For the last year or so, I've been regularly attending boot-camp style high intensity interval training classes, both in Vancouver at Survivor Fitness and on Prince Edward Island at 3rd Degree Training in Summerside.
These classes have really been the bedrock of my exercise regimen, in addition to hikes in the warmer months, and obviously the daily dog perambulation.
My partner's dad was a devotee of Survivor Fitness, and the results really showed; he'd steadily lost weight and toned up since starting the classes, and he encouraged my partner and I to join him.
I was leery, though. For starters, I assumed it meant I would have to wake up early. And as a fitness novice, I was afraid I would lag behind the rest of the class to a laughable degree. I was afraid of the boot camp intensity, with all that it implies.
Mostly, I was afraid that I couldn't do it.
It took a late train and subsequent missed connection with a buddy to spur me into tackling that fear. Because I'd slept through our arranged Christmas meeting at the Edmonton train station when my train arrived four hours late, at 0300hrs, my friend Phill was left wandering the platform alone in the bitter cold, clutching Tim Hortons hot chocolate for me, and a Christmas card, too.
Out of guilt, I agreed to run a Spartan Race with him the following summer. I talked my partner into it, too, and we decided boot camp was the best way to prepare. And so, with trepidation, I bought runners and weights and a yoga mat, and we showed up at the 6pm evening Survivor session for our first class.
The first thing that I learned about boot camp is that I'm an uncoordinated boob.
The second thing I learned is that despite the name, boot camps aren't mean-spirited, military-inspired circuses of insults and verbal abuse and feelings of inadequacy, which is actually something I'd feared.
The best boot camp instructors, on either side of the country, are passionate motivators, definitely, but they're also fun, positive, friendly people who bring laughter and a sense of camaraderie to their classes. I very quickly found myself having fun at boot camp, despite sucking at the exercises and getting my ass kicked.
The third thing I learned, and this was tough for me, was not to compare myself to much to other people in the class. I'm naturally competitive; I don't want to be the slowest, most out of shape person in the class (who does?) but fundamentally, what would it matter?
Boot camp classes are comprised of all kinds of people, from the hero nineteen-year-olds who do three-a-day sessions between Big Macs and fries to the (also hero) sixty-five-year-old grandmothers who have to go easy on their knees but still rock every exercise.
There's no point in making it a contest; if I'm in a class full of grandmothers, I'd damn well better finish my hill run before everyone else, but so what? Was I pushing myself as hard as I could, or was I just satisfied in finishing first?
It's tough, because I like being the best at things and I certainly don't like admitting I'm getting older, but if I'm in a class full of teenage hockey players, there's no way I'm keeping up. But again, so what? Put your head down, bust your ass, compete against yourself.
The last thing I learned is to ask questions. Whether it's about the specific form of an exercise or the point of a particular stretch, or what kind of snack is best to eat before and after class, the knowledge base of your boot camp instructor is such a valuable resource, and you might as well make the most of it.
I'm still an uncoordinated boob and I still don't know very much. But my fitness level has increased exponentially in the last year, and so has my understanding of nutrition and of my body.
And I've done it all with a smile on my face. For me, getting out of the house and breaking a sweat with a bunch of funny, motivated people has really been the best part of the whole deal. I wouldn't be in near the shape I'm in now if I hadn't checked these classes out.
So give them a try! They're not as bad as you think.