Your Health

Foothill Boot Camp celebrates 20th year of early-morning workouts


Courtesy of Steve Smith
Participants in the Foothill Boot Camp work out pool-side on the Foothill College campus. Class members, who range in age from 40 to 70, work out five days a week at 6 a.m.

Waking up before dawn to attend a rigorous exercise class five days a week isn’t for everyone, but it certainly suits members of the Foothill Boot Camp.

For the handful of diehards from Los Altos who have participated in the class for more than a decade, it’s a habit. They actually prefer the 6 a.m. start time.

“Getting the workout done early in the morning sets the right tone and mood for the day,” Arnold Ambiel said.

Steve Smith – who co-founded the class 20 years ago – added that after the morning workout is over, “the rest of one’s day is easy.”

Through the early-morning classes – which include weightlifting, shooting hoops and running around Foothill College’s Los Altos Hills campus – they’ve developed a tight-knit community. Many members cited their close bond as a reason for the class’s longevity.

“I think everyone wants to attend this boot camp because … it is a positive environment and there is a strong sense of community in the class that creates that feel,” said instructor James Herrera, a Los Altos Hills resident.

The group – whose members range in age from 40 to 70 – is so close that they spend time together outside class. Through events such as parties and hikes, “we have become quite a social group,” Kathy Marshall said.

However, none of this would have happened without Smith and Leonard Spelt, who organized the group in 1998. Before that, Timeout Services ran the boot camp at Foothill. When it raised the price of the class, Smith said he went to Foothill’s dean of athletics and proposed starting a low-cost boot camp with Spelt. The dean agreed and hired an instructor.

According to Ambiel, Smith and Spelt have guided the program through several versions and instructors, turning it into a “very sustainable and well-respected part of the early-morning exercise activities at Foothill College.”

Varied workouts

The early start time and positive environment are not the only reasons the camp has lasted 20 years, members said. The variety of workouts keeps members engaged and entertained, Smith said. Participants also like that they can work out at their own pace.

“You don’t have to think about what you are doing, as the instructor has that all planned out,” Julie Heidmann said. “Each day is different, so you don’t get bored with the same exercises. You also don’t feel like you’re in a meat market where everyone is watching what you are doing. You can go at your own pace and don’t feel like you’re being watched by everyone.”

Herrera said he chooses workouts that include cardio and resistance exercises to challenge attendees and minimize the risk of injury. He runs three- and five-day-a-week classes; the former focuses on weightlifting and resistance bands, while the latter emphasizes running and walking exercises, with the occasional basketball drills.

“My overall fitness, strength and stamina have all improved as a result of boot camp,” Marshall said. “This leaves me with more energy to get through my day, less stress and better quality sleep.”

Smith added, “The impact to our lifestyles has been amazingly positive. We are in such great shape compared to our peers. … I do believe it’s added 20 years of high-quality living to my life.”

To register for the Foothill Boot Camp ($135 for the three-day class and $225 for the five-day class per quarter), visit foothill.edu/community- education and click “Browse Courses.”

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