Prickly concrete dug into my skin, dirt and pebbles sticking and grinding into my sweaty shoulders. In unison with the women on either side of me, we yelled out the number of each leg lift, all of us laying on our backs on a handball court on East 35th Street on an 83-degree summer day.
“Thanks for showing up to work!” Will Jackson shouted, circling us with hip-hop blasting from a speaker in his backpack as he told us our next move: Go do sprints back and forth to the end of the court, climbing a four-foot fence in between each time.
Jackson is the founder of WRKNYC, an under-the-radar Manhattan boot camp that draws a really bad-ass group of women (and men!). They don’t mind working out in the heat (sometimes for two hours straight) without a moment’s break, and they don’t bat an eyelash at rolling around on city pavement. In fact, they really enjoy it.
Like many other fitness pros, Jackson started out as a personal trainer at gyms around the city, like Equinox and New York Health & Racquet, and teaching classes at New York Sports Club. He developed a following there, and then decided to strike out on his own.
“I had a vision of just training my neighborhood, Harlem,” he says, “and then I wanted to train the whole city.”
Jackson now teaches his classes (which cost about $20) at the aforementioned handball court in St. Vartan’s Park in Murray Hill and at BDA Studios in the Garment District, and his style starts with motivating mantras he throws out repeatedly while you’re sweating, like “Always trust your trainer!” (Which he’ll yell when you’re having second thoughts about your ability to climb over that fence without face planting.)
I’d signed up for CRC (Calisthenics, Resistance, Conditioning), which consisted of strength and conditioning intervals involving body-weight exercises like push-ups and burpees, tough TRX moves, group runs around the block, jumping rope, wall sits, and more. He also has classes that are all TRX, all jump rope, and boxing-based.
And Jackson’s no-break ethos is pretty serious. It was one of the first hardcore boot camps I’ve been to where no one stopped to get water until it was completely over. (He’ll of course let you take a break if you need one, but he wants to get you to a place where you won’t.) “You’ll never have the opportunity to say ‘What’s next?’ You keep moving, whether you’re going slow or full-speed, you have to be doing something. There’s no standing around,” he says.
Why it WRKs
So why do so many New Yorkers choose to sweat with him? “It’s just constant movement, and you’re having fun while you’re doing it,” says one regular, Amanda Baker (or “Bakes,” according to Jackson), who says she was initially intimidated by the workout. “I was kind of upset at myself that I couldn’t do it, so I wanted to push myself.”
Which is exactly where Jackson’s specialty comes in. “He really helps us to see what our strengths are,” she says, something I felt right away. He seemed to have a sense for those moments when I was shaking so much I felt like I couldn’t possibly do another lunge, and he’d be right there, smiling, his chosen nickname for me ready. “Thanks for showing up to work, Lis!”
Not convinced? Baker tells me the WRKNYC regulars signed up for a Long Island race, each of them choosing 5K or 10K distances to complete. When they approached their respective finish lines, Jackson told them they’d all be fine if they kept going on the half-marathon route instead. “He said, ‘You’re all capable.’ We all just continued running and by the end of it, I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know my body could do this!'” —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.wrknyc.com