Aerobics the Army Way: Boot Camp for Citizens

In the 1980s, Americans bought up all the camouflage they could find. More recently, kids started asking barbers to give them "sidewall" haircuts.

Now it's mock GI Training - exercise classes designed to replicate life as a lowly recruit.

Sound like fun?

Not loud enough! Drop and give me 25 (push-ups)!

This fitness craze is fueled by people who pay top dollar to be treated (and punished) like a baby-faced "grunt."

If you're late for class or dogging it , expect to hear "Drop and give me 25!" You will respond loudly and with respect ("YES MA'AM! NO, SIR!"). Recruits develop the endurance of a seasoned soldier (a mile run followed by sprints aren't optional).

Fitness directors say they are adding so-called boot camp programs faster than one can count cadence. At Bally, which operates 320 athletic clubs around the country, plans to offer the classes at many of the facilities within the next month. Demand is "phenomenal - we are turning people away," says Loren Blake, national aerobics director at Bally Total Fitness in Baltimore.

In Chicago, former marine sergeant Derhyl Randle showed up in military fatigues to teach his first class at a Bally club last week. "There were so many people he had to do back-to-back classes," says Ms. Blake.

At New York's upscale Reebok Sports Club, "Keith Byard's Boot Camp," is packed with sweating "recruits." The tattooed and well-muscled former Marine sergeant will soon have his own exercise video and is booked to get cruisegoers in shape on the Queen Elizabeth 2.

SOME say this is no more than a marketing gimmick, a passing fad. "Everyone is always looking for something new," says Roscoe "Rocky" Fawcett, executive vice president of aerobics at the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "Whether it stays around is another matter."

At the Bally-owned Vertical Club on Manhattan's East Side, only a few of the "soldiers" have any military training. Augustino Agamben put in a year with the Italian Army. "This reminds me of it, but it's more fun," he says

On a recent evening, drill sergeants Lois Jordon and Lisa Gausepohl whisked 19 women and 3 men through a tough exercise routine.

Ms. Gausepohl seems to relish the chance to discipline her charges. One woman is doing her situps incorrectly, so Gausepohl commands her to do 25 push-ups as punishment. One man is trying to teach another how to jump rope. He's given 25 push-ups for "imitating" an instructor.

In Washington if someone doesn't show up for the "Sergeant's Program," the entire group exercises in that person's front yard. "We're wacko," says Patrick Avon proudly.

He has hired 30 former Marine sergeants and Navy Seals to put some 650 civilians through their paces. Clients pay $1,100 a year for classes held outside - "no matter what the weather," says Avon, who calls himself, "The Drill Instructor of Fat."

"We hold your hand and kick you in the seat of the pants at the same time," he says

But apparently there are drill sergeants and there are drill sergeants. At Reebok, Mr. Byard concentrates on lots of repetitions of basic movements. There are no disciplinary push-ups. "I call it boot camp because that was the hook," but Byard says he does not yell at them "since I can get much more out of them with honey than with vinegar."

The participants are enthusiastic even if they don't want to run off to the real thing. "I want to be lean and mean but I don't want to be a marine," says a very fit Allison Smith Pachoe.

This latest interest in military exercise is similar to a period in the 1960s when Americans and Canadians tried the 12-minute Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plan for Physical Fitness. A calisthenics program that increased in intensity over a period of months, it burned a mere 300 calories a day - far less than the rigorous routines now in vogue.

Marine Captain Sean Gibson admits he's amused at the attempts to replicate boot camp, which he calls "fun, challenging, and geared for people who need that little push."

Although he won't endorse any particular exercise regime, he says, "Anything that gets people out there to get more physically fit is great."

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