I’m lying on my back in the grass. My shirt is soaked, and sweat is dripping off places I previously wasn’t aware could sweat. I’m breathing like an asthmatic Darth Vadar and I’m not 100 per cent sure I can stand up under my own power.
And I feel fantastic. Welcome to Bootcamp, Qatar’s outdoor fitness group. ‘It is a 60 minute, high intensity, group based fitness program,’ says Tim Nunan, one of the trainer’s behind the sessions that have seen me sprawling on the grass like a wet rag. ‘Our core belief is that the type of training that athletes do, scaled appropriately to people’s ability, is the right kind of training for everybody.’
Ah. Well that explains the running around I’ve been doing. Before I arrived at my first session, I was filled with apprehension: I’m not the most fit person and am lugging the equivalent of a small child around in extra weight. More importantly, I don’t tend to love being yelled at. Especially when I’m being yelled at to do pushups. Apparently, this is normal.
‘People have had to pluck up courage to get there, and after a month or so they’re just thrilled,’ says Tim. They offer the first trial session for free, so people can see what it’s really like.
The key is the scaling: everything is built so that no matter your level, there’s a version of it you can do. The trainers stress every session to push yourself at your own pace. ‘As long as you apply yourself. We’re not there just to take money and fill up the spaces: we actually do it because we love it. We want people to succeed in their goals and we want to help people achieve their goals,’ says Graeme Pattison, one of the founders and Tim’s training partner in making my muscles ache.
‘It doesn’t matter how fit you are, but someone who gets involved and just listens and tries, that’s our favourites’ agrees Tim. ‘We do the same sessions a couple of times and you’ll be able to benchmark and see how much better you’ve done than last time.’
And of course, they’re always there to remind you if you’re slacking off. They keep the trainer-trainee ratio purposely low, meaning not only do they know everyone’s names, and have no problem shouting it to spur you on.
And as Graeme says (just after he’s demanded I perform my squats properly), they’re sticklers for form first. ‘Even though it’s a group based exercise, you’re not going to get lost in the group,’ he says. ‘If you’re not doing something right, you have that attention from us to push you further to make sure you’re doing is safe and correct and ensure you’re getting the results.’ Graeme agrees: he’d rather people do one rep correctly than 20 half way. A typically bootcamp session kicks off with a 15 minute warm up, followed by a middle section of drills and other fitness tricks, before wrapping up with a cool down where everyone, no matter their level, needs to go lie down.
‘We’ve never had anybody walk away from bootcamp and go ‘oh that was easy,’ says Tim. When they first started the bootcamp, they thought they’d have people come for a month at a time, and never see them again. That didn’t exactly happen.
‘Retention is quite high. It’s like a little community,’ says Graeme. The group itself is pretty diverse, about 60 per cent women, with people of all ages and nationalities. When I turn up for my first session, the group is warm and welcoming, with others coming up to offer encouragement, assuring me that it will get better. And after a week or so, it does. I start to feel stronger, and healthier. By the end of the month, I’m not magically transported to the top of the heap, but I’m doing things I wouldn’t have been able to imagine doing just three weeks earlier. And I’m having fun! The endorphin rush on the ride home is pretty excellent, not to mention the sense of accomplishment: there’s no questioning that you’ve made the most of your hour after a bootcamp session.
‘I think that’s the key to bootcamp’s success around the world is the group. It’s not the instructors (although we’re excellent) it’s the fact that you thrive off the other people that are there. You can see them working hard, you’re thinking about slacking off, then you see the other guys and you just keep pushing on,’ says Tim. ‘Over the summer, the numbers dropped and we were stuck occasionally with one-on-one training. Even though you’d think with a personal trainer on top of them they’d drive themselves up, we actually found they were going that much less, and were quitting and stopping, because they didn’t have the other people there. It’s the other people that just pushes people up.’
Or it could just be fear of burpies. Burpies, a nightmarish combo of a squat, followed by flinging yourself to the ground before leaping to your feet, may be a great all around exercise as Tim and Graeme insist, but they’ve also found their place as the stick to bootcamps usual carrot.
‘Burpies encompass sort of all our exercises in one nasty package. So it’s sort of feared,’ says Tim, who’s assigned his fair share of them as a penalty. ‘If people are slacking we’ll throw in a few burpies to spice it up a bit. A lot of people hate them and love them at the same time.’ The group has their own very basic rules, like starting on time: a challenge when that means jogging between exercise stations to beat the clock. My second week I dive and slide into position to avoid being the third strike that would lead the entire group into burpie purgatory. ‘There’s actually one worse than that, the gonzo. But we’ll save that for another day!’ adds Graeme.
Goodie. Despite that, I’ll be back.
Bootcamp Qatar meets Sun, Tues and Thur at 6am on the Corniche, or at 6pm or 7pm at Education City. www.bootcampqatar.com