Greg Alexander

Support to help you stick with it

Mason-Dixon Arrive, April 2005

“This is THE year that I’ll lose those extra pounds. The gym is having a special on new memberships, so I’ll join and go every day.”

How many times have you made that pledge? Joining a gym is easy; sticking with an exercise regiment is much more difficult. Many people sign a membership contract, only to stop going after two months while still paying a monthly fee. Sometimes a friend, spouse or significant other can double as a workout partner to help you stick with your exercise program, but sometimes that’s not enough. The key to a beneficial program may be with those modeled after one of the most successful teams – the United States military.

“Boot camps” as they are generally called are high-intensity, high-stamina military-style fitness classes held outdoors or indoors where class members push each other to succeed. Patterned after military boot camps, these highly-popular classes are led by instructors – many of whom have a military background – who challenge class members to push their bodies to the limits to achieve maximum results.

Some classes involve kickboxing, aerobics, running, hiking or even yoga. Some gyms offer them in a classroom environment, while many hold classes outside in the elements – rain or shine, hot or cold. Almost all are held before most people wake up in the morning. So, what’s the special appeal of boot camps?

Insiders say that boot camp classes are successful because of the attitude and the team environment, as each participant’s safety and success is based on the other class members. Participants are drawn to the classes since the focus of each class – endurance, upper body, lower body, conditioning or strength – may change daily, which keeps members coming back for more.

Locally, many gyms offer boot camp classes, including Brick Bodies ( Brick Bodies’ classes are held outdoors in several locations in the Baltimore area. Participants range from 18 to 60, and the classes are especially popular with women who work and have children, as the early start time allows them to finish before getting ready for work and taking the kids to school. Additionally, most people have more energy in the morning, and boot camp classes are a draw to highly-motivated people, so the early start time appeals to them.

The reliance on others for your success is a key to adhering to the program. Most everyone has gone to gym and cheated on your workout now and then, but at boot camp, there’s accountability. At some classes, if you’re late to class, everyone else in the class is forced to do push-ups. Class members tend to form strong bonds and friendships outside of class, further aiding in the solidarity of the group.

When choosing a program, experts say that the personality of the instructor and class members is important, as is the setting. If you love to get dirty, then an outdoor military-style class may be right for you. If you don’t want to climb a wall in the pouring rain, then classes held inside the gym may be more appropriate.

However, what if you want some help from a fitness professional but a team-oriented class is not your thing, and you’d rather receive one-on-one advice? In that case, a personal trainer is the route to go. “Hiring a personal trainer is right for anyone at any fitness level,” says Doug Murphy (, a certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Murphy has trained clients nationwide from music stars, dancers and models to teachers, homemakers and priests. He stresses customized programs noting that what works for your co-worker or friend may not be the best program for you.

“Also, personal trainers have access to the latest techniques and health information, which saves you time and allows for a safe workout. What you did in high school or college now may be deemed unsafe or counterproductive,” says Murphy, who also is a contributing writer for several health and fitness magazines.

Like most trainers, Murphy performs a fitness evaluation and gathers a health history for new clients so that a customized program can be developed based on the client’s goals and physical limitations. “Hiring a personal trainer makes your time at the gym much more efficient. You won’t waste time on machines that don’t help you meet your goals or find yourself not knowing where to start,” says Murphy.

“Hiring a trainer helped me; I didn’t feel lost when I started working out,” says Elysia Stobbe, who utilized a trainer when she started working out again after a 10-year hiatus. “The trainer asked me questions about my goals – did I want to lose weight, tone muscle or was I training for something. She also asked me what my previous workout experience was and how long ago I had last worked out.”

“Starting a new exercise regime can be very tough,” says Murphy. “The machines are unfamiliar, and the gym atmosphere can be intimidating. I aim to make people more comfortable because if you’re uncomfortable, you won’t accomplish anything. My goal is train people so that they can then do a workout on their own. They’ll know what exercises to do and what stretches to do without any confusion.”

“Using a trainer allowed me to know how to use the equipment, and I was not just wandering around trying to figure it all out. I had a plan and a goal, and I felt more comfortable. It also motivated me to seek further instruction via magazines and other sources,” says Stobbe.

In addition to being an educator, Murphy says that a trainer can be a motivator and cheerleader. “If you have an appointment with a trainer that you’ve paid for, you’re unlikely to skip the session.”

While many gyms will simply assign a trainer to you, Murphy and Stobbe agree that the relationship with the trainer is vital to success. “Working with a trainer is personal, so you have to get along. Also, he or she should be certified, knowledgeable and be able to show your progress and be willing to be accountable for your success,” says Murphy. He adds that a trainer who is in shape also helps as a motivational tool.

Murphy suggests getting references and asking trainers about their philosophy – are they a drill sergeant, cheerleader or coach? Also, make sure that the fees are within your budget. “It’s terrible if you find a trainer you click with and you have to stop going because you can’t afford it.”

“I would suggest using a personal trainer who is recommended by someone you know and trust,” adds Stobbe. “Your body is the only one you have; I wouldn't trust it to just anyone.”

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