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Pre-Dawn Drills Take Over Dolores Park
By Sharon Gillenwater
It is 6:30 a.m. While most of us are hitting the snooze button for the second or third time, a half dozen people are running up Sanchez Street at a 45-degree angle. Backwards. Their muscles are on fire, and their anguished cries and grunts pierce the quiet streets above Dolores Park. Still, they keep going, hustling up 60 stairs at 19th Street. Their leader shouts "Keep It up!", assuring them that they are almost at the top. At the summit, the group pauses for a quad-burning set of warrior poses while the sun completes its rise over the East Bay.
Has the Army started to train recruits in San Francisco? Not likely.
No, these local troops are just part of the latest exercise craze: fitness "boot camps." In the last few years, would-be soldiers in the war against flab have been flocking to outdoor programs all across the city, and now there are at least three boot camps operating in Mission Dolores Park, just over the hill from Noe Valley.
All three of these programs combine running and exercise drills with a heavy load of calisthenics--sit-ups, pushups, leg lifts, squats, you name it. Classes meet for an hour three or four days a week, often at the crack of dawn.
While the workouts are designed to challenge even the most fit among us, don't let the "boot camp" moniker scare you, says Stevan Krstic, founder of BootCamp SF, which started training at Dolores Park in February. "We incorporate military-style drills into our workouts, but we keep the mood fun and supportive," he says. "No one's going to yell at you or make you feel bad."
Krstic and the other personal trainers insist that people of every fitness level can benefit from this type of program. "We cater to each individual's level of fitness," he says. "We usually separate people into two groups. That way, we can give everyone a workload that is effective but safe for them."
A Drill Sergeant with Charm
Last August, Linda Street resident Liz Nord hit the streets with a program called SF Outdoor Fitness, which holds reveille at 6 a.m. at the corner of 18th and Dolores. Nord thinks the camp is a great tool for building endurance (and losing weight).
"I had a hard time keeping up at first. When I started, I could run about two blocks," says the 26-year-old filmmaker. "Now I am up to five miles. And according to my friends, there is a noticeable difference in how I look."
Jessica Evans and her brother Matt, who live at 16th and Sanchez streets, are also regulars at SF Outdoor's sunrise classes. "The first class was quite daunting," recalls Jessica. "I am not a morning person. But after the second class, I was hooked."
The three recruits attribute much of their success to their instructor, SF Outdoor Fitness founder Mike Giometti, who hails from Western Springs, Ill. "His personality keeps people coming back," says Matt. "He's definitely got that Midwestern charm going."
"He is a great instructor," echoes Jessica. "He seems to cater to us all."
On a recent morning, Giometti runs effortlessly up and down the steepest grades of Sanchez Street. After running ahead of the pack with the fittest member of his group, he races back to check in with a student who is nursing a knee injury. At the corner of 22nd and Church, he instructs the group to drop and do 60 pushups, but stops one student who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Instead, he instructs her to do a set of exercises designed to strengthen her shoulder muscles. After a quick run back to the park tennis courts, where the group does a series of abdominal exercises, the class ends with enthusiastic claps and pats on the back.
Goodbye to the Gym Scene
Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, nearly a dozen runners are making their way over the grassy hills and down to the bell that marks the park entrance on Dolores Street. After a series of post-workout stretches and some chatting, the students scatter to begin their workday.
This group is run by OutFIT Fitness, a personal training company that operates two other boot camps in San Francisco and another in Oakland. OutFIT employs eight certified instructors--four men and four women--and also runs a triathlon training program and two "Mom and Baby" boot camps (in the Marina and at Kezar Stadium).
Danielle Paskins, a certified personal trainer and marketing manager for OutFIT, says the outdoor fitness programs popping up all over the city are proof that people are becoming weary of the crowded gym scene. "It's a great thing for cities, where the gyms are packed in the morning and evening hours," she says.
