You have to want to find Jimmy Fusaro’s place. It’s on West 27th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, south side of the street. This is the part of Manhattan with a lot of storefront wholesale operations selling cheap clothes and knockoff perfume. Look for the store selling nothing but Rasta paraphernalia and walk west a few steps. If you reach the Indian sandwich place, you’ve gone too far. Walk into the unattended lobby, push the elevator button and wait. Eventually it will come, and eventually you’ll get to the 12th floor. You knock on the door that says X-Fit Training NYC. Someone yells “Yo!” And you go in.
That someone is Jimmy, a former Gold Gloves champion boxer and the mastermind behind the 1,500 square feet of madness that surrounds you. If Willy Wonka designed a gym, it would be X-Fit NYC. The place has nothing to do with CrossFit, but you will get a tremendous workout here, old-school style. Punching and swinging and kicking and pushing and lifting. There are no Stairmasters here, no elipticals. The place smells of hard work, not botanicals.
Jimmy grew up in Huntington, Long Island and has the accent to prove it. He started fighting when he was a kid, and boxing when he was 18, drawn to the training and the fitness that went with it. He won his first fight with a 54-second knock out at the NY Daily News Golden Glove competition. He started kickboxing, too, training for fights in the back of his coach’s detailing shop. Eventually, though, he developed diabetes and had to retire from competition.
The sport’s loss was your gain, however, because that’s when Jimmy became a trainer, first at New York Sports Club, then at Equinox, before opening this place in 2000. He charges $100 for an hour of his time. There are no classes. If you want to split the cost with a friend, that’s cool.
A small boxing ring takes center stage, surrounded by the usual boxing equipment like speed bags and heavy bags and racks of gloves and wraps and strike pads and head gear. The walls are covered with posters for boxing movies—no Stallone, but lots of DeNiro—and giant images of Ali. But what about all this other stuff? The bats. The tires wrapped in duct tape. The sections of white PVC pipe. The baseballs mounted on the wall and the assortment of handles screwed into wood on the floor. That’s all part of the magic.
Jimmy directs you to the tiny changing room, where you exchange your street clothes for shorts and a t-shirt. Old school classic rock, what a DJ would call deep cuts, fills the room as Jimmy carefully wraps your hands and describes the latest outrage the landlord or social media or the government has perpetrated on him. A couple of digital clocks count down from 3 minutes as he tells you to warm up by lightly punching a heavy bag, moving around it and punching up and down to warm up your legs and arms. A bell rings and you rest 45 seconds. You do this for a few rounds, looking out across the street through the giant windows through which light floods. As you start your third warm up round, you feel a flush of warmth and you get up on the balls of your toes a little easier. Jimmy climbs into the ring and puts on strike pads. He waves you in.
For the next three minutes you work on combinations, punching the pads jimmy holds up before he glides away to another spot in the ring, graciously giving you time to catch your breath while you catch up to him. Left, left, right. Right, right, right, left. Keep your hands up by your face. Jimmy moves in to throw a couple of light body blow, pulling his punches. This goes on for six rounds as the sweat pours and your arms aching, Jimmy gabbing all the time, doing all the talking as you gasp for breath, your arms getting heavier and your feet slower, the 45 seconds between rounds feeling shorter and shorter. He gives pointers on your form, reminding you to never square your hips. He’s all pug, Jimmy is, a modern Mickey the Trainer, with hands of a mason and shaved head. But he’s also a modern trainer, deft at making sure a client gets a good workout while not beating on him. The gab is all part of the plan.
Jimmy takes off his mitts and pulls a heavy bag, suspended from a cable, into the center of the ring. This is one of his inventions, the real genius of the place. “Go ahead, punch it,” he says, pointing at the red bag. You do, and the bag leaps toward the rope. “Now go after it!” he yells. You punch it right into the ropes. And that’s where Jimmy urges you to circle it and punch it back to the other side of the ring. Fast, faster fastest. This goes on for three rounds, after which sweat pours off you and you can’t hold up your arms. Jimmy smiles.
Now he gives you a choice. Strength, conditioning, or balance. You’ve been here before and have done the strength exercises with devices of jimmy’s inventions. You’ve swung a weighted bat at those tape-wrapped tires and squatted while cradling a bag filled with sand. After boxing, doing pull-ups while gripping the baseballs drilled into the wall totally drains your grip strength. And working on the push-up gauntlet—that’s the thing with all the handles drilled into the wood—can be damn near impossible.
You first heard of Jimmy and X-Fit from a friend whose son, a pro hockey prospect, used the unorthodox routine to buff himself for the combine. Good enough for a future pro, good enough for you, especially the balance stuff Jimmy has you do now, like trying to stand on two piece of PVC while slowly rotating your ankles inward and outward, or trying to hold a balance board dead level while you do squats on it. All of these are much harder than they sound, even for a surfer, and tomorrow every tiny little muscle in your ankles and feet will scream, just like it will be nearly impossible to raise a coffee cup to your lips an hour from now.
And that’s how the workout ends. You’ve used every muscle in your body, sweat a gallon or two of fluids and worked your heart and lungs. Plus you got the undivided attention of Jimmy.
“Showers across the hall,” he says, tossing you a key.