“No talking!” barks out the slim, uber-fit Rella Itin as two dozen new recruits who signed up for a six-week intensive boot camp gather around her on the Tel Aviv boardwalk. “Do I hear talking?” asks the 33-year-old, with mock incredulousness. “Give me 10 push-ups right now!” The class, in one swift movement, drops down to the pavement as directed.
The instructions over the next hour come fast and furious: Squats, lunges, planks, jumping jacks, sprints. “Shirli! Get your butt down!” Itin reprimands. “Tamar! Why are you walking?!” “Roni - straight legs!”
Pep is easy to come by. “I want to see high energy everybody!” Itin calls out, her ponytail bopping up and down, her voice at once cheerful and commanding: “E-N-E-R-G-Y!”
“I am overwhelmed. I am so upset. I can barely do anything,” one out of breath woman confides to Itin as she struggles to get her body down into yet another plank.
“But you can! You are amazing. Push yourself,” says the coach, smiling but not letting up. “It will get easier. I promise you.”
A common misconception about Israeli women – that Israelis, of course, do little to debunk – is that they are all hot. Hot, and incredibly fit. And this, so goes the storyline, is thanks to the army.
For Israeli women, as everyone knows, are drafted at 18, just like the men, and then serve a mandatory two years crawling through wadis by night and hiking through scorching deserts, lacy lingerie peeping out from under faded fatigues, by day. And - let's just keep going with the narrative here – it is this service to country that directly leads to a lifetime of great fitness and, of course, hotness. Cue "Hatikva"! Come visit Israel!
But alas, this picture is not exactly accurate. Aside from the fact that at least 35 percent of women end of getting exemptions from the army, of those that do serve, after a very short basic training, an estimated 97 percent then spend more time squinting at computer screens, filing papers and, yes, fetching coffee than racing through mine fields or charging across borders with their galil rifles held high.
Not to mention, when these women, be they combat soldiers or clerks, finish their service, they are usually a good 10 pounds heavier than when they began, thanks in no small part to those well known IDF culinary standards of white bread and halva.
They then go on to live regular ol' lives, filled with everything from late-night TV dinners and ice cream splurges to childbirth, a lack of free time and dauntingly high gym membership fees.
With the latest Central Bureau of Statistics figures showing almost half the population here is overweight and some 50 percent live sedentary lifestyles, getting no exercise whatsoever, it becomes clear that this country has not discovered any secret to long-term fitness or health. And don't let anyone start bringing up the story of healthy breakfasts now either.
All this means, says Itin, flashing her trademark tough-love smile, that it’s time to return to the basics, otherwise known as boot camp. Which is what is going on this early evening on the boardwalk.
Leave it to an Aussie to come over and give the Israelis a needed kick in the you-know-what.
Itin, a lifelong athlete, who was born in Israel to Russian immigrant parents and moved to Sydney at age 1, is the undisputed queen of the boot camp scene here. In fact, before she moved back to Israel in 2003, there was no scene at all, for this particular fitness craze had yet to reach our shores.
After a few years training on her own, Itin decided to ditch her high-powered Tel Aviv finance job and turn her passion for boot camp into a full-time career.
As the sun sets behind the marina, the class scoops up their water bottles and jogs over to the next station along the beach.
“What are we doing here?” Itin yells out.
“Burning fat!” the class calls out in unison.
“I can't hear you!” she challenges.
And then, before anyone can catch their breath, it’s intervals all over again: push-ups, crunches, more squats, boxing, stairs, more planks.
“You are all so dirty I love it,” she tells the group, now covered in sweat and sand. “We are kicking ass!” she cheers. Passersby, bemused, join in with their own comments from the sidelines.
“Go! Go!” says one.
“Nice abs,” calls out another.
“A lot of people tell me that they are scared. That they are so out of shape,” says Itin, sitting down later to talk about the necessary balance between interval training and a healthy diet. “There are people who haven't run once since their army basic training and spend hours in front of computers. They feel lethargic.”
“Sports make us all feel good,” she explains, “because of the adrenaline and the endorphins. You get the blood circulating, and breathe in more air – and all that results in feeling good and having more energy for life.”
The goal for every class, she says, aside from burning fat and getting her recruits fit, is helping everyone to feel “amazing.”
And that, well, that’s hot. Ok, now cue "Hatikva."
Itin runs ongoing boot camp courses throughout the year, each one lasting between two and six weeks. Men are welcome too, and a growing number now show up.
Classes take place every day, mornings and night, in different outdoor locations around Tel Aviv and Ra'anana. There are also special classes for new mothers, and there are both individual and small group classes.
Boot Camp costs NIS 100 a week, with no membership fees. Those who sign up can come to as many hour-long sessions as they want during the course, but are expected to show up to at least two a week. If they don’t Itin will get on their case, giving them wake -up calls and sending them texts.
Contact her for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone number:+972 547 223 460.
Or check out the website: www.bootcampisrael.com