A trip to Prestige boot camp gave my fitness a military kick up the ass and challenged my preconceived idea that boot camps were all about unsustainable weight loss for Z-list celebrities.
Last month I was feeling a bit shit about life. Call it the winter blues if you will but I was sick of being injured and unfit and instead of exercising myself back to health was hibernating indoors eating ice cream in the bath. Work deadlines were stacking up, men were being boys, I’d just had an operation for an on-going health problem that wouldn’t bugger off… generally speaking my mindset was pants. I was ready for a break, mentally and physically.
While I was thinking more along the lines of cocktails on a tropical beach, it was actually a muddy, exhausting, outdoorsy week in Suffolk that came to my rescue. Just as I was about to drink myself into November, an email popped into my inbox inviting me to a week at Prestige Boot Camp in a country manor near Woodbridge. Southern geography not being my strong point, I had no idea where it was but turns out it’s just over an hour from London by train so getting there wasn’t going to be a problem.
I did have my reservations though. After all, if you read the kind of celebrity trash mags that I’m addicted to, boot camps seem to be a place for reality stars to go, lose loads of weight, do a bikini shoot and then put it all back on again. But I did a bit of research and seems Prestige aren’t big on the celebrity endorsement thing, phew. They’re also co-founded by an ex Royal marine PTI (physical training instructor) who spent years working in rehab with the military. Yep, sounded like they might know what they were doing.
We arrived at the swanky country house on Friday afternoon to settle in and meet our two trainers Staff R and Staff W (some military shizzle about not using real names). As well as comfortable bedrooms we discovered a TV room, pool table, disco room and trampoline in the garden (YES!) for relaxing in free time. Oh how little I knew then about how my free time would actually be spent – falling asleep, physically exhausted at 8.30 every night it turns out.
As people kept on arriving and we all settled down for a chat in the wood-panelled TV room, complete with roaring fire, I did start to feel like I was in an episode of Poirot but the only thing that got murdered that week were my glutes and there’s no mystery about who was responsible for that – I’m looking at you Staff R and Staff W.
The first day was mainly about getting to know each other and also weigh in and measurement time. Before I went this was kind of my main issue with the whole boot camp thing, the emphasis on rapid weight loss. However, our head trainer for the week, Prestige founder Staff R, had a very reassuring attitude towards this. He said if it was up to him he would do away with the weighing thing completely but lots of people want it – at first. There are many repeat guests on Prestige boot camps (around 40% of my group had been before, which can only be a good thing) and many returnees don’t bother getting weighed. One of the things I really liked about Prestige is that they teach you how scales just aren’t that important, the emphasis throughout the week was very much on educating people about food and exercise so that that you can carry on the good work at home.
Food at the camp is all extremely healthy – no sugar, caffeine, grab bags of hula hoops here – and on the first day you are given the choice of restricted or un-restricted portions. Although I wasn’t bothered about losing weight, I was there to get a fitness boost, I opted for restricted portions so that I could get the whole feel of the thing (and also so people didn’t hate me for having a bigger plate at meal times). Have to say the food was amazing, that night we had courgetti pasta with bolognaise (or tomato and roast veg sauce for me as I’m vegan) but if I went back I would definitely go for the bigger portions, the second half of the week I was fine but those first two days jeez I was hungry.
So this was the first real day of the bootcamp, after a few traffic issues meaning delayed arrivals the day before our 14-strong group was complete. And what a lovely bunch they were. At home I tend to go to classes and running clubs with people who are pretty similar in age and jobs etc to me but the group here was a really eclectic mix and it was nice to hang out with people you maybe wouldn’t meet in your usual life. It was an even split of men and women and ages ranged from 20s to late 50s. The reasons for being there were as varied as the people – those who wanted a break from the stress of running their own company, those who were there to lose weight, improve their fitness, exercise for the first time in years or just have a bit of time for themselves.
The day started at 7am with a walk around the country lanes and villages surrounding the house. Nice way to ease you in I thought. Nope, the walk soon became a run or a speed walk for those who weren’t runners. The frontrunners looped back so that everyone got to work at their own ability and no one got left behind.
There was a 20-min tabata workout (high-intensity intervals with 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest) before breakfast followed by a little break to digest, then it was on to circuits in the garden, a bit of boxing… and before the day was out we’d also done a couple more walks, an arms session and a timed run.
We ate every two to three hours with three meals and two snacks throughout the day but holy f**k buckets was I hungry?! I admit I have a problem with portion control – as in I don’t control it – and eating measured portions was not something my body was coping with very well.
Day three was a similar format of circuits, tabata, walks, sprints and 20 minutes of fartlek training thrown in for good measure. But the final session of that day was by far the hardest. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was tougher than the last few miles of a marathon. The group was split into two – basically runners and non-runners – and I set off with the running group for a pleasant 50-minute jog around the countryside (ahem). Stupidly I made the mistake of running at the front with ridiculously fast runners Emily and Hannah. This meant we had a lot of looping back to do – and it always seemed that the loopbacks happened just as we’d reached the top of a hill. Suffolk is a pretty flat county but Staff R had very kindly managed to source some inclines for us, so there were hill sprints, telegraph pole sprints, every kind of sprint you can think of along the way. He also told us he wanted us to work until we had nothing left in the tank, lovely. After a day of hard training and finally nearing home I was falling over my own legs.
