Braving Boot Camp
By Iolande Skinner
When I discovered that I had been elected to write a hands-on article on what boot camp is really like I must admit I was scared. The thought of committing myself to something involving multiple weekly sessions of gruelling physical exercise and someone demanding me to “get down and give me 20”, was not my idea of fun. However for the sake of our curious readers I reluctantly took on the challenge; three intense one hour sessions per week for four long weeks.
Here’s how it went….
No swearing. No hands on hips. The last person to each session must carry the bag of car keys for the entire class. Follow instructions at all costs.
Burpees, burpees and more burpees!
Fitness centres around the country have started running these military style outdoor classes named Boot Camps that have received much attention and developed a huge following. Boot Camp is a get-fit-quick program taken on by a group of up to 30 people. After going through one month of boot camp, the best way I can describe it is being similar to having a group personal trainer. And, of course, we all know exercising with a partner can make each workout so much more bearable, so you can imagine the fun, motivation and dynamic of having a whole group of people there with you to share the pain.
What comes to mind when you think of boot camp? For me I imagined it to be a very serious class, with a commando-style leader screaming instructions at the group – basically not a very enjoyable experience – where you train till you drop. Although there are some boot camps out there that pride themselves on this image, the Edith Cowan University Boot Camp that I attended, is not one of them.
Jai, a young, fit and friendly guy, ran the evening boot camp that I attended. With qualifications in personal training and a Fitness WA accreditation, Jai is also completing his degree in Sports Science at Edith Cowan University. To me, Jai was the perfect instructor for boot camp, with his constant energetic personality, enthusiasm and vast knowledge of fitness. The instructor explained the rules that apply to his sessions and clarified that they are in place only out of respect to him and the rest of the group.
Apart from trying to prepare myself mentally for the challenge I made a point of getting my vital measurements done and underwent a pinch test to establish my body fat percentage. By doing this I really set myself up as a guinea pig for our readers to see what difference four weeks of boot camp can make to the average person’s body.
With all my measurements taken for monitoring, the next step was to find a little something that may help me through and take some of the pain out of the next four weeks. Some of the girls in the Oxygen team had recommended I try protein shakes as they had found them quite effective for muscle recovery. I had never tried protein shakes but I thought I’d give it a go: I needed anything that might be able to help get me through the workouts, so I got my hands on a protein powder called Lean Desert by BSN, which tastes really good by the way. Of course, I had to buy some new exercise clothes as well and really had to be organised with preparing enough food to take to work along with my exercise gear and protein shake. I must note that I did not change my diet over the four weeks of boot camp. In fact I ate more food than I usually would as the increase in exercise also increased my appetite. I stuck to my normal healthy eating as much as I could but I also indulged in some naughty food when I felt like it.
Lucky for me, the ECU boot camp ran an evening class at 6pm. This was great for me as I am really not a morning person and it meant that I could go straight after work. I turned up to my first boot camp class ready for a challenge and keen to find some motivation. What I found there was a group of friendly-looking men and women of different ages chatting away and the instructor joining in conversations before the session began – it was certainly not what I had expected. Jai, the boot camp instructor, has been running the boot camp sessions since 2005, so he definitely knows what he’s doing.
On the first day the group was put through a fitness test so that everyone could measure their improvement after the boot camp had finished. Jai explained that people find it very exciting and motivating to see how they have improved by the end of boot camp. This meant doing an initial beep test, then seeing how many push ups, sit ups and burpees we could do. For those of you who don’t know, the beep test is a method where the group starts at one spot and when the beep sounds you must run to the marked spot and continue running back and forth as the beeps gets quicker. Commencing boot camp my fitness level was 5.7, according to the beep test. Some other people in the group dropped out at level 2 or 3 and some went all the way through to level 10. I managed 10 full push ups and 15 women’s push ups, 20 crunches and 20 burpees. With all the information recorded Jai handed out the timetable of locations for each session, which included a list of parks, courses, tourist spots and beaches around Perth; some of which I had never been to before. By the end of the first class I was quite exhausted. All I could think was, “Oh my God, this is only the testing!” – what had I got myself into?
Being a Boot Camper
The first real boot camp class was at a huge green park in the Perth suburbs. I was so exhausted from work that I really didn’t feel like going, but I somehow found the motivation. Everyone met up in the car park and the last person to arrive had to carry the bag of keys for the whole session. We started off doing wall stand relays in between lunge walks and running laps. We then jogged to the next spot on the oval and did some team games, which consisted of running and tagging team members then doing push ups and sit ups until the next person tags you, so you are constantly moving.
Throughout the session the group moved to another three areas, doing different exercises and “games” at each place. We finished off by doing dips sets on a nearby wall and having a wall-stand competition, boys against girls. The girls won of course! There was some great team work happening. It was hard work but surprisingly very enjoyable. It was a great feeling to be able to get through each exercise and complete each task without almost dying. I felt great afterwards even after a full day at work and I was really proud of myself with a real sense of achievement. You may find this hard to believe - I was even shocked myself - when the next day I found that I was looking forward to my next boot camp class. I was actually excited!
