Deprivation vacations

Rigorous fitness programs are light on the pampering and heavy on the pain

Core Fitness Solution clients, from left, Kathleen Beach of Seminole, Jennifer Devlin of Treasure Island and camp founder Linda Mullins work their way down Madeira Beach, walking with resistance bands. After that, it's on to the kettle weights during fitness boot camp vacation.

The Washington Post
Published: Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 at 9:46 a.m.

I'd never been afraid of a water bottle before.


Boot camps: A sampling of options

Want to lose a few pounds? Or just learn how to live more health fully? Somewhere out there, there's a boot camp that will cater to your needs. Afew to start with:

Core Fitness Solution
13999 Gulf Blvd., Madeira Beach
Includes personal training, outdoor activities such as cardio tennis, and one-on-one meetings with a nutritionist and a life coach. Weekly rate is $2,995, including meals and lodging. Airfare is included for stays of two weeks or longer. Two-day stays are $1,075, and three-day stays are $1,475.

Premier Fitness Camp
7659 South 700 West, Midvale, Utah
Activities include hiking, skiing, water aerobics and snowshoeing. Aone-week stay at this weight-loss boot camp is $3,650, including meals, lodging in a Park City resort, a massage, personal training, group exercise classes, follow-up coaching and round-trip airfare. Clients also have access to behavioral thera pists.

Cooper Wellness Center
12200 Preston Road, Dallas
Named for Kenneth H. Cooper, who coined the term “aerobics.” The two-day program is $695 for an individual and includes accom modations at the Cooper Guest Lodge, meals, fitness classes, health lectures and cooking classes. The same program for two people who come together and share a room is $497.50 per person. The six-day program costs $1,995 and does not include hotel reservations. Cooper often gives lectures.

Live In Fitness Enterprise
7298 W. Manchester Ave., Los Angeles
Atypical day at this boot camp includes fitness classes, nutrition-based classes and meetings with coaches, therapists and nutritionists. One-week stays start at $2,200, depending on shared or private ac commodations, and include meals.

This, however, was not just a water bottle. This was a five-gallon water bottle, weighing 42 pounds — more than one-third my weight. And my trainer had just ordered me to carry it around the gym not once, but four times.

My body said no, but my mind said yes. I was on Day 2 of a fitness boot camp vacation, and I was determined to prove to trainer Doug Betts that I could carry, push and pull anything he put before me, even though I was the smallest person in the class.

There was only one problem: My entire body was aching.

I'd begun the day at 7 a.m. with a four-mile run on the beach, played cardio tennis for an hour, spent 40 minutes on the elliptical machine and then 45 minutes doing abdominal crunches.

My classmate Tony was feeling lightheaded and had to sit down. Our other classmate, Robin, was in her room nursing a knee injury. It was up to me to complete the bizarre circuit of exercises that Doug had conjured up for us. In addition to carrying the water bottle, he wanted me to push a freestanding punching bag across the room, jump back and forth over a rope lying on the ground, roll on a stability ball while holding weights and have a stick fight with him.

On the final lap with the water bottle, my arms started to give out. Doug came to my rescue and grabbed the jug before I dropped it. Then he replaced it with a package of 24 bottles of water — about four gallons, or 34 pounds. "I'll have some mercy," he joked.

Mercy was in short supply during my three-day, post-Thanksgiving "deprivation vacation" in Florida. Instead of sipping cocktails and reading trashy magazines on a beach, I'd enrolled in Core Fitness Solution, a boot camp in Madeira Beach, about an hour from Tampa. I was going to exercise all day, eat low-calorie meals and meet with a nutritionist and a life coach to learn how to develop more healthful habits. I promised not to use the elevator, to wake up at 6:30 a.m. each day and to cut out caffeine, carbs, sweets and alcohol.

Though fitness camps first emerged years ago, deprivation vacations, for travelers looking to improve their health and their lifestyle, are a more recent trend. Amid concerns about rising obesity and the popularity of reality shows such as "The Biggest Loser," many places that once were more spa than boot camp have developed rigorous programs that are light on the pampering and heavy on the pain.

I could tell from the health questionnaire I was asked to fill out before I even boarded a plane that the trainers at Core Fitness weren't the coddling kind. (Sample question: "Do you use alcohol?" I stopped myself from replying: "Yes, I inject white wine into my veins." )

Having just overindulged in a holiday weekend's worth of food and drink, I could think of no better time to start a detox. So I filled my suitcase with sweat pants, T-shirts and Motrin and said goodbye to gluttony.

I wasn't looking forward to my weigh-in, and not just because it was scheduled for 6:25 a.m.

