Generally speaking, it’s good advice to avoid rooms tucked away in back corners of converted movie theaters, rooms filled with the sounds of grunts, loud music and the clinking of chains.
Especially when one of the best endorsements for what goes on in that room is, “I hate it.”
Those were the words of Katie Underwood, a 47-year-old from Tacoma, who emerged from the room drenched with sweat. But the truth is this is a room that shouldn’t be avoided. Underwood clearly understands this because, regardless of what she says, she’s been visiting religiously for two years.
The room is the home of freestyle boxing classes, one of the most popular group workouts at Tacoma’s Allstar Fitness.
On any given day people from doctors to heavily tattooed kick boxers to stay-at-home moms fill the room, pull on a pair of gloves and punch the heavy bags suspended from the ceiling by chains.
Gig Harbor resident Kim Axtman has been teaching the classes around the South Sound since 1999 and has found a passionate following at Allstar Fitness.
The intense boxing class is so popular people – even Underwood – often show up an hour in advance to reserve a spot. When I dropped by the class recently each of the dozen heavy bags were shared by two people and five others shadow boxed along the edge of the room while Axtman bounced around throwing jabs and upper cuts while shouting instructions over the music.
The class included 29 people – 18 women and 11 men – who combined have lost more than 1,000 pounds. Some of their eyes were intense, as if the heavy bags were filled with all their frustrations. Others looked exhausted with expressions that seemed to say they were happy the bag wasn’t hitting back.
Participants in the class burn 800 to 1,000 calories per hour, Axtman said. That’s on par with a 150-pound person running for an hour at 6.7 mph or faster, according to Internetfitness.com.
Axtman fell in love with boxing in the 1990s while doing Tae Bo workouts and decided to share her passion.
“It’s just such a great workout and it’s amazing to see so many people have such great success,” Axtman said. “That’s why I teach the class.”
One of those people is Lacey resident Art Alameida. He started working out several years ago after he was diagnosed with diabetes. He’s lost 105 pounds (55 pounds since joining Axtman’s class) and is no longer diabetic.
“This works every part of your body,” said Alameida, 49. “Every ounce of your body is being worked even your brain because she throws commands. It’s not easy.
“Most people when they first try this class don’t last. They walk out. You have to be in shape.”
But that doesn’t mean freestyle boxing isn’t for everybody, Axtman said. She accommodates all fitness levels and another instructor, Andrea Pellissier, teaches additional classes for beginners.
Jami Cordero, a 45-year-old Tacoma resident, said it took a while to master the coordination needed to flow with the class but picked it up after a couple weeks. She’s lost 45 pounds in two years.
She’s not alone. After the class I attended – which ended with everybody doing 100 push-ups – a steady stream of boxers approached to share their success stories. Among them, John Brown, 46, lost 64 pounds; Rob Howard, 48, dropped 41; and Mona Williams, 28, lost 35 pounds. Williams was named Axtman’s April student of the month.
Axtman hangs a small poster in the room each month celebrating a different student.
“Kim is so encouraging,” said Josephine Patterson, 34, who has lost 112 pounds. “She makes sure we get the best results.”
Serena Blair, 40, drives from Gig Harbor several times each week with friends to take the class.
“We love her so much we don’t mind paying for the gas and the bridge toll,” Blair said. “And our husbands don’t complain one bit.”
Whether that has to do with Blair’s results or her prowess as a boxer, she didn’t say.
Dani States, a 48-year-old marketing executive from Tacoma, loves the class so much she records them on her iPad so she can workout when she’s traveling.
Denise Stolaroff of Tacoma says Axtman and the class changed her life forever. As a single mom she’d never made time to work out and three years ago her doctors told her she was overweight and had a “physical and mental state far from desirable.” She joined Allstar Fitness and soon stumbled across the noisy room tucked away on the bottom floor.
“Boxing soon became my passion and Kim my inspiration,” Stolaroff said. “To explain exactly what her boxing classes do for me would liken itself to what breathing does for all living things. It is essential.”
Today Stolaroff is 56, Axtman said, with the fitness level of somebody in her 20s.
“Never have I felt healthier or more thrilled to be alive,” Stolaroff said. “It is safe to say Kim ultimately saved my life.”
Craig Hills fitness column runs Sundays. Please submit questions and comments via firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/adventureguys or twitter.com/adventureguys.
Get more fitness coverage at blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure, thenewstribune.com/fitness and theolympian.com/getfit.