Mini-Experiment: Manual Resistance Training [Plus: Boot Camp With a Real Sergeant!]

by Charlotte on May 5, 2011 · 40 comments


Allison, Sgt. Peterson and I post-workout (hence my sweaty bangs!)

“Is there any exercise you hate?”

“Burpees.”

“Oh good, we have lots of those in the workout today!” And that was my introduction to Sergeant Peterson of the eponymous Sergeant Peterson’s Boot Camp.

When Sergeant Tim Peterson (he was in both the Air Force and Army) first contacted me about trying out his program – I believe his exact words were “You can’t say you’ve tried everything until you’ve tried my boot camp” – I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even though I’ve done all kinds of boot camps with all kinds of instructors this would be the first time I would be doing one with an actual drill sergeant.

I don’t know about you but when I think “drill sergeant” I think yelling, whistles and Jillian Michaels clinging to my back like a deranged monkey while I push-up until I puke. (Feces flinging may also be involved – I have a terribly vivid imagination.) So imagine my surprise when the heavily muscled and tattooed Sgt. Peterson sat me down for a little heart-to-heart before we got started. We went through my fitness history, my goals, my mental and physical motivations – there was a moment when he asked me a third “But why do you feel that way?” that I had to answer, “With all the therapy I’ve had in my life, you’d think I’d have a good answer for that. But I don’t.” He’d exhausted even my considerable ability for self-examination. I was impressed.

Gym Buddy Allison was paired up with a firecracker trainer of her own and Sgt. Peterson started me off with some warm-up drills. As I started banging out some push-ups I heard him say softly, “Okay good. A little lower. There, perfect. Great form.” Wha…? Where was the yelling? The whistle blowing in my ear? The puke bucket?? (Although secretly I’m a little proud that a real sergeant told me I have good push-up form.) “You’re making that look a little too easy though.” And then I felt his hands on my shoulders. Pushing down. Suddenly those push-ups were excruciating. The harder I pushed up, the harder he pushed down. “Just five more,” he said in that same even voice. Five?! I wasn’t sure I could even do one more. He kept the pressure just enough to where I could get up but still had to fight for every single rep. “Great job!” he said as I collapsed on the floor, glimpsing Allison in the same agony out of the corner of my eye. As he helped me up he asked, “Dizzy?”

YES. “No.”

The rest of the workout continued in the same vein: step-ups, back extensions, tricep dips, sit-ups, shoulder presses – all with the Sarge adding extra resistance on the last few reps. The hardest moment was doing static lunges with my back knee an inch off the floor and him leaning down on my shoulders. As I felt every fiber in my glute and quad contract I decided I probably would’ve preferred Jillian – at least she’s lighter. When we got to pull-ups I was freaking out. “I can only do one from a dead hang, without any added resistance,” I explained. I was having nightmarish visions of those guys that rip out pull-up after pull-up with a 45-lb plate chained to their waist, clinking like Jacob Marley on ‘roids.

“You can do more than that,” he said quietly. (Seriously, no yelling! None!) As I set out to prove him wrong, I felt him give me a little boost up. He helped me! I did 5 assisted pull-ups. “See?” he smiled again. Nicest drill sergeant ever.

“What do you call that pushing-down technique?” I asked him afterward as he contorted me into different stretches on what looked like a massage table (his verdict: I’m too flexible for assisted stretching). I was intrigued because I have done a lot of workouts in my time and I’ve never had anyone do that before.

“Manual resistance to acute muscle failure.” I had him repeat it like five times and even now I’m not sure I got the words in the right order but you get the idea. “It’s a way to get you to muscle failure faster and harder than you could on your own.” True that. I freaking loved it. I loved it so much that on Monday I tried it out on Gym Buddies Krista and Megan. It worked so well that we didn’t even snicker as we yelled “Do me! Harder!” across the weight floor to each other.

