Fitcamps are springing up everywhere, but what do they offer that you can’t get from a personal trainer or going to the gym yourself? Are they really worth the money? I put one to the test to find out.
A few months ago, I was asked to review a bootcamp called FitFarms. According to its marketing, it focuses on sustainable weight loss, and had been crowned the UK’s number one fitness camp by the Sunday Times, which left me expecting quite a lot.
I arrived at Derby station a little early and hopped into the Costa coffee for a latte. What I should have done was had a cake and stocked up on a couple of back-up nibbles for the week of training ahead, but then hindsight is a great thing...
I joined a mish-mash of nervous ladies getting loaded into a people carrier. The first person I met, also a Sharon, was having her first holiday away from her kids. Another had come all the way from Germany, and two had travelled from the UAE.
In case it isn’t immediately obvious, it was a women-only fitness retreat although, FitFarms do run camps that are for men only and ones that are mixed too.
A half-hour journey later, we all arrived at the FitFarm village in Staffordshire, to much better accommodation than I had expected.
I had a large en-suite double room, in a house with four others. One of the ladies was there for her second year in a row and I had some of the best laughs with the ladies back in the house who really made the week one to smile about.
The first night
After finding a range of herbal teas in the house kitchen, I had a sneaky suspicion caffeine would be off the menu for the week, but this was only the start of it.
All the FitFarmers – or fat campers as we jokingly named ourselves – met up in the kitchen which was to be our place for grasping moments of happiness for the week ahead.
We were given a talk about what lay ahead in the next seven days and given a look at the menu. It all sounded pretty nice to be honest, and: why wouldn’t it? It was being freshly prepared for us by a French chef and all we had to do was turn up and eat.
The alarm went off at 6am, I threw on my gym clothes, scraped my hair back and trundled over to the meeting point where we had allotted times to be measured and weighed. The trainers who are with you the whole week, weigh you back in at the end where you learn if the effort was really worth it.
At 7am we were off to our fitness training, something that would be a daily feature for the next seven days. The hour session was a bit of an eye-opener for some who hadn’t exercised for years but as someone who exercises a few times a week, really it was just a bit of light aerobics.
At 8am breakfast arrived: a small bowl of muesli. But much to my surprise there was coffee with a limit of one cup each. Still, this was oddly enough despite my five-cup-a-day habit.
Breakfast wasn’t filling and all the portion sizes in the room were different depending on your weigh in. As I was relatively slim, my portion size was 25 per cent bigger than everyone else’s, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I’m really not sure how the others survived on so little, but after moaning about how hungry I was all of the time and surveying the other women’s appetites, they all seemed content enough.
For me, the six hours of daily exercise was fine. On the face of it, this sounds a lot but it’s not army-style fitness where you’re pushed to the limit: it’s gentle.
Personally, I could have been stretched further but on the flip side, there were women there who had not touched their toes for years so the trainers’ had to cater to the masses.
Where I really struggled though was the food. Don’t get me wrong, every meal was delicious, but there just wasn’t enough for me and by day four I found myself really hitting the wall over dinner.
I realised I needed more food than this and mentioned it to the staff. After a couple of days, my luck came in and one of the staff gave me a pack of six oatcakes.
I seemed to be the only one who was so hungry though– or at least the only one who was admitting it.
Even more tragic, I made those six oatcakes last the next three days, eating them nibble by nibble hidden and hidden in my wardrobe for when I hit the wall!
Not pigging out and accepting that eating little and often is a good way to balance your sugar levels was my "lightbulb moment", as the FitFarm describe it, and there were many of them had by my fellow fitfarmers too.
For most of the ladies, it was getting their bodies used to moving again, whether it was at the Zumba classes, yoga, pilates, circuits, swimming or walking.
This is the day all the fitfarmers are waiting for and there were some surprises as well as disappointments.
The biggest weight loss of our group was 6lbs which when you think about it is a lot to lose in a week.
My personal weight loss was 3lbs: more would have been nice but then on a smaller frame, would more have been sustainable?
And this is the mission of FitFarm: helping people sustain a healthier life through long-lasting weight loss.
When you leave the camp there is an online forum for the fitfarmers to stay in touch and support each other, and many do.
You’re also sent off with recipes so you can recreate the menus at home. The rest is up to you.
So is it worth the money? Well with shared rooms priced at £1,095 and single rooms at £1,495, it certainly isn’t cheap. If you have been putting off exercising for a long-time and need support and structure to make your lifestyle a healthier one, then it will set you on the track for that.
It’s also well suited to those who are not confident enough to go to a gym and are more self-conscious about their bodies and fitness as it offers a supportive environment.
However, if you’re reasonably fit and are looking to be pushed to your limit, personal training sessions or a tougher army-style boot camp (of which I’ve done both) may be a better alternative for you.