(I wrote the following story for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer; it appeared in both papers on January 31, 2012. It appears here, with links.)
Used to be that neighborhood moms got together for lunch or a game of bridge. Today, they’re increasingly likely to gather for burpies, squats and to work up a good sweat.
The boot camp workout, born a decade ago and initially targeted to hard-core fitness buffs, is moving out of the gym and into local neighborhoods, where it’s finding a growing following among busy moms struggling to juggle work and family, let alone find time for a workout.
The workouts incorporate a variety of intense strength and aerobic exercises jammed into a half hour or hour. Boot camps continue to be one of the nation’s most popular group exercise programs, according to the non-profit American Council on Exercise, ranking with Zumba, TRX suspension training and interval training as 2012’s hottest options.
That boot camps are now coming to your neighbor can only enhance their attraction.
“One of the most commonly cited barriers to working out is that the gym is too far, it’s not convenient,” says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist with ACE. “The workouts are fun, they’re convenient and they have the added social element of catching up with friends, of seeing your neighbors, of being part of something active.”
Thirteen women from North Raleigh’s Harrington Grove neighborhood who gathered in 25 degree temperatures for their regular Saturday morning Boot Camp Moms workout a couple weeks back might take issue with that notion.
“My hipbone hurts!” complained one during a bout of figure-eight crunches.
“That’s because you have tiny butts,” shouted instructor Kyle Gill Furlow, attempting to spin the pain.
“We lie to them all the time,” joked fellow instructor Jennifer Pinder. “We find it motivates them.”
Friends Furlow and Pinder came up with the idea for Boot Camp Moms when both emerged from pregnancy five years ago, Furlow carrying an extra 45 pounds, Pender an excess 80.
“Kyle joined Jenny Craig and I joined Weight Watchers,” says Pinder, “but we knew we needed to exercise, too.”
They got in shape and in the process realized that other moms were in similar condition. Both got certified as group fitness instructors through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America and hung out their shingle — via fliers placed around the neighborhood and word-of-mouth. The response surprised them.
“We had 22 women at our first session,” says Pinder.
The path for Missy Isom, founder and owner of Moms Evolution in Cornelius, was similar.
Prior to having her first child in 2008, she was a financial adviser by day, a body builder by night.
“But I always wanted to take my love of fitness and turn it into a job,” says Isom.
She, too, got certified through AFAA and initially struck out with Baby Boot Camp, a San Francisco-based franchise operation. But she found the focus was “less on the moms, more on the baby and the social aspect. My true passion,” she says, “was on taking these moms and helping them get fit.”
Which isn’t to say that baby doesn’t play a key role in her workouts. For some of her exercises the baby is integral to the exercise.
“We use the baby as weight,” says Isom. For curls, for overhead presses, for lunges … .
Matthews, the ACE exercise physiologist, says that’s smart for two reasons.
“That movement, that up and down: out of the crib, into the car, how many times do you do that in everyday life?” she says. “Those are very functional movements.”
Further, she says, “In working with people who specialize in new moms, from a psychological standpoint that face-to-face eye contact is important for bonding.”
Isom’s group, which started in 2008 and averages 30 moms at any one time, uses space in a neighborhood fitness studio. Furlow and Pinder, who currently have 40 signed up in their year-and-a-half-old program, meet on the outdoor tennis court of the Harrington Grove neighborhood community club.
On that 25-degree morning, the 13 Boot Camp Moms who braved the cold for an hour-long workout that began and ended with aerobics (jumping-jack-infused sprints, running a circuit course) with strength training wedged in between. For strength training, the women rotated among eight stations, doing TRX, Bosu Ball pushups, snatches, equalizers, rowing, squats with a medicine ball, resistance bands, more squats.
“Your mind is going to give up before your body does,” yelled Furlow, the self-appointed drill sergeant of the duo (Pinder is the cheerleader). “Don’t let it.”
Melissa Diana didn’t let her mind give up, despite being “scared” at the group’s very first session.
“I tried everything,” she says of what Furlow and Pinder threw at her on day one. “I couldn’t do many reps.”
But Diana, who is 33, kept coming back. Within a year, she had lost 80 pounds. More importantly, she’s kept it off and she’s embraced an active lifestyle.
“I went from exercising zero days a week to exercising six days a week,” she says. “I like the group atmosphere. I like that we’re all in the trenches, doing it together.”
Julie Nelson, at 52 one of the group’s advanced moms, echoes the sentiments of several fellow boot campers. “I like that I have much more energy. I like the way I feel.”
That, says Furlow, is what ultimately counts: how you feel, rather than how many dress sizes you drop.
“Strong,” says Furlow, “is the new skinny.”