Going to the Extreme: Chicagoans get fit

January 13, 2011 10:00:00 PM PST
Each week, a growing group of Chicago-area residents heads to boot camp -- a workout class offered by Kobra Fitness. It's one of several more extreme fitness programs gaining in popularity, as people resolve to become more healthy.

Students say this particular boot camp lives up to its name -- and then some.

"Pure, hard-core working out. I'm a retired veteran from the United States Navy, and boot camp there was fine. This boot camp, to me, is actually harder than the boot camp was in the Navy," student Ramona Cheatham said.

Kobra Fitness owner and instructor DeWayne Montgomery says he uses traditional and non-traditional workout programs to confuse the body.

"So, a lot of times, you may see some things in the class and be like, 'Oh my God, I can't do that.' But this is what it's all about, first, taking the mind, and then, transitioning the mind to help the body to do things that you never thought you could do," Montgomery said.

As a result, many boot camp students say they have experienced significant weight loss.

"I started here at Kobra Fitness in September. I'm already down 23 lbs. That shows you how extreme it is," Cheatham said.

The setting is also a bit unusual. Kobra Fitness classes are held in a rather dark, bare warehouse in the city's Chinatown neighborhood. No TVs, plush carpeting or cushy ambience like you might find at popular gyms.

Montgomery says the warehouse environment forces students to focus on the workout itself.

"We're just trying to bring something more raw, kind of like a direct approach, you may want to call it," said Montgomery. "Just get you out of that comfort zone. Bring it. Bring it hard. And our motto is, 'If ain't tight, ain't right.'"

The Kobra Fitness boot camp also has another feature that sets it apart. A live DJ tailors music to the energy and intensity of each class.

"This boot camp is worth coming to just for the music. If you like house music, if you like any kind of music, you should be at this boot camp because it really gets you going. After you're having a hard time, a good song will come on, and then, you've got a lot more energy," student Katie Ellis said.

"People hear, 'Bootcamp? A live DJ? Who does that?' People really get pumped up about that," said Montgomery.

The instructor also says boot camp classes are becoming more popular in the fitness industry. Examples of some other classes available to Chicago-area residents are listed below.

When asked if they would continue to attend boot camp class, Cheatham and another Kobra Fitness student, Shaunda Luther said, "Absolutely!"

"We love it," said Cheatham. "We'll come every day, every day it's available."

Current students say the class is difficult, but newcomers just have to stick with it.

"It's basically like anything. If you continue to work at it and put effort in it, you will get better at it. I see some of the senior people in the class, maybe the people that have been here for a while, and I see where they are, and I know if I can't get there, I can get close. So, if you stop, you definitely won't get any results for sure," student Saladeen Muhammad told ABC7 Chicago.com.

After such a tough workout, boot camp students tend to cool down, but across town, another group of students likes to heat things up -- to 105 degrees. That's how hot it is inside a Bikram Yoga -- also known as hot yoga -- studio.

This particular type of yoga is named for its creator, Bikram Choudhury.

The owner of Chicago's Bikram Yoga in the City, Mike Frayer, says Bikram began heating his studio after noticing a greater tendency toward injury during the winter.

"So, he thought, we'll just make it how it is at home in India, 105, 110 degrees. No injuries. No more problems," Frayer said.

Students say it takes about 10 classes to get used to the extreme heat.

"At the beginning, I was like, 'Oh my God, what are these people doing? This is so weird,'" yoga student Carrie Havranek said. "But what Bikram says [is] it's kind of like a blacksmith shop. You've got to heat the metal up before you bend it. Otherwise, there's more chances of injury."

Bikram Yoga classes also last longer than many other workout classes. Students endure the hot studio for an hour and a half -- so they can work everything, head to toe.

"Just an overall a great body workout. I used to be a runner, but now I don't even run anymore because I love yoga," said student Natalie Mansch.

During each class, instructors guide students though 26 poses, some of which are difficult to hold.

"Bikram is famous for instructing students to lock the knee, make the leg solid," Frayer said. "Practicing it over and over again, you develop confidence in yourself because you're locking the knee or doing these postures that, maybe just a short time ago, you couldn't do."

Frayer also says his students have experienced more tangible health benefits like relief from aches and pains and, of course, weight loss.

"What happens when you put butter in a hot frying pan? Same thing happens with the fat. [If] you come regularly and consistently, people notice almost right away, the difference. The waist band feels a little looser," he said.

Although Bikram Yoga in the City usually sees an increase in enrollment around the new year, Frayer says most students tend to keep it up.

"Just sweating it out makes you feel like you did something good with your day," said Manch. "To start, you just have to come, stay in the room for 90 minutes. It might sound scary or intimidating, but once you get your first class under your belt, you're fine."

"It's one of those things where you have to stop and be like, 'That's not real. What I'm telling myself is not really reality. I'm going to be fine. I'm not going to die right here, right now. I'm going to be fine," Havranek said.

Health experts advise checking with your doctor before beginning any new workout regimen.

Featured in this story:

Kobra Fitness
2147 S. Lumber St. Unit 219
Chicago, IL 60616

Bikram Yoga in the City
219 West Chicago Ave. 6th Fl.

For more information on Bikram Yoga and other studios where the classes are offered, visit the Studio Locator at www.bikramyoga.com.

Examples of other boot camp fitness classes listed in Chicago:

Northside Chicago Adventure Bootcamp
2141 W Crystal St
Chicago, IL 60622

Lincoln Park BootCamp and Yoga
Stockton Street
Chicago, IL 60614

The Bootcamp Express
1515 W Berwyn
Chicago, IL 60640

Digital Bootcamp
25 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654

D3: Dre's Diesel Dome aka D3 Boot Camp
125 E 26th St
Chicago, IL 60686

Bulldog Bootcamp Co
441 South Blvd
Oak Park, IL 60302

The Boot Camp Guy, LLC
9715 South Oakley
Chicago, IL 60643

The Total Body Boot Camp
456 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60614