Mild-mannered Ashland moms are pounding on punching bags. They're also practicing upper cuts and doing pinning drills on speed bags at the new fitness center, Aerospace Ashland.
The reasons they're forcing their fists into Everlast logos: To relieve stress, build cardiovascular exercise endurance and achieve long, lean muscles, perhaps jabbing their way toward looking more like a Victoria Secret model.
Boxing for fitness is not new, but it is to most of Aerospace Ashland's members.
Tamara Ellis, 43, runs 100-mile races and yet she was swimming in sweat after 20 minutes of rotating between the body snatchers and other types of boxing bags — some wider and taller than she is — in the impact room.
"I feel as if my arms are going to fall off," says the Ashland mother of two boys. "But I like challenging myself. This workout is so focused, it also stimulates me mentally and I like to mix up my exercise regime."
On Thursday, six other women were getting a workout that included jumping rope, but not the kind kids do on the playground.
Ropes here are nicknamed the "Rainmaker" because perspiration pours down faces, arms and backs.
When in the right hands, these ropes can fly at speeds as fast as a car on the freeway, and jumpers linger in the air as the line passes under them twice. Some of the exercisers can even squeeze in a squat while the rope is overhead.
After jumping to warm up, the women shadowboxed like rookie Rockys, keeping their eyes focused on the mirror to make sure they kept their chin covered with one glove as they punched the air with the other.
"One, two, one, two," called out instructors Sarah Holgen and Brandon Baldwin, quickening the pace of the thrusts.
Each choreographed jab, swerve or dodge movement was greeted with a beat of pounding dance club music. A remix of the Black Eyed Peas' "Rock that Body" suggested:
"Let me see your body rock
Shakin' from the bottom to the top
Freak to what the DJ drop
We be the ones to make it hot"
After that session, the women stood in front of the instructors as their hands were swaddled in red wraps to protect knuckles and wrists. They then had the choice of boxing gloves, from the amount of padding to the color: traditional black or bright pink.
"I feel like 'Million Dollar Baby,' " says Kelly Ravassipour, 37, her blond hair tucked away from her eyes with a fashionable braid. "Well, the gloves part, that is."
The Medford resident who does CrossFit training was attending the class for the first time with her friend, Lisa Beam, who owns Pasta Piatti and Sesame restaurants in Ashland.
The two spent an hour with their hands held up to their jaws, learning to shift their weight and step into a punch. They also tested their hand-eye coordination against air-filled speed bags that are about the size of their head. Despite the beads of sweat above their eyebrows, they were smiling.
"Where else do you get to hit?" asks Aerospace Ashland owner Michelle Ronsen, standing in the middle of her sleek-designed, 3,500-square-foot fitness center, which is the first franchise of the original Aerospace in Manhattan.
Ronsen, a 42-year-old mother of two, took Aerobox lessons during a trip to New York City and wanted the same kind of intense workout and mental concentration where she lived, so she opened Aerospace Ashland in October and is showing men and women how these routines — practiced by athletes and supermodels — can sculpt better "than any surgeon's scalpel," to quote Aerospace's founder, former boxer Michael Olajide.
Although boxing is a male-dominated sport, Ronsen has taken pains to make the fitness center at Siskiyou Boulevard and Walker Avenue appealing to women as well. Walls are painted red and white, and the high ceilings are a silky black. The locker rooms have red, tiger-print hair dryers and pampering skin products. Nowhere, however, are there weight scales, clocks or exercise machines.
"Your body is the machine," says Ronsen, who can jump rope for an hour then box for an hour. "You're not pushing away at a dumbbell here but you are learning how to throw a punch."
Ronsen played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school and college volleyball, and sees working out as part of her life. She has tried every style of exercise but latched on to the intensity of Aerobox.
"From head to toe, you are sculpting every muscle while doing cardio and listening to loud music and having people around you doing the same thing," she says.
Ronsen has Medford boxer Jeff Lucas coaching her staff and clients. Instructions are so precise that over time, she says they could enter a real boxing ring.
"I'm not a big girl," says the 5-foot-9-inch,135-pound Ronsen, "and I have never gotten in a fight, but when I'm hitting the focus mitts and bags, I know my strength and the more I improve my technique, the stronger my punches are."
Boxing is masculine, she admits, but it's also feminine. She has seen men and women of all ages punching bags. In the New York Aerospace gym, "Victoria Secret models, Hugh Grant and actual boxers train there," she says, adding that it's not intimidating.
Beginners can move at their own speed, take a break and not do back-to-back classes as many of her clients do. They can take a week of unlimited classes for $25, with Ronsen hoping they will sign up for a year. Monthly dues start at $150; $75 for teens.
At the end of Thursday's morning session, the novice boxers got one-on-one time with the instructors, who held punching mitts up and critiqued their form. "When I flash this mitt, punch it," says Holgen to one of the Ashland moms. Ellis does, making a snap sound with her left glove, then her right.
"This is empowering to me as a woman," Ellis says later, standing next to a punching bag with the message "Greatness is within" printed on a counterweight on the floor. "And when you're in the flow with it, it's a great workout."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org