by Kelly LeCoy
Boot camp!? Weight loss, diet and fitness can be intimidating enough without throwing the word boot camp in there. Instructors yelling, crazy exercises and exhaustion comes to mind. That all may be true. But through accountability and coaching towards a lifestyle change, boot camp has been changing lives in Grand Rapids, fostering friendships and creating community.
Take it from Wendy Story and Jen Malinowski, two boot camp instructors in the Grand Rapids area. Each has their own story of triumph over excess weight that brought them to where they are today. See, they’ve been there too, so they don’t take any excuses.
Wendy recently took over Grand Rapids Boot Camp, which meets in Sixth Street Park and other locations out and about in Grand Rapids. “About three years ago, I was at a point in my life where I had gone through a time of depression over the course of six years or so and had put on quite a bit of weight. I looked down one day and I was wearing a 20. I did yo-yo dieting for years, every pill, shake and magic potion you can think of,” explains Wendy. “None of them worked. I had a food addiction. I even joined several gyms. But I wasn’t making a lifestyle change. I was trying to have this huge turnaround in my body, but it wasn’t about my health.”
Then she saw an episode of a boot camp on television, and the instructor was yelling and pushing the students. She realized that was what she needed, someone to push her. She googled Grand Rapids Boot Camp, and was incredibly challenged when she showed up for her first class. That first day turned into every single day. Over the first month, she didn’t lose any weight, but dropped a size. She grew stronger, mentally and physically. Now, years later, she has dropped sizes and pounds, run 5Ks, half-marathons and even all-out marathons. About a year and a half ago, her trainer approached her about teaching certified. She apprenticed with him, received her NESTA certification and started training her own clients.
“It’s never too late to be fit. Getting fit doesn’t mean getting skinny,” says Wendy, “You don’t have to be a fitness model to be fit. Make lifestyle changes that you can maintain for the rest of your life. We try to teach habits that can be maintained.”
I’m sure Jen would agree, her motto reads, “Strong is the new skinny.”
Jen Malinowski opened Renewal Body Bootcamp, located in Eastown, a year ago November. Some of the boot camp classes meet in Wilcox Park, right in the neighborhood. “I was not healthy. At all! My mom was very healthy. I grew up with no junk food, but my Grandpa would take us to McDonald’s. I was in third grade eating a super-sized value meal. I could eat it all and have a sundae,” confesses Jen, “In high school, it caught up to me. I had a friend who lost a bunch of weight, so I started doing tae bo classes with her. I started working out and eventually the trainers encouraged me to get certified.”
It was fate from there. She worked towards her certification in TRX Suspension Training, AFAA, STOTT and several other fitness certifications. Now, Jen owns her own studio in Eastown, is looking at a second location downtown and also works as a health coach in the area. She focuses a lot on form. “I just want to make sure they are doing things correctly, rather than doing a million of them,” she explains. “I’m huge on positioning, format and execution.”
So what does boot camp look like? “Typically camp is a 4-week program. We start with a foundation. We learn all the basics, lunges, proper running form, proper crunches. We start adding some extra challenges and options. And week three, we learn about heart rate, and to come out of comfort zones,” explains Wendy. “That last week, we go as hard as we can.”
“It’s fun to use playground equipment, to get creative, learning how to do pull-ups,” says Jen, “We do a mixed boot camp style. There will be flipping tires, rolling tires, sprinting with sandbags and piggyback rides, just using natural elements. Curbs for instance are great, kind of like a plyo-box. For most of our workouts, we do a fit test. Everything is timed. Then a month to six weeks later, we’ll redo the exercise or workout and people will see if they have improved on their speed and time.”
These boot camp classes cater to both the person just getting off the couch and the athlete who is looking for a little extra oomph in their workout. “We have some people who are walkers, some people who are runners. We make lots of modifications,” expresses Wendy. “I haven’t had a challenge with different ability levels.”
A lot of it is about accomplishment. “I’ll never forget the first day I was able to do a full standard pushup. It was such a huge goal for me,” states Wendy. “My mission is to get people to do it on their own, because they can.”
Jen has had people that were never runners, and now they are signing up for 5Ks. “I think that is the best part, the most rewarding,” Jen says. “I’m a firm believer in a wholistic approach. You help people make these accomplishments and they are able to live out a healthy lifestyle from there. They are actually excited about it.” She does blood pressure, BMI and body fat checks to track improvement.
I wanted to know what the key factor was, what makes boot camps so successful? They both mentioned accountability. “You can have all the ideas in the world about being fit, but if you don’t get up and do it, tomorrow doesn’t ever happen,” states Wendy. “If you have someone, and you say, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow’ there is always a certain sense of regret if you don’t get up, you really don’t want to disappoint that other person. They can get on your case, having that accountability really does help with follow through.”
“You have to make it fun!” explains Jen, “You feel like exercising is horrible or dreadful. I say grab a friend and take multiple classes to find something you like. Look around and you will find friendships in workout classes and studios. It is addicting. You will come back because you have friends in the class who are encouraging you. The accountability is huge!”
“People come for the workouts, but they stay for the community that’s here. That’s what I love, “ she adds. “People have developed friendships.”
Now It’s your turn! Find out more:
Grand Rapids Bootcamp
Wendy Story 616-240-7747
Renewal Body Bootcamp
Jen Malinowski 616-233-4773
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kelly LeCoy is a Grand Rapids native, an entrepreneur and graduate of Calvin College. She owns Uptown Kitchen, a shared-use kitchen and event space in Eastown and is passionate about food and small business.