Manual Resistance Training, as explained by strength coach Scott Greenwalt in an interview with Stack magazine:

“An alternative to conventional forms of strength training with weights, manual resistance is performed with a partner who provides force throughout the entire range of motion. Benefits gained cannot be achieved with standard weightlifting. The athlete performing the exercise can exert maximum effort into each rep, because his partner controls the amount of resistance, increasing or decreasing it to match the athlete’s strength capability throughout the set. With manual resistance, the partner provides steady resistance in the opposite direction throughout the whole range of motion. Because of this, you can work through different angles of resistance rather than in a fixed plane. With weights, resistance is always directed toward the floor, regardless of where you are in the movement. Bonuses of manual resistance exercises: you can perform them without equipment, in the confines of your home, and you can replicate nearly all non-explosive weightlifting movements.”

In the end, we only got a taste of what Sgt. Peterson’s boot camp was like (Allison and I got dreadfully lost and so were late – in our defense, his boot camp is housed in an industrial warehouse fronted by an art gallery.) but I really liked it. First, I learned something new and really useful. (You totally want to try manual resistance now, don’t you?) Second, I really liked his style; as I’ve mentioned before I really do not like being yelled at but I do like being pushed and that’s a fine line for most fit pros to walk. Third, all of the trainers working for him were women; I think a lot of girls are afraid to try a  boot camp because it seems so masculine but watching these super fit girls doing the coaching was inspiring not intimidating. Lastly, as we were walking out, a woman wearing a pink bunny suit, complete with construction paper ears, came in for her class. Sgt. Peterson explained, “We like shenanigans around here.” Shenanigans. My kind of gym! If you live in the Minneapolis area, San Francisco or Apollo Beach, Florida then you definitely need to give this one a try!

Do you like boot camp type classes? What’s your workout style – does in-your-face yelling motivate you better or do you prefer a gentler approach? When you come into a new gym, do you notice if the trainers are men or women and if so, do you care either way?

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

thea May 5, 2011 at 10:34 pm

You have peeked my curiosity. I’ve always been too scared to try any bootcamp classes, although I’m always very interested. Your Jillian fears are in par with mine. Add a real life drill sergeant, and I’m not sure I’d make it through the first five minutes. My trainer always sort of sassed/ killed me with sarcasm/ mild insults into pushing myself. No yelling though. I’d swear and call her a masochist, so we were even in my book. :)

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Oooh I love me a sassy trainer!! And you should totally try a bootcamp:)

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Kat May 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm

It’s funny reading this, because I’m prior military — air force! – and believe it or not, parts of the Air Force’s PT test standards are harsher than the Army’s (I went to dental school with some army guys so I got to compare)… My run time, however, actually decreased in basic training, but went up in the real air force.

I think I’m not a huge fan of boot camps because you pretty much really are as strong as the weakest link in a way. You go into it wanting to get your butt kicked, but they’re not going to try to break (literally) anyone… so unless you get in a group where everyone is at a similar fitness level you wind up only being pushed up until that weakest person’s breaking point…

and instructors yelling and spitting don’t scare me, my father’s Portuguese… I don’t think I’ve found a group fitness program that’s worked for me (getting back to your question), because of a shoulder injury … except maybe roller derby which we did have our group workout days – hmm….

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

“you pretty much really are as strong as the weakest link in a way” I’m not sure I understand this – are you saying that your boot camp sergeants only made you keep up with the least fit person rather than the other way around? Humph. Real life is so not like tv! lol.

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Kat May 8, 2011 at 10:38 pm

What I’m saying is, they could only push that weakest person so far.. So if the furthest they felt comfortable pushing them (to the point of that person nearly breaking — we had lots of people collapse and lost a few to “fit flight” — which made the weakest link not too weak) was less than your normal it wasn’t that effective.

I went into basic training running 1.5 miles in 9:27 — which is flying for a female in San Antonio heat and humidity in August… I left running it in 10:07… (which irritated the TI’s)… but on run days we ran Indian Runs with a pacer and they wouldn’t let me run my normal speed, because no other female was close to it.

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Kat May 8, 2011 at 10:41 pm

oh and I also thought I was going to leave running even faster. My TI tried to let me run my speed for a hot minute, but after two laps I would have no one following me anymore… and they wouldn’t let me run with the guys (no co-ed Indian runs in AF Basic Training)

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Katie May 5, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I notice if there are any female trainers, but it doesn’t really bother me either way. I haven’t really been anywhere that was all males, but then again I’ve never gone to a Gold’s Gym either. I have also never done a real bootcamp, but I have a feeling I’d hate someone yelling at me and it would make me yell back. I’m fiesty like that.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I have never gone to a Gold’s Gym either! I feel less weird now that I know I’m not the only gym rat to not worship at the great Ah-nold gym chain.

