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Boxing workouts
Models Olivia Culpo (left) and Shea Marie (far right) with actress Cara Santana at Prevail Los Angeles. (Photo: Instagram/Olivaculpo)

Models may have been decked out in velvet and glitter at last month’s Fashion Week shows, but off the runway, many of them were donning a slightly less glam but no less fierce accessory: boxing gloves.

Yes, the sport known for black eyes and bloody noses is now the workout of choice for the industry’s most prized faces, with new examples of young women sweating it out with jabs and blocks every single day.

Victoria’s Secret models train at Chelsea’s chic Aerospace with former pro boxer Michael Olajide, Jr. Gisele shows off her punches in her Under Armour videos, Helena Christensen spars with Jason Lee at Mendez Boxing, and it-girl Gigi Hadid is public about her love affair with Gotham Gym in New York’s West Village. On the West Coast, Olivia Culpo hits up Prevail Los Angeles.

Trendy fitness fashion brand Alala even shot its spring lookbook at old-school boxing spot Gleason’s, and next month, NYC’s Fitness District will welcome Shadowbox, a boutique studio for boxing classes.

“Aerospace was the first boxing concept to start in the fitness industry,” says Olajide, who started using the sport’s techniques with clients as an Equinox trainer after his career as a fighter ended in the early ’90s. He later picked up clients in the fashion world and has now been training Adriana Lima for the last decade—and he’s seen interest in the workout explode along the way. “It’s starting to hit the tipping point. I’ve seen it grow from nothing to where it is now,” he says.

boxing workouts
Michael Olajide training Adriana Lima. (Photo: Tumblr.com)

So what’s the draw for the fashion-world elite (who are jumping on the trend, by the way, via bags, pads, and shadowboxing, not person-to-person contact)?

The fact that it’s an intense workout that burns calories and builds lean muscle fast plays a big role. “Boxing demands that every muscle serves a purpose,” says Milan Costich, who opened Prevail Los Angeles about three years ago after he was struck by boxing’s transformative power. The gym is now frequented by many models, he says, because of the sport’s innate ability to sculpt a long, lithe physique. “In boxing, there’s no room for excess fat, or even bulky muscle. It tones you more than any other workout.”

Olajide agrees that it’s the perfect storm of what models are looking for in their sweat sessions. “It’s about size, cutting down,” he says, and in boxing, “everything emanates from your core. You’re always toning your mid-section.”

boxing workout
A shot from Alala’s fall lookbook, shot at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. (Photo: Alala)

And then there are the mental and emotional benefits. If you think that losing-yourself feeling you find in a dark spin class is like therapy, then slamming your fists into a heavy bag is that release on steroids. Plus, every session is a different challenge.

“Boxing is skill-based, so if you have a great teacher, you’ll never get tired of it, and you’ll always be learning something new,” Olajide explains. “It’s not going to get boring or repetitious.”

Getting stronger, blow by blow, is also empowering and offers a sense of control, which is an asset when you’re staring down a long day filled with the scrutiny of casting calls.

“Boxing affects you mentally and gives you a little extra confidence to go about life with a different perspective,” says Prevail’s Costich. “When you do a workout you didn’t think you could do, you start to realize maybe there are other things you can do that people had put a limit on.”

Like landing the cover of Vogue, perhaps? —Lisa Elaine Held