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Fitness Boot Camps: Should You Enlist?

Fans say boot camp exercise classes inspire them while whipping them into shape.

What Is a Fitness Boot Camp? continued...

"They might say, 'I will go back to school. I will get this job. I will start my own company, I will travel,'" he says.

Boot camp became more than just a workout for Smith when her oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a developmental disorder that is milder than autism) and her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, had to spend a year in Korea without the family.

"It was literally my saving grace," says Smith. "It was a very stressful time. (Boot camp) was a way to take care of myself physically and emotionally, it was my social outlet. It kept me sane."

'Drop and Give Me 50'

Though the name "boot camp" was inspired by military training camps, neither of the instructors who spoke to WebMD use intimidation tactics in their classes.

"If you’re lining people up and yelling at them, that’s not real camaraderie. That’s something you can fake," says Rayhill. Besides, he says, it’s not necessary. People will push themselves on their own when they’re in a group.

"Human nature is to challenge yourself against other humans," says Rayhill. "Not everybody is as athletically inclined, but by hanging out with those more driven people, you’re naturally going to want to do better," he says.

Ellis’ Adventure Boot Camps follow the same philosophy. Military exercise is for the military, he says, and those are not the people signed up for Adventure Boot Camp. His participants are generally moms aged 25-50 who may have had C-sections and want to get in shape.

"Negative reinforcement generally only goes so far," he says. "My choice is to have an empowering environment, one that is nurturing and very challenging. One that is not just about getting in shape but about community and nutrition and about being better in everything you do."

Still, he says, it is a boot camp: "People are expected to show up, shut up, pay attention, and give 100%," he says. "It’s disciplined in nature. It’s intense. It’s not a cakewalk."

Camaraderie Is Key

So why do boot camp classes suddenly seem to be showing up everywhere?

According to Rayhill, it’s about interaction with, and encouragement from, your peers.

"Most of what we do all day is very isolating," says Rayhill. "We’ve got iPods, cell phones, computers. We’re not connecting with other people."

The interaction of a boot camp class is not only emotionally satisfying, but helps people push themselves physically, he says

"If you’re around other athletic people, they are going to pull it out of you," says Rayhill. "By the time they leave, they’ve done so much positive already that day.

"No computer can make you feel better – not like the connection to other people."

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