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If you sign up for an outdoor fitness boot camp just to drop a few pounds before swimsuit season, you may be surprised to find that the instructors have something else in mind for you. They don't want simply to get you in shape for a month or two. They want to get you healthy for life.
"A lot of people come into the camps having done binge exercising, and binge dieting, or yo-yo dieting for years and years," says Tanya Barham, CEO of Recess Fitness in Portland, Ore. "So they have lots of bad habits, and weird expectations. Like, 'Oh, it took me 10 years to gain these 20 pounds but I'm going to lose them in a week.' We don't do it that way. We try to get people into healthy habits they can maintain after camp."
Barham's summer boot camps include nutrition and diet classes along with the workouts, and plenty of friendly reminders that being healthy involves much more than just losing weight. She keeps it fun, too, by mixing up the workouts with martial arts, yoga, Pilates and tai chi.
"Our boot camp is definitely not about ass-kicking," Barham says, but she's willing to make exceptions in order to prove a point. Jackie Yerby, a loyal alumna of Barham's '07 boot camp, recalls that there were people in her group who complained early on that it wasn't ass-kicking enough. "Tanya's response was 'Okay, we're gonna run stairs,'" Yerby says. "And we did the stairs for, it seemed like, forever. As a result, most of us...felt very uncomfortable for days. And Tanya's point was, you can have the ass-kicking workout, but you can't sustain that. I thought that was a really good myth to break."
Because of her boot camp experience, Yerby says, she gave up her gym membership. "I felt more in control and more empowered about exercise," she says. "It doesn't take special equipment to do it."
Tami Williams, president of Wildfire Fitness in Portland, runs her boot camps all year round, bringing her class indoors when it's pouring rain, but staying outside if it's not that bad. She also stresses to her students the importance of good habits, including the proper hydration and nutrition, as well as smart intake of carbs, proteins and fats. "Our focus is education," she says. "Giving people information so in their daily lives they still have the knowledge to do what they need to do."
What they need to do during Wildfire boot camps, however, is show up prepared for a challenging workout with a few surprises. According to Williams, "Variety is one of our trademarks. You never know from day to day what the boot camp is going to be about. I think that's what keeps people coming back. It's not just endless sets and reps of boring exercises. Every session has group games, interspersed with mini-circuits." Popular with boot-campers, mini-circuits are group exercises in which everyone does as many reps as they can handle in a 30-second period.
"Sometimes people say to me, 'I would be mad at you, but you're so nice,' " says Williams. "Because even though I'm pushing them, I'm trying to find a way that motivates them. I'll encourage where I see that I can encourage, or back off sometimes, or encourage them to back off if I think they should."
Anna-Marie Matalucci is in her second consecutive Wildfire boot camp, and says she much prefers it to a gym, where she sometimes feels uncomfortable. "The people who put on their makeup, and it's all about wearing the right kind of clothes… the camps feel more like fun than working out. It's made me conscious, in terms of exercising, that you don't need weights, and that you're able to exercise wherever you go."
And Matalucci proudly cites another benefit of her boot camp training. "One of the best things I've picked up from this is that I've got a stupid party trick now," she says. "Never before could I do push-ups. Now I do push-ups in the middle of a party just to show that I can."
About the Author
Ken DuBois is a marketing guru by day and a freelance writer by night. He has written film reviews for Reel.com, and worked as a theater critic. He is passionate about working out: When he's not in the pool, he's hiking, biking, walking and, weather permitting, working on his backhand.