MY BOOTCAMP EXPERIENCE
Here’s the backstory:
Initially I joined Pure Fitness after a long spell recovering from an ankle injury – a spiral fracture of the fibula which resulted in me having a four inch plate and 9 screws fitted onto the fibula to pin the complex break in late December 2013. Up until recently I’d been working on rehabilitating that injury and then just before Christmas 2015, I had another surgery to remove the support screws because I’d broken one diastasis screw and bent the other; they had to come out in order to relieve the pain I’d been experiencing.
In addition to the injury, my son was born in the early weeks of 2014, just a few weeks after the accident and my life changed dramatically. As if the ankle situation was not enough, I would be house-bound for a while with my leg in various states of plaster and recovery. My confidence had totally abandoned me and my hair had begun falling out. Stress and shock had stolen those things away from me. Result: a person who hated his own reflection, a person with low self-esteem, zero confidence, a washed out personality who found very little in life of interest anymore (except my wife and son, I love them more than anything on the planet and it was for these guys that I needed, to join the living again). I stopped playing guitar, stopped going out. I hated my job and the direction I was going in because I was just drifting.
I felt pretty shallow actually. My body image annoyed me and as a way of keeping what little confidence was left, I did away with my contact lenses at the gym, figuring that if I couldn’t see them, then the people at the gym couldn’t see me – and that was just fine with me because I did not want to be seen or noticed in any way. I think Barry was pretty horrified when I admitted this fact to him. As he told me that was a pretty harsh way to feel and he was shocked that I would do that. Nobody knows what’s going on in anyone else’s head.
I had reached a turning point in my life where I had to stop all of this and just move on but it was going to take severe and drastic action. I quit my job which was providing a lot of negativity and stress, the opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up and I seized it. Time off with money in the bank, that would help, I secured a new job quickly with some help and delayed my start date. Seven weeks to change my life. On the run up to joining Bootcamp, I’d had some time off before I was due to start my new job in August and was feeling okay, better in fact, since I had little on my mind and nothing to stress me out any further at work. Now was the right time to put everything, or as much as possible, right if I possibly could. I quit drinking alcohol, as well as bread and sugar and then I quit Facebook (another source of negativity for me).
Then it was time to approach the good looking man who runs the gym – Barry. I swear to God, you look at him and wonder why he needs to go to the gym at all? Actually, come to think of it, the staff all fall in to that category. But their physicality aside, they are all really nice people actually but I had joined the gym mid-problem so I’d never really spoken to them much, I was too busy swiping in quickly with my head down and then bolting when I’d done what I needed to do. Anyway, I wanted to see if he’d consider me for Bootcamp… I chickened out and emailed him instead, at least then if he said no, it was fine because email is a good tool to hide behind. The response was positive and very supportive, so then I spoke to him at the gym and we set a date to start.
The first morning of Bootcamp was really fraught. I was nervous and feeling a little sick. I found the minutes ticking by way too quickly and I felt far from prepared. Eventually, I got to the gym and signed in. It had been a couple of days since talking to Barry and convincing myself – and Him, that I wanted (and needed) to do this. Intimidated is not a word I like but it fit the bill. I’d been a gym member for almost two years and in that time, I’d lost more confidence and drive. I needed something that would put me back on track and get me interested, it was either that or give up and walk away for good because even though I was coming to the gym, it was pointless as I wasn’t really interested in it. My self-confidence and body image were slowly sinking lower and lower. I wasn’t joining Bootcamp to lose weight as such, I needed to make a change in my thinking, I needed to prove something more to myself than to others. I wanted to work hard on my perception of me first, then I’d work on the body if I was able to get that far. I’ve never paid much attention to my weight, I’ve always just made sure my clothes fit and if they’ve been tight, then I ran and did something about it.
I badly wanted to do this, to ‘get well’ again and take some pride in how I looked and felt but equally I wanted to hide and quit. Upon entering the gym that first morning, I felt like my legs were going to buckle, I’d convinced myself that I felt like it was going to be a struggle and since I was just going to embarrass myself by crashing out twenty minutes in and leaving in disgrace, I was thinking that I could just save face and go now, nobody had seen me enter the gym yet (or maybe they had, I didn’t have my contacts in). Then my vivid imagination took over and conjured up images of me passing out or throwing up – either way, I had nothing to lose, my gym membership expiry date was a few weeks away. If any of the above happened, I’d just get up, leave the gym thoroughly shamed and then I would just never go back. That was my sad back-up plan. At that point Barry came around the corner and my fate was sealed, I’d have to stay now. He was nice to me, encouraging and telling me that this was all okay and I should relax… I didn’t believe him, not for a moment and I was far from relaxed. But nothing bad happened – my imagination was wrong, thankfully. The treadmill was first up, this is the one thing I tended to avoid because my ankle would sting if I ran. I choked it down, said nothing and got on with it. I was thinking ‘just man up and run dammit!’. Barry put me at ease, talked to me, regularly checking I was okay throughout. At one point, he even asked me if I was feeling sick or nauseous. That was a little bit frightening, I was wondering if he was psychic, how could he possibly know how I might be feeling? Then it came to me… Ahh! Because it might actually be… normal? Barry explained what was happening and what moves would come next. I struggled, I was pouring in sweat from effort but strangely, ten minutes in and I did not want to quit. I persevered to the end of the session. I found a small well of energy from somewhere and stuck with it. I sat in the locker room afterwards contemplating things like, am I going to be sick? Am I going to stop shaking anytime soon? If I stand up now, will I fall over? Will I pass out? I waited and it passed but that was a tense 15 minutes.
