Today’s burpee is yesterday’s squat thrust, sit-ups are now crunches and pushups? Well, they’re still torture. But combined with other calisthenics, running, stretching and plyometrics, they comprise the newest fitness craze: boot camp. Similar to basic training, but without the 4 a.m. wakeup military component, boot camp enjoys growing popularity in the area, and for all sorts of reasons. They all add up to one kick-ass workout.
“The fitness industry is making a turn away from body building and machines and toward free weights, medicine balls and the gymnasium,” explains Kulaa Bacheyie, director of personal training at Gold’s Gym, 7455 Morgan Road, Liverpool. “Machines do a certain amount of work for you, and the machine is designed for the average exerciser.
“With a decent teacher you’ll get pushed to a limit you wouldn’t achieve yourself:” Gold’s Gym Liverpool instructor Kulaa Bacheyie (above) leads a recent class through its drills.
“Boot camp is a nontraditional workout. When you participate you are shocking your body so you’ll see better results. You are working at an intensity you’re not normally at and because of that I wouldn’t recommend it every day.”
Bacheyie has worked in Liverpool for about seven years, while boot camp has been offered at Gold’s for eight. He has seen a gradual increase in its popularity until many area fitness centers offer it, including Bally’s in Carousel Center and Fitness Forum in DeWitt. Gold’s schedules seven each week. Classes generally last an hour with a metabolism boost that can linger for days. “Not only does it burn a ton of calories,” Bacheyie says, “but it revs up your metabolism and keeps it raised for 24 to 48 hours after the class.”
This reporter participated in Bacheyie’s Monday evening boot camp class with eight other exercises. After a dynamic warm-up—meaning moving, not static, stretching—he broke the class into three groups of three and we alternated drills. Activities included pushups on a round-bottomed Bosu ball, squats using various resistance bands, burpees and incredibly difficult ab twists. Since Bacheyie isn’t sure who will show up, and at what fitness level they are, he’ll ask newbies and then adjust each class accordingly.
“One advantage to the circuit format is if you have a class with all levels of fitness, I can modify exercises based on everyone’s conditioning. I can normalize the exercise for your fitness level. There is a misconception out there that boot camp will be too hard. It’s hard, but within your fitness level. To get results you’ve got to work hard, but we can always modify each exercise for you. Generally speaking, the stuff you hate doing is what you need the most help with.”
If you’d rather not join a gym to achieve the benefits of basic training, group exercise instructor and personal trainer Patty Hendry has a solution for you. She holds, at no charge, a boot camp every four to six weeks at Onondaga Lake Park, more frequently when it’s warm. Hendry’s workouts can last up to two hours, and participants are free to go whenever they like. That sounds trite, but it’s important to note that fitness buff Hendry created boot camp so she could work out with like-minded people.
“It’s about it being an opportunity for people that want to work out together outdoors with someone who can organize them and keep them focused,” says the avid runner, who will be participating in the Boston Marathon in April. “I do it because it is my passion. I’m not trying to get rich at all. It’s not done to make money, it’s done to help people attain their goals.”
Hendry’s boot camp differs from those at Gold’s Gym mostly in that it’s held outside, and she uses items in the park as props for improving fitness. “If I see a tree, I see an opportunity for a squat,” she says. “A bench? There’s a lunge or pushup or dip there. I started with no equipment. I went to the park one day and I saw hills and I saw benches and I devised a workout from there.”
Yours truly has participated in two of Hendry’s boot camps, and they won’t be the last. After a warm-up, she broke out kettlebell weights, disks for agility drills, mini-cones for hopping and a held-taut long rope so people could shuffle underneath it. The group crab-walked on the grass, partnered up and held hands with arms extended for squats and hopped, skipped and jumped. And that was just the first half-hour!
Hendry likes to take the class into the park, where more running takes place, but also hover squats over park benches, walking lunges up a hill leading out of the park, pushups and planks to work abs.
“Because boot camp is a total body workout—cardio, strength training, speed and agility training and lateral movements—it’s really challenging our body in different fashions than just spinning, running or step classes,” Hendry says. “There is cardio, strength training, speed and agility, and lateral movement. You’re getting an interval workout, which creates a higher benefit for weight loss and maximizing fitness.”
A boot camp workout is tough. A hard-core (as some people have said) exerciser myself, I remained sore two days after Hendry’s Labor Day session. Still, it’s a workout every fitness level can benefit from. “Nobody has to have any special training and it’s for all levels of fitness,” she says.
Even though no one needs a drill sergeant spitting in their face, it’s important that the class leader can motivate you. “For many, it’s hard to push yourself,” says Bacheyie. “With a decent teacher you’ll get pushed to a limit you wouldn’t achieve yourself.”
At the same time, Hendry points out some common fitness traps the average exerciser can fall into. “Nobody has to have any special training for boot camp, and it’s for everyone because you can adapt the exercise to meet your fitness experience. I don’t like to use the term ‘exercise levels’ because when we use levels, then people put themselves into a category. Experience is a gained thing, it’s a learning, it’s becoming more comfortable. Fitness is a journey, not a destination, and the goals along the way become the sightseeing stops.”
It’s important, too, that exercisers don’t get sucked down the “calories burned” vortex. “I try to take away the focus from how many calories burned to what are we doing to improve your cardiovascular system and your musculoskeletal system? The focus should be on more than burning calories. The average exerciser gets tricked into thinking they can eat more, or they restrict calories because they didn't think they burned enough.”
If you eat properly and exercise nearly daily you should be able to maintain a healthy weight. And just one form of exercise won’t do. You must include cardiovascular work and strength training; some yoga for flexibility helps, too. And that’s the ultimate benefit of a boot camp: It combines them all. Hendry says about 90 percent of those who attend one of her boot camps will return. “Anyone that has come to boot camp will come again,” she says. “There is not one person that didn’t come back, at some point.”
You can sign up for a free session of Boot Camp at Gold’s in Liverpool by calling 451-5050. To find out when Hendry will hold another session, visit her Web site, www.fitness4u.ning.com. From there you can sign up to receive e-mail alerts about all her fitness events.