COVINGTON - For D.J. Seals, fitness is survival, not only from a health standpoint, but because of his job. A detective with the Covington Police Department and a member of the Covington/Newton County SWAT team, fitness can mean the difference between life and death.
"In SWAT, we teach and we preach physical fitness, and we keep ourselves to the highest level we can be," he said. "We expect a lot of ourselves. We always push. We can get a call out today in this 100-degree weather and put 70 pounds of gear on for 12 hours. You have to function through it, and the only way to do that is to be in the best shape you can be."
He is now sharing his philosophy of pushing to the highest level with members of the Covington YMCA. The class is called Boot Camp and is being offered at 8 and
9 a.m. Saturdays and at 7 a.m. Mondays.
"We don't require any equipment. All that is required is comfortable clothing and a good pair of tennis shoes," he said, adding that the class is for men and women of all fitness levels. "We don't want people to shy away because they feel they are not in good enough shape for this class. The idea is to push yourself to your own personal limit and use the class to get in shape."
Seals took his own personal boot camp philosophy to others at the invitation of his pastor, who asked that he begin a class at Covington Christian Church. He said a while later he and Covington YMCA Associate Executive Director Louly Hay-Knapp were talking and she asked him if he'd consider doing the same kind of class for them.
"I said, sure, but it's not your regular workout routine. It's pretty intense," Seals warned. "She said, 'We've had people ask for this kind of class, but we just haven't had anybody who knew how to instruct it.' So, we put together a class ... We've been doing it a few months now and people keep coming back, keep signing up and their friends are signing up."
He stressed that a thorough medical check-up and waivers are necessary.
"If your doctor has told you not to lift 10 pounds, even though we're not doing weights, this is not for you," he said. "It's strenuous exercise. I don't make any bones about that. This is over the top."
And, he insists that people eat breakfast before doing an hour of boot camp.
"People don't realize this is using so much energy off of your body that it is going to expend to the point of gone. I don't mean tired, I mean gone," he said. "I have had people 30 to 40 minutes into it say, 'I got nothing left. What happened?' ... and I'll say, 'Did you eat breakfast?' Don't necessarily belly up to the Waffle House, but eat a banana, some yogurt, something good for you in the morning that can fuel you throughout, and bring a lot of water."
Seals said he uses a lot of sprints, push-ups, sit-ups and kinetic exercises, as well as moving quickly through the routine for the entire hour doing things like running stairs and running up and down the bleachers at Sharp Gym, where the classes are held.
"It's a lot of muscular exercise, and I work on a theory of muscle exhaustion - failure. Not, 'I'm tired,' not, 'It hurts,' but 'I can't go anymore.' I don't say give me 10 push-ups. We just do push-ups until you're done. Then we'll do another exercise and go back to push-ups. By the end of the hour, you're done."
Seals said his students range from people in their late teens to mid-60s.
"I'm really happy with the cross section of people who have shown up," he said. "But the average student is frankly female, which I thought was very interesting, and between 35 to 40 years old."
Seals said he wants his students to reach their individual goals.
"It's totally personal. I don't expect you to do everything I do or the person over here does. Throw that out of your head," he said. "You know what you need to work on, especially after that first class you know real quick where your weaknesses are and where your strengths are because I work you from your toes to your head ... I'm not going to push you any harder than you can go, but I am going to know when you're sandbagging me. It's personal with yourself. Don't cheat yourself. You may do five push-ups and the person next to you may do 10. But if you've each done all you can do, that's all right because you've both given me 100 percent."
He said the exercises and concepts he uses have come from both personal experience and study.
"I don't ask anybody to do anything that I haven't done and that I haven't found that worked. It's worked for me. I think it's enjoyable and apparently other people do, too, because they keep coming back, which kind of blows me away. They'll be panting at the end of the day, but they'll say, 'I'll be back next week," he said.
Seals said anyone who would like to come observe a class before joining is welcome. For more information about class sessions and costs, call the YMCA at 770-787-3908 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org