Finding the right fitness routine to match your lifestyle

Photo by Camp Gladiator

First in a series

Working out in a parking lot might sound like torture to some, but to others it’s heaven with hand weights. Welcome to Fitness Boot Camp!

In several cities across the Southern and Western U.S., people are waking up before dawn to break a sweat in church parking lots, parks and any open spaces. Whether they’re working out in the morning or after work, they come with their own extra thick workout mats and hand weights. Their instructors or “trainers” bring the rest. People perform individually fitness drills or are put into teams to compete against each other in exercise games.


What is Fitness Boot Camp?

The boot camp fitness genre emerged into the mainstream about 10 years ago, when Camp Gladiator sprang onto the scene. Ally and Jeff Davidson founded Camp Gladiator in Dallas in 2008 after the pair appeared on the newlywed edition of the TV show American Gladiator and Ally went on to win its individual Grand Champion award. The couple kicked off their first Camp Gladiator in a Dallas parking lot a year later with 40 people. Now it has 4,000 locations across the country in 17 cities, from Atlanta to Charlotte, and Memphis to Denver, Dallas, and Austin, Texas, where the company is headquartered about 500 locations host group workouts several times a week.

What’s a typical Boot Camp workout like?

Most fitness boot camps run similar to the Camp Gladiator model: each “camp” or workout is 60-minutes and incorporates both cardio and strength, varying exercises on a daily basis. Like most workout classes, the camp is open to all fitness levels because your Trainer is there to push you to achieve your personal best.

Is Everyone Cut out for Boot Camp?

Photo by Camp Gladiator

One of the highest concentrations of Camp Gladiator and other boot-camp style fitness camps is in the Dallas area. Cathy Hazel, a mom of two from nearby Southlake, Texas, tried Camp Gladiator, but eventually settled on an independent boot camp run by an unaffiliated fitness instructor. As a boot camp beginner, Hazel says she found Camp Gladiator intimidating, as she felt pressure when she was put on a team in relay races and other fitness challenges. “I think it would be good for somebody motivated by the competition from others,” she says, noting that she prefers to workout alone or in a group where nobody is focusing on her ability. She eventually found a camp where she could workout with others, but it was overall a lower-key environment.

Meanwhile Kelly Coughlin, a local high school math teacher started attending a different Camp Gladiator location earlier this year and thinks it would be OK for anyone. “Everytime you go you get a little better,” she says. “There’s always a way to modify a workout. Any level can go to the same workout.” She says there’s a mix of cardio and endurance workouts and schedules so people don’t burn out.

The Allure of Fresh Air

While fitness boot camps usually have indoor locations they use during inclimate weather, the motto is mostly “rain or shine” and the participants don’t seem to mind foregoing air conditioning and/or heat.  

Hazel says she personally enjoyed working out outdoors, and can see the attraction for others as well. “Think about it–a gym is like a petri dish,” Hazel jokes.  


The “team” mentality that boot camps are known for is reinforced through social media. For instance, Coughlin says after every workout her Trainer takes a photo that she posts on their social media. So, if you’re not there, you feel as if you’d miss out on the fun. In addition, sometimes people are paired with a buddy, so if you miss a workout you might be letting your buddy down.


Camaraderie and a team mentality are why most people find it so much fun. Hazel says she enjoyed being able to chat with friends during her workouts. “I love the people,” Coughlin adds, explaining that sometimes they’re divided into teams of three or four. “Everybody is really nice. I’m around with all working people and you find you have a lot in common. They’re all trying to get healthier.” Camp Gladiator.  

What keeps you coming back?

Coughlin attends a 5:30 a.m. workout several days a week, and says she only had a hard time getting up the first morning. “Before, I’d come home after school, thinking I’d work out,” she says, but wouldn’t always get to the gym. And now she’s hooked on Camp Gladiator, working out in the parking lot of a local Hobby Lobby store before dawn. “I don’t have any trouble getting up,” she says. “I have so much energy, and I know feel icky if I don’t go.”

What motivates you? In our next installment, we’ll review another fitness genre.

– Patty Yeager

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