This ain’t no day at the beach
from F1 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 stoppedmyself 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 weighmyself again.
Doug was kind enough to let me step onto the scale backward. But every time I looked at him, I knewthat he knewthe 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 aroundmy 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 exdeprivation plained 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 eightpound 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 lostmy balance. Side steps were just not my forte. Nor were push-ups, which came next.
We alternated between pushups and abdominal crunches, trying
“We’re here to kick-start you. . . . We give you the tools to go out there and make better decisions.”
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 thenmy 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 formy 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?
“If you’re not squatting, you’re not trying,” said Faizal Enu, our kettle-weight trainer.
I’d never even seen a kettle weight — a cast-iron ball with a handle — before, but now I was standing on the beach, swinging one betweenmy legs while squatting and then lifting it up to shoulder height.
It wasmy final morning at boot camp, andmy arms felt as though they were going to fall off. It was cold on the beach, and I was tired and grumpy.
“I can’t believe we’re actually paying for this,” Tony said as we each dragged a kettle weight attached to a rope between two poles spaced several feet apart. I was losingmy willpower. Then I had my final weigh-in. Once again, I turned my back to the scale.
“You’ve lost 41/ pounds,” Doug said, giving me a high-five.
I was thrilled. But then I thought: Anyone can lose weight if they work out nonstop for three days and cut out sweets and booze and just about anything else that tastes good.
I confronted Faizal and Doug. How sustainable is this? I asked.
“We’re not a concentration camp for weight loss,” Faizal said. “We just want you to come here and find activities you like.”
“We’re here to kick-start you,” agreed Doug. “ Yes, you’re in a bubble here. There’s no work stress. There are no friends trying to get you to go out. But we give you the tools to go out there and make better decisions.” Sure, they call it boot camp, but this definitely isn’t your typical mess hall. Pearl Restaurant chef owner Karim Chiadmi talks with LindaMullins, center, and guests Robin Scarborough and Diana Andonian while making a healthful meal for them. Above, his scallops provencal.
Before I left, Doug sat down with me to discuss my post-bootcamp workouts. Later, he emailed me a detailed workout regimen, down to the exact exercises I should do.
“We’re not looking for perfection,” he said. “We’re looking for better. If you look at this as a short-term program, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. You have to think of it as: This is the rest of your life.”
The rest of my life began at Tampa International Airport that night.
It was dinnertime, and I grabbed a table at Sam Snead’s Tavern. Looking around the room at diners munching on typical airport fare — burgers, pizza, french fries — I desperately craved a pizza.
The waitress stood over me as I studied the menu for several minutes. Finally I put it down.
“I’ll take the chicken, cheese and nut salad with the dressing on the side,” I said with a sigh.
“And please hold the cheese.”
It’s a hit with the fitness crowd: Guests Julia Lenoir ofMadeira Beach, Fla., left, and AlixHenry, who’s visiting from Belgium, punch targets held by Doug Betts, director of training at Core Fitness Solution Beach Boot Camp, during a kickboxing class.
Above, guest Kathleen Beach, left, resists as Core Fitness Solution’s LindaMullins makes her way down the beach in Florida. Right, AlixHenry works on her abs in the fitness center.
Cardio tennis players run a mini-slalom to the net after each point, then race back to the baseline at Bardmoor Golf & Tennis Club.