CARLSBAD, CA — When you want to get fitter and slim down, you could join a gym, maybe hire a personal trainer. However, you can’t out exercise a bad diet, so you’ve also got to change your eating habits.
It’s no secret that intentions to get healthy are easy to break, which is why it might be time to do something a little extreme: sign up for a fitness camp.
It’s not only an excuse to travel, it’s also one of the best ways to jumpstart your path to a healthier lifestyle. But where should you go?
California, of course.
Along with being known as the land of the fit, the Golden State recently ranked as the fourth healthiest place in the nation, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and there are two California camps that exemplify why.
Above: Attendees at two California fitness camps are put through their paces in beautiful surroundings.
1- Ranch 4.0
It’s not yet noon, but my fitness tracker tells me I’ve already logged over 18,000 steps (as a point of reference, the average American and Canadian takes about 5,000 steps a day). Of course, I’ve just completed an 11km hike through hilly terrain, and that’s only the start. I still have a 30-minute workout on the beach — think high knee running, bear crawls and push-ups — to get through, not to mention a strength training and yoga class. But there is a reward to this work: an in-room massage.
While it may sound to some like I’ve descended into hell, I’m actually a guest at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, which is where Ranch 4.0 is based. It’s an extreme four-day fitness camp that functions as the sister arm of The Ranch Malibu, which runs seven and 10-day versions of this jumpstart.
Camp begins, however, before I even arrive, as each participant is sent a four-week prep program. Each week has specific instructions on eating and exercising, all in an effort to get us ready for the gruelling four days facing us.
As the weeks progress, the instructions become a little more intense. For example, by week four, I’m supposed to be taking 16,000 steps four days and 18,000 steps another day; eliminating all coffee, tea, soft drinks and alcohol; and increasing my intake of vegetarian-only meals.
Once I get to the Four Seasons — it’s located next to the California Health & Longevity Institute — I’m whisked into a Bod Pod machine to measure my body fat. I do a VO2 max test to determine my cardiorespiratory fitness. I meet with one of the instructors to run through my results and set my goals. I then do a short but strenuous 45-minute hike on nearby trails with a few of the camp’s trainers and three other guests, most of whom are there to lose weight.
And then it’s down to business. Although I slumber each night at the Four Seasons, logging the best nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time, Ranch 4.0 has a charming greenhouse on the property, which is where our meals are served. Ranch 4.0 dishes out organic, plant-only goodness to the tune of 1,400 calories a day (although if weight loss isn’t your goal, that can be adjusted).
Each day starts early — usually at 6 a.m. with a morning stretch — and ends in time for me to hit the hay by 9 p.m. During that time, the day consists of about eight hours of low-impact exercise, including a roughly four-hour group hike each morning with scenery so stunning that I take many moments at times just to be mindful. The hike is sandwiched between breakfast and lunch, and group fitness classes and a yoga class occupy the afternoon with some time built in for a short nap.
The last day, we meet for a discussion about how to transition back into the real world. It will no doubt be a tough entry, as our rooms didn’t have TVs and we were encouraged to unplug during the experience, not to mention that we’ve been weaned off caffeine, sugar and salt for over a month now.
Even though I had already signed onto a plant-only diet and have been an athlete since I was a kid, it’s clear that while four days isn’t enough to cement a habit, it’s enough to plant the seed.
For me, it’s the push I’ve needed to prioritize sleep.
Above: A healthy lifestyle starts with healthy farm-to-table meals that these camps serve up.
2- Premier Fitness Camp
As clichéd as this sounds, in the few seconds I’ve been at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, I can already feel my stress dissipating. I haven’t even yet been introduced to Premier Fitness Camp (PFC), which has its own facility at the back of the resort, but the natural beauty has already put me at ease.
Yet I’m not here for peace and relaxation, although it’s hard not to find both as you walk the resort’s sprawling campus, hummingbirds darting in and out of the massive amounts of flowers.
Instead, I’m here to challenge my fitness level, which is somewhat different than many of the guests who choose weight loss as their primary goal.
On Monday, everybody undergoes a blood, fitness and body assessment, and then each camp has a different schedule each day.
At many times, though, activities from one track overlap with others so that you may meet other campers at meals.
The days all have a rhythm to them, and I easily slip into the schedule, enjoying my vegan breakfast (PFC focuses on real foods, eating as close to the earth as possible) before heading out for a hike. I’m guaranteed at least five hours of intense activity every day, and the hikes on neighbouring area trails — cross your fingers you’re taken to the Daley Ranch trails, which offer some challenging ascents — certainly fit that requirement.
The program is balanced out with educational meetings with the nutrition and fitness staff and fitness classes at PFC’s high-end fitness centre.
One day, for instance, I do a Pilates class followed by a stretch class. Another day I do something called the push workout, which even as a personal trainer I’ve never heard of.
Another day I do a challenging workout on a treadmill, its power off.
The schedule here, though, is a little more relaxed than at Ranch 4.0, and I have time to slip away to explore the area. I make my way into Encinitas where I visit the farmers' market, take a walk on the beach and pop into some vegan-only eateries.
But I don’t leave the resort for long, especially since I’ve found the perfect environment not only to get my fitness on but also de-stress. I take it a step further by joining a 30-minute guided group meditation at the Chopra Center, also located at the resort. I let Mother Nature be my guide as I sit outside near one of the resort’s gardens. I’ve come full circle.
When I leave, I am, quite frankly, a happy camper.