Fitness Boxing with Coach Cedric Benn

‘There’s fitness, then there’s boxing fitness’

Kelly Steele
Sep 26, 2013 – 3:12 PM EST
The Windsor Star

When Mary-Jo Kovacs of Windsor invited me to box with her, I was pretty pumped. I’ve never boxed and I have always been interested.

When I met the 56-year-old Kovacs and coach Cedric Benn, 33, a personal trainer at Refine Fitness, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be learning the basics or duking it out in a ring with Kovacs.

Kelly warms up with skipping. (NICK BRANCACCIO / The Windsor Star)

Benn came over, handed me a pair of gloves and started to wrap my hands. I asked why they needed to be wrapped and Benn calmly responded:  “You’re a writer and you need your hands to work, so we want to make sure you don’t bust your wrist or hand.”

Not exactly the response I was expecting, but good to know.

He gave me his old boxing gloves to use. Jokingly, I asked if he had to clean the blood off them, and the grin on his face answered the question.

* * *

Benn has been a personal trainer at Refine Fitness since October 2011. From 2002 until 2006, he was a boxer in Montreal who held an impressive record of 24 wins and six losses. He always dreamed of going pro but to do so needed to commit full time to training; something which was impossible since he needed to work.

“For me the second best thing is training others,” he said. “I always said if I didn’t make it to the pro level I would do my best to help others to get to the elite level.”

His clients range in age from teenagers to 60, with the majority being women looking for some self-defence moves.

“It’s very good to learn self-defence. You hope you never have to use the moves, but it’s good to have them just in case,” he said. “Boxing seems to be especially satisfying for those people in stressful jobs. Many come here after work and I can tell they are picturing their boss’s face on the bag.”

Kovacs has been boxing with Benn for the past two years. She dabbled in sports playing tennis and biking but admits when her sister had a stroke it was a wake-up call.

“I immediately knew I had to make a decision on how I was going to slide into middle age,” she said. “I joined the gym to get more balance in my life. My fitness definitely needed to be worked on.”

She started working out with Benn, who planted the seed about boxing.

“The more he talked about it, the more I thought I’d love to try it,” she said. “I tried it and I fell in love with it. It’s definitely not something for everyone. But it really is an intense workout. There is just something about the power of a hit.”

Kovacs has noticed some big changes in her body. Her arms and shoulders are stronger and her hand, eye co-ordination is better.

“I don’t have any plans of ever getting into a ring,” she said. “But if I do, my money shot is my right hook. My favourite part of boxing is the joy of knowing that never in a million years at 56 would I have thought I would be boxing. People are shocked when they find out I box but they also think it’s pretty cool. Boxing makes you feel good about yourself. It’s the confidence in knowing who you are and that you can achieve anything that you put your mind to.”

* * *

With my hands wrapped tightly, Benn starts me off with some skipping. I haven’t skipped in years and honestly, after a minute I’m gassed. Benn seems amused by the fact I’m out of breath and tells me to keep going, adding “there’s fitness and then there’s boxing fitness.”

We head over to the heavy bag, which I’m pretty pumped about hitting. As Kovacs does core exercises on the mat next to me, Benn shows me the proper stance to hit the bag. He instructs me to punch out from my shoulders, rather than mimicking a swimming stroke. I hit the bag the first time, pretty soft. It’s not so bad, but Benn looks at me and says “now really hit the bag.”

Kelly connects with a right cross. (NICK BRANCACCIO / The Windsor Star)

I hit it hard and am surprised that the bag barely moves. I continue doing 15 with my right and 15 with my left. By the end, my arms are tired. I watch as Kovacs hits the bag and moves it. My turn and I’m on a mission to make the darn bag move. I give it everything I’ve got and slightly move it, but in the process my hand, my arm and even my shoulders feel the hit.

As Kovacs takes her turn on the bag I’m surprised at how hard I’m breathing and the fact my arms feel like Jell-O.

Next, Benn teaches me how to do a right and left hook. We do a bunch of punches with him facing me with pads on his hands. He asks if my feet are planted. I assure him they are. He pushes me, and of course I fall back. He tells me again to plant my feet and not let him move me.

I work on my cross over and connect my right hook with the pad on the opposite side. Benn tells me to rotate my hips and put my body behind the punch. I do so and feel pretty good, but Benn still wants more. Go faster, he says. I can’t breathe let alone hit faster.

He puts on body protection and tells me to use my left and right hook and hit him as he’s walking toward me. I tell him he needs to tick me off first. He just grins and starts to move toward me. I start to throw the punches, and they are pretty lame. I like to believe it’s because I’m scared I’ll hurt him but truthfully, my arms are dead.

We finish and Benn tells me to do it again. Exhaustion has now set in. I’m on a quest to just get through the sets. Benn senses this and adds 10 more.

While in the plank position, Kelly jabs at targets held by Cedric Benn.  (NICK BRANCACCIO / The Windsor Star)

He tells me to get into a plank position and sits directly in front of me. He puts the pads on his hands and tells me to cross over and hit the pad while holding my body up with one forearm. I tell him I’ll do it 10 times. He says 40 times and by the end of it I think I do 50. I lose count because my abs are starting to spasm.

I try to distract him by talking about his boxing career and anything that comes to mind, but it doesn’t work. When I finish talking he reminds me I’ve still got another set of 50. This guy is relentless.

Afterward I talk to Kovacs and Benn about boxing. I try to take notes but I’m struggling because my hands are sore and I can’t hold the pen. Also, the feeling hasn’t come back into my arms so they just feel like they’re floating.

But somehow on my way to the door, I catch myself asking Benn if he’d be interested in training me after I do Ironman in November. Maybe there really is something addictive about pushing your body to the limit, or maybe it’s Benn’s grin, which says “I know you’ve got more in you.”