Sunday, June 3, 2012

Boot(y) Camps: Sweating and Working It Out

One of the signs of spring in the city – aside from robins, patios, and Vespas – are the Lulemon-clad armies performing gruelling rounds of burpees, crunches and squats in public parks. Yes, as bathing suit season draws near and the layers of clothing start to come off, so must the extras on the body that have accumulated over the winter. Our monolithic fitness industry offers an endless array of options for those who either need or desire a source of guidance in their routine. One cannot walk several blocks without feeling the guilt-inducing reminders of fitness clubs, boxing studios, or flyers for the “boot camp.” This year, based on a combination of curiosity and bemusement, I decided to gear up and join these boot-camp goers. What I discovered was something truly enlightening.

Over the past decade, fitness boot camps have grown in popularity across North America. Men and women voluntarily pay to have their butts whipped into shape by a drill sergeant leading them through military-inspired workouts. The original style involved a barking ring leader encouraging (yelling at) their sweat-drenched victims to finish their (boy) pushups. From this concept spawned a sub-series of female-focused camps designed by women. The main difference? Replacing the R. Lee Ermey (the actor – and real DI – who played the DI in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket) with a preternaturally peppy, pink-spandex-wearing instructor. One who had the body of Demi Moore, circa G. I. Jane, and the hair and face of Demi Moore, circa Striptease. It left you feeling you had something to aspire to rather than fear. The workout was also a more female-body focused combination of resistance training and cardio.

Given my lone wolf approach to fitness, my decision to jump on a bandwagon was surprising even for yours truly. I’ve been a tenacious runner for over ten years, and I cycle to work as soon as the sun stays out. The rest of my time is spent carrying or herding a three-year-old flight risk. I prefer these activities because, with perhaps the exception of the latter, I find them to be a therapeutic escape from otherwise over-articulated activities. However, eventually I was in want of an alternative; something more challenging. Something with structure; that offered camaraderie and guidance. Thus I identified and sampled my options.

First there was running club. That was short-lived mainly because I found the name alone was too much of an oxymoron. My running is my own. There was a contemplation of gym memberships, but commitment phobia promptly averted me. Kick-boxing I found a bit too Ally McBeal. I'm a long-time yogi who eventually came to terms with the fact that I’m just too impatient. While many yoga instructors did offer a challenge, without fail, at the end of class, all instructors wanted me to relax and exhale all of my worries and stresses away. (This made me so anxious!) Finally, there were those tamed-down “dance” lessons, where gaggles of young women met in converted lofts and incorporated pole dancing, lap dancing, and other striptease-based moves into their workouts. These workshops were absolutely worth a visit, but not ideal for the long run. (The trouble came when I had to explain to others at work and in my life where I was going.)

I finally tested two boot camps that were most rewarding: Booty Camp, now a nation wide franchise originally started by Sammie Kennedy of Toronto (Kennedy’s mantra of goal setting motivation, combined with nutrition guidelines, helps women feel empowered about their fitness routine); and Empower Me Fitness, which is owned and led by Adrienne Davis. The same velocity, but with more intimate class sizes.

The time spent at Booty Camp and Empower Me Fitness was invigorating. With the exception of the winter months, the camps were held outside, offering fresh air along with a workout. They are affordable and offer a variety of packages for convenient scheduling. While you were supervised and guided through your workout, you are never singled out or embarrassed. In addition to the perks and the challenging circuits, I left feeling better, stronger, and happier. What I really took away from the camps, and what I believe was the explanation for their success, was their philosophies. The philosophies that believe change is possible, and that one can be the best they can be. The entrepreneurs behind the camps share their personal stories of change and growth – real women telling real women what is truly possible. Also, the confirmation that all one really needs to achieve their utmost potential is themselves, and maybe a little sweat and encouragement.

Below are the links to the two boot camps

Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

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