12 Rounds Class Keeps Everyone Fighting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Before anyone puts on boxing gloves for a couple of minutes at the punching bags, before any tires are flipped and before any kettlebells are pressed, Clemate Franklin encourages everyone in his 12 Rounds class to share why they’re there that day.

For some, it’s health and for others it’s family. Some in the class are there to relieve stress and others for food (consumed between classes, of course). But what’s important is that everyone has his own reason.

“I fight for motivation. At one time I was injured and was a little addicted to pain pills off that injury. I realized it and that there are better things in life,” says Jacob Peters, a longtime 12 Rounds participant. “I said, ‘I’m going to do this class and fight to not get back to that, to not being out of shape or being addicted to anything.’ The only thing I’m addicted to now is self-improvement.”

For Kelly McGuire, the class has been a way to establish control over her life. Like Peters, she also dealt with drug addiction and found exercise an important step to recovery. What 12 Rounds brought, she says, was consistency.

“I needed to be around friendly people, people that are legit and really care about you. That was something I needed and I found. It’s still the same crew that it’s always been, and I needed that,” she says. “I didn’t have my own self-discipline. Drug addiction is a relationship between a master and a slave, so I moved when it was time to get high. … That’s why I say, ‘My name is Kelly and I fight for self-discipline.’ I need it in my whole life. For the rest of my life.”

The purpose of the motivation circle, as Franklin calls it, to start each 12 Rounds class is to give everyone a reminder to why they’re there. It’s easy to be on autopilot, he says, whether it’s at the gym or in day-to-day life. By vocalizing their purpose, it gives everyone a focus.

“I always want to let everyone know and be aware of what they’re here for,” Franklin says. “When you get inside the challenger’s head and say, ‘I’m here to fight for my son, my daughter, my mom, my dad, whatever keeps you going,’ it keeps you going.”

Clemate Franklin created 12 Rounds at the Central Branch YMCA in Youngstown as a way to keep himself motivated and motivate others to practice self-discipline.

Another aspect of the preclass routine is Franklin’s hellos. Everyone who walks in is offered a high five, hug or combination of the two, along with a short, energetic talk about what they have going on. No matter how big the class is, everyone who wants a minute with Franklin has it. It’s not uncommon for the official 5:30 p.m. start time to be pushed back a few minutes.

Once it does start, it always opens with the same line: “I’m Clemate Franklin and today I fight for peace.”

Franklin, a former Golden Gloves boxer, started the class at the Central Branch of the YMCA of Youngstown in 2016 after a shoulder injury forced him to step away from the ring. He found himself bored and eventually started working with others, focusing on helping them more outside the ring than in it. 

“I’m fighting for peace within myself, peace within the world, peace within humanity. Where there’s peace, there’s love and people being themselves, being happy,” he says. “I was able to find peace within boxing. It may sound strange when you’re getting hit in the head here and there, but I was able to find peace in chaos.”

Those fights, and the preparation for them, brought lessons that Franklin has since applied to all aspects of his life. 

“It taught me discipline: going to my workouts, being on time, having a bed schedule, eating properly. It held me accountable because I knew that if I didn’t work out, on fight night it would show. It put me on a nice, tight schedule that’s all been worth it.”

There’s often a controlled chaos in the class. Modeled after the types of workouts boxers go through, 12 Rounds is a circuit class. Participants, assigned into groups of four, make their way around the rooms, moving from station to station after a few minutes of each work out. 

Kelly McGuire says 12 Rounds has been an important component in her recovery.

An exercise on the punching bag is always present, as are squats with resistance bands and swinging heavy ropes. But the rest of the stations – each class includes between eight and 12, depending on the day – are almost always changing. 

One class might include shadow boxing with dumbbells, pushups on a Bosu Ball and running across a basketball court with a medicine ball, slamming it down, picking it up and running back. 

Another might call for Russian twists with a medicine ball, curls with a resistance band and high-knee raises with ankle weights attached. Each class ends with a few minutes of core exercises, usually a variation of a plank or crunch.

The combinations are seemingly endless and provide a new type of workout each class.

“How we have it set up, your body doesn’t get used to it and hit a plateau,” Franklin says. “Boxing is an all-around body workout. Boxers are the best pound for pound athlete there is, as far as being conditioned. What we go through here at 12 Rounds is a championship workout. We’re at our peak, hitting different muscle groups.”

But for many who attend the class – and observers such as Youngstown YMCA President and CEO Tom Gacse – the most important part isn’t the exercises. It’s the relationship between Franklin and those in the gym, as well as among the participants themselves.

“He gets involved with people. It’s not just him up there doing a checklist of, ‘We’re going to do this. Now do that. Now we’re moving to this station.’ He’s part of the workout,” Gacse says. “He gets the most out of people because he does care and he encourages them. He senses them slowing down and gives them more positive feedback about how good they’re doing.”

And that energy permeates to those taking part. For McGuire and Peters, it’s what keeps them coming back. It’s not uncommon to see a flurry of high fives from each group as they finish a station or words of encouragement as the class charges past the halfway point of the hour long workout and people get tired.

“What I got from 12 Rounds was when you feel like you’ve hit your limit, you can keep going past that. That’s the reward you get when you get through it,” Peters says. “Once I started pushing myself, I gained confidence and a feeling of well-being.”

Jacob Peters lifts a heavy truck tire at one of the stations in the 12 Rounds class. “Clemate pushes us,” he says of Franklin.

Earlier this year, more than a year after his first 12 Rounds class, Peters completed his first Spartan Race at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The obstacle course included running the stadium stairs, a wall climb, rope climbs and crawls through the grass. 

“Clemate pushes us. He keeps us going. He tells us to dig deep. When I did the Spartan Challenge, that’s what I was thinking about,” he recalls.

Adds McGuire, “I love our vibe. There’s never a dull moment in any of the classes. I love that Clemate is the same every time. He’s the same in here and out there. He’s a phenomenal man. … It’s a wonderful class that’s family-oriented. I’m very, very glad to be a part of it. I’m glad I’ve met everyone.”

And everyone is just about everyone. Participants in the adult class have ranged from 18 to 88 and Franklin started a class aimed at children. There have been people who are at the YMCA for the first time in years and those who’ve been there daily for decades. 

The class also fits squarely with the YMCA’s overall mission – “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.” 

At the Youngstown Y, the organization adopted a motto of FAB: friendship, achievement and belonging.

“It’s the feeling of community, like they’re part of something bigger than just the program and class. That’s what I see. 12 Rounds is a great example of that [motto],” Gacse says. “It’s one of the finest classes we have and certainly one of the most talked about.”

It’s also caught the attention of national YMCA. Over the summer, Franklin met with leaders from the organization, including CEO Kevin Washington. 

“They told me they see a lot of Christian principles within the class, because it’s not just a workout class. It’s about unity and community,” Franklin says. “And there’s the exercise side, where they saw transformations. There are people working out with a smile.”

“It’s very exciting for the Youngstown YMCA and we’re very proud,” Gacse says of Franklin and his 12 Rounds class. “There are people that have circuit training that’s similar, but it’s because of the way he puts it together combined with who he is as a person.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.