NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jennifer Vaughn needed to get in shape after law school. Emily McCart wanted a break from running.
Punching, jabbing and kicking a heavy boxing bag turned out to be just the workout they were looking for.
For women who crave an intense fitness routine, boxing-based workouts can be efficient and empowering, even if their feet never touch the inside of a ring.
"I became addicted to it," said Vaughn, a Chicago-based attorney. "It has given me an amazing sense of confidence and poise; a feeling that there is nothing that can't be accomplished."
Such was her devotion that Vaughn eventually opened a franchise location of LA Boxing, a national chain that specializes in boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts, in her town.
"It developed from a love of the sport," she said. "I wanted to train like a fighter, but in a place where you didn't' have to get in the ring if you didn't want to. "
Her club boasts a regulation-sized ring and some 35 150-pound (68-kilogram) punching bags. Women, who make up 60 percent of her clientele, gravitate to the group fitness classes.
"We get working class people, professional women, students, some senior citizens too," she said. "We have a few pros, but most people are there to work out."
McCart, a Chicago-based public defender, said the strength she gained from her boxing fitness classes complements her running.
"I've learned something about the sport, the technique," she said. "I never knew I'd like it, but it's become a part of my life."
Philip Jacobs, LA Boxing's Director of Franchise, said his company targets soccer moms and their kids.
"I would say 90 percent of our clients have nothing to do with real fighting," he said from Santa Ana, California.
He said members divide equally along gender lines, but can foresee a spike in female members this summer when the 2012 Olympics includes women's boxing for the first time.
"It's fun. It's empowering. It's as much psychological as physical," he said of the workout, which he said can burn up to 1000 calories. "If you can't do a six-punch combination, you do a two-punch. Everyone gets their own bag and goes at their own pace."
He calls the hour-long classes hardcore and quick.
"It's a testosterone-filled environment for people who seek out an intense workout. Women don't walk in there with makeup on."
Pam Opdyke, regional sports manager, Reebok Sports Club/NY and The Sports Club/LA, said women members crave the intensity of the boxing and kickboxing classes those fitness centers offer, just as much as the men do.
"I think our boxing classes have always been predominantly women," said Opdyke, who is based in New York.
She said boxing workouts are great for toning the upper arms, back and abdominals, areas that women often like to target, while providing a high-intensity cardio session at the same time.
"It's all intermixed with boxing," she explained. "Just hitting the bag is cardiovascular, and you're working on your abdominals and your arms. You're also twisting, and then there are plyometric (jumping) moves, followed by pushups and sit ups."
She said boxing is a particular draw for professional women.
"The people who take our classes are Type A," she said. "They learn to do it well."
Her clients mainly attack heavy bags, not people. "I don't think anyone imagines they would hit anybody," she said. "But just imagining they could is a confidence booster."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney)