Surviving Bootcamp in Downtown Tampa

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other training methods to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’s writing about his progress.

By David Adams

Running the stairs in downtown Tampa

TAMPA –  A small crowd gathers near the back steps of the Tampa Convention Center. They aren’t here for a symposium, conference, or assembly.  This group is meeting with one goal in mind: to attain a higher level of physical fitness and endurance.  The group leader, Jon King, wanted to spice up his normal workouts a few times a week and felt that CrossFit would be the change he needed.

As CrossFit gains popularity throughout the country, many people who previously hit the gym now are hitting the steps, park benches, and other obstacles found in urban settings to create a high intensity workout that breaks the monotony of grunting over weight bars with ungodly stacks of plates on either side.

Fitness centers provide climate control and mirrors, but training outdoors gives athletes a pleasant change of scenery and real-world weather conditions that training facilities cannot. Endurance-oriented workouts usually are done in groups, a welcome change from the solitary nature of weight lifting and treadmill runs in the gym.

King wanted to break the repetitive nature of his workouts at Powerhouse Gym in Tampa’s Channelside District.  He and his wife Katherine, who is also a fitness enthusiast, started a free bootcamp where their friends could enjoy high intensity training a couple of times a week, as well as a fun social environment.

At the start, only a handful of people would come to the twice-a-week conditioning session, but the couple stuck with it. Now it’s not uncommon to see as many as fifteen friends gathering together for a fun and free workout.  Friends and acquaintances want to try new ways of getting in shape, and the design King created caters to people at any level of fitness.

King structured his class so that participants would be able to choose what they got out of each session. Instead of a repetition-based workout, King  set up timed events.

“I want people to get out what they put in to it.  Since not all of our friends are serious trainers, I didn’t want to overwork anyone,” King explained to me the first time we trained together.  “By timing each set everyone is free to go at their own pace, and if they are serious about it there will definitely be marked progress.”

Post-workout team photo

To vary each camp, King will change up the workouts and meeting place.

“We either meet at the Convention Center steps or at (Tampa’s) Riverwalk Park,” King says. “One session will be centered around running sets of stairs, and the next will be sprints.  To me it’s always good to change things up, it keeps people on their toes.”

A typical stairs workout session starts with a short warmup of jumping jacks.  After that, the real challenge begins. King will time each set for anywhere from thirty seconds to one minute, and usually follows up every drill with a set number of steps.  Squat jumps, burpees, pushups, mountain climbers, and lunges are common exercises during each camp.

After every set, running steps are all trainees have to look forward to.  The only relief that “recruits” receive is a short respite in between every cycle. Breaks can range from just thirty seconds up to a minute and a half, and trust me, they are much needed.  Seeing someone doubled over is fairly common, and although no one has thrown up at sessions I’ve attended, many have come close. By the time bootcamp is over, everyone is drenched.

“The gym can get boring, and when you work out alone it takes the competition out of it,” King says. “I like the sense of camaraderie that working out in groups can bring, and at the end everyone celebrates together.  Starting this and sticking with it has increased my endurance, and I’m sure everyone who comes regularly can feel the difference.”

The sweetest part of the deal: anyone can come and there is no cost involved.  The only thing you have to bring to this workout is motivation, and a willingness to push to your personal limits.

“To train with us costs you nothing but sweat,” King says.  “We welcome anyone who is looking for a change of pace.”

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