People’s Bootcamp in New York and the Price of Fitness

February 23rd, 2013

Robert Caplin for The New York Times

Adam Rosante, a TV producer and personal trainer, leads a session of his People’s Bootcamp, which allows participants to name their price for being made to jump, stretch and sweat.

In the first six minutes of boot camp on a recent Tuesday night, the trainer Adam Rosante has a class of 27 audibly gasping for breath, already having exercised every muscle.

The only thing not getting a workout was their wallets.

In a city where boutique fitness classes are nearing $ 40 each, Mr. Rosante’s 45-minute workout, called the People’s Bootcamp, is a pay-what-you-can class. There’s no not-so-subtle hint in the form of a suggested donation. Instead, there is this instruction on his Web site: “Name your price.”

Mr. Rosante, 33, said that he hit upon his business model last spring while surveying his competition. “I looked around and was like, wow, this is expensive,” he said. “And I very strongly feel, and this is not a spiel, that effective lifelong fitness should be accessible to everyone regardless of what you have in the bank.” His class is free (in an interview, he made this point twice) to firefighters and lifeguards “because anybody who puts themselves in harm’s way for very little pay gets a free pass in my book.”

In June, Mr. Rosante’s workout made its debut — timed circuits of four to seven high-intensity moves that require high energy but no equipment — on the lawn Saturday mornings at Ruschmeyer’s hotel in Montauk, N.Y. (The owners are friends, said Mr. Rosante, who grew up in the Hamptons.) He also offered it twice a week in Central Park.

In the fall, he put the Hamptons class on hiatus and moved the Manhattan workout to a dingy room he rents for $ 63 an hour at Ripley-Grier Studios, a collection of rehearsal spaces, most of which are Midtown. Some classes will move back outside in the spring.

Some people choose to pay nothing, Mr. Rosante said. Others pay $ 3 or even $ 40. An informal survey of a recent class suggests a range of $ 12 to $ 20 is most common. Attendance is capped at 30 people indoors. The cap is 20 for the Central Park classes; a permit for a larger class starts at $ 25. But Mr. Rosante is at least as concerned with karma as with cost. “If you’ve got two people there after work trying to enjoy the sunset and you’ve got 40 people screaming and grunting, that’s not very respectful,” he said.

In the February issue of Self magazine, Mr. Rosante and his moves are featured in a “Body by Hotties” workout, though one woman at a January session affectionately (if less flatteringly) called him “the bearded bohemian clown.”

Mr. Rosante, who is married to his high school girlfriend, Kate Rosante, 33, is the kind of guy who admits with no trace of embarrassment that he first hit the gym as a 13-year-old inspired by Marky Mark, a k a the actor Mark Wahlberg in his Calvin Klein underwear model days. (In college, Mr. Rosante moved on to Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson’s high-intensity-interval-training philosophies, which is where he has stayed. He has no formal exercise qualifications.)

Mr. Rosante’s avalanche of instructions and encouragement, all yelled above a hip-hop playlist, are about one part Mister Rogers, five parts rapper — so expletive-filled that exactly one sentence can be printed unedited here: “I’m resisting the urge to tickle some of you right now,” he said, after directing students to lift their arms over their heads.

His class, a Lululemon-free zone, attracts a wider range of body types, and more men, than most group fitness classes.

“The way he pushes you, in 45 minutes I think you get an hour and a half worth of workout,” said Kosta Zenelis, 35, a trader at a hedge fund. Mr. Zenelis said he used to go to group fitness classes once a week only because his girlfriend loves them; he now attends Mr. Rosante’s workout more frequently than she does.

Richard Fleming, a 27-year-old lawyer who also frequents the group cycling gym SoulCycle, savors the People’s Bootcamp atmosphere as much as the sweat. Some clientele at boutique gyms want “the latest ‘it’ or ‘posh’ workout and expect a massage and smoothie after every class or attend only because their favorite celebrity was spotted in class,” he said. “Here, people come to work, to do it at an affordable price, and to be in that positive environment without all the frills that some places use to attract people.”

“It’s refreshing,” he added.

Mr. Fleming also appreciates the lack of hoop-jumping required to secure a spot. “I don’t have to be at my computer exactly at noon on a Monday,” he said, referring to SoulCycle’s booking policy.

Mr. Rosante, whose day job is producing reality TV shows like “Hardcore Pawn” and “Ice Road Truckers,” is quick to both bring up and reject the idea that his pay-what-you-can “revolution” (his word) was born of media savvy. “It’s not an angle,” he said. “If I decided to start a boot camp and charge $ 60, I would make it successful. Period. Because that would be my goal. But that’s just not what this is about for me.”

He did not mention that he often adds free classes exclusively for regulars. “Why? Because I love you!” reads an e-mailed invitation to two “extra little sumpin’ sumpin’ ” classes. Work colleagues say that before he started the boot camp, he frequently volunteered to train them free, though Mr. Rosante shrugged off the description, calling the sessions “working out with a friend.” (In Mr. Rosante’s world, everyone is a friend or about to become one.)

“He really embodies what he preaches at the boot camp,” said Samantha Trolice, 23, a colleague who approached him for fitness and health advice after spotting him “making awesomely healthy smoothies every day” and with a bowl of fresh fruit on his desk, the way some people have candy dishes.

After every class, he sends an e-mail with the subject line, “You’re awesome.” It does not ask recipients to sign up for another class or to like him on Facebook. Instead it acknowledges that free hours are scarce. It closes with him saying: “You chose to spend one of them with us last night. Just wanted to say thanks for that.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.