Think you’ve gone to extremes to fit a workouts into your hectic schedules? Steve Aoki, who plays 300 shows a year around the globe as one of the world’s most popular DJs once parked his car in the middle of a pitch black road in rural Poland to knock out some push-ups. At 11:55PM.
“There were no lights,” Aoki tells MensHealth.com. “There was just farmland, pastures all around,” he said of his craziest ever training spot. “I stopped the car because at 12AM I would have to pay $100 if I didn’t get 100 push ups in.”
He finished the set there in the dark and avoided the self-imposed fine. (More on the fines later.) That probably wouldn’t surprise any of the 6 million Instagram followers who see his frequent workout videos. Aoki doesn’t just want his infectious electronic dance music (EDM) joints to be the soundtrack to your best nights. He wants you to get off your ass and start sweating, too, to become your best self.
THE ULTIMATE FIT FAM: AOKI BOOTCAMP
Aoki has created a personal brand that extends beyond his music and his trademark high-energy live shows. The brutal workouts he completes with his tourmates, dubbed Aoki Bootcamp, have become almost as much of an Aoki trademark as the sheet cakes he flings onstage. His fans have begun to join in on the fitness movement, creating a community within his massive following.
Speaking with us in NYC as he unveiled the Hypergel-Kenzen x Aoki sneaker he made in collaboration with Asics, Aoki explained that a typical Aoki Bootcamp workout is a stripped-down CrossFit workout of the day (WOD), minus the heavy weights. You’ll find basic moves you can do almost anywhere like push-ups, burpees, squats, and pikes.
Aoki adjusts his routines to fit wherever in the world he happens to be—so in Hawaii he took camp to the beach, and in Japan a snowy mountain slope. Other times, the tour stops in a local gym for an intense CrossFit session or some jiu-jitsu.
His typical workouts, though, are more utilitarian. That makes it easier to train wherever and whenever—like that midnight on the road in Poland—as he tours the world, whether he’s stuck on a bus or not. He calls squats a “go-to” move, and says that high intensity interval training (HIIT), which often calls for short bursts of manic activity, is his absolute favorite. “Short intervals, power, quick and hard.”
TRANSFORMING FANS BY INSPIRING—AND FINING—THEM
The Aoki Bootcamps weren’t initially meant to bring his fans into the gym with him. It was just another aspect of his daily routine he shared on social media. “You put it out there and you don’t realise people are actually gonna do it, too.” he says. “You’re not necessarily getting that feedback right away, so I don’t know who’s doing it or who’s not doing it.”
Aoki realised that his focus on fitness had a broader impact than just his own health, however, after interacting with a fan at a meet and greet event before a show. “She came and showed me a before and after picture. She’s like, ‘I’ve been doing every single one of your workouts and I lost 26 pounds and feel so much healthier.’”
The conversation spurred Aoki to become more purposeful with his fitness routines, shifting his messaging to become more of a guide, or coach. “Sometimes I’m running and gunning,” he says. “I’m not really thinking about the end goal or who’s watching. Now after that, I’m thinking even more like I’m going to gear this like it’s some kind of Tae Bo class or something. Like you’re subscribing to a free class.”
That inclusive aspect of the workouts make them accessible, but the system of accountability he put into place for himself and his tourmates makes the Bootcamp admirable. When Aoki or someone training with him fails to complete the WOD, they pay up. Sometimes the cost is dignity, like lunging along a line of waiting fans, sans shirt.
More often, the penalty is financial, where you pay a self-imposed fee. Those fines are donated to The Aoki Foundation, which supports organisations that conduct brain science research and humanitarian causes. Don’t think that Aoki doesn’t put up just because he’s in charge, either. “On this tour I owe the most, to be honest with you,” he says, estimating that he’s ponied up around $40,000 in penalties. But that self-accountability serves another purpose. “I also want to put myself as the example. It’s great for some of these young guys that don’t necessarily donate all the time, it starts that. And I want them to feel the burn somehow.”
HAVING HIS CAKE AND SMASHING IT, TOO
Even if Aoki becomes the Billy Blanks of EDM, his music and creating an unforgettable live show comes first. But working out and partying aren’t mutually exclusive activities any more—especially for fans of the brand of high tempo EDM he specialises in. “I realise how many fitness trainers use my music to work out, he says. “In the beginning I didn’t really think about it like that, because I’m just making high intensity stuff. I want to make music that makes you want to rip your hair out of your head, and scream and jump. I’m realising more and more when I see dance videos set to [my songs] that it’s very much part of choreographed dance culture, as well as fitness.”
(It’s not a coincidence. Here’s why music actually makes you workout better.)
That multi-tiered focus is why his collaboration with Asics bridges the gap between street style and performance gear. His work with the brand aims to be functional in any arena, not just in the gym or onstage. “I love training. I love performing,” he says. “Asics and I are sharing the DNA of who I am and who they are to make stuff that represents what I do.”
There is one aspect of his shows that you’ll never find in your local gym: “caking.” It’s the culmination of the adrenaline-fueled dance party, a massive sheet cake tossed in someone’s face to throw the fans into a frenzy. (Sometimes celebrities will nail Aoki, as Vin Diesel recently did.)
As silly as the stunt is, Aoki has an explanation that parallels his role as a world famous DJ who mashes up fitness and accountability with carefree dance parties. “At the end of the day, if you take something that no one would expect, like you take two different worlds and smash it together, most of the time it doesn’t work,” he says. “This did.”
By Brett Williams