The first thing you’ll notice about the “Anthony Joshua” gym, otherwise known as BXR, is the potent smell of leather and aftershave that circulates the sleek space. Split over two floors and decked out in dark wood, the vibe is more gentlemen’s club than gym. The walls downstairs are adorned with a mammoth TV and plenty of cool art, including a particularly eye-catching shot of Emily Ratajkowski. It’s here you’ll find Sweat By BXR, a set of three pay-to-train studios concentrating on boxing skills, strength and conditioning and cardio respectively, and the in-house clinic.
Upstairs is the member’s floor, which is where I spent the entirety of my intensive two-month training course. BXR challenges members to “train like a champion”, and that’s exactly what one, very unfit, completely inexperienced GQ staffer signed up to do. After meeting with BXR’s head honchos, it was decided that the best course of action would be one one-on-one boxing session and one strength and conditioning session per week, plus a couple of the group classes (of which there are usually three a day) thrown in for good measure.
If head boxing coach Gary Logan can’t teach you how to deliver a punch of professional standards, no one can. Logan’s been training top clients (including a number of celebrities) since he retired from professional boxing. He’s one of those rare teachers that manages to pull off being incredibly strict and also making learning hilariously fun at the same time. But for all the laughs, in my first session, I discovered that boxing is a lot more complicated than it looks, and that any chances of us actually sparring sometime in the foreseeable future were pretty much nil. Another revelation was that it’s not all just in the arms – boxing is an amazing full body workout, and you’ll definitely be feeling it in your legs the day after a session.
Logan’s mantra – “it’s all in the details” – is one to train by. I realised very quickly that boxing is seriously intricate (Logan and the other BXR coaches refer to it as a martial art) and requires attention to very particular movements. Footwork, for example, is essential, especially if you want to pack a powerful left-hook. Another detail that Logan is completely obsessive about is keeping your hands up by your jaw at all times, and for good reason. Think of your gloves as your guard; no one wants to get smacked straight in the face.
After a couple of sessions at the Anthony Joshua gym, I managed to get into our stride. The better you get, the more fulfilling it becomes, and attending the classes in-between one-on-one sessions certainly made progressing week-to-week with Logan far easier. Some of the classes focus specifically on boxing skills, other are all about conditioning. Chris Baugh’s class in particular is a killer. Think rowing like a lunatic, kettlebells you can barely pick up and more motivational shouting than you’d hear from an overzealous preacher. That makes it sound awful, but it’s awful in the way that only a truly effective 45-minute workout can be.
Kettlebells featured heavily in the strength and conditioning side of our training programme. I was whipped into shape by James Collins, one of the multiple S&C coaches at BXR and a shining example of everything a personal trainer should be. Quite laid back in personality, but not afraid to put the pressure on with some hardcore active encouragement, enviably good-looking and most-importantly, a professional who really knows his shit. James is big on weights. I deadlifted, I shoulder-pressed and I curled, all in-between TRX suspension training, planks, elevated rear leg squats and every other conceivable form of horror dreamt up by exercise enthusiasts.
It was hard, but it worked. Within a mere month, I felt fitter, stronger and a whole lot less pathetic than I did at the start of the process. It’s not difficult to see why Anthony Joshua’s training programme – plus that of every other professional athlete – incorporates so much strength and conditioning work. Doing weights will massively improve your boxing, and for us mere mortals, combining the cardio and coordination aspects of fighting with strengthening activities is a straightforward route to optimum, attainable fitness levels.
And if you’re more of a lover than a fighter, don’t worry: you don’t have to be into boxing to train at BXR. Sure, pugilism is the focus, but it’s by no means a prerequisite; there’s more than enough state-of-the-art equipment to suit gentlemen who don’t fancy slipping on a pair of gloves. Plus, there’s the Sweat By BXR classes, which include the country’s first versa-climber class and S&C training. That said, once you’ve seen people of all ages, shapes and sizes holding their own in the professional-sized boxing ring, you’ll be sure to catch the adrenaline-fuelled bug and want to give it a go yourself. You might even catch a glimpse of AJ. During our time training there I spotted Ellie Goulding, Hector Bellerin and Victoria’s Secret models Sara Sampaio and Maryna Linchuk, who are both on the committee along with Eddie Hearn and Mark Ronson.
There’s been a full-on boxing renaissance of late, and after training at BXR, it’s easy to see why. For one, this is the kind of exercise that even the biggest “sportsphobe” could get behind. It’s a world away from the hamster-wheel feeling of the treadmill. You’re actually learning a useful self-defence skill, and it really puts your brain – as well as your body – to the test. Despite the cutting-edge kit and exceptional coaches and trainers, possibly the best thing about BXR is that, unlike some of London’s other luxury uber-gyms, it’s all about training to become stronger, fitter, better; not just slimmer or more muscly.
BXR is all good vibes. No matter what level your sparring skills are at, if you’re ready to work hard – and have fun while doing it – you’ll fit right in. From the trainers to your fellow fitness-seekers, everything at BXR is about support, encouragement and achieving your personal best. Working out at the Anthony Joshua gym has been a serious learning curve; after two months of training we’re completely sold on boxing the BXR way. For now though, we’ll be leaving the heavyweight fighting to AJ.
Head boxing coach Gary Logan’s top tips:
1. How to hold your hands
“You’re always looking to protect yourself as well as hit someone. Keep your right hand by the side of your jaw and your left hand in line with your left shoulder so that you can jab lineally and directly at your opponents head.”
2. Foot positioning
“Balance is one of the most important factors in boxing. In order to throw any shot on balance, your knees must be flexed, and your feet should be at 10 o’clock.”
3. How to defend yourself
“The third most important thing in boxing is how to defend yourself. You need to embrace the fact that someone’s going to punch at you. Should you ever have to use boxing as self-defence, then remember that all drills need to be done while looking at your opponent. If you flinch and look away there’s no damage limitation there, and you’re going to get seriously hurt.”
Strength and conditioning coach James Collins’ top tips:
1. How to properly perform sets
“Always perform the exercises with perfect form – you have to earn the right to progress – and perform all sets to failure. The latest research shows that no matter what adaptations you’re trying to achieve, be it strength or power, you need to go to failure or very near failure. So if you can do 12 reps, you’re probably not lifting a heavy-enough weight. The minute it feels manageable, you need to up your game. Strong muscles burn more fat than lots of high reps and cardio.”
2. When to workout
“Don’t do resistance training on an empty stomach or straight after waking up, cortisol levels are too high, blocking adaptive hormones.”
3. Do short sprints for maximum results
“Perform sprints instead of long, slow continuous cardio. Sprints don’t have to be an hour long. A quick five minutes in your resistance training warm-up or at the end of a session will suffice. Get on the bike or the running machine and try 30 seconds full-throttle followed by 30 seconds rest, then repeat six times.”
This article was published on GQ.co.uk