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Alyssa May 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Hmmm…so the gym that offers it here is only about 5 miles away. I may just have to work up the courage to try it!

Sounds like you had an AMAZING time!!!!!!

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Seriously?? Go try it! And then tell me what it’s like! I’d be interested in how consistent the workout is from location to location.

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Jenn (GH) May 5, 2011 at 11:27 pm

He sounds like a super cool guy!

I would NEVER EVER yell harshly at my clients. I will yell and cheer for them during a 400m sprint or I may be firm but if someone wants screaming and yelling then I’m not the right trainer for them. I certainly push them but I’m always respectful and encouraging them. I see my job to help them to “dig deep” to find extra physical and mental strength that that might not know they have.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I think you would have loved this workout!!

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M.Lindsay May 5, 2011 at 11:56 pm

They had a deal on one of those group-buying sites for boot camp classes (I paid $20 for a month, usually costing $385). I still have my gym and yoga memberships.

I have off two months before I start my articles, so to calm my crazy, I think I’m just going to spend 2-3 hrs a day working out. That will work, right? And it won’t be a problem once I start working 14 hrs a day, right? Yes, this plan is foolproof.

Regardless, I bought the deal with a couple of friends. So I’ll let you know what I think when we start in June. It’s around the corner from where I live, where they have a HUGE set of stairs (I think it’s like…160-something steps), and I think the boot camp involves running the stairs. I’ve run the stairs ONE time in the past. I did 3 times up and down. By the last time, I had jello legs, and I couldn’t walk for like three days. I’m a little afraid. We’ve also been told to bring a yoga mat, and 8lb weights. I’m curious to see how this plays out, luckily my boot camp buddies are full of shenanigans, so we’ll have fun (I think).

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!! I think there might be a small problem with your “plan” though… can’t quite put my finger on it. *think*math*think*…. ;)

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Miz May 6, 2011 at 5:00 am

I think I could get to adore this—-ONE TIME ONLY :)
Im still a misfit who when encouraged tends to do less (SIX MORE!! YOU CAN DO IT!!! makes me wanna stop at 5. not my best trait)—but I would love to try this once.

who knows? perhaps I will learn something about myself in a boot camp setting and realize that my internal motivator is NOT always correct.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Oh I wish I could see your rebelliousness in person! Now we know where the Tornado gets her confidence from!

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Naomi/Dragonmamma May 6, 2011 at 6:26 am

I regularly go to a boot-camp which is led by a real trainer for the Coast Guard. It tends to be about 2/3 women, 1/3 men who attend. Because there are usually about 20 of us in a full-sized basketball court, he HAS to yell at us, otherwise we’d never hear him over all the heavy breathing. But he’s yelling at the GROUP, not the individuals. OK, sometimes he IS yelling at individuals, but only the ones who need it and want it. I’m in that last group; I perform better with some in-my-face motivation.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Don’t you teach a bootcamp too? What style do you use? I see you as being totally no-nonsense but not a yeller either.

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Naomi/Dragonmamma May 9, 2011 at 6:19 am

It’s the same class; I fill in as a sub when he’s not there. (Last year he was gone on a 9 month over-seas mission.) I try to follow the same style so that it’s not too much of a shock when he returns, so, yeah, I yell quite a bit and try to act mean! He’s gone on another training gig next month, but it’s only for five weeks this time.

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Kirsten Jones May 6, 2011 at 8:11 am

Yelling at me definitely does nothing. Jillian style just makes me yell back … something along the lines of, “if it’s so easy, let’s see you do it!” (I’ve actually yelled that a time or two during 30 Day Shred) Not exactly conducive to reaching personal bests. So I’ve had no interest in boot camps. But if St. Peterson came to my area, I’d definitely want to give him a try. Encouragement vs. insulting gets me better results.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I totally yell back at my TV too! Although not so much during workout shows… mostly Teen Mom. That’s not weird at all… noooo….

