Our poor, hard-done-by reporter Abena Bailey checks in to a Champneys boot camp
When I heard that people were spending up to £2,000 on a Champneys Tring fit camp to get rid of their New Year flab, I thought it was a lot of money to invest in offsetting the festive overindulgence.
January’s camp was almost full weeks before it took place so when I was offered the chance to try out a summer weekend boot camp at the posh spa, I was keen to find out just what the attraction was.
Boot camps have always been around but at the moment they are all the rage.
A quick search on the internet brings up hundreds of them, varying in difficulty, up and down the country.
The Champneys boot camp is high on the luxury scale. Its resort in Tring is the most popular and takes the most bookings of the company’s four UK estates.
People are willing to fork out anything from £1,195 for a week’s programme and from £349 for a weekend, which serves as a taster.
The real results come from a week’s hard slog that will, on average, burn off 5.8lbs and slim you down by 4.4 inches, which is pretty impressive, but to do it there is serious hard work to be done.
Champneys isn’t the kind of place that will check your bag for chocolate and drag you out of bed at the crack of dawn.
They have an expert team to encourage, advise and help.
Boot camp manager Nick Lincoln explained that it just wouldn’t get results if he shouted and screamed at people.
In fact, if guests are going to fork out all that money they usually give it their best shot.
Having said that, the boot camp is no walk in the park.
While other Champneys guests lay in bed dreaming of the pampering sessions they may enjoy that day, we boot campers were up at 7am doing circuits before breakfast.
There were three-mile hikes and jogs to endure, aerobics sessions to cope with when your body wants to give up – and on top of all of that, portion controlled meals.
We sat in a corner of the restaurant away from other diners and out of reach of the buffet.
During our welcome presentation Nick handed out Ki armbands and explained to us what he expected.
He said: “The idea of the camp is to translate healthy thoughts into action.
“Everyone gets a Ki monitor, which counts how many calories are spent during relaxation and exercise as well as the number of steps you take each day and how many hours sleep you have.
“The industry has a lot of fad diets but we keep it simple. We measure calories in against calories out.”
We were on a strict 1,500 calories-a-day diet that had no sugar, no salt, no caffeine and no alcohol.
It is based on the diet of prehistoric man and includes plenty of vegetables and is high in protein.
I was impressed that we could have half a cinnamon bagel, rocket leaves, cream cheese and chive with smoked salmon for breakfast.
Food became a constant obsession as people craved sugar and carbohydrates, and by the end of the weekend a piece of fruit was considered a real treat.
At dinner we got readings from the Ki monitors. In my first afternoon I burned 834 calories and walked 9,668 steps in two hours and 20 minutes. The following day I doubled that and it felt great to have, in black and white, just what I had achieved.
Boot camp days consist of about five hours of exercise a day and once you are puffing around the grounds on a hike or splashing about in an aqua aerobics session you soon forget about the morning coffee you haven’t had.
It certainly showed me a different side to the spa I knew as a place to relax.
Day one was fine but after a three mile hike, circuits, aerobics and pilates my muscles were aching and the next morning at 7am circuit training I was unsure whether I was going to be able to move.
I asked Nick, while on yet another hike, how people cope and he admitted that some guests do shed a few tears. For many the camp is an emotional journey.
Most people do it because they are unfit and they want to lose weight. For them the schedule is punishing, which is why the group dynamic is so important.
The weekend was unrelenting but people aren’t expected to keep up that pace for the four-day and the week-long camps. There is time to relax in the spa’s facilities and enjoy a sauna, massage, jacuzzi and even a few treatments. I found a spare hour to wind down and it felt all the more deserved. When you feel dead on your feet, the luxury of super soft beds, terrace cafes and staff to take care of you is like heaven.
I found the camp’s seminars in exercise and healthy eating quite useful. They were a re-education and dispersed all the myths I’d picked up from newspapers and gossip columns.
They also inspired me to put more effort into my workouts and cut down on alcohol, caffeine and sugar after the experience.
By the end of the short weekend I was indoctrinated into a better way of life.
Even as I write this, sipping on hot water rather than coffee, I’ve meticulously counted my breakfast, lunch and dinner calories and I’m on the way to getting rid of my little pot belly.
I’m under no illusion. It’s easy to fall back into bad habits but Champneys has thought of that and also runs a ‘boot camp and beyond’ package or a virtual boot camp that people can follow online as a guide and to be inspired by.
I didn’t expect the teachings of the two night boot camp to rub off on me the way it has. I have been pleasantly surprised.