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On the North Shore there is a small but growing group of healthy individuals that are making exercise hard-won fun.

Unless you’re a bodybuilder, Olympian, or Michael Phelps, working out isn’t typically something that comes naturally. Most of us would like to shed a few pounds, but making time to work toward that goal is challenging enough. Juggling a career, a family, and a social life, personal fitness regimes often take a back seat.

A gym membership is the obvious first choice for making change come true, but monthly fees can be steep, and during the weekends, gyms are all too often crowded with overly ambitious types. Buying home equipment is an option, but it’s expensive and easily winds up as a glorified coffee table.

A third possibility—North Shore Boot Camp—is led by fitness experts whose goal it is to design programs tailored to clients’ goals, while introducing them to like-minded health enthusiasts.

Depending on the program, regimens (starting as early as 5:30 a.m.) include various combinations of basic fitness exercises like running, push-ups and sit-ups. Brandi Dion founded the program with her husband 12 years ago, after leading a fitness initiative at the YMCA.

“The program strikes a balance between cardio workouts like running and sprinting and strength-based/resistance exercises,” says Dion.

Sometimes we forget that there were once strong, healthy people before the invention of the StairMaster. All that is really needed to get into shape is the will to do, a desire to push beyond one’s perceived limits, and friends for inspiration.

Proponents of North Shore Boot Camp programs say that the social environment and welcoming atmosphere keep them coming back.

Nancy Norman, a North Shore-based lawyer, has been a member for seven years. “There’s a real genuine interest for us all to do the best we can,” she says. “We encourage each other without judging.”

Norman, 54, balances the strength and cardio aspects of the camp and uses the running to help prepare herself and her family (her son, Ryan, enjoys CrossFit) for races that they run together. She attends boot camp four days a week, and says she’d be “devastated” if it stopped.

For companies interested in offering a fitness initiative to employees, The Boot Camp accommodates. That’s how Jackie Dion (no relation) got started. She has been attending classes for six years with her husband. “At first,” she says, “he was intimidated, but he wound up loving it, and he has lost 40 pounds since.”

Perry McIntosh is a Salem resident who has been attending four days a week for seven years. She loves that they cater to individuals’ needs; whether someone has bad knees or a sore back—they devise appropriate regimes. McIntosh, 62, was bored with the same gym routine when she saw this “group of crazy people,” running around the Salem Common. She inquired, signed up, and hasn’t looked back since.

She likens the kinship she feels in class to that found in a sorority. “Going through something challenging brings people together,” she says.

For those looking for a fun way to get into shape while making encouraging and accepting friends, North Shore Boot Camp is a good first step.


Note: Evening classes meet in Salem, Danvers, Marblehead, Beverly, Topsfield, and Hamilton; January through March, indoor sessions are available.