At his daughter's first birthday party, Mr Rohit Mehrotra was surprised by the sight of a once-pudgy friend who had shed kilos. Mr Mehrotra, who had been unsuccessfully trying to lose weight, asked for his friend's secret.
The answer - boot camp, a group exercise class which is usually held outdoors and uses a series of cardiovascular, resistance and plyometric (jump) exercises to raise participants' heart beats and metabolism. Through high-intensity, interval- training exercises, the camps help people burn fat and get fit fast.
Mr Mehrotra, 33, who is 1.74m tall and works in investment banking, attended his first FuelFit boot camp class in Punggol in April 2012. He weighed 87kg when he started and within six months, he lost close to 15kg.
He attends three boot camp classes a week and now maintains his weight at 76kg. His results encouraged his wife and a number of his friends to sign up for boot camps.
Thanks to such rapid and visible results, boot camps have proliferated here in the past few years. There are now over a dozen gyms, fitness companies and personal trainers offering more than 100 weekly boot camp classes around Singapore.
UFit Urban Fitness offers more than 40 classes a week for 700 clients, up from just 12 clients and four classes a week when New Zealander Darren Blakeley, 48, started the company in 2008.
The fitness instructor, who moved here to work as a civil engineer in 1998 before making the career switch to focus on fitness in 2006, says: "I think boot camps' popularity is a natural progression from the fitness trends of the 1970s and 1980s when people first started exercising outside on a regular basis.
"People were asking why they needed to be in an air-conditioned gym when there was fresh air and sun outside. Plus being in a warmer environment makes you sweat more and your calorie expenditure is higher."
Similarly, Ms Saudi Tan, 34, saw the demand for boot camps and left her job as a physical education instructor to start FuelFit Bootcamp in 2012. Then she ran two classes by herself. Now she has three trainers to help her run eight boot camp groups of anywhere from six to 16 people who meet three times a week in HDB neighbourhoods.
She says: "I wanted to make fitness convenient and affordable for those who do not have the time or money to go to a gym."
She charges $180 for 10 sessions for a person.
Art consultant Merilyn Umboh, 38, says she will never go back to gyms after making the switch to boot camps three years ago.
She says: "I enjoy the scenery while exercising in a park, and in boot camp, you become friends with other people in the class and we encourage one another. There is a community feeling that you do not have in a gym. Plus gyms try to lock you into a membership for at least a year, which is expensive and too rigid. Boot camps are much more flexible."
Boot camps range in cost from $18 to $45 a session, depending on the number of classes you buy at a time. You can buy classes in packages of 10 and switch classes or trainers, unlike gyms which charge about $100 to $200 a month for membership and require users to sign a one- to two-year contract. Breaking the contract results in a financial penalty.
Another attraction of boot camps is the range, from traditional outdoor camps which focus on high-intensity interval and circuit training, to those targeting specific interest groups, with boxing, pilates or cycling.
These often use increased frequency of classes - up from a couple of classes a week to daily classes for a month, for example - to boost the fitness level and technical ability of participants.
Classes are typically capped at less than 20 people, so instructors can provide personalised attention and ensure participants complete the exercises properly. Smaller class sizes also promote a supportive and competitive atmosphere among participants.
Boot camps frequently focus on partner exercises, where partners must work together to achieve fitness targets or work against each other's body weight to complete resistance and weight- lifting exercises. Such interaction allows participants to become friends.
Mr K.C. Cheang, 42, says this sense of community is part of what pushes him and keeps him interested in his boot camp class.
The civil servant discovered boot camps in July last year when he saw such a camp in progress at Fort Canning Park.
He had struggled to maintain his interest in exercise, often doing only a 20-minute jog once a week in his Oxley Rise neighbourhood. But he was intrigued by the boot camp and took his first trial a few weeks later.
After a year of attending regular classes run by UFit Urban Fitness three to four times a week, Mr Cheang says he is now fitter than he has ever been. His waist size has dropped from size 33 to 31 and his stamina and muscle tone have increased.
He says: "I keep going back because I can see the benefits. You feel a real sense of accomplishment at the end of the class. You feel really good because you managed to survive it and because there are other people doing it with you. You feel like you're not alone."
Physical education teacher Saudi Tan, 34, started group fitness company FuelFit Bootcamp in February 2012 to make exercise classes accessible to people living in the heartlands of Singapore.
She says: "I kept hearing a lot of people saying that they wanted to get fit but they didn't know what to do. They couldn't afford a personal trainer or did not have time to travel to and from the gym."
She also realised that a lot of people found gyms confining and intimidating but boot camps, held largely at the Botanic Gardens and Fort Canning, were too difficult to get to.