Any worries I’d had about camp being targeted at those who wanted to lose weight and weren’t regular exercisers were smashed right then. To think I’d been concerned it might not be hard enough?! Nope every single person in my group, regardless of their fitness levels, was worked to their limit.
That night though, I had to cheat. I was so hungry I’d started to feel sick. I had a sesame snap left over from the train journey in my bag and myself, and another camp member who shall remain nameless, had one piece each. Sugar!
A lot of the group weren’t feeling the hunger but on day four I cracked and asked to go on man-size portions (they’re bigger so got more food). I’m not really into the restriction thing and didn’t want hunger to hamper my training. Then something strange happened. Whether the food increased or I got used to the portion sizes or what I don’t know but I actually felt full after breakfast and stuck to the original women’s size.
It helped as well that this was a bit of a recovery day – when I started classing a 15-mile walk along the coast and through the countryside as a recovery day I don’t know but it was just what we needed. Usually I get bored with walking (unless it’s around the shops) but I loved this. No internet, no phones, just nature, a picnic in a field and the chance to have a chat with everyone. There were also masseurs at the house every night and this was the day I’d booked in for a deep tissue massage – the best £30 I’ve ever spent and the only money I parted with all week. I went to bed feeling deliriously happy. Weird.
Day Five and Six
On day five and six it was more running, walking, boxing and circuits but we trained on the beach to mix things up a bit (running on pebbles, tough) and also played games with some of the equipment around the house – racing on scooters is actually really hard! If there’s one thing training wasn’t, it’s boring. A lot of the work was using your own body weight (so squats, press ups, tricep dips etc) or with minimal equipment so you could replicate sessions at home but we also used resistance bands, tyres and one of the stations on a circuit was jumping on the trampoline – awesome.
You get to know your camp mates pretty well over the week and see them at their best and worst but the banter and the support between everyone was incredible. There were a few tears when people thought they couldn’t do something and more tears when they realised they actually had (not from me though, I’m hard!) and seeing the difference in people over the week was ace – both in confidence, ability and also just in their faces. If you look at pictures of me from the beginning of the week I have some serious eye baggage going down, but it’s surprising what a few days with no time to think about anything but what you’re doing in the moment can do. Perfect for de-stressing.
At this point I’d like to give a special shout out to Staff W. The trainers joined in with a lot of the exercises and when it got tough, instead of moaning and swearing like me he just cackled manically, certainly made me forget about the burn. Even during his 1,000 rep challenge – some hideous form of circuits based around a tyre that saw you doing 10 sets of 10 exercises until you’d done 1,000 reps. Special prize for finishing early? More reps!
The final full day! At the beginning of the week, when I was finding things pretty tough, I couldn’t wait for this day, now it all seemed to have gone far too fast. It was a nice fun day to finish with, a trip to a woodland mountain biking centre in the morning followed by an afternoon devising our own 1 hour workout and then completing it.
The evening though, was particularly wicked. It was Halloween and also one of the group’s birthday. To celebrate we had a spooky dinner with a pudding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and a pumpkin carving competition (in which my team were robbed). Plus a glass of champagne – sweet, sweet champagne – and a video of all the photos taken throughout the week. There was a lot of hugging, a lot of laughing and after the alcohol abstinence everyone got pretty smashed on a sniff of prosecco. Perfect end to the week.
The last morning
A quick tabata workout before breakfast then it was time to pack and get weighed. Some of the blokes had visibly shrunk throughout the week – particularly those with beer bellies (sorry guys) – but it was still surprising to learn they’d all dropped near enough a stone. The girls had less to lose but they still had some impressive stats. I knew my leggings were getting looser but I’d actually lost 7lb, which is a lot for a short ass – I was told I shouldn’t go on restricted portions the next time, definitely fine by me! As for putting it all back on again, as Staff R says, ‘Yes, you will. Well you will if you go back to how you were before. But if you continue with the healthy eating and add more exercise into your regime you should keep getting fitter and stronger and if weight loss is important, you should keep it off too.’
Before I went to Prestige there were a lot of things about boot camp I was ready to hate on. But actually, with the exception of some talk about buying supplements (and I haven’t tried them so can’t fully comment), the whole thing was great. It wasn’t faddish, there was nothing new, it was just good, simple, solid exercise and healthy food that you’re given the recipes for when you leave. Obviously that level of training is unsustainable in the real world and I certainly wouldn’t bother with the weighing next time but it got me back in the swing of things, gave me a real fitness boost and also got my head on an even keel. Price-wise, these things don’t come cheap but you know what, they’re worth it. If you think you’re not spending anything when you’re there, you have luxury accommodation, an on-site chef and training all day every day, I’d actually rather this for a relaxing break than a week in Ibiza. Shit, did I really just say that?! I HAVE CHANGED!
Prestige Boot Camp runs five-star residential fitness boot camps in Devon, Suffolk and Spain, prices start at £599. They also run day-long bootcamps in Hyde Park, London. The next Hyde Park days are 29 and 30 November and cost just £39.50. Get yourself down! More info at prestigebootcamp.com
The gushing thank you bit
Big shout out to Staff R and Staff W for being freaking awesome and training us into the ground. Thanks to Chef John for cooking delicious meals, making a real effort with vegan dishes and sneaking me a few extra nuts on my muesli and to all the guys I trained with – Rachel, Emily, Jen, Hannah, Wendy, Jan, Gemma, Ollie, Terry, Simon, Tony, Dave and Mohammed – you da best!