Lara Marquez, a Toronto-based fitness guru, mom, and self-professed music devotee, has been training in the dark since long before dimly-lit boutique fitness gyms were a thing. In fact, she used to have light-switch wars with her bosses while teaching exercise classes at various gyms. She would turn them off. They would turn them back on. And she would turn them back off again, trying to let people get into their heads and really feel the music. Always eager to put her own spin on things, opening her own gym was a natural evolution of her days as an entrepreneurial contract trainer.
Three months ago, she opened the doors to Drop Boxing, a brand new boxing-inspired boutique fitness studio in Toronto’s Entertainment District. There, Lara and her trainers offer high-energy group fitness classes, personal training, and athletic rehabilitative services for anyone looking for a music-driven exercise class (yes, in the dark), a positive and holistic approach to wellness, and a community of motivated women.
Click here to book your first class, but in the meantime, read on as we chat about fitness tips, being a working mom, athleticwear trends, and why diet fads need to disappear already.
Congrats on the opening of Drop Boxing! How has it been so far?
It’s been great! The response has been extremely positive. Our goal was and is to create a strong community and we’re watching it develop in front of our eyes watching as people come in for their first class, second, third and then signing up for Rocky challenge’s and bringing friends along with them.
That’s wonderful! How would you describe a Drop Boxing class?
We describe our classes as a boxing-inspired fitness classes. We do stress with new visitors that they are fitness based classes because we don’t want anyone to feel intimidated and think “Oh my God, am I actually fighting someone? Am I gonna get hit?” At our studio you’re just hitting a bag and not actually getting in the ring with anybody else. It also goes the other way… if someone were to come in hoping to spar with another trained fighter, we really want to make sure that they know that these are fitness classes that simply incorporate the benefits of a boxing workout.
What inspired you to start Drop Boxing? Have you always worked in the fitness world?
I’ve been in the boutique fitness industry in Toronto for almost 15 years, long before boutique fitness was even cool. I’ve always loved working in niche experiences or one-on-one with clients.
I’ve had the privilege of working at some of the greatest gyms in the city that included spinning, boxing and hit training. I’m a creator at heart and have always loved adding my own personal touch to whatever class I was teaching. When I would teach spin classes in the early 2000s, I would always turn off my lights… I remember my bosses at the time would be like “No turn up the lights, nobody can see,” and I’m like “that’s the point.” Turn off the lights; let people get in their head and feel the music. I used to always get in trouble, but I would still turn off the lights. And now, training in the dark is huge! Boutique fitness gyms are opening up everywhere, creating experiences where you’re training in the dark.
Your site says that Drop is more than a gym, it’s a lifestyle. What is the drop lifestyle?
The drop lifestyle goes back to the drop commandments and also our motto of “train like a champ, feel like a champ.” It’s more than just a workout in the sense that our goal is to inspire you to be your best self. We truly believe that every single person has a champ already inside of them. Our overall goal is to create a culture within Drop and make sure that our guests leave feeling like a champ.
You mentioned some of the benefits of boxing… I’d love to talk more about that. What do you think are the benefits of boxing, besides the obvious of getting into physical shape?
It really is an incredible workout. Speed long with power is what creates a great toned body. But that’s just a portion of the benefits, and also a bit of a superficial benefit. I think the greatest benefit behind this style of workout is that there is a therapeutic aspect to it. We live busy lives and in today’s world we tend to suppress anything that is bothering us or causing us stress. We’re told just to stay calm at all times—which is great… but, are we staying calm? It’s so important to actually practice that. There’s a therapy behind releasing your built up energy in a positive way. Hitting a bag and using all your force in a controlled way is SO therapeutic. I’ve had so many customers come into the studio and say: “I was in such a bad mood. I had such a bad day. And every time I finish a class, I just feel like I’m so in charge.” And that’s the feeling that boxing gives you. The release of hitting that bag in a constructive and positive way leaves you feeling so powerful.
I’ve actually never tried boxing.
It’s interesting; for so many people, there’s a misconception that it’s an aggressive sport and many people feel like they’re just not that aggressive. But you would be so surprised how good it feels once you start hitting the bag with the rhythm of the music and the encouragement of our trainers. We spent a lot of time working with our trainers on how to bring out the inner champ in every person and how to positively encourage people, and that is what’s going to release that positive energy out of every single person.
Yeah, definitely. And I feel like also, traditionally, boxing was more targeted towards men. But nowadays, we’re seeing so many women—like supermodels and Instagram celebrities—really into boxing.
When I was planning the branding behind it with my team, we did a lot of research, looking at the fitness scene across North America as well as the U. K. We found that the U.S. and the U. K. have a crazy fitness scene while it seems Toronto is just catching on to it. We also found that the boutique fitness industry is 80 percent dominated by female clientele. Knowing that females are the ones that are consuming this industry, we gear our messaging to empowering women.
Obviously one side of this is the fitness aspect, but the other side is that this is an entrepreneurial venture, and you have started your own company. What has that experience been like? Have you faced any challenges starting your first venture as an entrepreneur?