"I wanted to reach out to heartlanders and bring fitness to where people live," she adds.
She started outdoor boot camp classes at Punggol Park and Marina Bay Financial Centre and now, with the help of three trainers, runs boot camps in seven heartland locations, including Buangkok, Braddell View and Sengkang Anchorvale. She hopes to expand to Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Yio Chu Kang and Tampines.
Anyone can sign up for or create a FuelFit boot camp class. All they need is a minimum of six participants who each pay $180 for 10 sessions held at a convenient place and time, three days a week.
The hour-long classes, which are capped at 16 people and suitable for any fitness level, are popular with office workers and housewives alike.
The exercises, which include interval training, circuits and partner work, change every session to maintain variety and interest and often include competitions and games to keep the class fun.
Participants are given options for how intense they would like each class to be and every three months, Ms Tan holds a fitness assessment so that participants can judge their progress.
"The goal is to get people out of the gym and into fresh air," she says. "Our motto is, you are never too busy to be fit."
Where: Currently in Buangkok, Braddell View, Punggol Central, Punggol Park, East Coast Park, Bedok Reservoir and Sengkang Anchorvale
When: Time is pre-arranged with instructor for thrice weekly sessions
Cost: $180 for 10 sessions per person; $300 for 10 sessions per couple
Info: Go to fuelfit.com.sg
Eager to get fit, Ms Look Ru Shin turned to pilates when ankle and shoulder injuries barred her from joining other fitness classes.
The 36-year-old stay-at-home mum, who has a two-year-old daughter, says: "I wasn't exercising at all. I was unfit and out of shape."
Last July, she and a friend joined Breathe Pilates' one-month challenge, a pilates boot camp designed to get pilates practitioners to revisit the basics.
Mr Dennis Teo, co-owner of the studio, says the class is ideal for beginners and advance pilates students. "It allows us to clean up the bad habits in posture and alignment that might be overlooked when you attend classes only once or twice a week."
The boot camp is held once a year. Hour-long classes are held six days a week for a month.
Even though it was her first time doing pilates, Ms Look was not worried about getting hurt because most pilates exercises are done on a resistance machine called a reformer. She did not have to put weight on her ankle and could adjust the resistance level. The studio also specialises in using pilates for physiotherapy and injury recovery.
In four weeks, she lost an inch off her 33-inch waist and noticed a marked improvement in her strength and posture.
She has been attending pilates classes at the studio twice a week since and hopes to attend its month-long challenge again next month at its East Coast and Novena locations from Aug 11 to Sept 6.
The hour-long classes are capped at four to five people per session and will be held six days a week. Participants will start with the basics of body alignment and posture before progressing to advanced level strength and flexibility exercises.
Where: Breathe studio at Novena Medical Centre, 10 Sinaran Drive 09-33 and Breathe studio at 1 Marine Parade Central, Parkway Centre, 13-02
When: Aug 11 to Sept 6, except Sunday. Evening classes at the Novena studio are full, but morning classes, at 7 or 8am, are still available. Morning and evening sessions are available at the East Coast studio and will be held around 9am and 10am from Monday to Friday, 8am and 10am on Saturday, and 8pm from Monday to Friday. All times to be confirmed based on participants' requirements.
Cost: $680 for 24 sessions
Info: Go to breathepilates.com.sg
For a targeted boot camp, try one of Ufit Urban Fitness' specialised classes. It also runs specialised classes - SheFit, YogaFit, BoxFit, RunFit and CoreFit - to target specific muscles and interest groups.
Ufit runs more than 40 boot camp classes a week at eight outdoor locations in Singapore, with an average of 10 to 15 people.
All hour-long sessions are suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced levels. Variations are provided for each exercise so the classes can accommodate every fitness level.
The classes often include partner work, where each pair do exercises playing off one another's body weight, such as in resistance band sprints, where one partner tries to run against the force of a resistance band held behind him by his partner.
Ufit owner Darren Blakeley, 48, says: "In gym classes, people go to work out and don't talk to other people, whereas there is a lot of team spirit in our classes where everyone encourages one another."
The boot camps also incorporate the location's terrain into workouts, using stairs and hills for interval training, for example.
Ms Merilyn Umboh, 38, an art consultant, has been attending Ufit's boot camp at Fort Canning Park every week for the past three years and says the hardest part is waking up at 5.30am for the 6.30am class. But she would not dream of going to a gym.
Being awake at dawn and watching the sun rise up is one of the highlights of her day. She says: "Most of the time we are cooped up in the office and in a gym. At boot camps, the scenery keeps changing. It's beautiful to see the sky change as your workouts move within the park."
