It all starts with a good wrap… then come the jabs, loud music, and, eventually, the sore muscles. Champs Boxing Studio, a central hub for group fitness, boxing, and private training, was founded by Canadian boxer and eight time world champion, Jelena Mrdjenovich.
The first studio, which was opened in Downtown Edmonton on Jan. 9, 2018, is back after a long run of COVID closures. “Jelena wanted to open a facility that was all inclusive for everyone; it didn’t matter on their fitness level,” general manager Cheryl Rose says. “That was the beauty of when Champs first started… you could sense that feeling of community.”
During the pandemic, the studio was closed for a total of 10 months, but that didn’t stop the boxing community. Group classes were live streamed to individuals in their homes and allowed boxers to take part in a boxing workout without requiring a bag. It included a full-body workout, with a combination of shadowboxing and HIIT (high intensity interval training). In September 2021, the studio re-opened for in-person classes, and it has only been getting more popular since.
For individuals who are wanting to try a class, here’s what you can expect from each type. The KO (knockout) 40-minute and KO 50-minute classes are a mix of boxing, HIIT, core, and some minor footwork. The Bag Burn Drill class is a 50-minute workout, all on the bag. This class is a bit more technical and involves boxers working together with partners. The Final Countdown class is an intense, 60-minute class. It was named after Jelena’s go-to come out song when she’s walking into the ring for a fight — Europe’s popular ‘80s song, “The Final Countdown.” This class includes a total of 12 rounds of boxing: three minutes of boxing, one minute of HIIT, one minute of rest, and then everything is repeated 12 times.
If group classes aren’t your thing, Champs also offers one-on-one training. This type of session includes a warm up with jump rope exercises, instruction on the different types of punches, learning specific footwork, and doing ladder drills. Then, you and the coach jump in the ring and practice hitting pads. “It is a pure fire workout,” Rose shares. “You’re pretty much a puddle by the end.” With Elyas — one of the studio’s coaches — it’s $90 for a 60-minute session. For training sessions with the champ herself, Jelena, it’s $150 per 60-minute session.
Of course, I had to see what all the hype was about. I tried out one of the coaches, EJ’s, KO 50-minute class at the Downtown location, and absolutely loved it! I’m not going to sugarcoat it — it was hard. So hard that I was still catching my breath even after the session was finished and felt the soreness setting in within a few hours. The following morning was rough. I couldn’t move my arms, and my hips and obliques ached — almost as if I had been doing The Twist in an all-consuming, continuous loop at a school dance. But what are those symptoms if not a sign of hard work?
The second I walked into the studio, the staff were so friendly. They helped me choose my spot in the room, showed me how to put on my boxing gloves — which were provided — and gave me a tour of the studio.
They gave me a pair of handwraps, and putting them on was the first sign that I was in over my head. First I tried to wrap the cloth around my thumb and underneath my palm. Wrong. Then I tried reversing my previous wrapping method and going in between each finger. Wrong again. Finally, the coach, EJ, took over and did it for me (and made it look so easy!).
By the time I had finished wrapping my hands, stretching, and filling up my water bottle, I was ready to enter the room. Now, I know what you’re probably imagining. A boxing ring with fans spread out on every side of it, watching and cheering. But keep in mind that this was my first time boxing — I was nowhere ready for the ring. Instead, the class took place in a dark studio with dim lights and loud music.
The session itself was 50 minutes and included a mix of shadow boxing, punching the bag with gloves, HIIT, and a few minutes of isolated core work. The first track was mostly a warm-up. I thought to myself, “Well, this isn’t hard at all!” Then, a few moments later, I was very quickly humbled. EJ was calling out for us to transition from hitting the bag into pushups, squats, and, ultimately the worst exercise known to mankind, burpees. I was sweating within the first few minutes and felt my heart rate rising by the second.
The hand positions, labelled from one to six, included jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, and the choreography took me a while to get used to. I wasn’t just out of my league, I was like a fish out of water (if the fish was on dry land and far, far away from the ocean). It wasn’t until the end of the class that I actually started to get the hang of it.
When the class had finished, my knuckles were sore and I was drenched in sweat — seriously, even my hair was wet. I felt like I was floating from all of the endorphins buzzing around in my body. The dim lighting in the studio made the class feel so much more personal, and the loud, broad range of music really helped me push myself. It was just an awesome experience overall.
