Body Camp

Bring your athletic skills to the next level. Take your body and mind on a learning adventure. Attention campers: Your fitness-immersion experience is about to begin.

By age 34, Scott Rosen was an accomplished triathlete. He had overcome a reconstructed ACL, trained smart and held his own in a string of challenging triathlons. But in 1999, as he prepared for his first Ironman-distance race in 2000 – a grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile run – Rosen decided to enlist some extra help.

“I wanted to take a hard look at what I was doing,” says the senior business-development manager in Swampscott, Mass. “I knew I’d finish the race, but I didn’t know how well I’d be likely to do.”

So Rosen, now 42, decided to enroll himself in a weekend Ironman training camp being offered in Chicago through Multisports.com. Over the weekend, the trainers there helped Rosen and others fine-tune their performance by analyzing their swim technique, running gait and cycling form, as well as testing their anaerobic threshold and calculating their personal sweat rates.

Rosen learned a lot he could put to use. After a few minor bike adjustments, for example, he found he could ride for a longer distance in the “aero” (aerodynamic) position. He also learned to make his swim stroke more efficient. And by working with his coach-counselors and fellow campers, he sorted out a nutrition plan for the event and developed a race strategy.

“When I got to the race, I had a plan. I knew exactly what I was going to do,” Rosen says. He was pleased with his finishing time of 14:04:07 and attributed his accomplishment, at least in part, to the takeaway lessons he learned at the camp.

It’s worth noting, though, that you don’t have to be facing world-class competition to sign yourself up for a sport-camp experience. Perhaps you’re keen on exploring a new athletic endeavor, or simply interested in getting more invested in a fitness-oriented lifestyle. These camps (sometimes referred to as fitness or sports retreats) come in every shape and size, from weekend seminars that teach sports-specific technical skills to weeklong retreats that combine fitness training with nutritional education, yoga and other healthy-living activities.

Some promise to improve your race time, while others are designed to expand your awareness of health and how it relates to other aspects of your life. They do share some common traits, however: coaching by top experts and athletes, the camaraderie of other adult campers who share your athletic passion – and total immersion, even for just a few days, into the rarified world of focused health-and-fitness training.

“The goal of camp is to learn, to expand your horizons,” says Paul Huddle, a former professional triathlete and part owner of Multisports.com. “It’s certainly not going to make you fit in five days, but it will teach you how to get fit.”

Beginners Welcome

Sports camps recognize that not all their athlete-campers are intent on capturing a prize purse; some simply want to cross the finish line with confidence. That’s why most training companies offer beginner- or intermediate-level programs that can help novice endurance-sports athletes reach their goals. For example, coaches at the triathlon camps offered by Carmichael Training Systems (owned by Lance Armstrong’s longtime coach, Chris Carmichael) teach first-time triathletes basic but vital tips, like the art of transitioning from one event to another.

Other camps focus intently on building a particular skill. Total Immersion’s (TI’s) two-day freestyle swimming workshops, for instance, appeal to triathletes and swimmers of all levels, says operations director Keith Woodburn. Sessions begin with a video analysis of each participant’s swimming style before proceeding to drills focused on stroke efficiency. By the end of the second day, campers have learned a new approach to whole-stroke swimming.

Taking a broader approach, Women’s Quest fitness retreats blend the training expertise of sports camps with the user-friendly format of active vacations. Founded by former world-champion triathlete Colleen Cannon and drawing upon the coaching skills of former professional and Olympian female athletes, these retreats offer what Cannon calls a “gentler way” to improve fitness. “We know that it’s not just about being super-fit, that you want to be super-healthy,” she explains.

Each Women’s Quest retreat is centered around one or more sports activities – road cycling, mountain biking and skate-skiing are popular options – and includes daily yoga and other activities, such as nutrition seminars, art projects and life-coaching workshops.

This range of activities appealed to Melissa Rankin, 35, a mom and part-time realtor from New Bern, N.C., who attended a Women’s Quest Napa Valley cycling trip in 2006 with three friends of varying fitness levels. Rankin had run three marathons and completed one mini-triathlon, but wanted to improve her cycling skills. Her friends were less athletic, but each had her own fitness goal.

Rankin was placed into a “pod” of riders with similar abilities and fitted with a road bike complete with toe clips (her first experience with them). Her pod rode about 40 miles a day (stopping at wineries along the way). Less-seasoned participants did 15 miles a day; a group of more-accomplished athletes rode 100 miles a day.

Rankin enjoyed that range of experience. “I became much less intimidated by world-class athletes,” she says. “The women we met were real people; they were moms; they had lives just like we did.”

After returning home, she began cycling more often. And in October, she’ll do a two-day, 150-mile ride to benefit multiple sclerosis. “I would never have thought I could do this if I hadn’t gone to Women’s Quest,” she says.

Beyond Sports

Bill Francis, a 45-year-old endodontist and martial-arts instructor in Aptos, Calif., says the three-day Sport and Spirit, Connect the Power retreat he attended in 2004 (then called “Fit Body, Fit Soul”) completely changed his approach to training – as well as his outlook on how fitness fits into his life.

The retreat blends training and nutrition advice from Mark Allen – the six-time Ironman champion whom Outside magazine once called “the world’s fittest man” – and the health and life philosophies of the Huichol Indians of northern Mexico, as taught by shaman Brant Secunda.

Allen’s approach was life-changing for Francis. “Mark completely changed my perspective,” he explains. “He talked about patience and working within your limits, and allowing your body to catch up to your goals.”

A recreational mountain biker and runner, Francis says the retreat taught him to train with a heart-rate monitor and to pay more attention to his body’s signals. “I was pushing myself too hard, and my body wasn’t responding,” he says. This new technique helped him take his riding to a new level.

The retreat also gave Francis the confidence to compete in martial-arts tournaments, something he hadn’t attempted in many years. “Here I was, this middle-aged guy back out on the mat. I was 43, fighting 25-year-old guys,” he says. “I think my record was 18-and-2 that summer. That was amazing for me.”

Today, Francis is content teaching other martial artists. He says he feels fulfilled by the fitness balance he’s attained. “The retreat let me look at my life and say, ‘I deserve to be fit, I deserve to be happy, and I deserve to have my professional career be fruitful,'” he says. “Realizing this allowed me to take time for myself and to make the quality of my life better.”

Not bad for a few days’ commitment. Interested in signing up for a sports camp yourself? Check out “Camp Connections” for some ideas to get you started. Decide on the vibe, skill and activity level that’s right for you. Then pack up your gear – and get camping.

WEB EXTRA!

Sports Campin'

In case the camps we covered in the first sidebar didn’t pique your interest, check out the following.

Amansala Bikini Boot Camp: Held in Tulum, Mexico, these six-night getaways offer “a combination of exercise, healthy eating, adventure, relaxing and pampering”; www.amansala.com

Canyon Ranch: This health resort with locations in Tucson, Ariz., Miami Beach, Fla., and Chicago, Ill., offers retreat packages that combine fitness, nutrition and spa treatments; www.canyonranch.com

Las Olas Surf Safaris: These surfing camps in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., are designed especially for women; www.surflasolas.com

Snowperformance: A high-performance snow-sports school that offers camps all over the world for intermediate to expert skiers; www.snowperformance.com

Phil Campbell’s Speed Camp: Held most often in Jackson, Tenn., or Menlo Park, Calif., participants attend a two-day camp where they learn techniques for running a faster 40-yard dash; www.40speed.com

Kelle Walsh is a journalist based in northern California.

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