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'Boot Camp' classes make the elements part of conditioning

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A passer-by at the park notices the group of exercisers in a circle on the scorched grass, shirts soaked with sweat, hammering out another set of sit-ups. She has to ask: "Don't they see the shade over there?"

See it? They lust after it. Absolutely nothing looks so good in the 90-plus degree heat. But they stick it out on the park's treeless plain, only a hot breeze between them and the noonday sun.

Personal trainer Jeff Fisk brings his troops to Mill Creek Park in Kansas City, Mo., for 90-minute workouts. He's part of a faction of trainers across the country who favor taking it outdoors for what he calls high-intensity, low-technology workouts.

Out here, away from the gym, the climate is definitely not controlled, the equipment, such that it is, is simple, and one's whole body participates in nearly every exercise.

"Let's grab some logs," Fisk yells to the four men and two women in the class called PT in the Park, the PT for physical training. The logs, leftovers from park maintenance, are stashed in the brush on the other side of a walking path.

"Jason, with your shoulder why don't you take a smaller one," Fisk says.

"Nah," says Jason Long, a 33-year-old business owner and father of two, bravely. "I'm all right."

The exercisers, many wearing their brown class T-shirts, hoist the logs onto one shoulder and then, trying to keep pace with Fisk, raise them over their heads to the other shoulder and back again.

Fisk initiated his class in March and plans to offer it year-round. The program and others like it emphasize exercises that use lots of muscles and joints at once - the term is functional exercises - and also take advantage of the outdoors. Requiring the body, in a safe way, to deal with the elements is an important part of the conditioning.

Fisk experienced Navy SEAL training in 1990 before an injury sidelined him. That's why the class T-shirts say "SEAL PT" in yellow letters. He leads his troops through heavy calisthenics and progressively longer runs.

"The workout has stuck with me all these years," he said. "I don't run it like a drill sergeant. I don't yell and scream. I try to make sure there's positive energy, the help-your-buddy-out kind of thing."

Fitness author Lou Schuler likes the idea of taking it outdoors and endorses exercises that use multiple muscles and joints. Schuler's new book, "The New Rules of Lifting," is due out in December.

Schuler notes that going from sedentary to just about any exercise program will bring benefits, but people who work out would do well to further analyze their programs. Notice, for instance, a lot of people at the gym are sitting down while they exercise, using bikes or weight machines.

They may indeed be looking better, Schuler says, but are they conditioning their bodies to better handle regular physical activities?

Trainers have long encouraged older adults to train for better physical function. A study of older exercisers suggested that weight-machine workouts didn't translate well to real-life activities. The trend toward more natural and functional exercises is a good one for everybody, Schuler says.

"Your body was designed to lift things, throw things, pull things, jump on things and to run fast and to run slow," he says. "Most people in the gym aren't training themselves to be more functional. They don't train their muscles in any useful way. Why not prepare your body to better do the things your body was designed to do?"

The key is to use a variety of exercises and to progressively challenge the body, he says.

"And it's probably a heck of a lot more fun," Schuler says. "If you get a level of excitement up, you can do more. You're getting the adrenalin going."

Trainer Michael Rutherford runs Boot Camp Fitness, a program in Overland Park, Kan. Heading outdoors is part of the conditioning. Most people live in a 75-degree world from home to work to gym, he says. One of his group classes meets in an unairconditioned warehouse with the garage door open.

"It's healthy for your body to have to cope with the change," Rutherford said. "It creates more hardiness, what was referred to in the old days as `tempering.' I actually start every day by dumping a bucket of cold water over my head. Try it sometime."

In Rutherford's "traditional" boot camp, exercisers might do such things as run through cones for agility and lift sandbags, push wheelbarrows and flip tires.

Cindy Richter is attending Rutherford's boot camp in Overland Park every day for an hour, starting at 6 a.m. The 55-year-old lawyer said she thinks of it as a really strenuous gym class, from outdoor sprints to doing the Inchworm across the gym floor. When she started a few months ago she couldn't do one sit-up. Now she can do 85.

Richter loved the quote Rutherford gave them at the end of one session: "We are what we do repeatedly."

Dan Nilsen of Kansas City works out three days a week with the PT in the Park class. He's a 42-year-old president of a corporate meetings company and has been a gym regular over the years. He likes the toughness of the PT classes and the fact that they are outdoors. He also likes the we're-in-this-together aspect of the group.

Nilsen met Lauren Canino and her boyfriend, Jesse Crupper, in the class. They've talked about how the support from other class members helps to keep them going.

"There's no way we would push ourselves without each other," Nilsen says. "I didn't do team sports in high school so I'm getting my team sports fix."

Canino, 23, was a college soccer player and knows about team sports and tough workouts. The class's distance running still gets to her, though, and she appreciates the encouragement from others. She and Crupper, 24, are going on a family trip to Hawaii in October and want to be in great shape. Crupper says he has his high school six-pack back.

"These are some pretty humbling exercises," he says. "They may look easy, but you do about 10 of them and you're crying for mama."

They don't look that easy. Fisk said it's OK if members don't keep pace. Each starts the class at a different level. But he does want members to show individual improvement from class to class.

"Jason, this is for you," Fisk calls out at a recent session to Long as he begins a set of "eight-count body builders," a combo callisthenic that involves squatting, dropping to a push-up, spreading your legs and popping up into a squat.

Long acknowledged falling prey to the "rounded daddy syndrome" when he carried 230 pounds on his 6-foot frame. He said he dropped 25 pounds with the PT workouts and by eating healthier.

Fisk hits No. 14 on the body builders, and nobody is keeping up with him. Even he starts to slow down at No. 21. Still, he heads relentlessly to 30.

"Get some water," Fisk says. "That's the hardest PT exercise, no doubt."

Next come the pull-ups at the park's small exercise station. Then dips, which require raising and lowering the body while holding on to parallel bars.

"What's with the hip-rolling?" teases Brian Smith as fellow class member Chris Lewellen's body sways during his dips.

"I learned that in the circus," Lewellen says.



A big advantage of outdoor, low-tech exercising - jogging, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, lifting logs, etc. - is much of it can be done at home or on the road. But don't forget:

You can hurt yourself performing any exercise, so you may want to consult your doctor and a fitness professional before getting started.

The best way to improve fitness is to challenge your body through increased repetition and intensity and by varying the regimen.

Avoid dangerous conditions when outdoors. Trainers Jeff Fisk and Michael Rutherford say lightning, of course, should be avoided, as well as extreme temperatures.

Ask if your gym or community center has an outdoor fitness program.


Here's more information about the programs in this article:

Jeff Fisk's PT in the Park

Call : (816) 960-1077

Web site :

Call : (913) 940-2668

Web site :


(c) 2005, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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