If you’ve driven down Broadway and West 233rd Street lately, you may have noticed what appears to be a boxing gym.
You’d only be half right in that there is a new gym in the area.
And while the name BrutalBoxx may imply it’s a venue for boxers, the new fitness center at 170 West 233rd St. is a premier fitness center solely focused on CrossFit, a cross discipline fitness program that was started in 2000 by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai of California.
Jose Morales – founder of BrutalBoxx – looks forward to welcoming anyone who wants to join, not just fitness freaks.
BrutalBoxx combines cross training, strength training, HIIT, gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more, making it adaptable for all levels of fitness, according to the company’s website.
The Kingsbridge center is just one of two locations Morales and his wife operate.
The other facility is located at 1753 Jerome Ave., in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.
And while Morales was satisfied with his Jerome Avenue site, he saw potential in Kingsbridge and wanted to open a second spot.
“I had a friend of mine that owned a gym (in the area) called Building Box,” Morales said. “He used to do pretty good over there. But his location was small. And I always wanted to target that area. He ended up closing his business because of COVID.”
Even with a desire to open a second location in the area Morales was still taking a big risk. Business in the area was slowing down due to the pandemic. Businesses, both old and new, were beginning to shut down permanently.
But BrutalBoxx Boogie Down – as his Jerome Avenue location is called – was built through perseverance.
Last year, Morales decided to take that step and open the new site.
“While people were closing down, I seen an opportunity to open up another location,” Morales said. “I was able to get more of an incentive from the landlord. He gave me four or five months off to build it out and take my time with (getting the establishment together) because nobody was renting. So, I took advantage of that. and I opened another.”
For Morales, the road to entrepreneurial success was not an easy one — least of all a straight and narrow.
“I ended up getting locked up in 2009 in a federal prison because I was dealing drugs,” Morales revealed. “But when I came out, I knew I didn’t want to go back to that lifestyle again.”
Morales founded BrutalBoxx in 2014 after serving five years in federal prison. But it was while he was serving time that Morales immersed himself in the discipline of fitness and dedicates his time and energy to it.
Almost immediately upon his release from prison, Morales began making moves to open his first gym.
Starting out in a basement in Inwood and then later in a commercial space he later had to leave, Morales began to see success in Morris Heights.
He attributes much of his success to his time he spent incarcerated and his newfound love for the fitness program.
“What got me into CrossFit was this guy who got incarcerated in the prison I was in; he was just like doing CrossFit movements,” Morales said. “And I’m like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Like, this is not normal.’ And he was said to me ‘this is what people are doing outside. It’s called CrossFit.’”
Morales was instantly hooked on the new workout program.
He began researching the techniques and even reached out to family at home to see if they could send him anything related to the program.
His lifestyle before his incarceration was everything he warns clients to stay away from.
“When I was in the street selling drugs, like I didn’t really care about my health,” Morales said. “I was just into money. I was literally like drinking every day, going out to nightclubs and eating terrible food. I was very unhealthy.”
Fitness and being athletically active wasn’t something Morales was used to. In fact, outside of playing baseball with his father, he really didn’t interact with sports at all.
“When you’re locked up for quite some time, you’ll see there’s always people working out,” Morlaes said. “But I was a little embarrassed to work out because I had never worked out in my whole life at that point. I was never into fitness at all.”
But the lack of experience didn’t hold Morales back from embracing a new health and fitness lifestyle.
His friends who were incarcerated with him began to encourage him to start working out.
The effort to get in shape did more than just give Morales a physique. It began to give him the self-confidence he needed to start a business and build a community.
It’s a goal he hopes to help his clients achieve every time they step into his gym.
“Our goal at Brutalboxx Boogie Down is to help you build self-confidence, instill determination and work alongside you as you train to be your best you,” Morales said.
Part of reaching that goal means helping people break bad habits that have often led to them living unhealthy lives.
“You can’t outwork a bad diet,” Morales contended. “You can’t work out here and then go out at nighttime and go to the Heights and eat all the bad food and drink and smoke hookah and go crazy and think you’re going to be okay. It really doesn’t work like that.”
Getting clients the help they need and out of that mindset requires a lot of work, not just from the client, but also the community itself. It’s one of the most important things Morales stresses.
“BrutalBoxx isn’t just a gym people come to for fitness,” Morales said. “It’s a community of amazing, supportive and energetic people. Your only task each class is to push yourself further than you did the day before.”