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Get in Shape Like a Champ: Fitness Tips from Cruiserweight Champion Vassiliy Jirov

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Professional boxer and Olympian Vassiliy Jirov knows what it takes to make a champion. As an amateur, Jirov earned 207 wins against only 10 losses on his way to winning the Olympic Gold Medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, where he was awarded the Val Barker Cup for Outstanding Boxer.
After the Olympics, Jirov left his native Kazakhstan to bring his exceptional talents to the U.S. Now a longtime Scottsdale resident, Jirov is a personal trainer and an integral part of the fitness community. His experience might seem intimidating, but you don’t need to be a superstar athlete to benefit from Jirov’s training. His high-caliber workout flexes both the mind and the body.  New Market spoke to Jirov, and he offer insights how anyone can develop strength and flexibility no matter what their age or fitness level.
NM: When new clients enter the gym and want to get in shape, what’s the first piece of advice you give them?

VJ: The moment you decide you want to make changes in your life is where you start moving forward. I help people understand what the body is, and how they can take care of it. You decide whether you want to be better or bitter. I love seeing people who have a goal get to a higher level.

NM: The first steps to a healthy lifestyle are often the hardest. How do you motivate newcomers?

 VJ: I motivate by example. When you train with me, I teach you everything from recovery to what and what not to eat. In Russia, I would eat everything. But through the years I found that it isn’t very good. Take meat. We think it’s a higher source of protein, but not necessarily. That’s what the industry tells us.

 So what is your daily routine like?

 You know what? I don’t do a set routine. I just do whatever I feel in my heart. If you do the same thing over and over you get bored. You need changes. Of course, some things will be always the same, but other things need to be changed all the time. It keeps you agile, in any situation in life.

You had to be flexible moving around the world. When did you come to the U.S.?

I came after the Olympics in 1996. I went back to my country, and I was invited many promoters from the U.S. so I decided to stay. Actually, I was invited by promoters from all over the world to be a professional fighter, but I decided to go to the U.S. I love it, and I’m glad I did it.

How old are you?

You mean how young am I?

Yes, pardon me. How young are you?

I’m 38. You never get old, if you don’t have to. Maybe you’re an older soul, but you’re not old. Just older.  I train people up to their 60s and 70s in the gym, and they come in  saying “oh, I’m old.” You’re older, but you’re not old. I tell them just take a jump rope and do something, anything, to start. I believe it’s a mindset. I believe you can do whatever you want, because I’ve seen examples of people in their 70s or 80s, still in great shape.

That’s very true. To be a champion requires mental stamina as well as physical. How do you inspire clients before they even step into the boxing ring?

First I talk to them, to see their mindset and understand what they want, what kind of goals they have. Then I talk them through their goals and see if they’re okay with my plan. I tailor the workout to each person.

 How do you stay calm under pressure?

It’s a practice. Most people, when they’re under pressure, they stop breathing. Actually when they’re stressed, they have shortness of breath. But when you breathe deeply and feel the breath moving through the body, it changes your mindset. Besides my trainings I do energy work, and I help people get to the level where they’re relaxed and calm, where they’re thinking about something good. Positive thinking. We forget about the simple things that help you stay calm and relax.

How do you help clients recover after a tough workout?

After you train, a nice warm shower is a way to rejuvenate your body much quicker. When I was training in Russia, people did contrast showers from cold to warm. When you do this, the body stresses out a little bit and the blood starts moving faster, and recovery goes much faster too. What we did in Russia was sit in the sauna for as long as we can, then jump into cold, cold freezing water, and then go back to the sauna. Do this 4 or 5 times, and you feel like a new baby. Your whole body relaxes and your skin gets soft.

That sounds amazing. What about foods that help you recover?

 I suggest juices, since fruit will help you with cleansing. After you work out, your body is tired. And if you eat heavy meals, your body gets even more tired. But if you eat light calorie, good foods, it helps you to rejuvenate. So I don’t suggest people eat heavy meals after their training.

What other habits can enhance the training? How can people change their life outside of the gym?

 Small situations can allow you to grow. You always stress yourself. When you get old, you can’t take it anymore. We are spiritual in a physical body. You stress your body, you stress your mind. If you’re flexible in your body, you’re flexible in your mind. I believe this. It’s a physical and spiritual world, so you should be able to adjust to any situation. It’ll be much easier for you.

Do you practice yoga?

 I go to yoga, but sometimes I just go on the grass and do stretching if it’s not too hot. I like to be outside. You don’t need a class. The best way to rejuvenate is to connect with the world.

 What do like most about Phoenix?

I was born in a desert city too. The history in the place of my birth was very similar to Phoenix. It’s hot, but in winter it’s very cold. My body got used to it, and when I came here I felt at home.

 Can you tell me some common misconceptions about fitness? For example, I’ve heard that having bigger muscles doesn’t necessarily mean a person is in better shape.

 The bigger the guy, the harder the fall. It’s true. We say the bigger the body, the louder the fall. He’ll make a big noise. It’s harder to move your muscles. You need flexible, strong muscles, but not big. If you want to bulk yourself up, you need more weight, but most of the time I suggest using your body weight. Look at animals. A big elephant or a lion, they’re strong because they’re using all kinds of muscles and their own body weight. We use our bodies in such a limited way. It’s okay, but you have to go out and explore the world sometimes.

 Any last tips you want to share with our readers?

 You are what you eat. Be alive. Move a lot. People get old, and they can’t move any more.  People get sick and die because they don’t move enough. We get in cars, and we sit in offices, no stretching, no nothing. This is what gets us to the point where we’re just stuck.

I want to tell people listen to their hearts. Listen to your inner voice, and wish everyone peace and love around you. We all take care of each other and help each other grow together, and enjoy every moment of your life. Fitness is a way to help you to stay alive.

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