Sitting down to a breakfast of avocado, creamy scrambled eggs and the ripest, sunniest tomatoes in Spain, I have the feeling I’ve joined a cult. I have come to Aurora, a boot camp on the Costa del Sol, nestled between the hills and the dazzling coastline of Marbella to be kicked into shape through a series of intense workouts, involving up to five hours of sport per day. Sounds terrifying doesn’t it?
Yet, two guests tell me, eyes shining with enthusiasm, that they are into the final week of a month-long stay and they’ve loved every minute of the experience. They insist I will too.
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Boot camp members are in for intense workouts involving up to five hours of sports per day
Before breakfast there is a weigh in and a talk about individual goals: in my case I want to tone up and cut down on ‘naughties’ like sugar and wine. Then it’s straight down to business.
The exercise sessions are typically 90 minutes each, with breaks in between for snacks and rest. Days usually start with a gentle warm up, often on the beach - followed by high intensity training, cardio and core work to strengthen the abs, finished by a good stretch.
Aurora trainers are gung ho types who make Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry days look soft. Russell, a former martial arts champion, is full of pithy sayings such as "Sweat is just fat crying," and "If it’s not burning, it’s not working".
Exercise sessions are typically 90-minutes of cardio and strengthen training
He dubs one camper Nike because of her snazzy sports gear. Then later he jokes to her "You’re looking good there, like Linford Christie back in the day".
His colleagues are John, a former marine with several Iron Mans under his belt, and Anthony, who is a sports science graduate.
Train smarter, not longer
Over the next few days I will learn a whole new language. To ‘beast someone’ or ‘to smash them up’ is to give them a punishing set of repetitions.
We are taught an 11-minute circuit consisting of squats, press ups, sprints, which we can easily replicate back at home. My personal favourite is the farmer’s walk, which involves carrying two 20-litre jerry cans full of water.
The sunny climate means sessions are often held on the beach
Throughout the reps, my fellow campers shout encouragement, telling me: “Go on girl. Nearly there. You can do it.”
For all the tough talk and testosterone-laced banter, the truth is there is utmost respect for the body and the limits of each individual client at Aurora. The exercises are always tailored to your level. So on a 9km walk with weighted vests I carry 5 kilos, while the more experienced campers are given twice that.
When we complain of sore muscles, one of the trainers gives us each a 15-minute massage. It works, afterwards I feel ready to train again.
Never go hungry
At Aurora no one should get injured, explains manager Roseanna Gorman. Nor will they ever go hungry since hunger leads to fatigue, potentially poor technique and hurting yourself through sheer exhaustion.
She started the business in February in a villa in Las Chapas, an upmarket area of Marbella, with the idea of focusing on increasing her clients' muscle to fat ratio rather than the old fashioned approach of pure weight loss.
“Guests come here wanting to lose weight and we try and steer them round to the idea of building up their lean muscle instead. We want them to gain fitness for life.
“If you got to a camp with the idea of just burning loads of fat and restricting your calorie intake, that’s not sustainable and you will inevitably put it back on again. Instead we want you to focus on becoming leaner.”
Breakfast is typically oats with fruit or an omlette
The diet is based around healthy, nutritious food, all prepared from scratch in her kitchen, following a paleo principle. So meals typically contain plenty of vegetables, proteins and good fats such as avocado, oily fish, nuts, coconut oil and coconut milk.
Lunch is usually a salad with either egg, tuna and homemade mayonnaise or a chicken burger. Dinner could be herby chicken with roast vegetables, a shepherd’s pie using sweet potato instead of white potato or fish and ribbons of stir fried ginger vegetables.
Meals are based around protein and good fats
Half way through the week, Anthony gives me a one-to-one nutrition consultation. After analysing my diet he advises me to cut back on carbohydrates, which will just turn into fat, and replace them with more protein especially earlier in the day.
He also advises me to make sure I always have healthy snacks to hand so I don’t find myself craving sugary treats.
Active recovery days
The no injury approach means there are also regular rest and recovery periods built in. The third day consists of one two-hour mountain walk and then we are set free to go into Marbella or lounge around by the pool. I surprise myself in Marbella when I walk past a bakery and totally ignore the cakes. Roseanna’s meals are surprisingly filling.
The assault course at Mike's Gym
Another key aspect of Aurora’s approach is to mix up the types of exercise. So on two occasions we drive up into the hills to Mike’s Gym, where the slogan is ‘Do it like you mean it'. The gym is plastered with pictures of the eponymous Mike and his friends on their various marathon and alpine cycling challenges.
Then we hit the open air obstable course, which is the largest in Europe. If you are allergic to traditional types of exercise you will love the monkey bars, swings, ropes, water challenge, cargo nets, hammers and pulleys.
Mike's Gym has the largest open air obstacle course in Europe
Becoming a convert
I can pinpoint the exact moment I become a member of the cult. It’s not when Roseanna tells me that I have lost 6cm around my waist. Nor when I make myself a three-egg omelette for breakfast on the first day back home.
It’s the afternoon we spend kayaking, an activity that is much harder than it looks. I keep being swept back to the beach, but I make a mental note to persevere. With a final burst, I sprint past the waves, telling myself ‘go on girl’ and then I let out a whoop of joy that can be heard all the way to Africa, feeling recalibrated, freer and happier than I have in many a year.
Click to find out more about Aurora.