Fix your figure at an extreme bootcamp
For the past five years I've made a resolution that I'm finally going to get rid of that stubborn extra half stone I've gained since having children. But despite my best efforts - a basically healthy diet and a gym membership I actually use - something always gets in the way of it happening (usually toast and jam, white wine and chocolate). The answer? A Back To Basics Boot Camp - a military-style weight-loss week based on a low-calorie detox diet and endless exercise. But my immediate enthusiasm quickly gave way to reservations - is it safe to do that much exercise every day? Would I feel ill from lack of food? And don't I hate being shouted at? Despite this, the chance of going away for a week and coming back a dress size smaller was just too tempting to turn down. Before I knew it, I was heading for the wilds of the Brecon Beacons in the Welsh countryside.
Day 1 I start my boot camp off in a pub. Well, I'm hopelessly lost and pull into The Slaughtered Lamb to ask directions. By the time I meet the rest of the group, I'm already exhausted after five hours in the car. As we head to the dining room for a cup of herbal tea (normal tea and all other caffeine is banned), we eye each other up in silence. Finally someone breaks the ice and suddenly we're all sharing our reasons for spending nearly £1,000 on what could reasonably be described as a week of torture. One wants to lose weight because she's thinking of trying for a baby. A couple of others blame a busy career for piling on the pounds. Another is sick of being nearly 5st overweight. Then the instructors arrive. I'm expecting a troop of scary-looking blokes but there are only two trainers, and one is a woman. We're told to address them simply as 'Staff' and that they're both military trained and that's 'all we need to know about them'. We line up outside for a fitness test of a half-mile timed run (or walk) and a minute of press-ups. Then it's time for dinner - spicy tomato soup followed by a tiny portion of salmon with steamed green vegetables. After dinner we head for the hills for a brisk two-hour hike. Morale is high, but a couple of girls admit that hiking is their most hated thing in the whole world. Little do they know what the rest of the week has in store for them...
Day 2 Our male instructor, Staff Reitz, shouts us all up at 5.30am and the first crisis emerges - we've run out of loo roll. We've signed up for the Back To Basics Boot Camp and we knew we'd be sharing two or three to a room and queuing up for the bathrooms. But not having any loo roll is taking basic a little bit too far... After breakfast, it's outside for five hours of exercise. It's broken up into seven sessions with ten-minute rests inbetween, where the two smokers of the group use what little breath they have left to chainsmoke five fags each (the humble cuppa is banned but cigarettes aren't!). After lunch, it's time for another two-and-a-half-hour hike. It's too much for two girls who have nasty blisters and end up in tears. 'I can walk for hours if it's round the shops,' blubs one. Dinner is half a ladleful of soup and a small chicken breast in tomato sauce with some roasted veg. Again, the food is delicious but portions are minute. Strangely, so far I haven't felt hungry at all. In fact, I'm beginning to think that what I think of as a normal portion is actually more like super-size. After dinner, we settle into the cosy lounge for a group chat. No one wants to go home yet and we're all tentatively excited about the next day - even the girl who has pretty much cried all day, and the woman who arrived with food poisoning and has been throwing up between sessions.
Day 3 We've been warned that day three can be a low point as aches, pains and detoxing (from the lack of caffeine, wheat and dairy) kicks in. They weren't kidding. We're introduced to the 'stairway to heaven' or more accurately, to hell - 270 steep steps down a hillside into a valley. As we walk down, a sense of dread builds about how we're going to get back up. Our worst fears are confirmed when we're told to run up as fast as we can - and repeat it three times. One girl is sick halfway through and another sounds as if she's having an asthma attack. Suddenly, I'm right out of my comfort zone. I haven't pushed myself this hard for years and I end up with a pounding headache. But I'm motivated to keep going by the encouragement of the rest of the group - while Staff barks at us to keep going, we've turned into our own cheerleading squad. Unbelievably, we don't get a rest after this but head straight back to base for a circuit-style session that involves wooden logs. It's agony - I'm aching all over and red, itchy insect bites have appeared all over my body. The afternoon workout raises our spirits a bit as it's lots of fun - army-style manoeuvres that involve getting 'cammed up' with mud on our faces and twigs in our hair, holding wooden weapons and stalking the woods for enemies. We're definitely more Dad's Army than SAS - apparently it's not military etiquette to scream in unison and drop your weapons when you're ambushed. After dinner, the first disappointing meal - more chicken breast and this time it's a dry kebab - a headache has set in and I feel exhausted and cranky. I want to go to bed but we're all marched a mile up the lane and told to run back. The two Staff are running with us, encouraging every step. As always, they have energy and enthusiasm in spades and really seem to care about us all getting results. I'd expected them to be nasty, but both Staff Reitz and his female side-kick Staff Croucher (who has a washboard stomach to die for) have too much of a sense of humour to be completely evil. They can't help cracking jokes and manage to make us laugh just when we're feeling we can't go on. But it's still too much for two girls who just can't stop crying. I half jog, half limp it, then crawl into bed feeling low - the week stretches ahead of me and I'm really, really missing my kids.
Day 4 I feel much brighter when I wake up and miraculously, yesterday's aches and pains seemed to have vanished. Breakfast is a tasty bowl of granola and berries with rice milk, then we're told to get into hiking kit again and line up by the minibus. I thought I'd hate being told what to do all the time but, in fact, I'm loving it - it's giving my brain a rest from making decisions and it feels like being a child again. When the minibus stops, we have a 90-minute walk in the pouring rain and I discover my waterproof jacket isn't waterproof. Then we're rigged into climbing gear and taken to a cliff face where we climb and abseil all morning. Lots of us are terrified of heights but the group encouragement is amazing and we all manage to do it. I'm amazed that we're pulling together rather than competing against each other and I can't help wondering how different it would be if this was a bunch of blokes. After a lunchtime Boxercise session, we go on a rope slide over a river. It's fun and the mood is high - until we're told that we're walking back to base (more than five miles). As we trudge through boggy marshes, morale dips even before we're told we're taking too long. We'll have to be picked up by the minibus as it's getting dark. It's half relief but half frustration at being seen to have failed. After dinner, we have a feedback session with Staff, and all have a good old gripe about the hated hikes.
