Abbe attends "Rugged Strength" in Fort Tryon Park
The first image that pops into my head when I think of a boot camp is a group of burly soldiers doing pushups in the rain, while a drill sergeant screams at them… I guess I watched too many movies as a kid! Nonetheless, I was intrigued to see if I had what it took to try one of these boot camps out myself. These workouts are extremely popular now and seem to be popping up everywhere. They are grueling and intense but promise to torch fat and drop pounds in a matter of weeks. Now, I’m a dancer and have experienced my fair share of physical pain, but squats, pushups and sprinting? It’s all Greek to me! But when I saw a deal on Groupon for a boot camp that was taking place in the park right down my street, it seemed like a sign. If I was ever going to have a Rambo moment, the time was now!
Rugged Strength was formed by personal trainer and nutrition coach, Gabriel Serra. He trains private clients and conducts boot camps on the Upper West Side and in Washington Heights. When I went to the Rugged Strength website, it was clear that this guy was all about fitness and nutrition. There was an overwhelming amount of information on topics spanning from barefoot and kettlebell training to nutrition and injury prevention. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Serra has also written a book, 52 Weeks to Strong, which claims to teach its readers how to efficiently workout and stick to a program. He states, “The essence of being strong begins with an idea, a frame of mind if you will.” I was intrigued. I would be out of my comfort zone, but it would be a new way to view strength and I was up for the challenge.
The boot camps took place in Ft. Tryon Park, all the way up on 191st Street. Luckily, I am only a few blocks away so I was able to walk to each session. The first time I met Gabriel, he seemed friendly but serious. There was no small talk. I signed my name on the sign-up sheet and braced myself. Each boot camp was maxed out at 6 people but it usually ended up being 3 or 4 so it was nice and small. We warmed up differently each time, either with jumping jacks (which I had not done since I was 10), or something he called “duck walks” (think really embarrassing, small lunges). They were certainly effective and also tried my humility as we were situated in the middle of a lawn with several people staring at us. At first I felt very gawky and uncoordinated. My body is so accustomed to spirals and fluidity that the rigid and contained strength required for most of the movement was completely new.
Gabriel was great at mixing things up. We did, what seemed like an infinite assortment of lunges: to the front, to the side, to the back, jumping, turning… whew! We jumped rope, did short sprints, squats with weights, kettlebell tosses, planks, and something called battling ropes, which are basically heavy ropes that you shake up and down until your arms feel like they’re going to fall off. We also utilized the park for several exercises, doing our squats on a park bench, and climbing several sets of stairs throughout the park. After each 45 minute session I was spent, and after the first few times it was difficult to walk the next day! This certainly met my expectations of what I thought boot camp would be like.
I was definitely satisfied with my experience in boot camp. Gabriel was knowledgeable and motivating without being too much like a drill sergeant, and since the groups were small, it seemed that everyone received individual attention and support. He was organized and prepared, rotating people on different obstacles to keep things moving, and also coming up with last minute modifications when people were unable to complete the exercises safely. At every session, there were people of every level of fitness pushing through to complete their goals. We were all in it together. The class was so challenging, that there simply wasn’t time to stop and compare your pushup to that of the person next to you. All in all, I enjoyed myself. This didn’t feel like a fad class or a trend that would eventually pass. This was the meat and potatoes of exercise; the things that have been proven to get results time and time again. It was fun to push myself in a way that I never had before and that made me feel stronger.