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Holly @ The Runny Egg May 6, 2011 at 9:42 am

I’ve never taken a class, boot camp or otherwise — I’ve always worked out on my own. But I think I would prefer his style of training vs. Jillian — the yelling would either make me laugh or (more likely) cry. And I want to be pushed but also built up and that seems to be how the Sgt. acted.

I’m imagining myself trying to do pushups with someone pushing on my shoulders — I’d be sprawled on the ground for sure — that sounds super tough!

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Yeah, he did a great job and you’re in the area! They offer a free trial class:)

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Sable@SquatLIkeALady May 6, 2011 at 9:54 am

I LOVE the idea of a one-on-one boot camp! I have no excuse not to try this. After all I work out at a military base, I have to be able to find a retired or former drill sgt to gently encourage ,me ;-) hahah

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Ooh let me know how that goes!

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Marion@affectionforfitness May 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I think it depends who is doing the yelling. If the person is yelling at you because he/she believes in you, I love that. I’ve wanted to get into certain classes after hearing the instructor yell at people–in a good way. If the person is yelling at you because you are somehow doing something wrong, that never works very well.

But even if we are singled out, we can live through it. Remember, we are not supposed to care so much about what others think. Your workout is for you alone. No one else has to agree.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm

“But even if we are singled out, we can live through it. Remember, we are not supposed to care so much about what others think. Your workout is for you alone. No one else has to agree.” Good point!

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Valerie May 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I do not know how many times I heard “You’re making that look a little too easy …” and you know what comes after that!!!! Awesome people, awesome workout!

And yes, Shenanigans are a part of the deal.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:08 pm

You speak like one who knows;)

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Cara May 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Hi Charlotte! I’m Cara. I’ve been lurking around your blog for a couple of months now and I love your writing style and goofy storytelling. As someone who was raised mormon, I find your occasional (okay, frequent) irreverence totally refreshing and charming. Had I known you when I was still LDS, I may have stayed in the church, ha ha! Only kidding. Anyway, I started the process of TRYING to eat intuitively 3 years ago (through various books/programs–”Intuitive Eating”, “Overcoming Overeating”, “Normal Eating For Normal Weight”) and although I was grasping the main principles, I never fully trusted it. So, of course, I went back to dieting. Then IE. Then dieting. Then IE. I kept hearing about Geneen Roth, but somebody’s negative opinion of her kept me from reading her stuff. Long story short, I got to my worst place with my body, thought of your story, remembered you raving about Geneen, went to the library and started soaking up her words. 9 days later and I’m liking myself again, and connecting to IE in the way I’ve always wanted to. Thanks for being open about your experiences and inspiring people to take care of themselves, Charlotte.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Thank you Cara!! Again, this totally made my whole weekend – I am so so happy to hear you are finding success with IE! And yay for libraries:)

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Jody - Fit at 53 May 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I would love to do a boot camp! Unfortunately my check book does not cooperate & now my feet! UGH! But I love the sound of this guy & his style. I can go for yelling or less yelling, I don’t care as long as I am learning something & I feel the trainer is informed. Same with male vs. female although I know many women prefer women trainers. I will say this, I have seen many men try to train women like they are headed for a bodybuilding contest. Nothing wrong with heavier weights but there is a whole way of training “right” to each individual need. AND, I have seen women training women like wimps… so – to me, either sex as long as they know what they are doing.

PS: Your site is still jerky & slower for me. Like when I type, the letters show up after the fact & when I scroll, it is delayed for lack of better words… I sent you my stuff when you asked in your post about this.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm

So sorry it’s still not working right for you! We’ve done some more tweaks to the site – I appreciate your patience as I try and figure this out!

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Geosomin May 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

cool -I’ve always wanted to try out a boot camp.
You’ve made me interested again.
Once I”m done school I’ll find one near me…deal? Deal :)

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Deal!! And then you have to tell me all about it!

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Jen @ KUrunner May 6, 2011 at 9:09 pm

As someone who’s been through a real boot camp, there is nothing scarier than a drill sgt who doesn’t yell.

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Charlotte May 8, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Buwhahaha! Best comment on this post.

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Jamie October 19, 2011 at 2:44 am

Joining in a boot camps are really great! I’ve done it 2 times. A really effective way to stay fit. Thanks for this.

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