Although Ngo Okafor has two Golden Glove titles, a string of television gigs and a lucrative modeling career — even posing alongside Gisele Bundchen — his true passion lies in getting people motivated at the gym.
“My fitness career started because I wanted to do something with a little bit more substance. In modeling you don’t really do anything,” he says with a laugh. “After I started training a couple people I learned that I also love teaching. Both my parents are teachers so I realized it’s kinda genetic.”
Those wanting washboard abs like Okafor’s are in luck. When the renowned trainer isn’t having one-on-one training sessions with clients at NYC’s CLAY gym
, where he’s a partner, he’s teaching RAKA
, a high-energy workout he created that blends boxing, strength training and cardio.
We spoke with the fitness guru to get his secret building a strong core, and why it’s so important.
Your boxing class RAKA reflects the rising trend of boxing for exercise. Why is it such a great workout?
Boxing is a good workout because it uses every muscle in your body and you lose body weight, so you don’t have to worry about getting bulky. It’s a cardio workout, it’s a great strength workout, so you get the best of both worlds in boxing. Also, you get to relieve a lot of stress. You’re throwing punches, you feel powerful, you’re learning how to protect yourself, so you’re fulfilling a primal need in all humans to be able to defend. All the while you’re burning calories and building long, lean muscle.
How do people benefit from working out the core?
Most people sit all day for work, and what happens when you sit down is your core shuts down. They say sitting is the new smoking. I’ve had clients who came to me with back pain, so we focused on their core and it went away. If you’re going on vacation and you want to look good, you’ve gotta do the abs. You get functionality, and looks. It’s a win-win.
Okafor’sfive steps to a stronger core
First, work the belly by doing planks. You can do a full plank, on your elbows straight back to your toes. If the person can’t do that, they can do it on their knees.
Second, you want to build your obliques, which is the muscles on the sides of your abs. You can do that with twisting exercises or side planks.
Third, you want to build muscle in the upper abs with sit-ups and with crunches. Focus on generating tension in your abs, not swinging your body back and forth.
Fourth, it’s important to work your lower abs with flutter kicks or leg raises.
Finally, it’s endurance. You can get that by doing either ab walk-outs ( you stand up, then put your palms on the ground and you walk your hands out into a straight-arm plank position, then you walk your hands back towards your legs), or you can do mountain climbers (you get in the straight-arm plank position and drive your knee to your elbow).