Like the other programs, OutFIT's boot camp in Dolores Park is a grueling but fun regimen. On three days a week for five weeks, students meet at 6 a.m. for an exhilarating hour that may include sit-ups, rope-jumping, pull-ups, lunges, sprints, stair drills, free weights, yoga, and stretches. And don't forget the hill-climbs.
"We use the outdoors to inspire us, and we use the environment to our fitness advantage," says Paskins.
Workout with a View
In fact, San Francisco's beautiful environment is a key reason these programs are so popular, says trainer Krstic, who has been running his successful BootCamp SF in Golden Gate Park and along the Embarcadero since 1999.
Krstic decided to establish a new outpost in the Castro/Mission/Noe Valley area because the hilly terrain and panoramic views make it the perfect setting for a fitness program, he says.
In early February, Krstic's Dolores Park program was still gearing up, so this reporter paid a visit to his 7 a.m. class in Golden Gate Park, to preview what BootCamp SF would be bringing to Mission Dolores.
Suicide Sprints and Sun Salutations
After a few laps around Golden Gate Park's Music Concourse, Krstic and one of his instructors divide the students into two groups and run them through the darkness up to Stow Lake. The more advanced group does "suicide sprints" all the way up a steep hiking trail. After about five sprints each, the runners stumble, extremely winded, to a clearing at the top of the hill, where they use rubber tubing to perform several sets of upper-body exercises.
Despite being new to the program, student Jeanne B., a massage therapist, finds she is able to keep up with veterans who have done BootCamp SF's six-week series more than once.
"I am much more energized than when I started," says Jeanne, who works as the manager of the Sacred Space Healing Center in the lower Haight.
She admits that the idea of enrolling in boot camp may seem odd for someone in the healing arts.
"One of our yoga teachers said, 'Boot camp? That sounds terrible!'" laughs Jeanne. "But I love how it is getting me up early and getting me outside. It's the kind of thing I wouldn't stick with on my own."
Back on the hill above Stow Lake, Jeanne and her group descend back to the concourse, where they do abdominal exercises and deep yoga stretches among the majestic columns that flank the band shell. Off to the side, several groups are silently engaged in slow, deliberate martial arts movements.
The sun is starting to break through the clouds as the boot campers lunge and breathe deeply, raising their arms to the sky in a classic yoga pose. "There's nothing more beautiful than watching the sun rise in the park," says one student.
Come to think of it, maybe boot camp and yoga aren't so different after all. m
Over Hill, Over Dale: Dolores Park Fitness Programs
At least three programs offer exercise "boot camps" in our jewel of a city park off Dolores Street between 18th and 20th streets. Here's the scoop on class hours, costs, and contact information.
OutFIT Fitness offers a one-hour class in Dolores Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6 a.m. All instructors are certified personal trainers. The five-week "boot camp" costs $160 for new members and $130 for renewing members. There is a free trial for those interested in joining. All new members receive a detailed fitness assessment at the beginning and end of the program. A new five-week session starts March 15. For more information, visit www .outfitfitness.com or call 387-7351.
SF Outdoor Fitness holds one-hour classes in Dolores Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., and 6:30 p.m.; and a Saturday class at 9 a.m. Owner Mike Giometti, a certified personal trainer, runs all sessions. Cost is a one-time $50 registration fee, plus $99 per month for unlimited classes. An annual pass costs $999 and does not require a registration fee. Giometti offers a three-day free trial. To find out more, go to www.sfoutdoorfitness.com or call 378-9934.
BootCamp SF recently began a fitness boot camp in Dolores Park on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 a.m. It also offers classes in Golden Gate Park and along the Embarcadero, and Saturday classes for all students at 9 a.m. at Baker Beach. Classes meet one hour per day, four days a week for six weeks. The cost includes before-and-after fitness assessments and an online password-protected area where your fitness stats are stored. All instructors are certified, and owners Stevan Krstic and Keith Wohlwend both have degrees in kinesiology. Cost is $375 for six weeks; $720 for 12 weeks; $1,260 for six months, plus three free weeks; and $2,520 for one year, plus six free weeks. Visit www.bootcampsf.com or call 921-8537.