If the Boot Camp Fits
Three years ago, in the middle of a meeting, Sharon Barclay's pants button popped off and shot across the conference room. "I had consumed nine Krispy Kreme donuts in two days, and I was out of control," says the 37-year-old Boston public relations executive. At that "defining moment," she became convinced the only way to shape up would be "if I had someone yelling at me, like in a boot camp."
A few days later, she enlisted--with former Marine Capt. Charla McMillian, owner of FitBoot Basic Training for Professionals (fitboot.com) in Boston. For 45 minutes every weekday starting at 6 a.m., rain or shine, Barclay joined a dozen or so "squad" members on the Charles River Esplanade to run, jump, squat, crunch, and follow whatever other orders were barked by their camouflage-garbed trainer, fondly nicknamed "Charla the Crusher." Barclay lost weight, built muscle, and gained self-confidence. To top it off, "I haven't had a Krispy Kreme since."
Americans are marching to the bugle call of boot camp. A phrase that not so long ago conjured gut-kicking obstacle courses is being co-opted to market a new style of civilian camp, customized for virtually every activity (box).
At fitness camps, the emphasis is less on pain than on intensity and discipline. "It would be counterproductive to overtrain or weed them out," says McMillian. You can drop out--though trainers claim the rate is no higher than 1 in 10.
Because most exercise boot camps take place outdoors and require little overhead, the price can be cheaper than joining a gym or hiring a trainer. Fitboot runs $350 for the first six-week, five-day-a-week course, then $80 a month. At Adventure Boot Camp for Women (bootcampfinder.com), with 50 locations, the price is $15 a session, estimates company head John Spencer Ellis.
Even so, there are decidedly up-scale boot camps. Laid-back Canyon Ranch spa in Tucson, Ariz., (canyonranch.com) offers three-day, six-hour Boot Camp Golf. Introduced about 18 months ago, it's the most popular golf program there. Beginning golfer Sidney Sutton, 51, of Lawrence, Kan., signed up last month to "learn good form to begin with." She now spends at least five minutes a day practicing drills she learned.
The die is cast. The queen of boot camps is Oprah Winfrey, who earlier this year introduced Oprah's Boot Camp on her show and online. Her version is an inspiring self-help jump-start for weight loss and fitness, presided over by Coach Oprah. The website (oprah.com/bootcamp) is replete with inspirational success stories, instructions on forming your own unit, and message boards that have attracted close to 22,000 postings in four months.
Oprah's boot camp underlines the appeal such programs hold for women. One reason, says Ellis of Adventure Boot Camp for Women, "is that guys think they already know it all," while women seek out instruction and camaraderie. But the real fuel may be the perceived need to squeeze into a size 4 bridal gown or look drop-dead gorgeous in a skimpy swimsuit--hence the rage for bridal and bikini boot camps.
Still, boot camps want to recruit more men. In addition to Bridal and Mommy boot camps, Tamara Kleinberg, owner of Bootcamp360 (bootcamp360.com), offers Every Body boot camps. Atlanta-based Operation Bootcamp (operationbootcamp.com) emphasizes that it's coed. And Ellis offers a Couples Fitness camp in Big Bear, Calif. What could be more romantic than a weekend with your legs entwined around a climbing rope?
BOOT CAMP FOR...
Poker Two days of Texas hold 'em training (wptbootcamp.com)
New Dads Learn how to "hit the ground crawling" (bcnd.org)
Writers Fundamentals of TV or movie script writing (writersbootcamp.com)
Hiking boots Break 'em in (backpacker.com/bootcamp)
This story appears in the June 20, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.