Marlen Esparza is used to firsts. She qualified to represent America in the first Olympics to feature women’s boxing and then went on to be the first American woman to medal in boxing at the London Games, scoring a bronze. Now she is attempting a new first: a workout DVD, one she says is a first in and of itself because of the approach it takes to teaching boxing while focusing on the sports workout potential.
Esparza was kind enough to speak to me over the phone just before the holidays and the release of her Power Boxing Workout DVD from Acacia Lifestyle.
Why did you choose this particular workout and the DVD format? How did this all come together?
What makes it different from other boxers in the past is that all they did was simple step, one, two, three, step. It really did not show how boxing can actually change your body. Boxing is extremely hard. and you use every part of your body to get the job done. A lot of people think that all you use is your upper body but it’s the total opposite. We try to get that across [on the DVD] that the most important thing is to have a strong core. We worked very hard to make sure we got it all right and show that you can work out head to toe with boxing. We worked on it for about three months and in the end, rehearsed for about four days. But at the end of the day, it ended up being really good and a lot of fun.
Was it more than even your normal workout, having to do that repeatedly or doing multiple takes for the camera?
Ha! I’m not going to lie. I was actually really sore because I was doing it over and over and over for three days so once we actually filmed in the video, I was sooo sore! A lot of it has to do with the lunges. I don’t care how in shape you are, lunging around everywhere is really difficult. After a while, it [lunging] was pretty hard.
I work out about three times a day for two to three hours and I get about a two-hour break. I finish at 1:30 p.m. working out and we start again at 4:00 p.m. and I don’t really get back to my room until about nine at night, and we start again at about nine in the morning. So it is really difficult and the core is really hard in itself but all in all, it [DVD vs. my normal workout] evened out.
You said a lot of boxing is not just upper body but the core as well. Is it because you have to take so many body blows during the course of a fight or another reason?
That is part of the reason but it’s not the main reason. The reason the core is so important is because it’s like a tree. You can’t have a strong tree without a strong trunk, so everything is going to come from your core. It allows you to be explosive. It makes everything connect quicker, so it allows my legs to work just as fast as my arms. Everything comes from a solid core.
A lot of people don’t understand that. A lot of boxers from just doing the movement, just doing the normal everyday exercise from our sport, we get really strong backs and shoulders and our chest starts to not be as strong. Our shoulders cave in. A lot of the times, by the end of the night you get really tired, so you might only get to a few ab exercises. People do it [ab exercises] though when they get hit. But if you actually don’t have a really strong core that’s solid from the inside, not just abs on top, you won’t be as explosive as you would normally be if you worked on your core.
Is this something that a beginner to fitness should be intimidated by or is this a fairly accessible program where there is some teaching involved, as you said, you can learn or pick up boxing as you go along with it?
No. It’s definitely not intimidating at all. We actually took a lot of things out and added new things to ensure that was something solid. I did not want it to be intimidating because boxing is already difficult as is, even for me. Sometimes trying to do things that are too difficult are just not fun. You get stressed out because you can’t get things right.
We made sure that everything was pretty simple and easy, but that it had a lot to do with boxing. Every movement we do we always make sure even when we are doing our leg movements, we still have our hands up. When I do small clips, we actually teach them the punches. We don’t do anything crazy or fancy. We make sure we get everything done using boxing and using it the right way.
Is there anything special you are doing yourself to get ready in terms of training yourself in preparation for Rio in 2016?
Right now my conditioning is something we are trying to figure out. I am super conditioned already, so we are trying to get it so that I am not so used to the work. Something about me that sets me apart from other people is that I can last for a really long time. At like 60%, I can go all day. So we are trying to develop exercises where I can be more explosive and go 90% so that I can recover and then build up my muscles.