Day 5 Most of the day is spent playing war games involving lots of leopard crawling, casualty drills carrying kayaks and 'escape and evade', which involves getting back to base undetected from a mile away by hiding in bushes and behind trees. We're all spotted instantly except for two girls who get lost and turn up two hours later. They swear they didn't sneak off to the pub. Back at base, we're all obsessed with the impending weigh-in two days later. Everyone's convinced they'll be the first boot camper who doesn't lose a single pound. But the changes in people are already becoming obvious - cheekbones are emerging and clothes are looking looser. Personally, I feel healthier and more toned than I have done in years.
Day 6 Today we get a big treat - a lie-in until 6.15am. Except we all wake at 5.30am anyway. After breakfast, we pile into the minibus and are delivered to the start of what turns out to be the world's longest-ever hike - we walk non-stop, apart from a 20-minute break, for seven-and-a-half hours! It's also raining so hard that, despite wearing waterproofs, we're wet down to our knickers. We walk at a steady pace and, incredibly, we keep chatting right up until the last two freezing hours, when we lapse into silence and trudge along with our heads down like pit ponies. Then, out of nowhere, we see the minibus - we've made it! The relief we feel at finally being warm and dry, and being given two squares of dark chocolate, makes it almost worth it. Back at base, we queue for lukewarm showers and get changed. Our 30-minute toning session before dinner feels like a piece of cake.
Day 7 Our last day of proper exercise and we get a long lie-in until 6.55am. After breakfast, we put our knowledge to work and make up our own workouts in groups of three based on what we've learned this week. We're all convinced that we'll keep up the exercise when we get home. Then it's back to the stairway to hell for another tough session, but morale is high as we know it's our last real challenge of the week. After a break, it's onto a boxing session then, after lunch, it's off for our 'treat' of the week - gorge walking - which involves wading, swimming and being battered against rocks in a freezing cold river. Some of us love it, but I can honestly say it's on my list of things I will only do again if there's a gun to my head. Still, at least the bruises cover up the insect bites.
Day 8 Last day and emotions are running high. We start the day with the same fitness test we did at the start of the week. The half-mile run that seemed interminable now feels like a short sprint. And we can all do tons more ab crunches and press-ups. Then it's weigh-in time. Some girls are in tears again as we queue up as they're convinced they've been through hell this week for nothing. But no one is disappointed. I've lost 6½lb and a total of 10in, including 2½in from my waist alone. The average weight loss is 9lb, but a couple lose 12lb and our heaviest girl manages to lose 20lb. By the time we've all been weighed, we're all in tears and hugging each other. We all talk about how it was worth it, and how we'll never go back to our old habits. We leave with the confidence that we can exercise anywhere - in the pouring rain, in a field full of sheep poo, or on the living-room floor - and have the motivation to do it.
One week later Two extra pounds have come off this week, and I'm super-motivated about exercise. Now, it's non-negotiable in my day - I work out ways to fit in at least an hour every day, even it means going for a run at 5.30am. I've got oodles of energy and I've cut back on my portion sizes. But there's no way I can live without carbs in the long term - my first slice of toast and butter was sublime.
Six months later I've kept the weight off (give or take a couple of pounds after a big weekend) and I'm still loving my strong abs and the muscle definition in my arms. About half of the group have kept the weight off, some have put on a few pounds, and some have gained back all the weight. So was it worth it, given that I could have had 30 personaltraining sessions for the money instead? Personally, I'd say yes - it taught me a lot about exercise and how far I can push myself, and as someone who's exercised for nearly 20 years, I thought I knew it all. And the bags of self-belief and the satisfaction of overcoming a huge challenge that it gives you is priceless, too. But do it again? No way!
1 Don't book a boot camp just before your wedding or a beach holiday. Leave a gap of at least two weeks for the bruises and insect bites to fade!
2 If you like having your own space, book the New You Boot Camp rather than Back To Basics Boot Camp so you can have your own room.
3 If you're staying in basic accommodation, bring earplugs to help you get a good night's sleep.
4 Try to get into a regular exercise routine before you go, even if it's just walking everywhere - the less achey you feel during your boot-camp week, the harder you'll be able to push yourself and the better results you'll get.
5 If you're a caffeine addict, it's a really good idea to cut down before you go so that you don't spend the first few days with a withdrawal headache.
6 If you hate the cold, book your boot camp in spring or summer, as you'll spend most of the week outdoors.
The Back To Basics Boot Camp costs £950 and the New You Boot Camp costs £1,225 for a shared room and £1,650 for a single room. Prices include accommodation, all food and instruction but not transport to and from the venue. For more information, visit www.newyoubootcamp.com.
Typical day's eatingat bootcamp
BREAKFAST Small bowl of porridge made with rice milk
SNACK Bag of mixed seeds
LUNCH Grilled salmon with a few green veg
SNACK Vegetable crudités spread with cashew nut butter
DINNER Ladleful of spinach soup, grilled chicken breast and selection of vegetables
DRINKS Water and herbal teas
GOT A REASON TO GO TO BOOTCAMP? IF YOU'RE TRAINING FOR YOUR WEDDING, CLICK HERE TO FIND INDULGE IN ALL THINGS BRIDAL...
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