I Took A Combat Boot Camp Class And Barely Made It Out Alive
At the age of eighteen, I was grossly out of shape thanks to Dominoes 2-for-1 coupons and copious amounts of cheap beer. One afternoon, in an act of sheer boredom, I wandered into my college gym. I had zero idea what I was doing, my only source fitness knowledge being the Hulkamania Workout Set gifted to me as a child.
I just picked up free weights and started moving. I felt amazing at first then sore as all hell for about a week. But I was hooked. After a couple months the 20 melted off, plus another 10, and the following semester I won my weight class in a school-run bench press competition.
I’d spend at least an hour in the weight room, five days a week. The other two days I’d run, bike, or do anything to work up a sweat. After getting laid off from an office job I hated, I turned to exercise full time as a hobby and source of income and obtained a personal training certificate.
I’ve spent hours of my life in a gym. Total them all together and it would amount to years. Years of picking up, putting down, pushing, pulling, snatching, deadlifting, squatting and tossing around weight.
And now I hate it.
I don’t hate exercise. I hate the gym. I hate being inside a massive room with dumbbell (both the kind you lift and the type who workout) and benches and sweat and bars and I needed something new. I needed a challenge. I needed to prove to myself that all the years of lifting weights actually translated into real results.
I needed combat.
A co-worker has been babbling on for months about a combat fitness course. “It really tests your tolerance,” he claimed. I asked if he meant my tolerance for pain and he said “that and your tolerance to get yelled at when you’re not trying hard enough. Alex will rip you a new one.”
The Alex he was referring to is Alex Fell, a former US Marine. Alex was a forward observer with the infantry and was a member of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Demonstration Team. In 2004, Alex was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant. In his retirement, Alex has put thousands of people through the Marines training (or as close as legally possible) with his Warrior Fitness Boot Camp classes.
My coworker claimed the class was a test of mental and physical toughness. Physically, I can hold my own. Mentally, I just wasn’t sure. I packed a gym bag, laced up my new ASICS GEL-Quantum 360, and attempted to become a warrior.
Alex shouted out instructions while a second instructor, let’s just call him Bulldog, occasionally barked at the class to “stop f**cking dogging it” and “stop f**cking around.” Alex looks strikingly similar to Rob Riggle, also a former Marine. This lead me to believe the Marines either turns a normal man into Rob Riggle only enlists men who look like Rob Riggle. The second instructor looked like he chewed on rusty nails for roughage.
I made the same mistake at the onset of the class that I make at the beginning of any physical challenge or workout – I push it way too hard and think this is easy, only to meet a wall face first after ten minutes. After a few warm-up laps, the class was instructed to hit the steps up to the 12th floor. The classroom is on the 3rd floor. Math that up while I boast how I was the first to make it to the top — being closest to the door didn’t hurt — and the first back out onto the obstacle course. My inflated ego from being first carried my already burning from pain body most of the flights down. Hey, spoilers gang, it’s the last time I’d finish anything first for the next hour.
A few sets of 20+ push-ups, about a thousand jumping jacks, and a few random stair climbers later and the fact that I was doing this for work and these other people were PAYING TO DO THIS FOR EXERCISE crossed my mind. Especially Phil. Phil is the class slacker. Seemed like a nice guy, probably also fucking loaded with dough, but Phil was the reason the class usually had to do more push-ups, squats or anythings, because Steve couldn’t keep up. Steve was glad to see me even though we’d never met. I was just as gassed as him after the first ten minutes and my throbbing shoulders would at least hold some of the blame for the class doing additional reps.
“Fourteen! I can’t hear you!” Alex barked while Bulldog gnawed on a support column and spit paint chips at anyone not locking their arms on the up part of the push up. “Again! 14! Not good! 14!” And after the sixth time doing 14 I thought maybe I was hallucinating and Rob Riggle was delivering a punch line I wasn’t quite getting and OH 14! I get it now! That’s hilarious, Rob!
The second time up the nine flights of steps was a life changing experience because I started to hate my life. At least this moment of my life. A young Asian woman, barely pushing 100 pounds, wearing a weighted vest blew past me twice during laps and look, sometimes women are just better than guys at certain activities like she’s amazing in a boot camp obstacle course and I can name every WWE Royal Rumble winner since 1988. We all have our talents.
Finally, after hours of push-ups (How many hours? About 14! I stole your joke, Rob Riggle! This is us having a moment!) and other body weight exercises that lasted longer than a season of Breaking Bad, the troops finally hit the obstacle course.
I did well on the obstacle course. I completed it twice. I scaled every wall, hurdled every horse, swung from monkey bar to monkey bar and even grunted at the top of the rope climb the second time around. I was damn proud of myself and held my head up high during the three sets of 25 kettle bell squats because if I put my head down the vomit my have fallen out of my mouth and onto my ASICS GEL-Quantum 360.
My partner for the last fifteen minutes of class was Phil and I started to feel a bond with him, much in the same way soldiers feel a bond with each other in basic training. “We’ll get through this together, Phil!” I yelled at him in my mind. “And if we don’t, I hope I’m at least mentioned in your will after your wife and kids divvy up your trillions. “Hi, yeah, I’m Chris. We took a boot camp class together. He held my ankles while I pushed his feet down towards the floor for plank sit-ups. We were practically brothers. Are there two sets of keys to the Tesla?”
“Chris, are you a warrior?” Alex yelled from the front of the room during the final plank position at the end of class. When I pledged, my fraternity called it the thinking man pose, which made absolute sense in this situation because it took a few seconds to remember my name and realize he was asking me a question.
“Warrior!” I shouted. In my mind it sound more like “WATER!” but everything after the second time up the steps had been hazy.
I shook Alex’s hand on the way out the door, thanked him for making me feel like less of a man, and grabbed my gear from the locker room. My legs shook with every step down the steps to the ground level. The bag of gym gear felt like an anvil strapped to my (shoulder). The sidewalk was quicksand on the under-a-mile walk to the train station. I knew I’d be paying for this hour for the next week and not just because I gave them a check that might bounce.
If I get the chance to do it again, I might. I might even do it 14 times.
Once every year for the next 14 years.
Chris Illuminati is a senior editor for BroBible. Follow him on Instagram where he sweats much less.