When I ventured to work out at 9Round, the kickboxing fitness studio a few doors down from Cajun Kitchen in Goleta’s Target shopping center, I admit feeling some trepidation. Would the place be filled with hardcore cage-fighters who would scoff at my novice’s technique and snicker at my fingerless pink boxing gloves? Bad memories of being the only girl in a summer karate class started coming back to me.
I needn’t have worried. Although it’s decorated with images of Muhammad Ali and Rocky Balboa, 9Round welcomes beginners, and every workout includes certified trainers who help lead you through the circuit. Franchise owner Anthony Estrella got serious about martial arts in high school, but he estimates 80 percent of members have no prior background in boxing or martial arts and are simply looking for a challenging workout that doesn’t involve actually hitting or kicking another person. This is true even of the trainers, like Taylor, a runner who started kickboxing six years ago as a way to cross-train. Estrella says 60-70 percent of members and the majority of trainers are women; his oldest member is 75.
For those trying to be cautious during this tripledemic winter, 9Round offers a clean facility and a hand-sanitizing station. When I arrived for my first workout on a chilly December evening, the evening crowd had subsided, the door was open, and the fans were on, so I felt comfortable not wearing a mask.
The first session includes an intake interview and an individual workout with a trainer. Taylor asked me about my medical conditions, current fitness level, fitness goals, dominant hand, and physical limitations (I generally avoid jumping). She then coached me through the workout, explaining terminology like fighting stance and hands-at-home, and observing my form. She was patient with my questions and offered helpful corrections, like telling me which part of my hand was supposed to be making contact with the bag.
The 9Round workout is a circuit consisting of nine stations (rounds); the conventional order starts with a warmup (jumping rope), moves on to strength training, and ends with an ab/core round. After exercising with weights or medicine balls for Round 2, you’ll put on boxing gloves (the gym has loaners if you don’t have your own) for Rounds 3-7, where you’ll punch and kick bags of different sizes, shapes, and orientations (double-end, heavy, teardrop, horizontal). For Round 8, you’ll peel off the gloves and try to establish a rhythm with the fiendishly difficult speed bag, which always seemed to bob and weave away from my punches. Each round has a whiteboard listing a combination of exercises (like alternating uppercuts and shin kicks), and the workout changes every day.
Each round lasts three minutes, and a boxing-style bell sounds when there are 30 seconds left in the round, and then signals when the next round begins. Trainers circulate the entire time, explaining the day’s workout and offering advice and encouragement. For the 30-second interval between rounds, trainers call out an exercise to do (such as mountain climbers or side planks) to keep your heart rate up — or you can catch your breath if you need to.
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Members can participate in the challenge of the week, which might consist of doing as many repetitions as you can of, for example, a jumping jack with four alternating hooks. Estrella says most members simply try to increase the number of reps they can do throughout the week, but some like to compete with each other for bragging rights for the most reps, most attempts, biggest gain — results go up on a whiteboard by the door. A screen will also display the results from your heart rate monitor if you choose to share them.
One of my favorite aspects of 9Round was pad work, which involves an instructor holding up pads for you to hit in a specific combination (for example: jab, cross, duck, cross, hook) — executing the sequence is a brain workout as well as a physical one. I didn’t learn to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, but the moves at 9Round — say, doing a hammer strike on the horizontal bag — did make me feel my body’s power in a way other workouts don’t. I also loved the energetic music; the FitRadio playlists featured artists such as Green Day, Weezer, and The Killers one day and the Rolling Stones and Blondie on another. It can get loud, so bring earplugs if you’re sensitive.
You might think a 9Round workout, which lasts about 30 minutes, is too brief to be challenging. You’d be wrong. After a half-hour, I was soaked with sweat, and my muscles were sore the next day, but mostly in a good way. When I mentioned my sore forearms after the first workout, a trainer advised me to ditch my fingerless gloves and don a fully padded pair, which took care of the problem.
A fitness industry veteran and one-time stay-at-home dad who bought the 9Round franchise a week before the original pandemic shutdown, Estrella notes with pride that 9Round is family-owned. He encourages family members to work out together, which he says creates indelible memories, like the ones he has of doing martial arts with his own dad. He cites the example of Tyler, one of the studio’s trainers, who first joined her dad as a member of 9Round and then became an employee. Estrella welcomes kids as young as 10 as members and has plans to launch a free kids’ hour for 10-17-year-olds. His own three kids sometimes join him for a workout. Estrella says they understand his personal mission of increasing people’s health and fitness. He said, “They’ll ask me, ‘How many people did you help today, Dad?’”
411: 9Round, 9round.com, 6831 Hollister Ave., Suite I, Goleta. The studio is open for blocks of time throughout the day (usually morning, midday, and evening) Monday-Saturday. After the first session, no particular start time must be reserved – whenever members arrive, they work into the circuit. Changing room with lockers (no showers), and a separate bathroom. Cubbies also provided for storing personal items. No towel service. Plenty of free parking. Promotional $99 membership through January 31.