“Expect to carry or be carried by other participants.”
That’s the disclaimer at the end of the written description for the Goruck BootCamp at Thomas Circle’s Balance Gym (1111 14th St. NW, balancegym.com). And it succinctly explains why this weekly class, held Wednesdays at 7 p.m., isn’t just any military-style sweatfest.
Designed to prepare folks for Goruck’s increasingly popular events — grueling team missions based on special operations training — the 45-minute sessions promise a workout that’s unlike those normally found at gyms.
“We rarely get to carry well-balanced things on deployments, and we have to deal with those things for an extended period of time,” says instructor Devin Reagan, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining the Goruck Cadre (goruck.com).
A key part of his job is to teach his teams how to hoist the toughest stuff, including massive logs, sandbags and even one another. As Reagan notes, “Nothing is more dangly than a body.”
At a class earlier this month, he introduced the group to the fireman’s carry, a lift that involves squatting down and then slinging another person across your shoulders almost like a backpack.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said, but it is physics. The lifted person’s center of gravity should be squarely balanced so you can stand and run. “And you should have a free hand to punch people,” Reagan joked.
For Chenise Farquharson, 28, it was her first time trying to pick someone up since childhood. The Columbia Heights resident had jitters at first — “I thought, ‘Ohmigosh, I hope I don’t drop her,’ ” she said — but after taking another woman on a lap around the gym’s roof deck, she had something to brag about.
“I could carry you there and back if it came to it,” Farquharson said.
Building up the confidence to handle scary situations is definitely a perk of lifting other people, says Grant Hill, founder of MyBootcamp (my-bootcamp.com), which offers high-intensity courses around the D.C. area. Lifting bodies is not something he has his clients practice all the time, “but it’s important to know you can and know how.”
Hill’s take on fitness is that it should prepare you for life, and nothing in the real world resembles dumbbells or barbells. Even if you’re not planning to enlist in the military, it’s conceivable there will come a time when you can save the day by carrying someone to safety.
Beyond the functional aspect of this kind of training, it’s also “pretty fun,” Hill says. Partner exercises develop teamwork and trust, and usually laughter, too.
Those qualities are central to the practice of AcroYoga, which uses partner balancing to build connections. D.C.’s Vanessa King (wellnesswithvanessa.com) recognizes that when she teaches beginners, the first hurdle is dealing with students’ nervousness about touching others. Then comes the fear of not being able to hold a partner’s weight.
“People underestimate how capable and strong they are,” says King, who gets her students used to the idea through introductory exercises. Partners can face each other and join palms to do push-ups, or one person can hold the other’s shoulders while he or she leans forward. That eventually turns into high-flying circus-style poses.
Those sorts of maneuvers won’t do anyone much good in combat, but somewhere along the way, there’s a workout in there, King says. You won’t see her doing leg presses at the gym, but she’ll happily build up strength by lying back and having a partner push into the bottoms of her feet. These stealth exercises have given her the strength to pick up just about anyone.
Maybe that’s why after a few Goruck BootCamps, participants are finding themselves looking at pals as pounds.
“I’ve been practicing with my girlfriend. I need all the practice I can get,” said Reston resident Erin Cloney, 30.
Does Size Matter?
If you’re just learning how to pick people up, it’s obviously easier with a partner who’s your size or smaller. But people who lift people eventually realize that with the right technique and enough strength, it’s possible to hoist up someone much larger. This can come in handy in the real world when you find yourself having to carry a buddy to safety, says Goruck instructor Devin Reagan: “Your unconscious friend is not going to be the same weight as you.”