If you’ve ever known someone in the military, you know that Basic Training—i.e., boot camp—is not something to take lightly. But how does it compare to the boot-camp fitness classes that have sprung up across the country over the last few years? We asked Chuck Dyson, a former US Army Airborne sergeant, to see if boot camp is still boot camp without the four-year commitment and regulation combat boots. He’d know better than anyone, as he’s currently in charge of The Sergeant’s Program, the longest-running military-style boot camp in the country. Dyson filled us in on what beginners need to know to be successful in his program—and how, exactly, his program compares to the real thing. Boot Camps Aren’t Just for Super Soldiers Joining the military doesn’t automatically make you a prime physical specimen. Whereas one recruit might have been quarterback of his high-school football team, another might be completely out of shape. It’s for this reason that boot camp is designed to help people in any shape get fitter and stronger in preparation for duty. According to Dyson, boot-camp fitness classes are no different. “Some come in conditioned, and some may come in deconditioned,” he says of his students. “The program is set up so that we can work with any level of physical fitness.” There’s Not as Much Yelling as You Think “One of the things we learned early on is that you can’t do a whole lot of yelling with new people,” Dyson says with a laugh. “We make it fun. We don’t yell and scream or get in people’s faces and embarrass them … but we’re still going to push them.” But how? Well, The Sergeant’s Program challenges students by instilling a sense of accountability and reminding them that they’ll only get what they put in. “As instructors, [we] want to be accountable to you,” Dyson explains, “but we want you to be accountable to the program, as well.” As in the actual military, camaraderie is key, and students often push each other to go that extra mile. It May Not Be the Military, But It Can Sure Feel Like It “A regular [military] boot camp is an all-day event,” Dyson says. “Early in the morning till late at night.” These kinds of hours are obviously impossible for a civilian to keep, but boot-camp fitness classes still try to maintain the essence of the military’s grueling sessions. That’s why many programs schedule classes in the wee hours of the morning, forcing people—or giving them “the opportunity,” as Dyson puts it—to get up early and get their workout in. Many of the classes also involve workouts identical to the military’s, including fundamentals such as running, pushups, bench dips, and pull-ups. The good news? They also incorporate new exercises to keep things interesting. “Just the other night,” Dyson recalls, “I took my class into the woods and had them jumping over creeks.” The bottom line? Fitness boot camps may be punishing workouts, but the good ones are always fun enough to keep students from going AWOL.
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