Give darkness the boot

In our ongoing crusade to keep you active in these dark times (post Daylight Savings, that is) here’s a different approach: Instead of cursing sunset, go to bed with it — so you can get up in time for your 6 a.m. boot camp.

Boot camp. For years, this approach to fitness was exclusive to the military. New recruits went into the service soft and squishy, got spit out six weeks later buff and tough. The idea got co-opted about a decade ago as gyms and private trainers began offering take-no-prisoners classes that gave a taste of the military experience, minus the two-year commitment and haircut. The workouts were popular because they were concentrated (perfect for people with tight schedules), intense (“guaranteed results” actually meant guaranteed results), and varied (each workout was different; you didn’t know what to expect from one day to the next). Over the past five years or so, the concept has been co-opted further, into a more … civil version. Or, as Anne Triebert likes to call it, a Boot Camp for the Rest of Us.

Last spring, Triebert and fellow trainer Kathy Cassidy started “Boot Camp for the Rest of Us,” a focused, 50-minute exercise program. Initially, they met two mornings a week, at 6, in a parking lot at Raleigh’s Jaycee Park (the supplemental lighting, especially on cloudy mornings, came in handy). The class has since moved down Oberlin Road to White Memorial Presbyterian Church, where it has affiliated with the church’s Health Ministry. Though it’s moved indoors, Triebert still starts class promptly at 6.

“OK,” Triebert announces at 6 sharp, “let’s get going.” We form a circle with one class member in the middle and warm up — and wake up — by passing a small medicine ball. After we’ve all had a chance in the middle, Triebert adds a second ball to the mix, hastening the wake-up element of the task. A similar exercise follows before Triebert takes it up a notch and has us do three passes through a circuit that includes: 12 crunches on an exercise ball, 12 dumbbell curls, 12 twists with an exercise ball, 12 lateral lifts with dumbbells, followed by hopping/skipping/jumping through a rope ladder on the gym floor. Once we’re done with that set, she puts us through the circuit again, with four different exercises, again three times each. The 50 minutes is flying, but not so fast that we don’t have time for a 10-minute abs workout that elicits the most grunting and groaning of the young morning.

“I like the fact that it keeps you moving so the time really goes fast,” Teena Anderson, who is 62, says afterward. “And the instructors mix it up so it never becomes boring. No two workouts are the same.”

Therein lies the double appeal of such boot camp classes. For one, you don’t dread the workouts because you don’t know what to dread ahead of time. And, increasingly, exercise professionals are touting varied workouts because of their efficiency. With a set routine, muscles quickly adapt to the pattern and don’t work as hard. With a varied workout, muscles are doing something different every time.

In the case of Boot Camp for the Rest of Us, Triebert focuses on strength training for her half of the classes, Cassidy on aerobics. They compare notes on their workouts beforehand for optimum effect.

“Once,” says Triebert, “we didn’t check with each other and there were complaints of soreness, so Kathy had to modify her workout a bit or have mutiny.”

Another way civil boot camp differs from the military version is that while it is group exercise, this version is tailored to the individual. Weights of varying heft are available for weight-related exercises, for instance, and exercises can be altered to accommodate specific conditions, such as arthritis.

“I watch folks, especially if they just joined, to see what they can do and cannot do,” says Triebert, who is certified through the American Fitness Professionals & Associates. Which isn’t to say she gives free passes.

“If they have been there for a while, they I won’t let them use light weights, or I’ll tell them, ‘It’s a full pushup for [you]. No sneaking by me.”

A thought that, apparently, hasn’t occurred to Beth Pattillo. “Two days after the workout, I’m still feeling some of the effects, which just reminds me that I’m using new muscles and making my body perform at higher levels. I’ve lost weight, toned muscles, met new friends and feel really good.”

Melanie Gibson, who turns 43 today, seconds that. “I feel better than ever.

“One thing I have learned,” she adds, “it is never too late to start exercising. The body is very forgiving.”

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Boot camps have become a stable of most gyms and parks and rec fitness curriculums.  To find out about boot camps and other fitness programs that can help get you through the dark days of winter, check with your local parks & rec. Links to some of the state’s larger p&r Web sites follow:

Asheville; Charlotte: Mecklenburg County Parks & Recreation; Triangle: Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh; Triad: Greensboro, Winston-Salem; Wilmington.

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Here are previous installments in our series on active ways to stay sane during Standard Time:

Nov. 12: Night moves: A safe walk in a dangerous place
Nov. 5: Night hiking: Beating the Standard Time blues
Oct. 30: Coping with Standard Time: Mountain biking at night

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