Shadowboxing with Jake Gyllenhaal


While at dinner for a friend’s birthday, Chelsea Leyland, the DJ, started shadowboxing at the table, demonstrating some of the moves she'd picked up from an exercise class that was shaping her tiny British limbs into MOAs (Michelle Obama Arms). After dinner, I asked the birthday girl where Leyland got her moves. “Aerobox,” she said, “it’s where all of the models go.”

A quick Google search proved my friend right. There was Lily Kwong getting her Rocky on in the New York Times and Adriana Lima dishing on how she used the class to lose her baby weight in time for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Apparently every vet and newcomer on the catwalk whittled inches off of their perfectly-formed waists with the help of former middleweight champ Michael Olajide, Jr. at NYC's Aerospace gym. The airy glass-box studio was founded by Olajide and ballet dancer Leila Fazel under the philosophy that boxers have incredibly lean, perfectly toned bodies and usually get that way without the help of machines. How had I not heard of this place? OK—shocker—I’m not a model, but, regardless, I couldn’t shake the feeling: W as everyone hanging out boxing without me?

On one especially ambitious Saturday morning (for me, not for Saturday), I slapped on some spandex and jogged over to the West Village studio. As promised, there they were: a room full of models, both male and female, waiting to get, in Michael’s words, “sleekified.” AND...had I downed too many tequila-sodas last night or was that Jake FUCKING Gyllenhaal? (I realize the headline gave this savory detail away, but, readers, imagine my surprise). Quick digression, and to answer the questions I know I'd have if I were you: he is extremely large, he wears a headband to work out (it totally plays), and he does not work out shirtless. Oh, and his eyes are the size of quarters. That is all.

At 9:58 AM, Michael comes in, and he looks—and I mean this as a sincere compliment—like an extra from Waterworld, by which I mean this is the man you want on your side in the event of an apocalypse. He is RIPPED. His shirt is RIPPED. And he’s wearing a metal eye patch that he had specially cast into an Egyptian Eye of Horus (For the non-Egyptology majors out there: that’s apparently the sign of protection, good health, and royal power). I was his humble student. Here's how it goes:

The class gets off to a fantastic start. Some light jumping around to warm up, then we pick up the jump ropes, which Michael calls the “rain makers” for their sweat-inducing power, and… I kind of can’t believe that I still know how to jump rope. I’m keeping up with everyone, and it’s kind of fun! Just as I start to wonder if it’s too late to pursue what's clearly my true career calling—professional jump roper—Michael yells, “ Double time!” I almost laugh, because, obviously, there is no way anyone could go faster than the class' current speed. BUT THEY CAN. And they do. Everyone is crisscrossing their ropes like they’re auditioning for The Fighter. And Michael asks us to change speed or do something new every ninety seconds because, he later tells me, mental exhaustion comes before physical exhaustion.

Then comes the actual shadowboxing. We build up an eight-count combination that, again, feels amazing until the death knell of “ D ouble time.” How anyone can accomplish a double-punch in a half-beat is beyond my comprehension. But, as far as I can tell, boxers, models, and Jake Gyllenhaal have the ability to defy the space-time continuum.

Aerobox is tough. Jake takes a knee, so, I take a knee. We’re all sweating. There are side lunges, “star jumps.” more jumping rope, and much, much more shadowboxing. I thought I was in pretty decent shape—I run, I do Tracy Anderson, I’ve occasionally been known to prancercise—but this is the hardest what-felt-like-two-hours-but-is-really-just-one-hour of my life! Some people stay for another hour-long class after this one, a class that involves actually hitting punching bags. But I’m against violence of any kind, even towards inanimate objects, so I opt out.

Yes, the class exhausted me, but I was nearly bouncing off of the walls with energy for the rest of the day. I was also sore enough to be mistaken for a geriatric for the next three days...and yet I still went back the following Thursday night. It should be noted that there's a higher concentration of regular (meaning: non-model) people at the weeknight classes. After just two classes, I’m getting better and faster, and though no one has mistaken me for a model yet, I will also be supplementing my course work with Aerobox's at-home DVD program to get into fighting shape. Jake, I’m coming for you.

Here's a glimpse of what I looked like in class:

—Mackenzie Wagoner

Photos by Danlly Domingo.