Gay Boot Camp: Week Two Over!

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 1, 2009

In an earlier post, I had written about signing up for a four-week program called Gay Boot Camp. Think "An Officer and a Gentleman," only the drill instructor can't insult you by calling you a nasty epithet for "gay," because everyone is.

The program starts at 6 a.m., which is an ungodly hour for someone who usually falls asleep between 2 and 3 a.m., and, as noted earlier, that is still the biggest obstacle. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays--the three days of the camp--I find myself dragging by about, oh, 8 a.m. And every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday night, I vow to be in bed by 10 p.m.

Still, it's usually past midnight before I put the book down and (fitfully) go to sleep. The class is held on Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village, at the Hudson River. That's roughly the equivalent of Eighth Street, and I live on 50th. I get there by riding my bike, so that extra 2 1/2 miles each way is adds spice to the mix--especially at the end of the workout, and hauling two 10-pound weights.

Aside from that, the camp is actually a lot of fun! Josh and Laura, the two instructors, are certainly not the D.I.'s of movie lore. They encourage by, well encouraging, rather than insulting and condemning. Having had an instructor at the gym who tried to motivate that way, I'll take their method.

There about a dozen men in the class, of various ages and degrees of physical fitness. At 56, I'm probably the oldest, but not by much. One person is training for a marathon and has amazing stamina; another told me he hasn't exercised in a long time--and, considering that, he does quite well.

Having taken just about every type of exercise class known to man, I wasn't anticipating all of the new activities Josh and Laura had in store. Some of them were not so hard; but many others were surprisingly difficult, considering they were isometric--that is, using your own body as weight resistance, as opposed to weights.

For example, there is a fence overlooking the Hudson River made up of parallel iron rungs. We put our feet on the bottom rung, held on to the top rung, and had to lower ourselves to or below our knees and back up. It doesn't sound that hard, but it was a great way to burn leg muscles and abs.

Similarly, facing a partner, we had to slap each other's hands with sort-of high fives while in a push-up position. After about 30 seconds, it becomes harder and harder to balance on each exhausted arm in turn.

There are a lot of games, which vary the routines nicely and alternate the workouts between aerobics (usually running, jumping jacks and jump rope) and catabolic, or muscle-gaining (or muscle-straining!) exercises.

There are also a couple of team sports, but since the sides are chosen randomly, the gay man's existential crisis of being chosen last is obviated. Everyone is also amazingly uncompetitive, so no one has to revisit those gym classes when he was criticized for "throwing like a girl."

So how did I do? Well, the first week, on Friday, we were running about a mile, when I felt a pain in my right calf. I had strained it. Laura said it was my "running shoes"--ironic quotes, because they were old and worn out before my late father bequeathed them to me. She advised me to visit a running store with a fancy ergonomic machine to fit my style to the shoe. (If it were truly accurate, I'd be holding a cigarette and a martini, but I digress.)

That was pretty minor, and by Monday, I was fine, thanks probably to the yoga class I took on Sunday. Then, on the second week, I pulled the inside of my right groin, also while running, at the Wednesday class. That was actually painful, especially after I was sleeping or sitting for a long period.

The pain lasted until Thursday night, the night after the class, when I took a Pilates class at my gym. Pilates is a very of-the-moment discipline (Madonna swears by it) that uses core muscle groups. It's sort of a cross between sit-ups and yoga, but at the end of the class, the pain was gone, so it must work.

The next day--Friday--the class met near the southern edge of Manhattan, in a beautiful park setting overlooking the Hudson, where we went through an obstacle course made up of the natural setting and a playground.

For me, the best part of the classes was--believe it or not--the minor injuries. I've been taking all kinds of rigorous classes at gyms for a few years without any kinds of mishaps. The fact that my body gave out in minor ways showed me that it was really working.

The only thing I miss is lifting heavier weights. I've tried to go to the gym on the off days to lift. But the fact that it is even more wearying than usual to get there shows me that Boot Camp is definitely giving me a run for the money.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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