When the boutique gym in Flatiron first announced itself back in February, comparisons to cycling studios came from founder Daniel Glazer himself: Shadowbox would be taking the hardcore boxing workout out of the typically gritty gyms it inhabits and bringing it to a sleek environment with dim lights, pump-up music, a coffee bar, and modern locker rooms. So, naturally, I began comparing it to Soulcycle as soon as I walked in.
The check-in desk just past the front door sits alongside a brick wall displaying branded tank tops, sweatpants, and leggings for purchase. After I gave my name, I was asked if I needed gloves ($1 to rent), "Quick Wraps," which are worn under gloves to help protect your knuckles and wrists ($3 to purchase), or a water bottle ($2)—but since I've had a bit of boxing experience at a branch of what's now known as UFC Gym, I had brought along all three.
I propped my elbows up on the desk and brushed against a stack of cards listing post-workout beverages from the nearby café—you just tick the box next to your order, hand the card to the front desk attendant, and your $9 juice or a $4 Intelligentsia iced coffee with almond milk will be waiting for you when class ends. I filled up my water bottle from a fancy dispenser on the counter and headed past the vintage-style boxing ring to the locker rooms. While they are indeed modern and fancy, they're a bit small—I changed in a bathroom for privacy.
Wall-length mirrors lining most of the room tricks the eye into thinking there's way more bags than that.
With pink Everlast gloves stuck under my arms, I got my first look at the class space—at least once my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Blue lighting bathed the 40 blue punching bags hanging from the ceiling, though wall-length mirrors lining most of the room trick the eye into thinking there are way more bags than that. I situated myself at bag number 22—you sign up for a bag the same way you sign up for a bike at a cycling studio, or a treadmill at Barry's Bootcamp—which came outfitted with a towel on top and a bungee cord with a clip on the end to attach my water bottle to.
Because I didn't leave myself the 20-minute grace period that the gym recommends new students take before class begins, I was stuck performing warm-up moves like jumping jacks and jump tucks while trying to wrap my hands. Note that this is one of those warm-ups that warrants a water break before the actual workout begins; I blame the plank variation series.
It was during the warm-up that I discovered I hadn't picked a good bag.
It was during the warm-up that I discovered I hadn't picked a good bag. Based on the classroom map, I thought that the bags numbered 1 through 5 made up the front row, and I would be situated safely in the middle at number 22. But it turns out I had the orientation off by 90 degrees, and I was practically in the back row—and that made it really difficult to see instructor Kristian Vasilev. Combined with acoustics that favor the music over the Kristian's microphone, I found myself copying what nearby classmates (with better views, apparently) were doing rather than following the teacher.
But being around experienced students was especially helpful when we started doing punching combos, though I was usually able to peer around the bags to find Kristian demonstrating the next sequence by punching the air (also known as "shadowboxing"—get it?). And we certainly didn't ease into these combos, either: It was clear that everyone in class had a bit of experience in boxing and could easily follow a sequence that contained four to six punches.
As Kristian explained to me after class, the difficulty and speed at which he'll dole out combos is directly related to his perception of students' abilities, and he'll typically cater to the more advanced end, which makes sense: Those who are paying to sweat it out want to get their money's worth. But that doesn't mean that the studio isn't welcoming to beginners—Shadowbox is just going to expect you to play to their level, rather than them stooping down to yours. And if you've never thrown a punch before, don't be afraid to get a little lost.
You're given a few minutes to repeat each sequence before going onto the next one, and there's a good chance Kristian will pass by to check on form and give some tips during that time—but when he's not, you're free to wail on the bag as hard and fast (or soft and slow) as you'd like.
l got into the zone by focusing on how much force I could exert on the bag while still maintaining proper form.
With a soundtrack that alternated between tracks like Red Hot Chili Peppers's "Can't Stop" and Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty"—playlists didn't seem so curated or clubby, they were more like a mixtape of favorite tracks—l got into the zone by focusing on how much force I could exert on the bag while still maintaining proper form. That's where I noticed the strongest similarity to Soulcycle: being immersed in the "vibe" of the class. I stopped paying attention to what others around me were doing in the dark, loud room—once I figured out the combo, at least—and only stopped when I heard what the next one would be.
Combos were interspersed with rapid-fire jabs and hooks to the bag, and then it was down to the floor for ab work, like crunching up to tap the bag while holding your toes underneath it and the easier-said-than-done move of hoisting yourself up from the floor while grabbing the bag. Without a clock in the room to track time, I likened this part of class to Soul's break in the middle of riding for an upper-body workout—so when the next move was a hamstring stretch, it took me a minute to realize it was the cool-down. Class was already over.
As people filed out, the fog on the mirrors hung around. And when I stepped outside in my sweat-drenched tank, it felt a lot cooler than the 70-something degrees my weather app purported it to be—a feeling I recognized from leaving a Soulcycle studio. So is there a place for Shadowbox in New York City's boutique fitness-heavy scene? Just ask the dozens of clients that the studio is already calling regulars to find out.