The Bootcamp Diet:
This was interesting, much of it was what I’d prepare as dinner anyway. Common sense stuff that we never really think about and sometimes ditch in favour of convenience. I knew this would take some thinking about. After the session, I hit the supermarket and bought fresh ingredients whilst avoiding picking up distracting food laced with sugar and crap. I knew if this stuff was the only stuff in the fridge and there were no other options, I might actually do okay… I’d already sworn off alcohol too, I never had a drink problem but I knew it wouldn’t help if I was serious about getting healthy again. Barry helped me visualise that half a glass of red wine would wipe out one gym session’s work. I could burn 600 calories or more in a Bootcamp session and then if I succumbed to weakness, just half a glass would undo all of that hard work. I recognised early on that I valued my sessions far more than I craved booze or food. My first sessions meant that my legs hurt and my arms had tremors and my back was killing me for the rest of the day. I wasn’t prepared for the stiffness in my inner thighs the next morning – walking was… interesting. Thursday I was back at the gym, still a little sore and the experience mentally was much the same but the physical work was different and varied. I was working every single body area and I could feel it. This was week 1 and I survived it, Barry made an assessment and as it happened I was in better shape than I thought, I was being hard on myself for the last couple of years and I knew that who I saw in the mirror was not who everyone else saw. I’d begun taking vitamin supplements weeks before and continued to take them throughout the whole process. I use an effervescent multi-vitamin tablet in my water bottle and make sure I drink it during my session.
Weeks 2 and 3:
These sessions. Although varied, were much the same, my mind kept fluctuating between self-doubt, hope, aching badly and feeling like I was actually doing okay. Certainly more positive than negative. I had good days and bad days. It was hard work and I ached badly after every session but the more I did it, the more I realised that I was working towards proving myself wrong – I AM able to do this, I can handle it and I’m going to get the finisher’s shirt. I wanted to feel fit again and as I’d begun to shape up slowly, I began to feel better about myself, more confident and my posture was better. I had noticed that I just felt buoyant. My diet was good, I lost some weight but not a lot, it was steady but I also kept building muscle and my overall appearance was improving which then again, was a boost to my confidence and my self-image. I even cut my hair way shorter than before and had some highlights put in – just because I still could. On one of those weekends, I bought a couple of tops that were more form fitting than usual and a pair of jeans because my old ones were a little sloppy around the waist now. This was progress!
I take protein shakes before and after workouts as well as for breakfast. I swapped snacks for cereal with soya milk and I take CLA with my main meals for maximum recovery opportunities. I took time to play more and enjoy my time off. I took more pride in my appearance and as my body seemed to adapt, I found that one particular day, I cleared out my wardrobe and chucked out anything I felt was shapeless. I decided that my wardrobe should just have stuff that was good for me in it. Like the fridge, if it wasn’t in there, I couldn’t have it. Previous trips to the gym, consisted of me entering head down, no eye contact, speak as little as possible and do nothing to draw attention to myself. I’d swipe in and try to work out consistently – which I never did.
That had to change for a start and I’m pleased to say that it has. Now I look ‘em in the eye and say hello to whoever is behind the desk and this is an open apology, if I ever made you feel like I was angry or annoyed, it was only ever with myself, not with you guys, you have to understand, I was hiding and most of time I didn’t have lenses in anyway.
Weeks 3 and 4:
My confidence was still growing. Gina, my Wife, noticed first, followed by close friends who simply noted that I was ‘different’. My moods were more even, I felt calmer and less washed out, less fatigued and I was enjoying things for the first time in ages. When there was nobody at home, I even played guitar again after a while. Socialising had taken on a new interest. For over a year or more I’d begun withdrawing and seeing people less. People notice these things, sometimes they confront you but mostly they trust you to sort it out. In my case, nobody challenged my behaviour and I was allowed to sink for a long time before coming to my senses and realising that my life did not have to be like it was. I am glad that I took charge of the situation and made the decision to work hard on myself but as with most things, admitting you need help is a big hurdle. Gina helped and once I’d enlisted Barry’s help, that was perhaps the hardest part to accept, in moving on to good things.