As a teenager, I used to weigh myself obsessively. Any fluctuation on the scale would send me into a calorie-counting tizzy. So in my 20s, I made a decision: I would never weigh myself again.

Doug was kind enough to let me step onto the scale backward. But every time I looked at him, I knew that he knew the one thing I didn't want to know.

And he found out a few other things that I didn't want to know: the percentage of fat on my body and the size of my waist and my arms. I looked away as he wrapped the measuring tape around my stomach. It was all too much to take before sunrise.

"Happy Monday," said Linda Mullins, the founder of Core Fitness, as she arrived for our first session. "We're going to crush you."

She was joking, I think. But I didn't laugh. Neither did Tony, an engineering consultant from Atlanta, nor Robin, a resident of South Florida. Tony, once an avid skier, had fallen off the fitness bandwagon after injuring his knee. He was eager to get back into shape so that he could ski again. Robin had an even more pressing reason for being there: She was in line for a kidney transplant, but her doctors had told her that she had to lose weight before her surgery.

Linda's clients run the gamut from the overweight to those who are fit and want to stay that way, the category I fell into. I either run or take spinning classes four times a week, but lately I've been lax about exercising my upper body. And I have terrible eating habits. I rarely cook. I eat out a lot. And I love sweets.

"It's about leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle," Linda explained to me later in a phone interview. "The idea is being balanced in mind and body and nutrition."

As part of the nutrition portion of the package, a chef prepared healthful meals for us. A sample breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries. Lunch: A turkey burger with cole slaw. Dinner: Mahi-mahi with brown rice and broccoli.

Linda instructed us to eat all our food. "It's only 1,400 calories a day. You're burning lots more. Your body needs fuel," she said.

Each day, we had four to seven fitness classes, some lasting more than an hour. Some were tedious; lifting weights in a gym isn't my idea of fun. But other activities, such as boxing and tennis, didn't even seem like exercise.

Our first session was at a park about a mile from camp. I was still groggy and walking slowly, but Linda would have none of that. "You're a runner," she said. "Let's run."

It was unseasonably cold, so I was actually happy to pick up the pace. At the park, Linda and I warmed up by throwing an eight-pound medicine ball back and forth. Then we all stood in a circle and did squats. Next, we each stepped on an elastic resistance band while holding an end in each hand and walked sideways across the basketball court, making sure not to step off the band. It was much harder than it looked.

"Come on, bigger steps, Nancy," Doug shouted.

I extended my leg as far as I could and almost lost my balance. Side steps were just not my forte. Nor were push-ups, which came next.

We alternated between push-ups and abdominal crunches, trying to get as many as possible done in 30 seconds. After a few beats of rest, Doug made us go for another 30 seconds, repeating this so many times that I lost count. Finally, he let us stop.

"I could use a Scotch now," said Tony.

"Something to drink?" the waiter asked.

"We're only allowed water," Robin replied wistfully.

We stared longingly at the baskets of bread and half-filled martini glasses on the table next to us at Salt Rock Grill, a waterfront restaurant in nearby Indian Shores.

We were having dinner with our nutritionist, Gay Poe, who was teaching us how to make healthful choices even when eating out.

"Think mindfully," she said. "This is not an opportunity to go wild."

The wildest anyone got was a steak with salad. I ordered tuna. Our choices for side dishes were a baked potato, mashed potatoes and orzo. "Carbs should not be eaten at night," Doug warned.

I asked for grilled vegetables. But then my tuna came doused in a thick, sweet soy sauce, making it taste more like candied fish than a healthful piece of protein. I scooped the sauce off with my spoon, wishing I'd asked exactly how the fish would be cooked. "Lesson learned," Doug said. "Don't be afraid to ask questions."

I asked plenty of questions during my one-on-one session with Gay. What do you do when faced with a buffet table at a party?

"Scan the spread," said Gay. "Pick two things. Sit down and try to make it an occasion in and of itself. And only go for the homemade things."

I could live with that. But I can't live without caffeine. My body is used to coffee first thing in the morning, and by my second morning at camp, my head was aching.

When we hit the beach, Linda instructed Robin to walk on the hard sand. She and Tony would walk on the soft sand, and I was to run to and from the pier two miles away.

I was finally alone, and I had 45 minutes for my four-mile run. On the way to the park the morning before, I'd spotted a Dunkin' Donuts. If I ran fast enough, I thought, I could pick up a cup of coffee on my way back and drink it before 8:30, when Linda had instructed me to meet everyone back at the gym.

I sprinted to win my reward: a medium coffee with cream and sugar. My head stopped hurting, and I felt more awake. But I also felt guilty. Had I really just broken out of boot camp for a cup of coffee?

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