Fitness boot camp takes no prisoners in shape-up effort

Military-style program in Jessup uses tough routine to whip clients into condition

Business profile Drop Zone

May 02, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

At 5:45 a.m. on a recent Monday, nine Drop Zone clients gathered at Soccerdome for a grueling, 75-minute military-style workout.

Tony Gourdin, 31, of Woodlawn woke up at 4:45 a.m. to get there on time. Maria Hernandez, 23, of Glen Burnie got up at 5 a.m.

"The first week was pretty hard," said Hernandez, who was starting her third week of the program. "I was pretty sore." But it was the good kind of sore, she said.

Steven Mahoney of Elkridge is able to sleep relatively late. He gets up at 5:30 every weekday morning to get to Jessup. Though he has been working out regularly, the 32-year-old said the military style of training at Drop Zone has helped him reach a new level of fitness.

"It's great," he said. "I feel awesome. I feel really good."

Michael Parrish, who is with the Army National Guard in a Special Forces training unit, led the session. Also serving as instructors are Vanessa Cooper, one of the trainers, and Cindy Jackson, owner of the company.

The group starts by running four laps around the indoor soccer field, then quickly moves on to abdominal work. Forget about "drop and give me 20." For Parrish, who is training to be a Green Beret, it is more like "drop and give me 50." And look sharp while you do it.

Though he does not berate anyone, he pushes -- hard. As the group gasps and groans through one abdominal exercise after another, Parrish barks "only 19 more" and "don't give up."

Then he demands 25 crunches. "Don't pull your head off," he said. "Remember, your elbows go toward your knees, not your knees toward your elbows."

Clients barely have time to gasp for breath and grab a sip of water before they are on to the next exercise.

This time, they are paired off. One person has boxing gloves, the other mitts. They combine sit-ups with punches. "Put some pop in those punches now," Parrish says.

Jackson, 44, who lives in Columbia, was a stay-at-home mom when she began taking classes with Parrish about a year and a half ago. Though she had been active, she said, she became addicted to the military-style training.

"I kind of got hooked on that style of training and started looking around for options," she said.

In November, she started Drop Zone, she said, renting space from the Soccerdome for the classes. Participants pay for four-week sessions, held on weekdays, with the price dropping after successful completion of each session.

Jackson said the regimen works by changing the focus and intensity so that different muscle groups are challenged. "The demand on the body is constantly changing, which produces better results in terms of overall fitness," she said.

By far, the most popular class is the one in the early morning, though she also offers a later-morning class and is about to start a class in the evening, she said.

"And by the way, if you don't show up, I'm going to call you," Jackson said.

Stephanie Donnelly, 45, who lives in North Laurel, has been coming to the Drop Zone for four weeks. She believes she will stick with this exercise program, even though she has dropped others.

"I feel differently about this," she said. "It's probably the people, too."

Jackson, who received certification through the National Personal Training Association, believes that the Drop Zone style of exercise is the reason she is in the best shape of her life. In March, she completed a 24-hour SEAL Adventure Challenge in Virginia Beach, Va., a program that allows civilians to undergo the rigorous physical challenges of Navy SEALS.

She swam cold water, marched for hours and completed complicated obstacle courses. Of 15 participants, she was the only woman, she said. "Not only did I complete it, but I did really well. There were all these guys there who were half my age."

Drop Zone sessions are held at Soccerdome, 7330 Montevideo Drive, Jessup. Information: 866-6-SCULPT, or www.

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