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If working out is cool again, then boxing is like the VIP section at an Oscars after party, or at least the Plastics table. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly caused the knock-em-out boom, but it's here, it's painfully hip, and studios are popping up all over the place in an attempt to cash in on the suddenly It exercise.
There’s LA Boxing, the nationwide company acquired by UFC Gyms last year. There’s iLoveKickboxing.com (real name!), which sounds more like a pyramid scheme than a fitness company and hosts its challenging full-body classes at locations from coast to coast. There are the OG neighborhood spots, which are wisely warming to group fitness classes. And then, of course, there are the increasingly popular boutique studios which stand head and shoulders above the rest.
The first place I visit in New York is Overthrow Boxing Club, purveyors of a sweaty, raucous class taught in a basement outpost that, on Friday nights, serves post-workout beer. Broken up into small groups, my fellow participants and I share bags, do sit-ups, tie on sweaty gloves, and have trainers pour water into our mouths. It is, drink included, much more rewarding than a typical exercise class.
But for the true Cool Girl boxing experience, I check out Aerospace, an innovative gym that's stark white, open, and unadorned, with all of the boxing equipment concentrated in just a few spaces. Unlike the evenly co-ed class at Overthrow, this one happens to be jam-packed with stylish twentysomething women who, like me, look more appropriately dressed for weekend SoulCycle than a session that teaches you how to fight other humans.
You see, boxing is hot right now, and so are the people doing it. In fact, when it comes to boxing, gyms are defined by their most attractive devotees. At Prevail in Los Angeles, it’s Olivia Culpo. At New York's Gotham Gym, it’s Gigi Hadid, Irina Shayk, and Cara Delevigne. And at Aerospace, it’s Constance Jablonski and Adriana Lima.
For a deeper dive into this model favorite, I end up popping by Aerospace again to spend some one-on-one time with co-owner Michael Olajide, Jr., a former champion boxer, current Victoria’s Secret Angel trainer, and certified head-to-toe badass. (Allow me to point you in the direction of his winged sneakers and silver eyepatch.) To call this training session one of the more difficult hours of my life would be an understatement.
Olajide, Jr.'s preferred form of cardio is jump rope mixed with tricks most commonly seen in double-dutch championships; I have light PTSD from the rope-whipping my legs endured. His method of toning—a system of equipment-free movements that involves him pushing back on every motion I make—is equally as aggressive. While lying on top of my feet like a child doing Superman as I attempt to push into his stone stomach, he mentions that this regime is what got Jake Gyllenhaal in shape for Southpaw, because of course it is.
But it makes sense that these model-y women are getting in on the hardcore practice: With boxing being so deeply rooted in attentiveness and fluidity, it may be even closer to ballet than barre class is. Unlike those terrible tiny squats that leave you waiting for "shakes and quakes" to materialize in your lower body, boxing is reactionary. You’re there, bobbing and weaving, and as opposed to all those lower ab exercises in barre, there's no denying you did the workout, especially when you can't lift your arms to type for the next 48 hours.
Floating aside, boxing has another undeniable connection to dance thanks to the emphasis on coordination and bodily control. Unfortunately, this may be a harder pill to swallow, because unlike basic strength (which can be earned), these are things you’re simply born with...or not.
I swear I'm not racking up humblebrag points—when Michael asked me what sport I played in college, I laughed and responded "eating"—but for someone who danced throughout high school, these movements prove to be inherent. I'm able to do most jump rope tricks on the first or second try, and rarely goof when the punching combos become Simon-levels of confusing. Who knew boxing would be perfect for a failed musical theater ensemble dancer?
When I finally drag my tired self home from Aerospace and get around to Googling "Southpaw," I almost barf up a handful of almonds when I see the insane results. This is a movie star workout, and it is ruthless, which is exactly what makes boxing so great.
It’s a welcome respite from the cheerful toe-tapping of cardio dance and the monotony of barre. You’re not standing in place or pretending to bike outside—you get to do the actual sport as you learn it. (And do you know how cool boxing gloves look slung around your shoulder when you dip out of work early to get to class? Ye-ah.) Plus, some days you just want to punch a goddamn bag of sand, okay?!
It's clear that pristine, innovative studios like Aerospace and other model-favorite boxing spots are leading the sport's shift from gritty dude-only gyms to glamorous women-friendly ones. New Yorkers, just wait until Shadowbox opens in Manhattan later this spring. Claiming to "evolve old-school boxing for the 21st century" by offering cold-pressed juices, coffee, and full amenities, it will undeniably prove that the fancy is happening, and it’s happening now.
There is, however, one major pitfall when it comes to boxing. Unlike most group exercise, it’s difficult to master the fundamentals without proper individualized instruction. One-on-one training is imperative, but it's also incredibly expensive. (Of course, even group fitness is bordering on unaffordable these days.)
To be able to jab and hook effectively in class, you need your mistakes pointed out to you on repeat, before they become habits. You need to know where your feet should be when you hook, or to block your face when you jab, but unless an instructor is correcting you throughout the duration of class, you’re going to miss helpful, necessary advice.
That is to say, it's worth starting off with a session or two where someone is showing you, and just you, the ropes. You’ll get your moves on lock, see first-hand just how incredible the workout can be, and be able rule the Cool Girl classes before you know it.