Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Washington Social Diary

Fitness in Washington takes many forms - sculling is very popular.
by Carol Joynt

The conventional wisdom is we shape up for summer to shed the pounds and buff up the softness that can come with winter’s heavy foods and couch potato habits. But what about summer weight?

If anything, we’re lazier than in the warm months, and there’s nothing low cal about lobster rolls, crab cakes, strawberry shortcake and peach ice cream, not to mention all those beers that help to wash down well-buttered delicacies fresh off the grill.

Jim Scott Polsinelli, the professional trainer who runs Gtown Bootcamp.
A lot of people have year round fitness dedication, but not everybody, and even the people who are gym rats can get fatigued by the sameness. Change is good, especially in an economic moment when gym fees and personal trainer rates bulge the budget for luxury items.

The urban “boot camp” phenomenon has been around for several years but at least in Washington, it appears to be gaining popularity as a form of affordable fitness. The rate for one month of boot camp – typically four days a week - equals the cost of three sessions with a trainer, and about half a monthly gym fee.

On a whim, I joined Gtown Bootcamp at the beginning of summer when the instructor, Jim Scott Polsinelli, offered a free class for Memorial Day. When I didn’t fully collapse after one week, I stuck with it to Labor Day and hope to continue at least until the first frost.

Why not longer? Here’s the good news and the bad news about boot camp: it’s guerilla fitness – outdoors and starting at or before dawn. A dawn workout is fine in the summer. The temps are easy and it’s glorious to watch the sun rise. But who knows in mid-November, when it will still be dark when camp ends, not to mention the likelihood of chill winds, ice or snow? I may turn out to be a fair weather boot camper.

Gtown Bootcamp operates like a rogue band of skateboard enthusiasts, finding our “spots” here and there in the urban landscape. We group at the same location each morning at 6 a.m., and then jog from there to the day’s location.
The bootcampers meet at Jim's car to unload exercise bands, weights and other equipment that might be needed for the day's workout.
Every boot camp begins with a run.
One morning it might be the Georgetown Waterfront Park for core work, including walloping a tire with a sledge hammer, another day a quiet back alley, Cady’s Alley, for medicine ball, agility, and speed drills, another day the waterfront Swedish Embassy for upper and lower torso work with box jumps, push ups, dips and squats.

A few times we’ve jogged along the Potomac River to the Lincoln Memorial, to hustle up and down the steps there. The most anticipated day of the week is Wednesday, when we tackle the notorious “Exorcist stairs.”
The "Exorcist stairs," looking up, at dawn.
The "Exorcist stairs," looking down. Tough but rewarding.
The "Exorcist stairs," an iconic piece of Georgetown film and fitness legend.
The “Exorcist stairs” got their name from the climactic scene of that classic film when a priest is hurled out of a window and down the 75 stairs. The scene was fake, but the stairs are very real, and steep, and popular with Georgetown’s extreme fitness buffs. In boot camp, we do 14 to 15 round trips.

At the top we do pull ups and at the bottom we do dips and push ups and lunges. There’s no question it’s a hard workout, the toughest of the week, but doable and rewarding.
.Jim demonstrates the move he wants from the campers ... "Do it like this," he says the long row of squats he's asked for.
The campers follow suit.
The campers follow the example.
Leg swings.
Time for push-ups. Four to five sets of 20.
Communing with nature while working through the push-ups.
We’ve confronted wild thunderstorms, and continued our workout under the Whitehurst Freeway. If it’s a light rain, we suck it up and do our crunches and planks in the rain. Grouping as we do in the morning’s dark, it’s not uncommon to dodge rats or to have them dodge us. Ditto garbage trucks. Such is urban life!
Stretching it out after warm up. Jim demonstrates a routine with his wife, Kelly Polsinelli.
In all, maybe 100 jumping jacks.
With strong rubber bands it's called a "see saw."
This a band twist, working deep into the core.
Not as easy as it looks.
Jim Polsinelli is in advertising in his day job. He’s not a drill sergeant. No shouting happens during our workout. He gives examples of what he wants us to do, guides us in the moves, and is a firm cheerleader, counting us down through five rotations of 25 crunches, push-ups and leg lifts.

There’s always a warm-up and a cool down. He sends boot camp members an email each Sunday night, outlining the week’s program and our spots.
This move has something to do with simultaneous squats and sit-ups. Jim, timing a move, "45 seconds to go."
Mountain-climbers (that's the name), and done lightning quick.
Crunches with hand weights.
Rapid high stepping, the knees after to hit the hands. More band work.
He also emphasizes nutrition. “Sure, we can sculpt your body and help you make you fitter in boot camp, but if you're not being disciplined about what goes into your mouth, you're not treating yourself right.”

He urges a balanced diet of fresh foods: “Keeping your cart to the perimeter of the grocery store while avoiding the aisles is a great way to protect your health. Food is perishable. The stuff with long shelf life is all suspect.”
An actual exercise, but gets rid of stress, too. "Pretend the tire is the boss," Jim says.
Time to stretch, relax.
Stretching it out.
Jim Scott Polisinelli, after an our of torturing his "camper.
Labor Day morning there were two boot camps underway on the Georgetown waterfront. Gtown Bootcamp, and then, down the way, Clarence Duhart, who has run a camp for 7 years. He does two a morning – 5:45 and 7:15. He says he has a “huge clientele.”

I’ve heard that various law firms, like Patton Boggs, offer an early morning boot camp for staff, and the Four Seasons Hotel does the same for its staff and interested hotel guests.
The Swedish Embassy, on the Georgetown waterfront, is a popular place to convene boot camps. This is CDFit Boot Camp.
Clarence Duhart gets his team warmed up.
Urban fitness in 2009.
The Georgetown Waterfront Park's "meditation walk" is also good for boot camps.
Cady's Alley, a good "spot" for sprints, medicine ball and lunges.
Georgetown's C&O Canal towpath, good for running and walking.
Unlikely though it may seem, Georgetown is an urban fitness hub, and the boot camps only add to the bounty of more conventional trainer programs that include Steve Kostorowski’s funky but elite Water Street Gym, Earl Williams’ low-key Definitions, where the only fee paid is to the trainers, and David Keller’s Fitness For Life.
The funky but elite Water Street Gym.
At each you’ll see Washington’s famous faces, sweating for reasons other than public opinion. There are hotel gyms and chain gyms, as well. For outdoor exercise with an adventurous twist, there’s getting out on the Potomac River in a kayak or canoe rented from decades-old and charming Jack’s Boathouse.
The supply of vessels at Jack's Boathouse in Georgetown.
Jack's has an undeniably charming waterside atmosphere.
Jack's son Frank now runs Jack's Boathouse, which opened in 1945.
The Potomac Boat Club's dock.
For me, for now, it’s the camping life. The hardest part of boot camp is answering the alarm at 5:30 in the morning. The best part is when it ends at 7, with everyone more wide-awake, the whole day is ahead and the coffee shops have hung their “open” signs.
Boot camp first, deli after. This is the Booeymonger on Prospect Street.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: caroljoynt.com.