Blaring music, a screaming instructor and a workout that leaves you gasping for breath don't appeal to everyone, but 20-year-old Hailee Scott can't get enough of it.
"I seriously sing and dance in the car comin' here and going home. It's just like the endorphins, oh my god," Scott said as she waited for a boot camp class to start at Bakersfield Fit in Rosedale.
As she waited, 28 panting people wrapped up their workout with jumping jacks in the parking lot under the command of instructor Wendy Hayes. They'd spent the last hour whaling on punching bags as Hayes hollered at them, occasionally pausing to reposition or bark encouragement at certain participants.
"Hit it hard! Hit it hard! Let's go!," Hayes yelled as a guitar riff of Three Days Grace's "The Animal I've Become" thundered over the sound system. A tough-looking dog wearing a drill sergeant's hat with the phrase "Pain is weakness leaving the body" underneath it adorned the wall in front of the class.
Gary Cooper, 38, crouched on the floor for a break as the class pushed on. Boot camp, he said earlier, has been "a humbling experience."
"I'm surprised by how difficult some of the stuff is for me to do," said Cooper, who signed up when his exercise regimen felt too routine. "I mean I go to the gym all the time and even I find myself struggling with some of the exercises in the class."
Still, he goes. So do a lot of locals, as it turns out.
BOOMING BOOT CAMPS
The American College of Sports Medicine defines boot camp workouts as "a high-intensity, structured activity patterned after military style-training."
The classes feature "cardiovascular, strength, endurance, and flexibility drills" and are "typically led by an instructor who means business," according to an article in its Health & Fitness Journal.
Boot camps aren't new to Bakersfield, but a plethora has popped up in recent years, perhaps building on the enthusiasm of people like Scott and the trainers' desire to cash in on the trend.
"There's been a huge explosion lately," said Tim Gojich, owner of Fit for Life and Get Fit Boot Camp downtown. "I think (boot camp) is a bigger fad here than anywhere."
Trainers say the term "boot camp" has become so prolific in the fitness business that it is applied to a wide range of classes. But in general, the workouts follow military-type training, with a group of people following instructors' orders. Trainers try to incorporate variety into their classes to keep people interested and entertained while leading an intense cardio workout.
"I can bring in aspects of other exercise into the camp just because there's not parameters on what boot camp can be," said Lisa Cooper, who runs Bakersfield Adventure Boot Camp for Women.
Marco Barba, co-owner of Bakersfield Fit, said attendees don't know what's in store each day they show up at his gym's classes and instructors bring their own twist to each class.
Enthusiasts and instructors said boot camps offer an alternative to the sometimes-mundane routine of the gym. The classes can spur sedentary people to exercise with the motivation of an instructor and a group behind them, they said.
HOW THEY WORK
Boot camps are also cheaper than a personal trainer, whose rates can be around $50 an hour, while still offering trainer-like perks, several local boot camp instructors said. Cooper likened hers to "personal training in a small group setting."
"The appeal is actually you're told how and what to do," said James Reyes, co-owner of Bakersfield Fit. "You're not lost."
Class sizes fluctuate. Cooper said hers range from 12 to 25 students, while Gojich said his biggest morning class has 60 to 70. The trainers said they encourage people to work at their own pace.
Gojich said he tests attendees' abilities and splits them into groups accordingly.
Boot camps also vary in price and time frame, from four to upwards of eight weeks, with various class times, and costs in the neighborhood of $150. Prices differ based on deals or the number of days a week participants want to attend.
Free boot camps billed as the "90 Day Transformation Challenge" have also sprung up throughout Bakersfield and Kern County this year. Their leader, William Robison, said he's led the charge out of a desire to combat obesity and reach out to the community.
"We've got hated on 'cause people think there's a scam," Robison said. "We're not operating the boot camps as a business, it's more we're trying to help."
Robison said the classes are run by volunteers and that while he also promotes a nutrition product, participants aren't required to buy anything.
"We never say we don't promote the Body by Vi (product). All our advertising goes through our website and if you're an educated consumer, you would read all the information on our website," said Mikal Rios, Robison's business partner. "So we don't go, 'Surprise, you have to be on the product.' People chose to be on the product themselves."
Several participants at Bakersfield Fit's five o'clock Tuesday night class said they've stuck with that program because they like the instructors and feel pushed just the right amount.
"At the gym you kind of work at your own pace, but here they motivate you and they keep you focused I guess on what you're trying to accomplish," said Gabriel Gamez, who has been going to the classes for nearly two years and lost 40 pounds.
Rick Dennis, vice president of Body Xchange, which has eight health club locations in Bakersfield, said comparing boot camps to personal training isn't exactly apples-to-apples. In a boot camp, people get less of an instructor's individualized attention than with a personal trainer, Dennis said.
Body Xchange offers its own version of boot camp with a personal trainer. Dennis said those classes cost about $9 to $12 on top of a membership, depending on the number of classes they buy, and the classes are small, with 10 or fewer people, and adjust as the participants progress.
While Dennis didn't want to "name names," he said he sees the failures of the boot camp movement often in his profession when trainers come looking for work after their boot camps go belly up. Still, Dennis said he believes boot camps will stick around as long as there are skilled, educated instructors to teach them.
"There's a lot of those boot camps that are starting but how many of them that are staying? It all comes down in the trainer," he said.
BUILT TO LAST?
Boot camp organizers said they don't do a lot of advertising; they promote themselves through email lists and word-of-mouth. Some offer specials and discounted rates based on the number of people who sign up or referrals.
An internet search for "Bakersfield Boot Camp" turns up the names and contact information for several classes.
Whether and how long their popularity will last is anyone's guess.
In 2008, boot camp ranked 26th on the American College of Sports Medicine's survey of "Worldwide Fitness Trends." It jumped to 8th place in 2011 but dropped to 13th the next year.
Local boot camp business appears to be flourishing, but the popularity actually turned off one trainer.
"They're popping up everywhere. That's why I got out of it, that's why I sold it," said Justin Pfeifer, who opened Bakersfield Fit in 2008. "I never expected it to get as big as it was."
Pfeifer wanted to pursue a business training smaller groups of people instead. He said boot camps have been good for local businesses but he believes the classes will dry up in a few years. A lot of poorly run boot camps could leave consumers soured to the idea, in Pfeifer's opinion.
"I think it's a fad that's going to fade out eventually," he said. "I think what's happening is you get every Joe that's a trainer wanting to do it."
Reyes, who now co-owns Bakersfield Fit, said it's difficult to say if boot camp is a fad. Boot camp will likely linger, but maybe under a different name, he hypothesized.
"In one form or another, I think (boot camp is) here to stay," Reyes said.