Eliza Shirazi, 26, is the fitness entrepreneur behind the rapidly expanding Kick It By Eliza brand, a fusion of kickboxing, dance and high-intensity interval training. Born and raised in central Massachusetts, she grew up studying dance and earned her degree at UMass Amherst in 2013. She became a New Balance brand ambassador and was awarded a Boston’s Best award last year. Shirazi has certified more than 100 instructors to teach her method, which has gained the attention of publications like Well+Good, Seventeen and SELF.
Jonathan Soroff: So, first of all, do you think you could kick my ass?
Eliza Shirazi: I could 100 percent kick your ass, six ways to Sunday.
Ever used your skills in a real fight? I haven’t, but don’t test me.
Do you have a short temper? I’m patient…but you want to be on my good side.
Do you think you’re less aggressive because you get your aggressions out in classes? No. I think whether it’s my nature or not, I have to be an aggressive person.
Thing most people don’t realize about kickboxing? Well, specific to Kick It By Eliza, they don’t realize that females can really kick ass. So when people take the class, I think they’re pleasantly—or maybe unpleasantly—surprised by the intensity of it.
So men are welcome to your classes? Absolutely. There are men in the classes, although it’s definitely female-focused. The guys are generally the boyfriends, or the husbands, or the gay friends.
Thoughts on the #metoo moment? I think it’s high time that women start speaking up and calling out people who are acting inappropriately, especially when these are men in power. So from a fem-power perspective, and a personal perspective, I’d say it’s about damn time.
Thoughts on the expectations or societal ideals on women’s bodies? I think expectations are starting to shift, and you’ll find in the Kick It community there are instructors and participants of all shapes and sizes, all ages, and that’s one of the things that keeps them coming back. That unique community of women.
Think you’d do well on Dancing With the Stars? Well, I grew up a dancer, so I’d hope so.
Favorite dance form? Hip-hop, cause I’m really ’hood at heart.
Last time you got a bloody nose kickboxing? [Laughs.] Never. But George Foreman III at Everybody Fights once hit me in the face when we were training together, and I was bruised.
Worst injury you ever had? I broke my arm playing on the monkey bars in kindergarten.
Thing you most hate at the gym? I hate running on the treadmill. Spare me!
Thing that people do at the gym that really just doesn’t work? I think the thing that doesn’t work in general is just hopping on a machine for hours on end just to break a sweat, without intention.
Do you see people at the gym and think, “They’re hurting themselves?” Sometimes in these big box gyms, it’s really easy to get lost, and not have specific attention on you by a teacher or a trainer, so it’s common.
What is it about Kick It By Eliza that’s just ignited? It’s truly the community behind it. We call it the Kick It Crew. The class is super social. During the class, there’s a lot of partner workouts. We do a lot of socializing after the class. We do a lot of events and hangouts outside the class, and it’s about the workout, but it’s even more about this community of women.
Who do you picture when you’re punching the shit out of a bag? Probably all the dumb ex-boyfriends.
Who’s the fitness entrepreneur you most admire? Oooooh! Great question. On a more personal level, George Foreman III has been a really big mentor to me. He’s been a really big part of this push with Kick It, but on a celebrity level, I’d say Tracy Anderson or Anna Kaiser.
Is there one you think is totally full of bullshit? I think people find what they want from every kind of workout, so none of it’s really bullshit. It’s just that the goals are different in different classes.
How do you avoid having the workouts become monotonous? The class changes every week or so. We change the exercises and the music, but the structure of the class always stays the same. So if someone’s coming to the class, they know that Round 1 is the warmup. Round 2 is focused on squats. Specific rounds have specific aims. But the choreography and the music change to keep it fresh.
Do you control the music for everyone who teaches a Kick It By Eliza class? I control 90 percent of it. There are some more senior instructors who have the ability to program more independently. But for the most part, I’m behind all the content.
What is your New Year’s resolution? Well, my general and ongoing resolution is to not be late, because I’m late for everything. I’m trying to take small steps to leave 15 minutes earlier. But on a bigger scale, my goal is to get Kick It to more cities in 2018 and establish new communities.
So how do you get your workout into gyms or studios? It’s driven by instructors. If someone wants to get certified to teach the class, they’ll come to certification training and then go to the gyms where they work and add it to the group fitness schedule. Most recently, I’ve been taking on a space at the VIA Seaport Residences. We took over their studio and now we provide all the programming there. We’re also slated to open up in a couple more luxury apartment buildings.
Is there a psychological component to this? Absolutely. Kick It is much more than just the workout. Round 13 of the class is always a meditation and restorative round, because I really believe that if you’re not working out your mind, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of a well-rounded workout. We really focus on getting people to a quieter place mentally, so that they can wind down before they either end their nights or start their days. That’s a really, really big part of the class.
So you’re 26. Where do you think you’ll be in your 40s? I’d like to still have a home base in Boston, but the idea is to certify people internationally within the next couple of years, and have different hubs, like these luxury apartment buildings, as places to have instructors train and teach. So I’d say that by the time I’m in my 40s, I’d like to be more on the business management side of things, watching things flow and develop and create, rather than teaching so much.
Who’s the person you’d most like to kick in the balls? Harvey Weinstein.
Jane Fonda—yea or nay? Yea, definitely! Trailblazer!
How about Jillian Michaels? [Sighs.] Also a trailblazer, but I think she became a little over-commercialized, if that makes sense, although I know I’ve been saying I want to grow Kick It into something as big as what she has.
How important do you think looks are in your business? Unfortunately, I think looks have appeal to people, but I really believe that your vibe attracts your tribe. And so I think that no matter what you look like, your personality and the expertise you bring will always, in the long run, outweigh any sort of looks.
Do you like classic boxing? I do. I’ve come to really love it. It’s helped me as a student, as a teacher. It’s helped me build more technical content. I really enjoy it.
Is there a famous fighter or boxer you think you can take? I’ll just be really rebellious and stay on the trend of George [Foreman III]. Bring it!
Ever bet on a match? I haven’t, but the Everybody Fights crew has dared me to in the past. It’s not really my style. ◆
Eliza Shirazi photographed for The Improper by Joel Benjamin; Hair and Makeup by Kashmir / Viselli Salon; Cover models (left to right): Julia Kacmarek, Janessa Barrett, Eliza Shirazi, Ashley Bell and Emily Crocker