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c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK For models, former boxer Michael Olajide Jr. is the heavyweight of trainers the go-to guy for girls who have to get runway-ready in a hurry.

For this fashion week, he trained some 15 models needing to "sleekify," as he called it, to squeeze into sample sizes. (Most common problem: the hips.) In preparation for last September's shows, roughly another dozen catwalk hopefuls hit Aerospace High Performance Center, the spare, airy gym in the West Village that Olajide owns with former ballerina Leila Fazel.

Olajide's not-a-dry-shirt-left-in-the-room workouts feature rapid-fire choreographed punching sequences (clients punch the air, not one another's lucrative faces), mixed with jump-rope intervals not seen on any playground. One example: a riff on speedskating that requires landing with one heel crossed behind the opposite leg. Classes can sound like hailstorms, the red jump ropes thwacking the floor. The three-quarter-pound ropes are nicknamed the Rainmaker, for their sweat-inducing potential.

''I like to say there's no such thing as cold fusion," Olajide said. "You've got to get your body hot if you want to burn calories and lose that weight." He contends that jumping rope gets the body moving faster than it can with any other exercise, turning the metabolic oven "up to grill."

Olajide, 49, a highly ranked middleweight boxer until an injury left him legally blind in the right eye and ended his career, has been attracting the fashion crowd since his days teaching at Equinox and Chelsea Piers in the 1990s. (He met his wife of 16 years, graphic designer Maryann Levesque, at Equinox on West 76th Street.) He doesn't know exactly what lured the first models to his classes, though it may help that he's always dressed with flair.

For off-duty clothes, he favors Jean Paul Gaultier. In his boxing days he designed his own $2,000 white silk satin robe with samurai shoulders and a three-headed dragon snake-spitting flames. And over his blind eye, he wears patches that he has sketched and had cast: a gunmetal eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection; a gold squarish oval with rivets and a mesh strain; and a silver starburst he loves but rarely wears because its rays are too sharp.

Eventually, the 6-foot, 165-pound Olajide ended up training supermodels Iman and Linda Evangelista. The latter recommended him to a fashion photographer, who in turn referred him to Adriana Lima.

Lima, 31, has been working out with him for seven years; after the birth of her second child in September, he coached her six hours a day, seven days a week, for five weeks to prep for her own title fight: the Victoria's Secret fashion show. Lima's case "needing perpetual motion," he said was extreme; most of his exercise prescriptions are an hour a day, sometimes two.

Olajide acknowledged that the weight can come back quickly once the workout (and preshow diets) stop.

''Like boxers, they have a performance weight and an everyday weight," he said of models. With each season, it can get harder to snap back to sample size. "It becomes: Will they allow themselves mentally to go to that level of discomfort? How hungry are they?"

British model Nyasha Matonhodze, 18, started working out at Olajide's gym at her agency's recommendation. "As models, we know that we have to be, some would say, ridiculously thin," she said. "It's not exactly a woman's shape, but it is high fashion."

During the past three weeks, she has sometimes worked out at Aerospace twice a day, trimming an inch and a half from her hips.

Matonhodze said she enjoyed "skipping like a little girl" at the gym. Of Olajide, she said, "He's so lovely and welcoming, and he's got a lot of humility."

During sessions, Olajide sizes up models ("my fighters") as he would opponents before bouts, looking for signs of weakness and self-doubt.

''I've had to make weight myself I understand the task is just so weighty that they need support," he said. "It's more than just working out at that point." Moves change about every 90 seconds, partly because mental fatigue often comes before physical.

Exercises that trim mere mortals can be career-maiming for catwalkers. Push-ups are out developing the chest is bad news as are squats and lunges, which make the derriere too round to fit into the clothes. (Lingerie models are allowed lunges because they are allowed curves, he said.) Ab exercises also are rationed. "When they really burn the fat you'll see a six-pack, which is not usually the goal," Olajide said. "You want flat, but if you're too cut, defined and hard, that can be counterproductive. We want long, willowy, wispy, flowing."


Caitlin Holleran, 16, who in October wore a fitted floor-length chiffon dress on the Yves Saint Laurent runway in Paris, had to shrink her hips back down by two inches this season to match the measurement (34 inches) listed on her modeling card. Among other things, the type of power vinyasa yoga she'd been doing was building too much muscle, she said, adding bulk.

Holleran struggled to master the jumps, but even doing "the basic ones" still allowed her to hit her goal "crazy fast," she said, thanks to four or five classes a week, plus personal training sessions.

Three weeks of Olajide's method worked for Drake Burnette, 27, who wanted to shrink her hips an inch and a half for her first attempt at Fashion Week work (she just signed with an agency in the fall). "It's hell during the class, but you feel amazing and can't wait to get back," she said.


Chris Gay, the president of Marilyn Agency, New York, said the modeling agency has had "a lot of success with sending our girls to his classes prior to fashion week."

''It's not magic," he added. "It's a crazy difficult workout, and Michael works them really hard."

At Aerospace, in the days before the shows, models wear leggings so they don't end up with welts if a jump rope accidentally grazes them. Concentration is a good thing, but a wrinkled forehead while doing so is bad news.

''Relax the face," Olajide tells them, his velvety voice calm and sometimes so soft it could, ironically, cause strain just to hear it.

Later, he explained: "If you furrow the brow for an hour or two hours every day, it's going to stay that way. I can't have them leave here with lines that weren't there before they won't stay employed for very long, and neither will I." Then he mused, "Is a furrowed brow better than a unibrow?"