Blame it on the barbequed ribs and too much beer. After several days of revelry in Memphis followed by a weekend in Nashville with my friend Ann, who was celebrating her 50th birthday, we were in serious need of detox and a punishing workout.
This could, I thought, be a job for HotBox.
I’d heard great things about the studio in Nashville’s trendy Gulch neighborhood, where group kickboxing classes are taught in rooms heated to 80 degrees, warming the muscles to purportedly achieve better results while preventing injuries and flushing toxins from the body. Ann and I were both anxious to burn off several days worth of excess calories and put our weekend of late nights, music and cocktails behind us, but as soon as we walked in the door, a wave of trepidation washed over us.
From the lobby we could see, through a window to the main studio, students doing killer, partner-assisted ab exercises (straight leg lifts with scissor kicks, legs hovering just an inch or so off the ground). Next, the dozen or so hot boxers, most of them women, jumped up and wrapped their arms and legs on their respective 80-pound bags, which hung by chains from the ceiling. Bodies and bags were suspended, swinging gently, for approximately 10 seconds until the instructor yelled, “On the floor!” at which point everyone hit the ground and began doing push-ups.
I couldn’t help but notice that most of the students appeared to be in their 20s and 30s. “We’re toast,” Ann said.
But then, our instructor, Nashville native Kyle Mims, came to greet us with a warm smile and sparkling blue eyes, not to mention a physique that boasted an impossibly low body fat percentage.
“Believe me,” he said, “This class is completely beginner-friendly. No one’s going to yell or laugh at you.” Kyle assured us that despite the lean and youthful group in our class, he had all kinds of students, from NFL players to moms with kids in college. “Sweat,” he said, “is the great equalizer.”
Then Lindsay Bryant, who was manning the front desk, came over to reassure us as she wrapped our hands. “You can’t do anything wrong,” she said. “Just pace yourself. You can always walk out of the room if you need to.”
This last piece of advice was a surprise to me. As a fairly regular practitioner of Hot Yoga, which is done in a room heated to approximately 100 degrees, I was accustomed to instructors discouraging students from leaving the room during class. But probably due to the milder heat and the much higher level of activity, the stay-in-the-room rule is relaxed.
Relaxed, though, is not a word you could use to describe the class itself. As soon as Kyle helped us on with our gloves and assigned us to adjoining bags, a Ludacris song began pumping through the speakers and we were en route to burning off a potential 800 calories during our 60-minute session.
Each class is limited to 24 people due to the size of the room and the HotBox philosophy of plenty of personal attention and intense instructor motivation. Kyle proved a highly effective motivator in a super-energized, boot camp atmosphere, but as promised, he never shouted at us. Instead, he lobbed encouraging comments, like “Good job, Ann! Keep your hands up!”
When we began a series of jabs punctuated by a Thai kick, where students push off the ball of the foot, twist the hips and kick the bag at a height somewhere between hip and knee, Kyle bounced over to me and suggested a modification: Instead of kicking with my full leg, I should strike the bag with my knee only. He later told me I could work up to full kicks, making sure to hit the bag with my shin and not the delicate bones of my foot.
After several series of varying combinations of jabs, punches and kicks, each one followed by 70—yes, 70—squats, sit-ups and push-ups (which are none too easy wearing boxing gloves), we had worked up a serious sweat, more than I’d remembered sweating in my last spinning or Zumba classes. In fact, by this point in the workout we were completely drenched from head to toe.
We ended class by jumping up, holding on and dangling from our bags, the move we were dreading when we first walked in. But, somehow, both of us managed to do it without sliding off and crumpling to the ground. Then, feeling accomplished, very sweaty and completely spent, we hit the floor to stretch.
Ann, who grew up in a house with five brothers, caught her breath and leaned over to me, “Man, I wish I’d known how to kickbox when I was a kid.”
Better a little late than never.