Barry worked hard in making me push further. The workouts were hard, I was running with muscle stiffness and on one particular occasion, I was running with ankle cramps and pain in my knees. I think I looked like I was running wearing a suit of armour (it certainly felt like it) but I didn’t care, I was working through the pain and soreness because it was only temporary. I wanted my changes to be permanent, I don’t ever want to feel beaten down again, not by anyone or anything and learning to recognise a negative situation is a key to rising above it and not letting it infect other aspects of your life. These weeks were the hardest for me as I was in pain but I did not want to even think about quitting, not now.
Weeks 5 and 6:
These final weeks came around far too fast. I had been working out hard and making sure that I visited the gym at least two or three times in between sessions. I sustained a couple of injuries during these weeks but nothing serious, just some muscle fatigue that took a while to wear off, a pulled muscle in my back/shoulder but I was able to work around it with Barry’s help. My ankle no longer hurts when I run, the pain is no longer present and there were days when the ankle ached like hell during the early weeks, all of that has gone. The fine scar has actually faded much more after two and a half years of just being there, it’s faded further due to increased blood-flow, the scar tissue has shifted and it feels okay. Before I was aware of it, now I’m not, it just doesn’t hurt anymore. I actually enjoy running again and I thought those days were behind me.
My final week and I cannot get my head around the fact that not so long ago, I was wondering if I could last the first session (assuming I actually turned up for the first session because I had very nearly talked myself out of it). I did it! I made it through the first weeks and then weeks 3, 4 and 5 came and went and it had not been easy but I think determination takes you through a lot. I also began my new job during week 6 and so we had to tweak timings and session days but we worked around it and I know that’s an important part of the trick to succeeding and not giving up. Planning for the day ahead when you take a protein shaker out with you because it’s convenient. Going out for a meal, you eat healthy by taking a decent option and exercising will power, if it’s a cheat day then sharing a dessert also lessens the amount of sinning and calories! I also made a choice to not take on guilt so now I know if I do ‘sin’, I can atone for it with 30 minutes HIIT running. Planning your sessions and making sure you have what you need with you is also vital. I never go shopping when I’m hungry and I do the same when it comes to the gym, I don’t go when I’m hungry now because I know I won’t concentrate and I’ll cut corners to get out quickly – that’s pointless and lays the foundation for a bad habit to form. A good session is hard work, acknowledging that I will sweat, I will feel weak at times and I’ll feel drained too but one thing will always be the case – I will finish it.
The final week, ‘Week 6’ is more than about having learned something about working out, it’s about discovering myself again and finding my limits, testing my capabilities and acknowledging the fact that I am in way better shape now than I was just six weeks ago, mentally AND physically. I’m not a natural athlete and I’ve never been very competitive with others, probably only with myself.
Many times, I have been my own worst enemy and there’s nobody else to blame but me. The self-doubting little voice whispering ‘you can’t do this, you’re going to fail’, can be drowned out with some hard work and persistence. The benefits I found I enjoyed shortly after beginning Bootcamp training were things like: alertness during the day, the tiredness is no longer ever-present, migraines are fewer and less frequent. I sleep better, I’m more rested when I wake up and I have more energy. My moods are more even, less likely to swing and my physical condition is much improved, I have more muscle tone and a better waistline, (new jeans are needed again).
The challenge I found was overcoming my fear and that fear was not where I thought it was – it’s not a fear of the gym and its machines, not a fear of the other gym-members and certainly not the gym staff because they’re pretty cool people, if you actually take the time to notice. No, it was none of that, I had to overcome the fear of my self-doubt and my insecurities had to be completely shut off in order for me to succeed. I had to ignore or totally ditch anything that didn’t help me in my focus. I had to actually ignore the distractions of my own mind during some sessions. I could file it away and put it out of my mind and focus on Barry’s instructions during those sessions. I know that it’s far easier to tear something down than to build it up. I know that to build something takes belief, planning, care and lot of hard work and once it’s built, you can have pride in it – because you did it.
Bootcamp was good for me, it worked for me and it’s helped my confidence massively. I know I look okay and for the first time in a long time, I ‘feel’ okay. Bootcamp is not a miracle cure, far from it, it’s a choice and it’s a beginning of a series of choices. Bootcamp is not something that will cure all of your problems, it’s down to you to do that for yourself and if Bootcamp helps you achieve that, then it is very much worth the investment in it. It was tough at times but very rewarding on so many levels.
I know that I have lots more work to do, there will be bad days when my confidence will take a knock but I’ve learned not to give up. As long as I get up again, it will be okay because tomorrow is another day when I can try again. I can now see myself for who I truly am (I’m wearing contacts again, so it must be true). I am just an ordinary guy, who, thanks to some encouragement and hard work, feels extraordinary…
Sean M Jagger
12th August 2016