Taking exercising, training to streets


Marisol Cartagena remembers watching the members of the BXBC La Caja gym sprint up and down the sidewalks of West 238th Street through the window of the Chinese takeout restaurant across the street. 

“I would look inside (La Caja) for an entire year and I would think, ‘I can never do that,’” she said.

“That” is a CrossFit-like approach to training, focused on street-style, old-school methods of exercise. The workouts are designed based on functional movements of the body itself, not around machines like treadmills or ellipticals. Push-ups, lunges, box-jumping and weightlifting are some of the prime movements incorporated into classes and boot camp sessions.

From the outside looking in, it’s an intimidating atmosphere. There is music blasting through the speakers and trainers encouragingly yelling at members to complete another cycle, to do just one more rep. 

The gym’s motto is “We don’t use machines, we make them.”

Now, Cartagena, who works and lives in Riverdale, is not only a regular member of the gym, but she is also a volunteer front desk clerk — willingly spending extra time in the gym she once feared to walk in to. She even convinced both her husband and son to join. 

“It’s challenging but exciting at the same time,” she said. “Once you’re done with it, you’re like, ‘I can’t believe I did this.’ And then you want more.”

She’s not the only one to feel this way. Since the CrossFit-style gym moved into the neighborhood two years ago, up to 100 people consistently attend workout sessions, according to the gym’s owner Adam Castillo — much more than the tiny 700-square-foot space can handle, often forcing workouts to spill out onto the streets.

“Riverdale hills are amazing for training,” Castillo said. “There’s a beautiful set of stairs at the end of the block.”

The step street Castillo so admires sits at West 238 Street between Irwin and Waldo avenues and has more than 120 steps that members brave during cardio portions of their sessions. 

“That’s what they complain about the most,” Castillo said. “But I know that’s why they keep coming back.”

Castillo was born and raised in Kingsbridge, and when he became a personal trainer, he thought of no place better to open his gym than the community in which he grew up. He now lives on Johnson Avenue, just blocks from his business.

“The biggest thing is the community aspect,” he said. “People have been living next to each other for years, and they have a lot of things in common that they never would know if they hadn’t come to the gym.”

BXBC La Caja is located right next to An Beal Bocht Cafe, an Irish pub with popular outdoor seating, but the restaurant doesn’t mind the overflow of gym goers running or doing jumping jacks up and down the sidewalk. Castillo added that the customers eating outside at the pub provide an audience and a motivating factor for his members.

“There is absolutely no hassle,” said Brona Harmon, an employee at An Beal Bocht. She noted that the gym mainly uses the sidewalks for running exercises, but never bothers her patrons.

“I like having them beside us,” Harmon said. “They don’t interfere with us and they’re good guys.”

While there are restrictions on what a business can or cannot do with the sidewalk directly outside of their front door, BXBC La Caja’s situation is quite different. Because they don’t place equipment on the sidewalk and only use the public streets to run or do body exercises, business rules don’t necessarily apply since they are using sidewalks like anyone else.

“It’s a unique situation,” Castillo said. “This is the Bronx. I mean you have to make do with the space.”