When Jake Gyllenhaal and Adriana Lima need to get in shape, they head to Aerospace High Performance Center, a boxing gym in Manhattan run by former middleweight champion boxer Michael Olajide, Jr. and former professional ballerina Leila Fazel.
The signature workout is equal parts aerobic and strengthening; their website calls it “the most savage and serene workout experience on the planet.”
Aerospace has been operating since 2004, flush with celebrity clientele and intensely dedicated students. Hugh Jackman, Doutzen Kroes, Martha Hunt, Shay Mitchell, Linda Evangelista, Iman, and Elsa Hosk are also known to work out here.
Classes are $32 a pop, and they also have streaming video for an at-home workout.
“This gym is people-powered,” Olajide said. “It’s man over machine.”
I put the Aerospace method to the test, attending three different classes over the space of a few weeks. I’m no stranger to exercise classes, and have tried out everything from SoulCycle to Physique 57 to hot yoga, zumba, and dance cardio. I love working up a sweat, and am always game to try something new.
But every time I went to Aerospace, it was the toughest workout I’ve ever had. In the locker room after class, I started chatting with one of the svelte young women I’d also seen at other classes. She told me she was a model.
“Does it ever get any easier?” I asked.
“Try meditation,” she told me. In other words: this is one workout that is a challenge every time.
Boutique workout classes are currently all the rage. From barre to bootcamp, new ways to whip your body into shape are popping up daily. But boxing, Olajide says, is a whole different ball game.
Elsa Hosk (left) and Martha Hunt (right) are a couple of the Victoria's Secret models that currently frequent the classes. The Aerospace methodology is ideal for those trying to avoid bulking up while staying slim and improving cardiovascular fitness.
This is me, preparing for class by reminding myself how to jump rope. The Aerospace studio is a massive, brightly lit mirrored space; no candlelight vibes here. Some classes take place in a basement room outfitted with punching bags, but 'Aero3' is out in the open.
'Fitness should be a sports simulation,' Olajide said. 'Just follow what the athletes do.' For boxers, that's a lot of cardio conditioning and toning. You don't need any fancy equipment or a private trainer; you just need your focus.
This is Olajide himself. Some Aerospace devotees have been with Olajide and Fazel for over 20 years. The list of actors, athletes, and models who've turned to Aerospace to sculpt their bodies is a mile long.
Classes have about 30 students, a mix of ages and ability levels. After class, I chatted with one model who said she was the newest member of the gym -- and she's been a regular for two months. We started by stretching to pounding hip-hop music.
The first part of the class is all about strength training: a rapid series of squats and lunges. Olajide counts down the movements and keeps you going much longer than you want to.
These free-standing bars helped us keep our balance as we attempted even more lunges. By this point, every muscle in my lower body was feeling the burn; you can see the woman in front of me taking a moment to catch her breath.
Next up: Therabands. Instead of heavy weights, the classes make use of the resistance of Therabands for upper-body toning. My arms were burning at this point.
All of these sections were interspersed with high-intensity jump rope intervals, keeping my heart pounding and sweat dripping. Double-unders and cross-rope jumping were par for the course for regulars, keeping the momentum going to the fast-paced hip hop rhythm.
Towards the end of class, we finally got into the 'boxing' routine. In this instance, there are no punching bags: this is called 'shadow boxing,' where you're working with sharp moves against nothing but air.
The boxing sequences start slow, then build to a combination of 8 or more connected punches (jabs, crosses, cuts, and the like). It seems simple at first, but the faster you go, the harder it becomes to remember the pattern. My back and arms rapidly started aching.
Jump rope might seem like a simple playground activity, but with Olajide at the helm, it's a serious heart-pumping experience. The rhythmic sound of ropes hitting the studio floor in a synchronised slap kept me going.
The ending stretches were a welcome relief. I was dripping with sweat, and my heart hadn't slowed down once during the entire hour. I was also sore for the next three days. Olajide says that familiarity builds strength, but in order to get the workout's full benefit, you've got to go daily.
Olajide doesn't think of his workout as a trend. 'The whole field was barren,' he said of the fitness space when they launched the initial boxing program. Now, boxing gyms are popping up all over. But Aerospace is an original -- and, based on my workout, I'd say it's a gym with staying power.
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