Courier News Online Basic Training

Courier News Online Basic Training

Buff up boot-camp style — boot-camp fitness comes to Central Jersey. Find out what it is and why it works.


Darkness shrouds the grounds at Gill St. Bernard’s School in Gladstone. Dozens of sweatsuit-clad women gather outside the gym’s entrance, gear bags slung over their shoulders.

“I’d have worn my parka if I’d known we’d be locked out,” said a blonde woman of about 40 as she hops in place to ward off the 25-degree chill.

It’s 5:20 a.m. on Day Two of New Jersey Adventure Boot Camp for Women. Instructor Valerie Pawlowski of Peapack glanced around for alternative props. A park bench, a set of stairs, a railing and a wall will do if the janitor doesn’t show up.

“Give me a rubber band and a ball, and I’ll give you a workout,” she said later. “No way I’m sending them home with no exercise.”

Soon the door is unlocked and the campers file in.

“Laps first,” Pawlowski barked as she flipped on a portable CD player. “Get those muscles warmed up.”

The women drop their gear and begin circling the gym’s perimeter at paces that vary from brisk walk to full trot.

Now in its sixth month, the camp has grown from a core group of 10 to its current roster of 43.

“We have a mother-daughter and another woman who brought her nanny,” Pawlowksi said. Participants range in age from 17 to 63, and fitness levels vary from novice to well-conditioned.

“When we do the pre-evaluation, we hear a lot of talk about what they used to do,” Pawlowksi said. “For one reason or another, their exercise habits were interrupted.”

Administrative assistant Stephanie Maione, 44, worked out regularly until 10 years ago “when I gave it up for the mommy schedule.”

“OK, is everybody warm?” Pawlowksi asked. “Time to stretch.” She took them through a few limbering exercises. “Anybody sore from yesterday?” Pawlowksi asked. Lots of affirmative groans. “I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs the first night,” Maione said later.

Pawlowksi left her job at a television station to become a personal trainer, her full-time career for the past nine years. She took up weightlifting and won the 1998 New Jersey Natural Bodybuilding Championship. These days, the 42-year-old competes in mountain-biking races and triathlons.

The Adventure Boot Camp program originated in Southern California in the late 1990s. The format enables Pawlowksi to help more women than she can with one-on-one training. In addition, her orientation experience gave her firsthand knowledge of the restorative powers of exercise.

“I flew out there last June for the training seminar. I was just out of rehab (for arthroscopic knee surgery) and was worried how I’d hold up, but the workouts made the knee all better.” Ten of her training clients became her first boot camp class in August. Word spread rapidly.

Pawlowksi then took her pupils through a series of lunges.

“Hips upright. Think of your pelvis as a bucket. Don’t spill anything,” Pawlowksi said. “Strong abs, strong back.” Next come the squats. “Stay down this time — 10, 9, 8 . . . .” After each exercise, campers ran across the gym and back. Some took a full sprint, others walked briskly.

Why spend more than the cost of an iPod and awaken before the rooster if you can’t do all of the exercises?

“If (the less fit) get up at that hour and move around for the time that they’re here, that’s more than they’re used to doing,” Pawlowksi said. Everyone who is putting in her maximum effort will benefit from the workout they receive during the hour, she explained.

A Division III basketball player in college, 33-year-old Sara Boisvert of Bernards exercises five times a week.

“I’m used to more cardiovascular work,” said the private-school admissions director, “but I’m sore, no question.”

The class lined up along the far end of the gym for wall squats, a particularly taxing endurance test for the upper leg.

“Breathe!” Pawlowksi yelled. “Keep the weight on your heels.” Next, the class did side lunges across the gym and sprints back.

Program literature discusses “expected results,” such as a 3- to 5-percent reduction in body fat, a 1 to 3-inch decrease in the midsection and 5 to 12 pounds of weight loss. The camp gives basic nutritional information and encourages students to use it to develop better eating habits.

“I saw one of the women in the supermarket, so I snuck up behind her and said, ‘I’m always watching. What’s in your cart?’ ” she laughed.

After reverse pushups on a 10-count, campers pulled out their dumbbells for triceps curls. “…7, 8, 9, 10,” Pawlowksi counted. “Can you feel that?” Many yeses, several nos. “OK, let’s do it again.” Groans emerge from the class. “Who said ‘no?’ ” one camper jokingly demanded.

While the exercises are regimented and the hour of day brings bugle calls to mind, this isn’t Parris Island.

“There are a few boot camps where somebody goes to your office, gets into your face and makes you drop and do pushups,” Pawlowksi said. “I’ve always preferred a more positive approach.”

Her students concur.

“She keeps you guessing about what comes next, and makes it a lot of fun,” Maione said. “After you’re done with this class, you can go to the track and come up with things to do based on what you’ve learned.”

It didn’t take long for the Mendham resident to become a believer. She’s already signed up for the next camp.

“I’m hooked,” she said.

A few bicycle kicks (” … 3, 2, 1″), and the hour is up. Pawlowksi congratulated her charges.

“Great work. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Tomorrow is hike day!”

For more information, visit the New Jersey Adventure Boot Camp for Women Web site at, call (800) 940-9149 or send an e-mail to

from the Courier News website