Preeti Zachariah attends a city-based boot camp to see what the fuss is about.
Tired of inept trainers, air-conditioned closeted gymnasiums and uni-dimensional exercises? Sick of plodding away endlessly on the treadmill, doing a hundred sit-ups or chest presses on sweat-covered benches? What if you could stay fit and have fun in the process? What if you could up your technique, core-strength, cardio-vascular endurance, flexibility, drop body fat and torch up to 500 calories in a single hour of exercise?
Welcome to the world of boot camps. The group training session is modelled after fairly old-school military training but going by the look of the average serviceman, it sure seems to work. The actual sequence of the classes depend on the teacher but the sessions will invariably be a mix of callisthenics, military-style drills, sprints, body-weight exercises such as push-ups, burpees and squats and some flexibility training.
Does it work? It certainly seems to, a lot of people swear by them and the number of boot camps has burgeoned in the city.
It starts on a not-so-great note. I get lost and end up having an almost inevitable quarrel with the auto rickshaw driver which ends with me being summarily evicted and tossed onto the road at 7 in the morning. I sulk for a bit before deciding to employ shanks mare to get me to the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, where Jyotsana John (who describes herself as head coach, founder, owner, kettle-bell replacer, barbell cleaner, social media and telephone operator at The Unit), holds her boot-camp classes.
It is a small, shady patch of ground on which a number of thick foam mats are arranged. In the corner is a pile of weights (barbells and kettle-bells). A digital stopwatch proclaims time in an ominous red while the pièce de résistance — a whiteboard with the Workout of the Day (WOD) announces what the class will be subjected to over the next hour or so.
I am a little late and the class has begun to warm up. Jyotsana leads me through a series of basic exercises and then proceeds to explain the WOD. It comprises exactly two components — burpees, followed by basic squats — doing each to failure. To the uninitiated, a burpee is a sort of squat thrust, which sees you doing a squat that moves quickly to a plank and back again in a fluid movement.
The first three minutes are a breeze — we do the same number of burpees as the minute which means one for the first minute, two for the second and three for the third and rest in the remaining time interval. It seems simple enough — deceptively so, as I soon find out. By the fourth minute (four burpees, 30 seconds rest) I am struggling, by the seventh I think I’m dying. Wounded pride rears her head for a second, as she notices that the gentleman besides me who is on his 10th minute hasn’t yet broken into a sweat but she is soon stilled. My arms are killing me — and I still have the squats to do.
I squat — the same number as the minute so it starts with eight and goes all the way up to 20. A couple of fit-looking young men continue to bounce up and down gamely, sweat pouring off their brow and staining their T-shirts (and their shorts, too) but thankfully, a few like me have started winding down.
“Don’t push yourself too much. Do what you can do,” says Jyotsana. “You need to start slow and build up.”
I collapse gratefully on the mat. I’m covered in sweat; my heart feels like it’s on fire, my legs have begun to wobble and that dull pleasurable muscle soreness of a good workout has begun to set in as has the endorphin rush.
I lie on my side, observing the more-fit continue and go all the way to 30 minutes, cheered on by other participants, who like yours truly, have collapsed on their mats too.
“I think that’s how we stay motivated,” says Jyotsana. “Because of group camaraderie, everyone shows up and wants to work hard,” she adds, before leading us into a series of slow, intense stretches and finishing off the class with a round of applause.