Variety is key for Ms Umboh, who had attended running groups before switching to boot camp.
"I love the intensity of the workout. People are intimidated by the words 'boot camp' but you can choose what level you want to do. It's up to you to push yourself a little harder each time."
Where: More than 40 classes a week in eight outdoor locations, including Fort Canning, MacRitchie Reservoir and Holland Village
When: Monday to Thursday, 6.15am to 8pm; Friday to Sunday, 6.30 to 10am
Cost: Boot camp costs $35 per class but can be bought in bundles from $150 for five classes to $480 for 20 classes. Cost does not include equipment which costs $75 for two Flexbands and a skipping rope
Info: Go to ufit.com.sg
New mums who want to get fit but do not want to leave their babies behind have their answer in Bloom'n Fit's Strolltastic class, a child-friendly boot camp held at the Botanic Gardens and East Coast Park on weekday mornings, four days a week.
It was started by fitness trainer Claire Dinsmore- Smith in 2012 as an active meet-up for mums.
Strolltastic is an hour-long circuit-based class. Mums will power walk with their prams, if they have them, to different locations around the park where they will do strength conditioning and cardio exercises, using body and band resistance training.
No registration is required. Interested mums can drop in on any class they like, but pre- and post- natal women must get their doctor's clearance and medical insurance to join a class.
When they are ready, participants can move on to the child-free Babestastic Bootcamp, which has a slightly more intense cardio, strength and conditioning workout. It has two sessions a week - on Thursdays at 7pm at the National University of Singapore track in Evans Road and Saturdays at 8.30am at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre outside Casa Verde Restaurant.
Bloom'n Fit also has a free running club which meets at the Botanic Garden's Botany Centre taxi stand for a 5km run on Wednesdays at 8pm.
But some participants choose to stay on in the Strollstastic class long after their bubs have started walking. Children from six weeks to 10 years old regularly attend the class with mum, and have formed their own play group.
Ms Kelly Bannister, 36, a housewife who has been attending the Strolltastic class for the past 1½ years, often in the company of her three sons aged seven, five and 2½, says: "We park the strollers in a shaded spot and the kids play with one another on their scooters and toys while we're exercising. They never get bored because we move around the gardens.
"It's great to get my exercise without the guilt of leaving the children at home."
Where: Meet at the Botanic Gardens' Botany Centre taxi stand or Brussels Sprouts Restaurant, Big Splash, 902 East Coast Parkway
When: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 9.30am at the Botanic Gardens; Wednesday and Thursday at 9.30am at East Coast Park
Cost: First session is free, after that, $20 per session or $100 for six sessions
Info: Go to bloomnfit.com
The latest boot camp in Singapore will be a favourite with the ever-growing population of cyclists here.
It is run by 7Cycle, a 4,000 sq ft indoor cycling studio which opened in June and takes up a three-storey shophouse in Boon Tat Street in the central business district.
The boot camp is a 35-minute-long, high-intensity interval-training workout with stationary bikes as part of an exercise circuit, which includes cardio intervals on the bike and body weight, plyometric (jump training) and functional training exercises on the floor, so participants work on their major muscle groups.
Classes are limited to 10 participants, to maximise personalised instruction and coaching. There are 12 boot camp classes a week and participants can attend as many as they like.
The class is open to people of all fitness levels as they can adjust the bikes' resistance levels to suit their capability. Instructors provide variations for each floor exercise so that participants can push themselves to whatever level they feel comfortable.
Ms Vanessa Tan, 25, a financial analyst, has been attending 7Cycle's boot camp class twice a week for the past two months before and after work.
She likes that the class offers something new to her intermittent fitness routine which has included swimming, badminton and tennis in the past.
The variety of exercises and the challenge of the class has her hooked.
She says: "It gets my adrenaline pumping. They have a performance matrix which helps me keep track of my workouts, how many calories I've burnt and a leader board which lets you know where you stand in the class. This brings out my competitive side and pushes me to do better."
She says her stamina and strength have improved since she started and she is able to burn more calories in each class - from around 200 calories when she first started to more than 400 calories now.
Another draw is the music. Each instructor provides his own playlist, which Ms Tan enjoys.
She adds: "It makes you feel like you are clubbing and exercising at the same time. I like it when they play EDM (electronic dance music), which keeps my heart rate pumping."
Where: 27 Boon Tat Street
When: 7Cycle offers 12 boot camp classes a week, including one for beginners on Saturdays at 10am; regular boot camp classes are held every day except Sunday
Cost: Single classes cost $45 but classes can also be bought in bulk, for anywhere from $27 to $42 a class. Newcomers can buy a one-week unlimited trial for $49
Info: Go to 7cycle.sg