of upper cuts before dropping his arms, spent.

Kronish, gulping air, gestures to a television in the corner playing an episode of "The Honeymooners." The show inspires him. "When I see Jackie Gleason," he says, "I think, 'That's what I'd look like if I didn't do this.' "

Kronish, the 54-year-old co-executive producer of the television show "24," is hardly the stereotypical Rocky-like pugilist. But he's riding the wave of a trend that's finding more men (and some women) achieving fitness via boxing gloves and a heavy bag -- lawyers, accountants, pharmaceutical sales reps, business executives and entertainment industry types.

Some turned to boxing after having their interest piqued by the television show "The Contender" and popular, big-budget films such as "Cinderella Man" and "Million Dollar Baby."

Others may have been inspired by John E. Oden, author of "White Collar Boxing" and a principal with AllianceBernstein L.P., a New York City-based money management and research firm. (Finding himself in less than great shape, Oden took up boxing at age 40 and eventually began competing in amateur bouts.)

There's no need for these folks to drive their SUVs all over town in search of a boxing gym: Clean, well-appointed studios are popping up in upscale urban neighborhoods and suburban strip malls. In fact, for a lot of contemporary trainers, the typical client is a white-collar man in his 30s who's looking for a new way to get fit but stays for the challenge -- and is able to pay for training: $100 an hour for one-on-one lessons.

What these well-heeled newbies get is an unparalleled workout, combining intense cardio with upper and lower body strength and toning in a workout that's 180 degrees from a tedious jog on a treadmill. If they can hack it. Professional boxers make it look easy, something that even the very fit don't appreciate -- that is, until they've got the gloves on and try to go a few rounds.

"They definitely don't think it's going to be that tough," says 32-year-old Randy Khatami, head boxing coach at Elite Mixed Martial Arts in Thousand Oaks. "For the most part they don't know what they're getting themselves into. They're like a deer caught in the headlights."

There's also an undeniable cool factor to boxing -- always a paramount concern in L.A. "To say you have a tennis coach or a golf coach is the norm almost," Khatami says. "But when you say you have a boxing coach, people lift their eyebrows."

These middle- and upper-middle-class enthusiasts are also discovering another welcome element to boxing they may not have banked on: an efficient and acceptable way to deal with stress and aggression. It may not be wise to clock your boss, but punching the heck out of a bag is perfectly fine.

"It's about the ordinary man getting in there and connecting with the warrior," says Los Angeles boxing trainer Terry Houlihan, owner of Boxing on the Boulevard in L.A. "Look at how people act out behind the wheels of their cars. If only we had ways of allowing men to test their mettle so they wouldn't have to do it on the freeways."

Kronish works out at the New York City Boxing Club, a studio about the size of a large master bedroom along a somewhat dull strip of Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. His trainer is gym owner Phil Paolina, a meaty 48-year-old former professional boxer who likes to tell of training celebrities such as Bob Dylan, as well as professional fighters and amateurs.

Kronish started boxing a year and half ago, not because he'd ever thought much about boxing but because he was feeling out of shape and needed a workout that didn't take place in a traditional health club. He found Paolina's gym while passing by one day.

"I actually hate going to the gym, period," he says, sipping water outside the boxing club before heading to work. "I thought if there was something I could do that would disguise the fact that I was exercising, I'd stand a better chance of doing it."

Never terribly overweight, the 6-foot-2 Kronish says he's made his upper body more lean, gained some muscle and increased his stamina. It may have even helped his golf game: "I feel like I'm hitting the ball farther," he says.

Part of the appeal of boxing for him and his white-collar brethren, he says, is that "if you spend most of your time in some sort of mental battle with people all day long, the idea of getting in there and being able to move around and really hit something as hard as you can -- there's a sort of liberating feeling about it."

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