Friday, September 25, 2009

Bootcamps provide extra motivation

At Crown Point Elementary School, the three women looked at the steep hill warily. Jennah Hardy grinned malevolently. Participants in her Rock Hard Bootcamp had just finished running through ladder rungs and around cones for 30 minutes. After running they curled PVC tube filled with sand or pushed sand-filled tubes above their heads to work their shoulders.

Their muscles screamed.

And now, Hardy wanted them to climb the kind of hill you sled down, not run up. Actually, running up the hill would’ve been too easy. No, Hardy wanted them to lunge up the hill instead. Slowly, the women stepped one foot forward and dropped their opposite knee toward the ground.

Lunging up a hill. Who does that?

Jennah Hardy.

And it’s Hardy’s creativity – or insanity – that keeps Marti Stegall, 44, coming back to Hardy’s bootcamp each week. This is Stegall’s second time doing the three-week camp and she loves Hardy’s creativity.

"I don’t know if we’ve ever done the same exercise twice," Stegall says. She’s always got something new and different in the hopper."

Stegall, like many people, turned to bootcamps to get and stay in shape. Television shows such as "The Biggest Loser" and "Celebrity Fit" club have made getting in shape for the average person chic. Unlike fitness infomercials which show ripped bodies, reality shows depict everyday people and B-list celebrities struggling with their weight. The shows often use a bootcamp format of outdoor activities and group exercises to train contestants.

Tim Lenchzowski, director of marketing for Atlanta-based Operation Bootcamp, said reality shows motivate viewers. People see these contestants who are sometimes extremely overweight, but they’re spending hours in the gym. The contestants’ determination inspires other people to spend an hour a day working out, he said.

"They’re not as fearful, not as resistant to start their own program," he says.

In Charlotte, about a dozen bootcamps have sprouted up in the last few years as more people seek alternatives to personal trainers and gym memberships. The camps can be found in parks, schools and gyms from NoDa to Uptown to southern Mecklenburg County. Most are in the early mornings, but there are a few in the afternoons.

Participants range in age from their 20s to people over 50s and are typically women. Some are moms who want to get back in shape after having a baby. Others are professionals whose work schedules leave little time or energy for the gym. Bootcampers range from participants who work out at a gym to people who don’t know when was the last time they saw their gym card to some who loathe gyms.

"I hate the gym," says Angela Sparacino, 30. "I always felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I was wandering around, staring at the machines and just feeling like I wasn’t getting the most out of the time I was spending there."

Sparacino is participating in Operation Bootcamp, which meets at Latta Park in Dilworth. The Charlotte camp, owned by Christen Lewis, is one of 56 franchises for the Atlanta-based company. While many people use bootcamps to kickoff a plan to get back in shape, Sparacino and other others use it as their main form of exercise. As a result, local bootcamp operators say they have numerous repeat customers. Retention is good, but it makes it tough to challenge participants.

During a July workout, the Operation Bootcamp instructor made the dozen or so participants crab walk down a basketball court at Latta Park. Then they had to lunge-walk along the sidewalks. Then do pushups with a pause on the way up and down. And that was only on the second day.

At Operation Bootcamp, instructors use a mix of strength training with resistance bands and bodyweight exercises as well as cardio blasts, such as sprints. The worst is sprinting while someone holds a resistance band around your waist. Talk about hard.

Christen Lewis, 30, started the Charlotte franchise of Operation Bootcamp in March. She and her husband Chris moved to Cornelius from Orange County, Calif. late last year. On the West Coast, Lewis worked as a personal trainer and also participated in bootcamps. When she and her husband Chris moved to Charlotte, she decided to open a bootcamp because she enjoyed the workouts and camaraderie.

Bootcamp is for the person who wants to get in shape, but doesn’t know what to do on their own and doesn’t want to pay an average of $50 a day for a personal trainer, Lewis said. With a personal trainer, a customer typically sees their trainer once a week and then workout on their own. Bootcamps meet several days a week. Operation Bootcamp is four days a week for four weeks. Lewis also holds occasional free weekend camps. Lewis says bootcamps aren't the best exercise option for all people, but it’s perfect people who need motivation.