The class is not impossible; making it sound that way isn’t my intention. It’s totally and completely doable, but I won’t lie to you, it’s a challenge. But it’s one that’s worth trying.
For passes and memberships, the prices range. To try out a class just using a drop-in pass, it’s $25 (plus GST). For a ten-class pass, it’s $195. There are also a few first-timer deals right now: a 3-for-30 trial, where first-timers wanting to test out the studios can attend three classes for $30, as well as a three-week unlimited pass for $85. Other memberships that are offered include the monthly unlimited pass for $225 before tax, or a yearly unlimited pass for $1750 before tax. Students also receive 10% off their chosen membership package.
Additionally, it’s important to remember the class necessities and extras available for purchase. Your hands must be wrapped before being placed inside of boxing gloves to protect your hands and wrists while in the class. The studios have these wraps available for purchase for $12-$15. For the gloves, you can bring your own, purchase a pair straight from Champs for $45, or rent a set for free when attending a class. There are videos on their website that break down how to wrap your hands, as well as some intro videos of Jelena, and photos to give you a sneak peak at what you can expect from each studio.
For personal belongings, there are lockers available for holding your bags and personal items while in the class. The studio also sells merchandise, including hoodies, t-shirts, sports bras, and water — in case you forget your bottle at home. After each class, the studio has great amenities for that post-sweat cleanup. There are washrooms, changerooms, full showers with towels, body products, vanity mirrors, and even hair dryers.
As for the benefits of boxing, the list goes on and on. It’s great for fat burning, increasing muscle tone, improving your core stability, and, according to the Champs’ website, acts as an awesome outlet for “stress relief (like who doesn’t like to punch shit?).”
As well as these, boxing can be great for channeling mental health and releasing your emotions in a safe way, so I made my own list of benefits.
#1. You can join a community. “The biggest thing, by far, (is that) once you try us, you can tell that you’re pretty much hooked right away. You do get that sense of community,” Rose says. From when you first walk in the door to when you say goodbye, it’s all about the whole experience right through, she shares.
#2. It makes you feel badass. Even if your punches aren’t the most powerful in the room, it’s still a really encouraging feeling to know how hard you’re working.
#3. You can imagine that a photo of your worst enemy’s face is plastered on the punching bag, if you want.
#4. It literally puts you in a state of exercise euphoria, similar to the effects of a runner’s high.
#5. It’s about as personal of a workout as you can get. Picture this: you’re in a dimly-lit studio with nothing else in your square except you, your boxing gloves, and the bag. It’s perfect for competitive people who enjoy independent workouts; “It’s YOUR workout,” Rose says. “It’s you vs. you. It’s not about anybody else….That’s what the beauty of Champs truly is.”
#6. You get to prove others — and yourself — wrong. As an uber-competitive person, this is usually my biggest form of motivation. I went into the class nervous that I’d embarrass myself, but I left feeling more confident than ever. It’s one of those sports that you watch on TV and think, “Wow, I could never do that.” But why not? Jelena did, everyone at Champs did, and, shockingly enough, I did. Women in boxing are still in the shadows, and I think that needs to be changed.
Currently, Champs Boxing has two locations: one in Downtown Edmonton (10251 109 St NW), and a second studio, recently opened in March 2022, in Chappelle Commons (14131 28 Avenue SW). The future, however, looks very bright. “Our future is to grow the brand,” Rose shares. “We’re very happy that Chapelle is now open, and we look forward to eventually hoping to see additional locations not only in Edmonton, but across Canada one day, too.”
My final thoughts? I was surprised. Champs Boxing Studio offers an experience that is unlike any other, and I’m so glad that I pushed myself to try something new — even if I wasn’t able to move my arms the next day! The classes are fun, the people are great, and the story behind the studio is just one of the many reasons that makes Champs so successful. “Jelena had a dream,” Rose says, “and that dream was to build something so inclusive…. I think the culture that we’ve created is outstanding; people (just) need to see it to believe it,” she concludes. “I couldn’t ask for a better role model than Jelena Mrdjenovich, I’ll tell you that.”
As for the classes, I’m planning to return next month to try a few different forms of training. Like Rose admits, once you try it, you’re hooked. Personally, I would recommend Champs Boxing Studio to anyone who is looking to get into boxing, wanting to engage in a great workout, or just someone who feels like trying something new and out of their comfort zone. That’s what I did, and look how well it turned out for me.