According to Jai, individual boot camps differ due to the trainer’s personal style. “This is my Boot camp and it’s my unique style and personality that makes it so unlike any other boot camp out there,” he says. “Yeah we’re all doing crunches, yeah we’re all doing push-ups but it’s my style, personality and way which makes my boot camp so different. It’s imperative to have the right personality for this kind of work and I guess I’ve got it (otherwise I wouldn’t have people coming back month after month, rain hail or shine.)”
One thing that really stood out to me about Jai’s sessions was that he was not the angry, hardcore commando that I had expected a boot camp instructor to be, just standing back and giving orders. When I questioned Jai about this he replied, “You can be told what to do over and over again but there comes a point where you start thinking to yourself “yeah easy for you to say, but I don’t see you doing it!” He adds, “I like to spend the first couple of sessions watching and observing everyone to ensure quality performance can be attained by all. Then as the month continues I join in a lil’ more to show my boot campers that I’m not just all talk and that I can do it too. If I don’t think something will be fun, or the activity is something that I myself haven’t or wouldn’t do, then I don’t make my boot campers do it. Simple as that.” Rather, Jai offers as much encouragement as possible to his troops and has found this to get great results.
With each class I noticed my fitness levels gradually increasing and the exercises that I had struggled with the week before seemed to be a lot easier. I could run further distances and complete more push ups. It was very exciting and motivational for me to really feel my body improving by the week. Some classes were definitely harder than others and even towards the end of the four weeks I found myself struggling a little. Jai explains: “Boot camp isn’t just about working people till they drop. If you want that, then go join the army reserves. I work the boot campers hard and motivate them when they need it but I also understand that we all have limits.” Jays believes that there is no point in making every session continually harder and harder because the troops will just get burnt out, which starts to affect other parts of their lives and people will then dread coming to the next class.
Over the next four weeks each session continued to be more enjoyable, with a huge variety of exercises at some stunning locations around Perth. Sometimes I even forgot for a second that I was on boot camp as I did my exercises when instructed and took the time to take in the breathtaking scenery. “I love the changes of location and great places around Perth,” agreed one of my fellow boot campers Kelly Robinson, a 29 year old speech pathologist. “You feel like a tourist in your own city with some of the locations and it certainly beats the mundane scenery of a gym.” The group undertook activities on the edge of a canal while the sun was setting, making the water glow orange. We ran the length of one of Perths beaches with the waves crashing beside us and sand between our toes, did crunches on the top of King’s Park overlooking the city lights at night, and as it grew darker in the evenings towards the end of the boot camp, we did V-sits and leg raises under the stars in a luscious green park. For me, the locations and being able to train outdoors was probably the most enjoyable part of boot camp. It made me forget, even just for a second, the burning pain in my legs while doing squats, or the cramping of my stomach muscles from doing hovers as I took a sneak peak at the beauty around me.
The whole group dynamics was also very important part of boot camp. I felt that the other boot campers really motivated and inspired me to keep going when I felt like giving up, although they managed this without having to say a word. If there was something that I was struggling with I would just look around me and find twenty other people all feeling the same way and I would think to myself “If they can do it then I can do it”, so in that way the team spirit really helps you out. In fact, Kelly says that this group environment is one of the reasons that she joined boot camp. “I thought BC would be a fun way to get fit, see some great scenery of Perth and meet new people,” she reveals. “I love the company. I’m a social person and everyone is friendly at BC so you always have a chat before/after the session. Everyone is there for the sole reason of getting fitter, so there is only ever healthy competition and nice comments between people, which is great.” We all shared the laughs and the pains of boot camp together. Jai really encouraged everyone to get to know each other. He would actually do random checks during classes to see if we knew the names of the other people in the group and if we didn’t then everyone would have to do push ups or burpees.
Why Boot Camp?
There is a variety of different people who choose to take on boot camp for number of reasons. “I have people who want to get fitter, people that desire to lose weight,” Jai explains. “I have those who are in pre or post season “sport” training, and then people who find they simply lack the motivation to exercise or hit the gym, and so that’s where I step in! So if this describes you in any way, sign up for Boot Camp baby!” For Kelly her reasons for joining were mainly for fitness and weight loss. “I had recently returned from living and working in London, and made my way back to Perth via backpacking through Europe,” she confided. “Needless to say, my travels caught up with me: my fitness was bad and I’d gained some weight on my travels.” Kelly has noticed the changes in her body that she credits to boot camp, including body tone and improved health. “Doing all that exercise really makes you think about what you are putting in your body each day,” Kelly adds.
In the two years that Jai has taken his boot camp class he has only ever seen his troops improve both physically and mentally. He believes once a person has decided “yup, I’m doing this” and takes the initial step, they have already overcome the first, and possibly hardest, hurdle of boot camp. “Once someone does that, I can then help them achieve their goals - or at least get them part of the way,” Jai advises. “The “type” of person will govern how much and what one will achieve. It could be weight loss, increased fitness, increased muscle tone, increased stamina, a stronger core, the list goes on.” Jai has also had the benefit of seeing first hand some amazing transformations from people who have attended his boot camp. Over the space of a couple of months, or even one month of boot camp, he has witnessed, on many occasions, massive increases to fitness and stamina levels, amazing strength gains and even phenomenal weight loss (when boot camp is used with a healthy weight loss regime.) He gets a kick out of witnessing people achieve things they never thought possible. But remember, you only get out what you put in - so don’t expect to just turn up and have your instructor magically make you reach your health and fitness goals.
