Shape up for spring with a different kind of workout: the boot camp 

Setting goals and measuring results may still be the hallmark of a physical fitness regimen, but a number of metro-area exercisers are leaving the gym behind to get there. The pulsating music in crowded classes, garish florescent lights and clanging weight machines have given way to a new style of working out: one that takes place outside, using the body's own weight and balance to achieve impressive results.


"Boot camp" is one such program. Modeled after the infamous training regimen for new recruits in the armed forces, fitness boot camps use direct instruction and intense motivation to inspire people of all fitness levels. That inspiration comes in a kinder, gentler way than a Marine Corps sergeant, of course.

A typical camp session runs between four and six weeks, and during the course of a week will include a variety of cardiovascular training (sprints, running stairs, a 1-mile run), strength training (core work, push- and pull-ups), cross training (agility drills) and, of course, stretching.

Sooner Adventure Boot Camp is a four-week outdoor program for women that meets each weekday morning in Norman. Owner Candelon Jones has a degree in health and physical education from Southeastern Oklahoma State University and is a certified adventure fitness trainer.

"A lot of women don't like being around men in a gym setting," she said. "So I train only women. Being a lifelong runner myself, I enjoy being outside, even in winter. And, there are no mirrors."

A big difference between traditional aerobics classes and boot camp activities, Jones said, is that everything is timed, not counted. The challenge is to perform as many repetitions as possible in, say, a minute, rather than hitting 12 or 15, stopping, resting and starting again.

She plans each class so that no two are alike. Workouts feature weight, circuit and kettlebell training, walking, running, obstacle courses, sports drills, stretching, core conditioning and calisthenics. Jones devotes some days to her personal favorite, plyometrics " intense, explosive movements such as hopping, jumping and bounding. This form of exercise develops strength and speed. The appeal of boot camp is the variety.

"People go through changes in life and are looking for new ways to get fit," Jones said. "This is an enjoyable way to do that."

Squats while holding a medicine ball overhead, crab crawls up a hill and group walking lunges are just some of the fun activities campers will discover at High Definition Bodies, a boot camp held in Oklahoma City's Earlywine Park.

Started a year ago by Tommy Middleton, the camps were created in order to reach more people than he could by one-on-one personal training.

"A lot of people join gyms but never go," he said. "This is more of a social gathering, and this type of training holds people accountable and they show up. We get all sorts of people, from the super-fit to those who never exercise."

Middleton plans his camps ahead of time and incorporates a variety of games and contests as another way to keep people interested and motivated. 

"After completing a boot camp, people find that they are able to do things, like taking long and difficult hikes, that they were not able to do before," he said. "This type of workout makes you look and feel good, like a new person."

Both Sooner Adventure and High Definition boot camps perform pre-camp physical analysis and assessment so trainers can accommodate limitations of campers. Instructors monitor participants and tailor instructions to fit their personal fitness abilities.

Marc Howard of Oklahoma City leads boot camps as well, but also is a certified Russian kettlebell instructor, which means he has passed a rigorous training and testing process. He said the kettlebell is one of the most complete exercise tools he has yet to find. Using as few as three different kettlebell sizes, these imported-from-Russia "gyms in hand" resemble something like cannonballs with handles.

"Kettlebells are the longest-running fitness tool around, other than the human body itself," he said. "You can get a complete strength and cardio workout with just two basic exercises."

The "two-handed swing," for example, hits major muscles in the arms, legs and back. The "Turkish get-up" is a complex exercise that covers every muscle, Howard said.

Because of the difficulty using these tools, he advises working with a certified instructor to avoid injury.

"You can dramatically improve your fitness using light to moderate kettlebells," he said. "It is an absolute workout."  "Susan Mathewson

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Susan Mathewson

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