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| By Wellvyl Media Editorial

I recently had the pleasure of getting an inside look at what it’s like working out at and working for a boxing gym as a woman.  For boxer Amanda Figueredo, 27, boxing was never just a way to stay in shape.  Figueiredo, like many other women, has discovered that boxing provides a form of internal strength and self-acceptance.  Figueiredo, who first began boxing over two years ago, says “boxing is such a huge part of my life and it has empowered me and given me the confidence to find the strength within myself that had been there all along.”  

Figueredo was originally a member of Church Street Boxing Gym before she began working there.  “I used to take classes to learn self-defense and to lose weight. A little over a year ago I decided I wanted to fight so I started doing personal training and sparring” explains Figueredo.  At the gym’s two TriBeCa locations, Figueredo wears many hats, from sales to managing membership accounts and booking appointments.  

For many members and first-timers at the boxing gym, Figueredo is the first face that people see upon entering the gym.  The reaction is different for men and women. “I get a lot of guys who come in and assume I know nothing about boxing because I'm a woman. Then I start talking to them about training for my fight and they change their perspective. Some of them even ask if I actually ever take classes which is so odd to me. I've been boxing longer than they have” explains Figueredo.  Men at boxing gyms often assume that women are simply there for fun rather than training for a fight.  Figueredo explains that women are often “relieved” when they see another female working at the gym.  “I tell them with confidence that I've been doing this for a long time and they are going to be perfectly fine. Many guests, male or female, are intimidated when they come to the gym for the first time, it's a really authentic space and it can be intimidating, so I think having a friendly face that isn't this cliché big boxer at the desk helps them not to be scared.”

When Figueredo first began working at the gym, membership was mostly male.  And while that remains true, female membership has increased over the past couple years.  As Figueredo points out, there are fewer opportunities for female amateur boxers to fight against other women with similar levels of experience than there are for men because there are fewer women than men in the sport.  “It's not necessarily anyone's fault, just a lack of women. One of the pro fighters in my gym only got paid $1 for her first pro fight because they were required to pay her SOMETHING! So I do think women in sports in general need to be taken more seriously and get the pay and promotion we deserve or else these things will never change.”

The boxing gym promotes female involvement in what is traditionally a male-dominated sport.  The gym offers several classes for women only. And while no classes are designed specifically for men, “you're more likely to find a co-ed class full of men than you are to see only women show up” explains Figueredo. The gym also hosts mentorship programs, one for only girls called She Fights, which empowers young girls. There’s also a strike team which is similar to the girls’ program, but for boys.  The gym also started a brand new high school mentorship open to boys and girls – which ultimately filled up with mostly males.

I got the opportunity to better understand Figueredo’s experiences in an interview below: 

LS: Do you think the reasons why females and males come to work out at the gym are different? If so, why? What are they? 

AF: I don’t think it's so black or white I think it depends. There are fewer females who come to fight. But surprisingly we have A LOT of female fighters and they spar with men all the time. Most females who come go there for weight loss or because it's cool to box. Men usually come to build muscle or relieve stress from work or younger men come to fight and release aggression. More men are willing to spar or fight, even just a charity fight than women.

LS: Do women come for self-defense? Do men?

AF: I haven't heard too many men tell me they are there for self-defense but I don't doubt it. I know a lot of women do. Some high school kids have come because they are being bullied. I had one 7-year-old brought in because his dad said he was bullying his classmates so he needed to redirect his aggression. 

Truthfully, I came to boxing because a few years ago I was in an abusive relationship. After I moved he was stalking me and I felt unsafe so wanted to learn how to defend myself. Now boxing is such a huge part of my life and it has empowered me and given me the confidence to find the strength within myself that had been there all along. 

LS: Do you think women typically feel more comfortable in other types of gyms?  Why or why not?

AF: We actually have 2 locations and one location is the original gym which has been there for over 20 years- it's a no-frills space with brick walls, and photos and boxing posters everywhere, full of blood sweat and tears from years and years of fight history... our second gym is more "polished" it has towel service and more women's classes... more women go to one gym than the other so there is obviously a difference. We have lots of who come from class-pass who never come back. A lot of women want more amenities, they want a cleaner brighter space. Men don't care as much.

LS: Are women judged by the clothing they wear to the gym? How so?  What about men?

AF: I'd say only the women who choose to dress like they are doing a photo shoot. Technically you're supposed to always wear a shirt, but there are always some women wearing a sports bra every now and then. Most men who ever try to go shirtless is because they want to show off and they often make jokes about it like "look at my 6 pack, and all I do is eat burgers and cookies". We are pretty much a judgment free zone. Occasionally men will make comments about the new girls who wear too little clothing but they are saying things because they like what they see. I've never heard negative comments about how people dress.

LS: How do women say they feel when they leave the gym after practicing or working out? How do men say they feel when they leave the gym? 

AF: I'd say it’s the same. Either they are tired and need a nap or they feel energized and can’t wait for more.

LS: How do you feel when you leave the gym after working out?

AF: Depends but usually I feel a lot better after a workout. Even if I'm sore it's a good soreness. I feel accomplished!

LS: Do you think some women feel feminine while boxing?  Empowered?

AF: Feminine, probably not. Empowered yes. I’ll have girls coming up to me to check if they are bleeding before they ask about their makeup. And they don’t mind the blood, they just want to make sure it’s off their face so they can get back in the ring.

LS: Have you witnessed or heard about instances of sexism occurring at the boxing gym you work at or other boxing gyms?  E.g., instances where a male feels the need to show a female the “correct” way of doing a particular move without being asked to do so?

AF: Well part of why I didn't like most other places I went to before church street was because they treated women like they were only there to look good. We barely hit the bags, they didn’t show us any technique. In my gym, male trainers will often be nicer to women and offer them lessons for free. But we treat everyone the same for the most part. Many of our female boxers can beat up the boys and no one complains. We even have shirts that say "fight like a girl".

LS: Has there ever been an instance where a female did not return due to a bad experience at the gym?

AF: Yes. As I mentioned before with women on class-pass they don't like our atmosphere. I have heard of one or two inappropriate things that happened with independent trainers that cause a girl to leave but it was taken care of immediately. Our head trainer does not tolerate inappropriate behavior.

LS: Any female boxing instructors?  How do men feel about having a female instructor?

AF: Yes, we have 4 female instructors. Only one of them has never fought but she is training for a fight. Some men don't want a female trainer and specifically ask for a man. 

LS: What would you tell a female looking to get into boxing who is concerned that she won’t be taken seriously for fear that it’s a male-dominated sport?

AF: I say come to church street!!!! The world is changing and so is the sport. We are proud of the women we have and we are working to break the barriers that see women as lesser than. Decide why you want to box, if it's just for fun there are plenty of gyms that are geared towards women who just box for fun. If you want to fight, put the work in and earn your respect in the ring. Above all make sure you feel comfortable wherever you go. Not every gym is as open as we are but I can't say any other gym is better or worse. Everyone has different reasons they want to get into boxing, fitness, self-defense, hype-just do it for your own reason and find a place you enjoy.