The positive effects of high-intensity interval training have been increasingly well documented: A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology last spring showed dramatic increases in women’s fat-burning and aerobic capacity after repeated four-minute bursts of hard cycling followed by two-minute rests—very much like sparring a few rounds in a boxing ring. But riding a bike is nothing like stepping into the ring, particularly a regulation red-leather affair such as the one at Punch Fitness, a spotless, jewel-toned New York City boxing and kickboxing studio nestled amid the boutiques and galleries of Madison Avenue.
I ran into Adelino da Costa, a former elite trainer at my tony Upper East Side gym, one day while carrying a low-fat latte after a trip to the bank. He had just opened Punch to appeal to those not interested in the sweaty, seedy cliché of Million Dollar Baby but still dreaming of Muhammad Ali and Rocky Balboa moves. I decided to check it out, starting with some "light touch" sparring. It was an incredible workout and the most direct form of biofeedback: Repeat a mistake and you’ll get hit the same way every time. Within ten weeks my resting pulse had dropped 15 beats, my cholesterol was down 30 points, my endurance had gone through the roof, and I was dreaming of effective counterpunches and strategies. No regimen I’d tried before could compete with these results or the pure fun of get-ting there. "Whatever you are doing, keep it up" was my cardiologist’s astonished advice.
Most people, quite reasonably, don’t want to be hit. Da Costa estimates that 80 percent of his clients are women—and in this neighborhood black eyes and red noses are only acceptable after a little cosmetic surgery. But the benefits of boxing are the same with or without contact and everyone seems to smile through the grueling workouts. At 1015 Madison Ave., Lower Level; 212-288-2375; punchfitnesscenter.com.