I think that anybody that is a fitness instructor in the city essentially has their own business, because we’re basically contract workers for gyms or our clients. For myself, I’ve always been on the entrepreneurial path in that I had to market myself, so it was not new in that sense. What was new is that this was my biggest venture. I’ve always run workshops in the city, but this has been my biggest venture in terms of having a space all to myself and being responsible for all the challenges that come with that, including the construction of the space and all the kinks that go along with being a studio owner. I would say my personal challenges would be finding a work-life balance. I have two very young children and I also have my business, which I consider my third child because I have to give it the nurturing and attention that my children require as well.
I saw that you posted a really heartwarming photo on Instagram celebrating working mom, which I loved. What tips have you gathered, or what have you learned so far, about having young children and also running your own business?
I would say to be extremely forgiving of yourself, because you’re going to mess up, you’re going to make mistakes, and you’re not gonna be able to please everybody. I think, as women in general, we in general are such people pleasers. We’ve been trained from a very young age to make sure everybody’s happy and everyone’s nurtured and everyone’s comforted, and it’s very challenging, especially in the business world, to be able to do it all. You know, you still have to run the business. In the three months that we’ve been open, I have missed a Mother’s Day recital for my daughter, I’ve missed big games and events and I’ve missed all these things for business related reasons, and it’s not to say that my daughter is not as important, but I did have to choose my business over my daughter at the time, and it’s hurtful. I have had many times that I get into my car and my kids are sad, and I’m in my car and I’m feeling extremely sad myself, but I have to remind myself this is just a moment in time, and it’s going to come back. All the work I’m putting in will come back and I’m not alone in this. There are so many other working moms and it’s not an entrepreneurial thing, there are women in very high positions and we have to put on a strong face so that we can maintain these high positions, because the second you show emotion, you’re not strong enough. We’re not alone, and we’re so capable. Being extra supportive of each other and forgiving each other is key. I find the more I experience in life, the more forgiving and less judgmental I am of anybody around me. The older I get, the less time I spend thinking about the things people are doing wrong, because man, everybody has their challenges and you cannot judge someone else until you’ve been in their shoes.
You’ve also been vocal on Instagram about how frustrated you get with some of the lies in the media about diets. What are your thoughts on diet fads, and which do you wish would just disappear already?
I’m just not big on doing any kind of strict eating that is not sustainable. To prep for photo shoots, I’ll do two weeks of really clean eating, eating only lean meats, lean proteins, and my healthy fats with greens. I find eating like that will usually lean me out and get me to where I wanna be for the shoot. I’m personally not a fan of restrictive diets such as the Keto diet. I tried it for one week and the main thing that stuck out to me was that a quarter cup of blueberries would exceed my amount of carbs that I could eat in one day, and I just thought that was bananas. Like you cannot tell me all I can eat is a quarter cup of blueberries. For one, that is not going to make me feel satisfied, and two, eating a ton of bacon and avocado and peanut butter and just drinking olive oil? You cannot tell me that’s good for my system.
I love vegetables! Give me broccoli, give me brussel sprouts. I love it all. I’m used to eating very healthy. My mom has always been a health nut, so I’ve never had an issue with eating healthy, but telling me you want me to eat only a stick of broccoli and then the rest of it has to be all oils, you’re not going to convince me.
I think it’s very important to learn what your body needs. I found that once I learned about macro eating and understanding the macros and what our body needs from there and then going from a holistic point of view and seeing a holistic nutritionist to understand what else your body needs from these whole foods, that’s important. But restricting yourself to these diets, that I don’t find realistic.
What is your own fitness and health routine? What do you do to stay healthy and fit?
I’ve actually been finding that to be really challenging lately, because my days are really busy, so I’ve been trying to create a new routine. I’m a strong believer in targeting different body parts on different days of the week. I always try and fit in at least three strength training workouts a week, not including cardio. That’s why I find the Drop classes so beneficial, because boxing is your cardio, and then we have the strength conditioning on the other side of the studio. So one day I am focusing on my lower body, the next day I’m focusing on my upper body, and on the third day I can focus on everything I’ve missed.
Are there any fitness trends that you are excited about that you’ve been seeing lately?
I really love that we are becoming so much more aware of the rehabilitation of our bodies and really focusing on mobility. This is another aspect of our business because if you want to be able to perform at a high level, you have to give your body the rehabilitation it deserves. If you want to be able to nail those squats and really get strong, you also have to make sure you’re doing the pre-work and the post-work, giving your body that stretch. Two of our trainers are University of Toronto kinesiology graduates, and they assist so many of our clients with mobility training after class, making sure their hips are and shoulders are moving properly.
Do you have any favourite fitness clothing brands?
One of my favorite brands is actually a brand that we’re bringing into the studio called Lorna Jane.
They have two styles of bicycle shorts and I love high waisted bicycle shorts! I love anything high-waisted, because I just find the style extremely flattering for all body types. Plus, they are really great for working out.
Who do you follow on Instagram for fitness inspiration?
I follow Shona Vertue (@shona_vertue). She’s knowledgeable, sexy, and extremely funny. She finds a way to capture the audience’s attention in such a humorous way! She’s a beautiful woman, but she has such a fun way of poking fun at herself while still informing the audience. I actually have her book, The Vertue Method, right in front of me. It’s a really great book on exercise, with a focus on mobility training and stressing the importance of engaging the right muscles properly.
What’s next for you and where do you want to be five years from now?
For the next five years, my focus is definitely on growing the business. I’d love to continue to grow the business and even open more locations. My 10-year goal would be to travel more with my children. I want them to be able to see different parts of the world, and I want to experience it with them.