It was still dark when the women in the Active Fitness class stood in a circle in the parking lot at Lee District Park doing calisthenics. Instructors Martin Jones and Nichole Gustafson circled the formation, barking out instructions and encouragement.
“Bands off,” said Gustafson, referring to the rubber resistance bands incorporated in the exercise. “Grab your medicine ball.”
Nancy Belmont is six months pregnant. She arrives a little late but blends right in.
“How’re you feeling Nancy?” asked one woman.
“Big,” Belmont said.
The sun has yet to poke above the horizon, but the “boot camp,” style of exercise regimen continues. “Don’t talk to Joyce today,” Gustafson said to anyone that was listening. “She doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Although it is portrayed as a boot camp, and the instructors walk around the group in a drill sergeant manner, it is not militaristic. No disciplinary push-ups for those who get out of line are issued, although Jones claims the discipline and fun go hand in hand. If one member doesn’t show up one morning, he follows it up with a call and an e-mail. It’s “accountability,” he said.
Active Fitness is sponsored by One to One and has programs in Arlington, Reston, South Riding and Falls Church. At the Lee District location, the women are from Springfield and Burke, as well as the surrounding communities of Kingstowne and Alexandria. Jones is trying to start a program at the South Run Recreation Center in southern Springfield. Active Fitness has a permit with Fairfax County to use the parks in the morning. Although the group exercises outside for seven months, sometimes in the rain, it does go inside the recreation center in the middle of winter.
Burke resident Ana Stoehr described “getting up in the morning,” as the hardest part. She feels “kind of bad,” by not showing up with the others. Stoehr teaches nursing at George Mason University and likes working out in a group for inspiration. “You feel connected to the other ladies,” she said.
Belmont’s doctor didn’t say she needed to stop the program due to her pregnancy, but he didn’t encourage it either. Belmont read up on exercising at six months into a pregnancy and arrived at her own diagnosis.
“If there’s anything that feels uncomfortable, I stop,” she said.
The exercise does pay off for the women though. Kingstowne resident Donna Glynn lost 50 pounds over the last two years. She stays faithful to the program, getting used to the early reveille, and tries to make it all four days each week.
“I love it,” she said.
After a few exercises in the parking lot, Jones had everyone abandon their mats and form a line in the corner of the field for a run. Dawn was just breaking. “We got 25 minutes left,” he said as the women ran off as a group into the darkness.
Reina DuVal, 55, is a retired U.S. Marine. She’s done the real boot camp thing, but the Active Fitness program “doesn’t come near,” she said. Still, her weight went from 185 to 160 on the program.
“I was falling apart — I feel healthy again,” she said.
Springfield resident Sonja Parlett is another over-50 participant. She took some time off for foot surgery but can’t wait to become part of the group again.
“It’s a great way to meet people,” Parlett said.
Doug Vasiliadis, an instructor at One on One's Reston location, sees it as “a social gathering as well as a work out,” he said. “It’s a ton of fun.”