In Boot Camp, Getting Fit Means Getting Back To Basics

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Shari Kappell calls herself an addict. The 30-year-old has come to depend on something potent to get her through her day.

That something? A boot camp exercise class she attends during her lunch hour.

"I feel healthier and stronger, mentally and physically," she said. "I don't have love handles anymore. No more muffin top. I see muscle definition in my arms. I think they're awesome. I want to wear tank tops all the time." Who wouldn't get hooked on that? Modeled on the intensive physical training regimens for new military enlistees, boot camp exercise programs are intended to whip a soldier � or a middle-aged woman or a mom still sporting her baby belly � into shape using simple, back-to-basics exercises like push-ups, lunges and good ol' wind sprints. Most classes of the genre last two to three months, meet multiple times per week and maintain that drill sergeant feel familiar from TV and movie depictions of basic training.

Kelly Stanton, the instructor of the Total Body Boot Camp class at the Fox West YMCA, can manage that last part handily. He's a former U.S. Navy serviceman.

"He does call (participants) his recruits," said Jennifer Ruis, the facility's health and fitness coordinator. "Every time I peek in, they are dripping wet, they are bright red, but they are laughing." Who has a little soldier in them? Kappell started her love affair with boot camp exercise about four months ago when she enrolled in the AMP'D program at Ellipse Fitness in Appleton, where she had been working out for about two years. "I was seeing results," Kappell said of her usual fitness regimen, "but I didn't think I was strong enough to do boot camp." No one was more surprised than Kappell to find that she was. That's the beauty of boot camp, according to Shana Conradt, co-owner of Ellipse Fitness � it can work for individuals at any fitness level.

"If you're fit and want to really test yourself, perfect. If you just want to try something new, even if you're not incredibly fit yet, you can do that," she said.

The concept works for a wide variety of folks because participants can adapt exercises to their level of fitness � like doing push-ups on their knees instead of on their toes � or do fewer repetitions of each exercise until they build enough strength to complete a full set.

"I have had a few of the newer participants come up to me and say the first week they were just dying, and after five weeks they can keep up. They can do more weight. They feel better doing it," Ruis said.

The lack of choreography involved in boot camp classes also appeals to many participants, including men who might not otherwise groove on group exercise. Both Conradt and Ruis report a good mix of males and females in their classes, which include participants from their 20s to their 50s.

Treating participants to tough love A measured level of instructor sadism seems to be a draw in boot camp classes.

"More people are looking for that these days � someone that will push them to their limit and see if there's anything left," Conradt said. "For one hour, I will make you scream bloody murder as long as you're willing to do it." Instructors temper the challenges they set forth for participants with a big dose of praise and celebration of progress. "It's very encouraging. They don't let you down. If you can't do something, it's modified so you can," Kappell said. "No matter what level of fitness you are, it doesn't matter." "You have to be right on the verge of pushing them and loving them so they know it's OK," Conradt said.

"They know their stuff," Kappell said. "They work every muscle from the tip-top of your shoulder down to the forearm." Anatomy of a boot camp class An extensive knowledge of fitness helps instructors integrate practical, functional exercises into boot camp classes. In their original military context, those exercises prepare a soldier for warfare. In group exercise classes, Ruis said, they are "any type of exercise that uses your whole body, challenges your muscles, challenges your core, but also uses your mind. They translate the best into day-to-day living." Packed in the boot camp instructor's bag of tricks are a long list of moves that primarily rely on a participant's own body weight as resistance. Perhaps No. 1 on the list is the push-up, which aligns as expected with the drop-and-give-me-five, drill sergeant mentality behind real boot camp.

"There are a billion ways to do push-ups," Conradt said. And participants eat them up.

"I love push-ups � any type of push-up they throw at us," Kappell said. "They're the best." From there, exercises vary from squats to sprints to partner drills � basically anything the instructor can concoct, "ridiculous things where you say, 'The last time I did this was in high school,'" Conradt said.

Boot camp exercise is not without a tolerable degree of agony. Asked whether there's any groaning from participants when the instructor introduces the next exercise, Ruis said, "Every good class has that." Seeing results that satisfy Despite her dislike of the many sprint drills in her boot camp class, Kappell keeps coming back, signing up for a second 11-week session after the first ended. That's largely because the class has brought her to a level of fitness she hasn't seen in years.

A former cheerleader, Kappell said, "I was fit through high school but had a kid, got lazy, the usual stuff.

"Once I started AMP'D and stuck to the nutrition program, I've lost 15 pounds." She also firmed up considerably, trimming her waist by five inches in the program's first five weeks. "I'm pretty pear-shaped, and I started to fill out on the top. My top and my hips evened out," Kappell said. "I'm actually seeing quad definition in my legs, and I haven't seen that since high school." "Participants all agree that (boot camp) is hard in a good way," Ruis said.

"More than anything, you're going to see a decrease in body fat and an improvement in how you look," Conradt said. "For men, you are definitely going to see more muscle. For women, they're going to be leaner, more toned, and things are going to be back where they belong again." Results like that explain why participants come back for more. As Conradt put it, "If they hate you for 60 minutes, they'll love you at minute 61."

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