The rise of boutique gyms is prompting more people to throw punches for fitness.
By Sean Nam
Six days a week for four months last year, Gabrielle Cramer, 26, would haul herself from her downtown Manhattan apartment at 5:30 a.m. and take the subway some 50 blocks north to the sweat stained environs of the Mendez Boxing Gym.
Here Cramer, equipped with a mouthguard and headgear, would partake in a sparring session carefully overseen by her trainer. Afterward, she would swing over to her full-time sales gig at a fitness equipment start-up. At the end of the day, Cramer was either back in the gym, working on her technique, or out on the avenues going for a five-mile run. Sometimes, she would mix in a Pilates class at a nearby Equinox.
Cramer was not moonlighting as a professional fighter nor striving to become an amateur champion. But with a cancer charity boxing match, Haymakers for Hope, looming, Cramer needed to be in tip-top form. “Boxing is not something you can do half-assed,” she says, citing the 2,000 people who would end up watching around the ring. She would wind up losing a close decision.
Boxing is growing as the go-to sport for fitness aficionados. Between the Victoria Secret models, Instagram influencers and the explosion of boutique gyms, like Overthrow New York and Shadowbox NYC in New York City, Rumble Boxing and Everybody Fights in Philadelphia, and Prevail Boxing in Los Angeles, “the sweet science,” as boxing is sometimes known, is growing in popularity.
Seeing others sparring or hitting the bags satisfies the Millennial love of small-group communal fitness and gives young adults the motivation that toiling on a treadmill lacks. And boutique gyms are cropping up within easy reach of transportation and work centers, fulfilling the need for convenience.
Where Cramer and others with fulltime occupations differ from the usual crop of white-collar boxers is their level of commitment. Sparring and competing in an actual sanctioned amateur fight, tasks taboo to the average fitness boxer, are all part of what they want from the sport—even if that means the occasional sore ribs.
Max Padrid, a 30-year-old investment banker, who like Cramer trains at Mendez and had a fight in the same charity event, gets up at 7:00 and is at work by 8:30. By 7:00 p.m. he is in the gym for the next two hours. While preparing for his fight, Padrid trained six days a week, the kind of sacrifice he knows can make evening plans prohibitive. “It means, yeah, I can’t go to dinner with my girlfriend during the week or go to a company party,” says Padrid, who won via unanimous decision.
Shanel Mushayev, 29, the owner of Brooklyn Cutz, a barber shop in Coney Island, opens and closes five days a week. At 8 p.m. he jogs over to the nearby Fight Factory, where he trains regularly, sometimes until midnight. “If you look at my gym membership in the past two years and see how many times I punched in,” Mushayev says, “I went three or four days a week consistently every week.”
Padrid got hooked on boxing when a coworker convinced him to tag along for a workout. “There’s an immediate feeling of self-empowerment and confidence you feel when you put a pair of gloves on for the first time,” Padrid says. “I know it sounds a little corny, but boxing at its core is about bettering yourself. You walk into the gym and see all these competitive people. It’s addicting.”
Mushayev, who one day hopes to fight in the Golden Gloves tournament, says the appeal in boxing for him is that the sport “has principles. In real life a lot of times, we don’t have goals. But in the gym, you can say, ‘Today I’m going to throw 500 punches.’”
Boutique or Fight Gyms?
Bruce Silverglade, who has owned Gleason’s Gym in the Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood of Brooklyn for 38 years, sees a healthy relationship between the boutique gyms that are sprouting up and the more no-frills, rough-edged boxing gyms like his.
“The more that these boutique gyms open up, the better off we are,” says Silverglade. “I support them totally because they are not in competition with me. A person that trains at Gleason’s gym is not interested in a boutique gym. They want the ‘real deal,’ a gritty type of a gym.”
He welcomes boutique gyms and predicts that regulars at such gyms will eventually migrate over to a “fight gym” like Gleason’s. “They realize that boxing is a very unique type of workout,” Silverglade says. “It’s more mental than it is physical. Not everybody has what it takes to step into a ring. That’s why boxing is about conquering your fears.”
Adds Padrid, “It’s about what you want to get out of the sport. If you want to make a few friends and feel good about yourself on Saturday afternoon, then a pop-up gym is right for you. I’m in it to really learn about the sport.”
The biggest demographic change in the sport has been the increase in women. Silverglade says more than 400 of his members are women—nearly half his membership total. Michael Olajide, a former top middleweight contender and owner of Aerospace, in Chelsea, concurs. “When I was growing up in a boxing gym in the ’70s, there were like one or two women. Now women in boxing have taken over. There are more women boxing than men.”
Prepping for Punches
Olajide, who has trained celebrities from supermodel Adriana Lima to actor Hugh Jackman, extols the virtues of boxing conditioning.
“It is the top calorie-burning [activity] for cardiovascular benefits and for muscular endurance and definition,” said Olajide. “You need cardio because that’s going to make the blood course throughout your body and renew your fibers and tissue and keep your energy up.”
Cramer advises aspiring boxers to run, “especially if you’re actually going to fight. At the end of the day, conditioning is what makes the difference.” Padrid, on the other hand, finds that hitting the mitts with his coach is the best preparation for a fight. Mushayev likes to shadowbox; performing the practice in front of the mirror, in particular, helps him track his improvements. As for conditioning exercises, he recommends jumping rope and doing squats.
As competitively inclined as Cramer, Padrid and Mushayev are, boxing has routinely tested the limits of their ambitions. Padrid says his biggest challenge was finding a way “to fit training, running, sleeping and eating in every day without exception.” In Cramer’s case, it was returning to the gym after an arduous sparring session. “The ability to get a bloody nose or black eye and to be able to come in the next day and be okay with it, that was tough,” she says.
But not everything about boxing is about the relentless grind, and victories aren’t necessarily won after going the distance. “Some of my clients have seen my boxing posts on Instagram and have signed up to go to the gym,” says Mushayev. “That makes me happy. I’m not even a pro.”
Cramer recalls the thrill of rolling to successfully dodge a punch while sparring. “I just stopped because I was so surprised,” she says. “I just started laughing because I was so thrilled that it had actually finally happened.” After her fight, Cramer says she needed a “mental hiatus” from boxing. But soon she started receiving texts from her fellow gym members urging her to come back. “Now I’m back to normal, back to going every day,” she says. “In fact, I’m going right after this call.”