As far as boxing goes, we are really working on my fundamentals. The small details. I can do everything all day with pretty much just muscle memory. There are a few things I make mistakes on. Sometimes I do not take my legs with me when I am throwing my punches or sometimes I may not keep my right hand up when I throw my jabs. It is all just small details that we are trying to make sure are picture perfect every time. We are trying to get it so that by the games, there will be no mistakes because I will already have that drilled into my mind.
In talking about the Olympics, obviously part of why you have a lot of credibility in crafting this video is that you were one of the first women to represent the United States in the sport. I just wanted to see if you could reflect on what that meant to you to represent the United States as an Olympian and in getting to break new ground as well as a medalist, the first for the United States in the sport.
It was unbelievable. I kind of did not realize exactly what had happened until I got back. Probably not until a few months after. I swear from 2010 until a few months after the games, it’s not blurry, but I feel like it’s all just this huge chunk of time. For me it felt as if it was all just one year mashed up together.
Representing the United States is probably the most amazing thing ever. I started competing on the United States team at 16. That is when I realized representing your country is so much better than just representing yourself. There is a lot of honor in it and it makes me feel really good about [my]self. You feel as though you are working for more than just yourself representing everybody. Getting to do that on the world stage was the best thing. Getting to walk to the village in my U.S.A. uniform was one of the most amazing feelings ever.
Then, being able to medal and being the first woman to do so was huge to me as a person and good for the country but I did not realize what it meant to me until I got back. It makes me feel like I have at least made my mark in some way. I know I am going to keep trying to pursue things and accomplish things but I know I have a solid platform to stand on.
For most people when they say that, they don’t mean a literal Olympic platform.
Ha no! No they don’t!
Did you feel any added pressure after the games to almost feel like an ambassador for the sport in the U.S. as well? Again, you are helping to grow the popularity of the sport potentially for women and girls who may have been watching you and now have that opportunity to box or to grow up to become boxers and now compete in that Olympic field.
I think the greatest pressure that I ever had was at the actual games. It is not to say that the pressure afterwards is nothing, [as] there is pressure involved. It is not really popular worldwide but it is growing and growing. To sort of have a big say in the direction we go [as a sport] just by my actions because I am a huge ambassador and a face of women’s boxing and to feel that I have to then get everything right is a pressure.
I am a boxer. I have been boxing my entire life. It is my whole mindset. I cannot imagine myself without it as it’s built me as a person. That is a genuine truth. Whether people knew me or not, I would still be a boxer. I would still have been boxing for 13 years and it would still be my life. So if I just be myself, then that is as genuine as it gets and as real as it gets and hopefully that is all we need.
I just try to keep doing things to promote it. In terms of the DVD, I didn’t do it just because of boxing but because I am passionate about healthy living and because I believe in it as a sport and what it can do for you, whether or not you want to be a competitive boxer or not. That is why I went with the DVD. If it was not something I believed in, either healthy living or the sport itself, I wouldn’t have done it. I believe this DVD is good for women’s boxing and boxing as a sport is good for people itself.
Forgive me if this seems a bit of a non sequitur but a lot of what I do is in a much more nerdier vein, so one of the things I want to ask you about in terms of promoting or increasing the popularity of the sport is what role video games, like the Fight Night franchise, and hopefully new games that are going to expand to the new console generation, play. Would you want to do motion capture? Would you want to see more female boxers represented in that medium as well?
I don’t know. I’m not much of a gamer so I would not really know and I had not thought of it before. The more that I think about it I think that would be really cool! The few times that I have played or at least when I played boxing games I was not any good at it! When I would play I would say, that’s not true! I kept trying to counter and do all that other stuff I do in real life but nothing was working for me. So I was horrible at it.
I would really love that though. I think it would be a wonderful idea but I don’t know what I would have to do to go about doing that. I think it’s great in general for anybody playing to be playing with more options. It is probably more fun to beat up your friends’ characters using a female character. Especially against a male character.
I can just imagine my editor beating me with your character while I’m playing Evander Holyfield or [Floyd] Mayweather.
Ha! Yeah that would be great to see!