As if the tedium of the treadmill, elliptical trainer, and weight machines wasn't enough, many Americans are shipping themselves off to boot camp.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), boot-camp-style workouts will be the top fitness trend this year for the second year in a row.
The annual survey of the council's network of personal trainers, exercise instructors, health and fitness specialists, and weight-management consultants also revealed that during tough economic times, consumers are all about getting more bang for their exercise buck.
Boot-camp classes, whether at the gym or in an outdoor setting, typically offer a whole body workout, not just the quick calorie burn one gets from a stint on a cardio machine or a quick run or bike ride in the same amount of time.
"During a boot-camp workout, you can burn up to 600 calories per hour, which is obviously going to help with weight loss," explained Cedric X. Bryant, the council's chief science officer. "But in addition to a great cardiovascular workout, you are also getting the muscular fitness benefit from exercises such as pushups, squats and lunges that you wouldn't get from a typical aerobic exercise."
According to recent statistics from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, 955 of its 3,306 member clubs offer boot camp-style fitness classes, and there are more than 30 different boot-camp videos listed at Amazon.com.
Americans over 50 have the motivation and the money to improve their quality of life through physical activity, and boomers are redefining what it means to age and remain active and vital.
Because boot camp-style workouts focus on every part of the body, middle-aged exercisers, particularly women, are drawn to these classes, indoor and out.
Fitness experts stress the importance of working out with a boot-camp instructor who's been properly trained and preferably certified as a personal trainer to avoid injury.
Susan Butler is owner of San Francisco-based Fresh Air Fitness, a boot camp for women that holds 75-minute classes in various locations in the city's parks, Presidio, and beaches, rain or shine.
She's a former gymnast and lifelong fitness buff. But about six years ago, Butler started training with Tina Vindum - owner of Outdoor Action Fitness, the only accredited outdoor fitness program in the country - and author of the book, Tina Vindum's Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym and Into the Best Shape of Your Life.
"I began to wonder if I could start my own outdoor program," said Butler, who had one son already in elementary school and another starting kindergarten. "I've always been active, and exercise has always been a big part of my life, both for its physical and mental benefits.
"Most of my friends are middle-aged women, and we're at a point in our lives where working out helps us maintain our weight, sleep better, and basically cope better with all the challenges we face in our lives right now," she said.
Working with Vindum, Butler became a certified personal trainer with a special outdoor certification and started Fresh Air Fitness five years ago.
"Being outdoors and bonding with nature was important to me," she said. "I, too, was sick of the gym."
Sharing While Sweating
Butler generally leads anywhere from eight to 12 women, all moms in their 40s and 50s, in a total body workout several mornings a week. She keeps free weights, exercise bands, mats, and towels in the trunk of her car. And in additional to a total body workout, the women in Butler's classes have become friends, sharing information about kids, schools, and life in general as they sweat.
"I could be stricter about the 'no talking' rule," admitted Butler. "But I understand that for many of us who are isolated in our homes all day whether we work or not, the social aspect of working out is as important as the exercises."
Sheila Brown, mother of a son in middle school and a daughter in college, likes being led through new exercises.
"I'm pretty good about getting aerobic workouts on my own like swimming or running, but I don't tend to do weights or other toning and strengthening exercises when I'm not in class," she said. "Fresh Air Fitness is a great, comprehensive workout, and I find the group dynamic pushes me to work harder and longer to keep up with the group."
Lisa Vail, another mother of two and a doctor, enjoys the balance of strength, balance and cario exercises.
"As a physician I know the importance of all of these elements in maintaining a healthy weight through muscle mass, improving bone density, as well as heart healthy cardio training," she said. "I love the convenience and the camaraderie."