"It’s for the person who has that gym membership and can’t motivate themselves to go and needs that someone checking in with them everyday and will miss them if they’re not there," Lewis says.

Jessica Crowell, 24, is one oft those people. She worked out a "million" times a day in college, but her job as a bank analyst drained her. Her crazy work schedule makes it difficult to workout in the evenings, she said. Trying to make herself wake up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym wasn’t happening, so Crowell signed up for Operation Bootcamp with friends.

"It’s just really hard to motivate yourself when you have so many other things you have to do," she says.

Sgt. Roy Lewis uses a mix of exercise and inspiration to motivate his participants. He’s an Army drill sergeant and he uses military principles of honor and integrity to push his campers.

"Being a drill sergeant is more than getting in people’s face and screaming at them," he says. "You’ve got to be able to motivate them to find out what makes them click and get them to do what they never thought they would do."

He applies that philosophy to his bootcamp, which he started at the Dowd YMCA 10 years ago. Now, he operates the bootcamp independently and by contract for the YMCA. His camp is one week, it’s offered nearly once a month. His workouts typically include sprints, short-distance running, calisthenics, strength training and team-building exercises. One year, participants carried a log down Morehead Street.

Brenda Murray, 58, remembers the time Sgt. Roy made them climb 40 flights of stairs. She didn’t think she could make it, but he ran along side her. He encourage her to visualize her personal goal and see herself reaching it as she climbed each step.

"It really forces me to push my limits, to kind of break through my limits to try and reach a higher level of fitness," said Murray, who has attended the camps since he started 10 years ago. “It’s just a phenomenal experience."

In Mint Hill at her Rock Hard camp, Jennah Hardy uses everything from the hills that make participants cringe to PVC tubes to keep her workouts fresh.

"I use obscene things, like tires," she says. "We do crazy playground workouts. That kind of thing you’re not going to see in the gym."

Hardy started the bootcamp after teaching an athletic conditioning class at the Morrison YMCA for a couple of years. Many of her clients are members of the YMCA. Hardy has been a personal trainer for eight years and she started her monthly bootcamp three years ago. It grew out of her personal training work with seven women. Hardy watched the women form a friendship around the workouts.

"They were encouraging each other," she says. "They were motivating. It’s almost like it was more fun."

The workouts are fun, Marti Stegall says, especially when friends participate. Stegall started doing the bootcamps earlier this summer after she lost her job at the YMCA. Although, she worked at the Y, she rarely worked out. Her job and her family kept her from using the gym, she said.

"It does make you feel guilty when there’s 10,000 square feet of fitness space in a building and you don’t take advantage of it," she says.

Stegall says over the years, she’s worked out inconsistently. For example, she ran a half-marathon in February 2007, but then changes at work took her out of her groove.

"I’ve always been on that roller coaster ride," she says. "Sometimes I’m in a great place. Other times I’m not giving it much."

Hardy’s bootcamp has inspired her to stick with it, she says. She took her exercise ball and dumbbells on her recent vacation to Ocean Isles Beach. She walked, biked or ran nearly everyday.

"I just feel too good right now," she said.

Operation Bootcamp –
Owner: Christen Lewis owns the Charlotte franchise.
Where: Latta Park in Dilworth. Plans to open a south Charlotte location this fall.
Length: Four weeks. Four to five days a week.
Hours: 5:45 a.m. – 6:30 a.m.
Cost: $275 - $350.
Info: 888-7-FITNOW,

Rock Hard Fitness
Owner: Jennah Hardy
Where: Crown Point Elementary School in Mint Hill and her nearby home studio.
Length: Three weeks. Three days a week.
Hours: 6 a.m. – 7 a.m.
Cost: $145.
Info: 704-839-6331.

Sgt. Roy’s Bootcamp
Owner: Roy Lewis
Where: Different locations uptown
Length: One week
Hours: 5:45 a.m. – 7 a.m.
Cost: $45.
Info: 980-225-4053.

1 comment:

  1. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Karim - Mind Power