Inside One Academy, the Toronto Gym Started by an Elite Obstacle Racer

One Academy Toronto

As a long-time health and fitness writer and avid runner, I’m no stranger to testing workouts, both for work and for fun, so when One Academy invited me to their official launch, I agreed without researching what I was getting myself into.

Walking into the new functional training centre in Leslieville, I didn’t know One Academy’s co-founder and “chief motivator” Jesse Bruce is something of a star in the obstacle course racing (OCR) world. In fact, the elite athlete has won first place in 38 (!) obstacle races.

Daunted yet? But if anyone can make you believe you can do the impossible, Bruce can. Though you wouldn’t guess by his athletic feats, he says he used to be a skinny, weak kid with no self-esteem until finding self-confidence through fitness changed everything. He credits training for saving him from a dark past, and a desire to help others was his motivation in starting One Academy with his business partners, Eric Vieira and Paulo Salomao.

“This is a place for like-minded people training together and working toward goals, where you can be challenged to complete things you never thought you could’ve done, where you’re cheering and supporting one another to be stronger,” says Bruce. “We want to empower people and lift the community up.”

The space: Located at 858 Eastern Avenue, One Academy’s warehouse-like facility is huge (10,000 square feet), brightly lit and kitted out with serious equipment, including Toronto’s longest Platinum Rig (the kind of grown-up “jungle gym” you’d see at a Spartan race), 30 percent incline treadmills, rowing machines, bikes, heavy ropes, medicine balls, kettlebells and the like. Up to 48 people can work out at once.

The black walls make it feel hardcore and gritty—you get the sense a lot of tough work goes down here. But dominating one wall is a pep talk in gold all-caps: “WE ARE STRONGER AS ONE.” As I await what I assume is a world of hurt, the fitspo message gives me a little comfort.

At the café, you’ll find Pilot Coffee and pre-/post-workout smoothies, and for parents needing to fit in a workout, One Academy offers child-minding ($7 per hour). The gym will also soon have wellness services, like acupuncture and physiotherapy.

The workout: There are 10 types of classes, ranging from Rise (geared to beginners) to Jacked for the Weekend, all of which are one hour, with the exception of Everest, a two-hour class that starts with a big circuit and ends with your choice of a 3k, 5k or 7k obstacle course. One Academy’s programming changes every four weeks to keep things interesting and prevent plateauing.

I’m here for the Sprint class, which focuses on short bursts and explosiveness. It covers seven stations, with two different exercises at each station, 35 seconds on, 15 seconds rest, before you switch to the other move. For one of the exercises at each station, it’s set up as a superset; for 20 seconds when you’re on, you go at high intensity to get into the fat-burning zone.

With my poor memory, I did my best to remember each exercise, but thankfully being with a group meant we could refresh each other’s memory at each station. Our moves included front squats with a sandbag, working with heavy ropes, rowing, pull-ups, box jumps, and sprinting while pushing the weight sled. For me, some exercises were familiar (I rocked the treadmill, and rowing and mountain climbers were also in my wheelhouse), while others were intimidating (I couldn’t flip the sandbag up onto my arms and didn’t even attempt the pull-up, instead choosing to kneel and pull down on a resistance band).

The intervals went quickly, so the class suits those like me with a short attention span. With Bruce shouting out the sprints and switches, it initially felt a bit drill sergeant–esque (a training style I don’t respond well to), but as we went from station to station, I realized the shouting was necessary (given the loud music), and getting to high-five others in my group after each station made me feel like we were all in it together.

The aftermath: I felt some soreness in my shoulders and quads, like I’d done a decent but not killer workout. Admittedly, I didn’t push myself to the max; since I had a meeting right after class and couldn’t be a sweaty mess, I opted for the easiest option for every exercise rather than going full out.

One Academy has a rep for being a place where you already have to be very fit to join, but you can definitely work out at a level you’re comfortable with, and for each exercise, you’re given options ranging from beginner to advanced. That said, I’ve only tried one class so far. If I were a regular, I have a hunch Bruce would be urging me to go for that heavier sandbag and to drive that weight sled a little faster. Which I suppose is the whole point of joining the community—for the extra push to rise to the challenge.

One Academy, 858 Eastern Avenue, Toronto, 647.245.8544, 60-minute workout (except the two-hour Everest); $25 for one class.