You may think this is crazy, but many of the people who attended this boot camp are regulars who continue to return month after month. So why is this - isn’t one month enough? Well when I finished boot camp I actually wanted to return again because I had enjoyed it so much and felt like I would miss it. I didn’t want that feeling of having a really healthy body to go away. Maybe someone who has returned to boot camp a few times can give us their insights. Kelly recalls that her second month of attending boot camp was slightly different to the first. “I was really anxious starting off in BC, as I was aware of how unfit I was but my second month was awesome,” she says. “With a little extra fitness and knowledge of what to expect I really enjoyed myself way more than I thought possible… and you could also mentally prepare yourself for the type of session coming up.”
Jai, of course, has his own opinion on the phenomenon of troops returning to boot camp over and over again. “Exercise is addictive. Once you get a taste for it, it just stays and you don’t feel right when you don’t get your fix,” he says. And, of course, if I wasn’t any good at what I do then I don’t think anyone would come back either. People work hard and do things they never thought they’d ever be able to do or accomplish.” Jai believes that, for many, it sparks a fire that burns within them and they just love to try and “up the ante”. “The enjoyment, the energy, the love, it just overwhelms them, they get caught up in that and just want more and more.” But he warns anyone contemplating starting boot camp for the first time should understand what they’re getting themselves into. “You need to be committed for the duration of the program. It will push you out of your comfort zone, so be ready to challenge yourself and make sure you have at least a basic level of fitness. You can’t live in fear. You’ll never know what it’s truly like unless you try it, so... just do it!”
To Join or Not to Join
Boot camp instructor Jai advises that anyone thinking about joining boot camp should be realistic about where their health, fitness and mind are at before deciding to undertake boot camp. Any major physical ailments will impede exercise but Jai assures minor injuries like knees and shoulders can be worked around, so if you’re unsure consult your doctor. Kelly’s advice to anyone considering boot camp: “Just do it! The instructor really looks after everyone at their own level of fitness and the group is really supportive of everyone’s efforts. It really is exercise made fun!” She says the only bad thing about this type of outdoor activity is when it rains. “But it makes for a good laugh and, I believe, a tougher person somewhere inside you if you can deal with it.”
I must admit, I did find it quite hard having to work all day long, then go straight to boot camp three times a week and not get home till around 7:30 each night. By the time you get home you are really exhausted and still have to have a shower, cook dinner and prepare lunch for the next day, so I was getting to bed a lot later. Having to tell friends and family that I couldn’t go out for dinner or catch up with them because I had boot camp was pretty hard - my social life took a beating for that four weeks for sure. Looking back at how much I got out of those four weeks at boot camp, the people I met and the things I learnt about myself, I can honestly say that yes, it was worth it!
After completing boot camp I found that I was now addicted to exercise. I was so eager to get to the gym three or four days a week and exercising seemed so much easier. I didn’t get out of breath on the treadmill anymore and I could blitz the amount of sit ups I used to do. I also used all the exercises I had learnt at boot camp in the gym which made my workouts have much more variety, not boring like they used to be. Now I love going to the gym because I am so confident with everything. I returned to do the fitness test again the week after boot camp finished and my new fitness level was 6.3. I had my measurements and fat test done again straight after boot camp finished. In four weeks I lost one percent of my body fat and lost 1.5cm off my arms, 1cm off my thighs and 2cm off my waist, I put on 0.5cm on my bottom (must be the muscle) and 1.5cm on my bust (whoohoo!).
I think boot camp is a program that gives you knowledge and an experience that lasts long after you complete the course. I recommend it to all men and women to do themselves a favour and give it a go. Who knows you may see me again some day at boot camp?
- Increase fitness fast
- Seriously increases motivation
- Feel happier and healthier
- Meet new people
- Test your limits
- Exercise at some beautiful locations in your city
- Learn lots of training techniques and exercises
- Learn to love exercise and fitnesS
- Big commitment
- Can take a toll on your social life
- Increases your appetite
- Getting home late in the evenings
- The aches and pains after a hard session
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Edith Cowan University Boot Camp
Boot Camp is a four week, intense army style exercise program designed to target fat loss, fitness and strength. See results as your finely skilled Boot Camp instructor puts you through your paces; taking you out of your comfort zone. Programs run through the Mount Lawley campus, Mon/Wed/Fri at 6am or 6pm. Boot Camp involves both indoor and outdoor sessions where you will visit some of the most scenic locations in Perth depending on which program you have enlisted in.
You WILL be running! You WILL be doing push ups! You WILL be doing sit ups! You WILL follow the Boot Camp rules! SO GET MOVING!!!!
Call us now on 08 9370 6978 to register your place in our next program.