Harford Magazine

Bel Air’s Jabz Boxing develops fitness, not fighters

Melanie Crouse is determined to be the first member of Jabz Boxing to win the coveted golden gloves. Not the annual amateur boxing tournament, perhaps, but something nearly as prestigious.


The 49 year old hopes to be the first member to complete 100 classes at Jabz, the Bel Air gym with the motto, “We develop fitness, not fighters.” Members who complete 100 classes will be gifted a pair of golden gloves. Winners will pose for photographs, and their names will go up on the wall of fame.

In her quest to qualify, the Abingdon woman sometimes takes two classes a day: at 5:30 a.m. when the gym opens and at 6:30 p.m. before it closes. By early January, she had already logged 61 classes in the 60 days since Jabz opened its doors to the public for the first time.


“I want the bragging rights,” Crouse said.

“But I also really love this. It makes you feel powerful. When I started out, I hated doing burpees [an exercise in which a jump is combined with a pushup.] But now that I’ve gained strength and confidence, I don’t hate burpees anymore.”

The Bel Air gym is part of a national franchise of a dozen boutique workout centers. Members do not box with one another; the only thing that gets hit are punching bags.

Classes consist of 40 stations in and around a boxing ring. Each station includes 45 seconds of a strength-building exercise (such as uppercuts) with 20 seconds of an exercise like skipping rope that elevates the heart rate. Class participants tour the circuit twice in a little over an hour.

Classes scheduled different days work different areas of the body: the lower body on Sundays and Mondays, the upper body on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the core [the muscles stabilizing the hips, shoulders and torso] on Fridays and the full body on Saturdays.

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“Even though we don’t teach self-defense, you will learn how to throw a punch correctly here,” co-owner Larry O’Keefe said.

He and his wife,Helen O’Keefe decided to open the gym once their two sons (now 16 and 21) no longer needed their full-time attention. Husband and wife are fitness fanatics; Larry has a background in boxing while Helen is an avid runner.

“Exercise helped us get through the pandemic,” Helen O’Keefe said. “We decided this should be our next adventure. We figured this would be a healthy and happy environment. After six weeks, we’re already building a great community of our members.”


During a recent class, head coach Karen Hydress went from member to member — prodding, encouraging, advising and occasionally modifying exercises to be less strenuous for members who were injured or new to working out.

“We are all always learning,” Hydress said. “I have members who at first couldn’t complete a whole circuit, and now they just fly through it.

“I love, love, love seeing people succeed. It makes my heart shine.”

Jabz Boxing, 520 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air, is open daily to adults and teens 16 and older. For details, call 443-987-7731 or visit