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Fitness Trend: Boot Camp

Completing her PhD in 2007 gave Andrea Medovarski’s brain a serious workout. But her body felt out of shape after a long winter of desk work.

When she read about a boot camp’an outdoor, month-long workout program run by personal trainers’running at a nearby stadium this past spring, the 35-year-old Torontonian signed up. ‘It gave me the kick in the butt I needed to get back to regular exercise.’ After just two month-long sessions of working out three days a week, Medovarski had lost a total of eight pounds, seven percent of her body fat and almost two inches off her bust, waist and hip measurements.

Similar military-inspired boot camp programs are popping up across the country, particularly in major centres like Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa. Most fitness boot camps run for a month, charge around $200 and have participants working out three to five days a week for an hour, either early in the morning or in the evenings.

They’re the workout equivalent of a crash diet, helping people get in shape quickly for a wedding or vacation. Boot camps give you access to a personal trainer, without the cost of one-on-one sessions. And as an extra bonus, they get you out of the sweaty gym and into the fresh air.

Most camps ask you to bring a mat and hand weights or an exercise band, but the focus is on using natural terrain. Running up hills or stairs and hitting the grass for push-ups, squats and jumping jacks are standard fare. At Survivor Bootcamp, which began five years ago in Vancouver and has now franchised to run in 60 locations in BC, Alberta and Ontario, trainers focus on the upper body one day and the lower body the next.

At Best Body Bootcamp, which runs camps in several locations across Toronto, one drill runs right into the next. ‘It’s intense. We will push you more than you push yourself,’ says cofounder Roger Nahas, a certified personal trainer.

While a good fitness boot camp won’t berate you for taking a break and should accommodate people of all fitness levels, part of the appeal is the tough-love, bossy approach. ‘We take the thinking out of it. You’re told what to do,’ says Fred Masse, cofounder and director of Survivor Bootcamp. "And if you work hard and do what you’re told, you’ll get results."

Most boot camps take your measurements at the start and end so you can chart your accomplishment. Masse says the average person loses one to two pounds per week, but some end up dropping as much as 10 to 15 pounds after one session. Eating right and exercising on off days leads to the best results.

Boot camps are not usually part of established gyms, so there’s a range of quality out there. Be sure the staff at your camp are certified personal trainers: they will have insurance and will be able to get permits to use parks and stadiums (be wary of camps using schoolyards). Ask if the workouts vary every day: repetition is boring and might not lead to the best physical results. And remember that no camp can guarantee weight loss‘that’s up to you and will depend on how hard you work and what you eat.

If you do hit a fitness boot camp this year’many run all winter, but are most popular in warmer weather’one unexpected benefit is a social one. When it’s 6 am and no one’s showered and they’re pushing themselves to the limit, it’s a bonding experience. ‘A little community gets formed,’ says Medovarski. ‘It’s a really positive environment and a lot of fun.’

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