Let’s Get Dirty: Boot Camps Rule in Philly

Forget yoga—Philadelphians are going primal this summer with sweaty, high-intensity workouts like CrossFit and boot camp.

It's impossible to leave outdoor boot camp with Roger Dickerman (right) without grass stains.

It's impossible to leave outdoor boot camp with Roger Dickerman (right) without grass stains.

I had no idea what I was in for when I signed up for boot camp at Relentless Fitness. On a recent Thursday evening, personal trainer Roger Dickerman marched eight of us to Washington Square to crab-walk across the grass, high-step on benches, and drop for push-ups on the sidewalk.

Like droves of Philadelphians who are getting hooked on workouts like CrossFit and boot camp, I was excited to mix up my tired routine: treadmill, free weights, rinse, repeat. A little competition couldn’t hurt, either.

“People have done everything—the machines, yoga, barre—and are like, ‘I look this way, but I want muscle,’” says Todd Scott of Platoon Fitness, one of the area’s longest-running boot camp providers. “These workouts get results because they incorporate movements you use every day.” Think pushing, pulling, rotating, balancing.

Although CrossFit and boot camps are different programs—the former, a brand name, entails prescribed workouts, while the latter are as varied as the trainers who run them—both marry a rough-and-tumble style with hard-core competition. The outcome is a starkly different workout than what you’d get at Lithe Method or a yoga studio, with different results, too: muscle definition, power, stamina.

There are more than 40 CrossFit outposts in the region, plus countless gyms offering spin-offs and trainers running boot camps. Philadelphia Sports Clubs recently launched a CrossFit/boot camp hybrid called UXF, and ACAC is rebuilding part of its West Chester facility for a similar program. “When I started doing this three years ago, we’d rarely run into another boot camp, and people would look at us like, What are these people doing?” says Dickerman. “Now we’re fighting for space.”

Jennifer Siegel is one of Dickerman’s converts. “I can see myself getting stronger in my core, arms, legs,” she says. “I don’t get that from yoga.” Siegel’s smorgasbord fitness regimen also includes running and a three-times-a-week yoga habit. Boot camp, she says, is where she gets her competitive fix.

Sweat-soaked and filthy, I survived my first boot camp, barely. My quads ached, and I couldn’t lift my arms for days. But at least I didn’t finish last.