With the New Year and its resolutions looming large, it's time for a gentle nudge — OK, a firm push — in the direction of better health, fitness and well-being.
Motivation is the X factor built into local boot camp-style workout programs. Drill sergeants they're not, but these instructors won't tolerate slacking off, self-defeating dialogue or giving up on one's goal. When their troops think they can't do another push-up, these leaders urge them up off the floor to struggle through one more.
"There are no excuses, and there are no shortcuts," says Tiazza Rose, who operates coed boot camps in Ashland and Medford. "Nobody's ever died doing it."
That's not to say campers don't feel like dying, at least on the first day.
Mindi Morgan spent half of her first boot-camp class throwing up, her body in shock from the intense activity and probably the 6 a.m. start time. Previously a night owl who stayed up until 1 or 2 a.m., Morgan, 36, says the early-morning rendezvous with Rose was the kind of drastic change she needed.
"It was terrifying," says the Ashland resident, adding that the term "boot camp" is intimidating all on its own.
Similar to other fitness programs that play up militaristic themes, Rose's combines old-school calisthenics — push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges — with plenty of jumping, running and resistance training. It's designed for beginners and people who don't want to rely on special equipment to get a good workout, says the certified fitness instructor and personal trainer.
"A lot of people are kind of getting tired of all the gadgets," Rose says. "I'd like people to learn things that they can actually do anyplace they go."
As basic as the format seems, it's "stuff I would never do at the gym if I was by myself," Morgan says, explaining that she had no experience with exercises often seen in schools' physical-education curriculums. To Morgan's relief, Rose's command of the class did not involve blowing a whistle.
"She's not like a sergeant," Morgan says. "She's tough, but she's fun."
Camaraderie among the group is an unexpected but rewarding benefit, campers say.
"It's not just about boot camp, but it's the friendships you make," says 41-year-old Lorelei Philips, who joined Southern Oregon Adventure Boot Camp on a co-worker's recommendation.
Nearly three years later, the Phoenix resident has lost 50 pounds, reclaimed her teenage fondness for running and qualified for the Boston Marathon since competing in Portland, Eugene and San Francisco races. Boot-camp instructor Jackie Auchard, 41, includes plenty of running in her women-only program. But it's her "perfect mix" of cardio, arms, legs and core work that makes runners strong enough to tackle long distances, Phillips says.
The region's original, Southern Oregon Adventure Boot Camp launched in January 2007 on the heels of Southern California's craze. Auchard, a former science and physical education teacher in Eagle Point, obtained certification in Adventure Boot Camp, the program trademarked by John Spencer Ellis, chief executive officer of National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association. Adventure Boot Camp operates in 38 states, several Canadian provinces, England, Portugal and the Cayman Islands.
But the format is far from static. Based at the Medford Armory in winter, Auchard relocates camps in fine weather to city parks, where playground equipment is pressed into service. Also relying on calisthenics and plyometrics, Auchard borrows from yoga, Pilates and TRX suspension training.
"I have never done the same workout twice," Auchard says. "They don't know what to expect."
If they stick with it, campers can expect weight loss — often rapidly — improved muscle tone and endurance, not to mention an overall sense of well-being. While slimming down is the primary goal for most campers, accomplishments run the gamut from trying a new sport to just gaining confidence.
"You feel like you can tackle things," says 47-year-old Maylee Oddo, who has run races, climbed mountains and bicycled 20 miles at a stretch since joining Rose's boot camp more than two years ago. As with any lifestyle change, campers and instructors agree that commitment and consistency are the keys.
"People who quit are maybe the ones who overexert themselves in the beginning," Oddo says, likening the process to the old fable of the turtle and the rabbit with its "slow and steady" moral.
Previously sedentary campers need the first month to six weeks just to reacquaint themselves with working out, Auchard says. Four to five months in, participants are "feeling good," she says. Most start to realize their goals within eight to 10 months.
Just as excess pounds shouldn't keep a person from signing up, injuries and other medical issues are not barriers to boot camp, instructors and students say. Auchard modifies exercises but won't excuse anyone from a task. Usually, pains that people dub disabilities prove to be merely the effects of inactivity, Auchard says.
Phillips, the marathoner, was afraid to sprint at her first boot camp owing to her five knee surgeries. Oddo wore braces on both knees for the first three months and could complete only about 10 to 15 percent of class. Losing 30 pounds and gaining muscle made knee braces unnecessary while making it possible for Oddo to run the 13-mile Mount Ashland Hill Climb.
Depending on the person, Auchard says, walking to the top of a hill is a bigger accomplishment than sprinting. So she never resorts to "put-downs or ridicule" — even guilt trips — although she does exact push-ups as punishment for consuming junk food and alcohol.
Advocating the "Paleo" diet, Auchard advises campers to eat clean, simple meals of healthful carbohydrates, fats and proteins, rather than drastically cutting calories. Rose takes a similar stance, which helped both Oddo and Morgan shed pounds, the latter when she decided she was "breaking up with ranch."
"I'm a Texas girl, so I eat ranch (dressing) with everything," Morgan says.
Swapping healthful recipes and sharing home-grown garden produce among Auchard's group and wine-tasting and dancing within Rose's contingent are just a few fun-loving ways that campers unwind. But once 5:30 and 6 a.m. roll around the next weekday, they can hardly wait to work out.
"I feel like that's my therapy going there in the mornings," Morgan says.