When Stephanie Dignan left her job as a financial adviser to start her own fitness business, she had no idea she was about to change hundreds of lives.
Just four months earlier, the Glenelg High School and University of Maryland graduate began teaching boot camp classes at a local gym.
"I thought, 'Why not? I'll do it for fun,'" Dignan says.
But that fun quickly developed into a passion -- one Dignan wanted to pursue full time. So in 2008, she launched her solo venture, The Boot Camp Girl LLC, with hopes of taking her boot camp skills and fitness ideas to clients across Howard County.
Now entering her fifth year, Dignan, 40, employs five instructors and teaches classes at four county locations. She has more than 100 clients at any given time, ranging from new mothers who want to shed some post-baby weight to marathon runners searching for new ways to stay fit. Many of Dignan's clients have experienced dramatic body changes, as the "before" and "after" photos on her website attest. More importantly, though, Dignan says her clients have altered their lifestyles to be healthier overall.
"It's not just about the weight loss change," Dignan says. "It's about people taking more responsibility for their health."
We recently asked Dignan about her business, how boot camp works and if people who are out-of-shape can really survive a class.
Q: When and how did your interest in fitness begin? A: I've enjoyed fitness since I was a child. I've participated in gymnastics, swimming, diving and cheerleading.
Q: What exactly is boot camp? A: There are different types of boot camp offered out there, but no two boot camps are the same. The Boot Camp Girl program combines a challenging workout with additional support and accountability outside of the workout. The Boot Camp Girl workout consists of cardiovascular conditioning (running or walking, plyometrics), strength training (weights, stability balls, medicine balls, resistance bands), stretching (yoga), and Pilates for a well-rounded workout. The workouts vary, so no two workouts are the same. That keeps everyone interested. ... We (also) really emphasize making long-term healthier eating habits by encouraging food charting and goal setting so people can keep track and be responsible for their choices.
Q: How did you get your nickname, "The Boot Camp Girl?" A: I have always been interested in teaching boot camp, and the name "The Boot Camp Girl" just fit!
Q: How do skills from your former job as a financial planner carry over into your fitness business? A: There are a lot of transferable skills. As a financial adviser, you need to find your own clients and do your own consultation and marketing. It's like having a mini-business. It also required communication skills, helping the client with accountability and goal setting, which are also necessary in fitness. It's just a different product. And boot camp is more fun.
Q: How is your boot camp program different from that of a gym? A: Boot camps at gyms are usually just a workout. There is no additional support that most people need. If you go to five one-hour boot camps per week, that's only five hours. There are another 163 hours that week that you're on your own! With Boot Camp Girl, I and the other instructors give that support outside of boot camp when people need it. … What's great is that we do modifications for beginners so they are able to complete the workout as well. Our group supports each other and has developed a camaraderie that makes the workouts even more fun.
Q: Describe your technique and some of the equipment you use during a class. A: Every boot camp workout is different. Not only does each instructor design different workouts each time, but each instructor has their own style. The students get new workouts and new styles depending on their instructor that day. The equipment varies; sometimes we use no equipment, other times we may use hand weights, resistance bands, medicine balls, sandbags and stability balls.
Q: Can anyone take a boot camp class? A: Boot camp is for all people, all shapes, sizes, ages and fitness levels. You don't need to get in shape first before you take the class. People have told me that the group is friendly and helpful and that they feel welcome on their first day.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in your job? A: Hearing the word "job" is funny because much of the time I feel like I'm having fun with a hobby, not like a typical job. However there are a lot of responsibilities of running a business. My biggest challenge is getting people to adopt a new mindset, not just coming to the workout or losing weight. Many people in my boot camp have lost a significant amount of weight and made a lot of positive physical changes. However, having a new mindset can take a little longer.
Q: What is the biggest reward in your job? A: By far, my biggest reward is seeing the positive impact that the program has had not only on people's health but in their life overall. Losing weight, getting toned, feeling better, better relationships, more confidence, more energy -- the list goes on!
Q: Do you have any health or exercise tips for our readers? A: Find a way to fit exercise into your day. A little can go a long way. It's better to do 15 minutes a day than two hours twice a week. This is why I created my nine-minute workouts that are on my website, thebootcampgirl.com. Everyone can find a way to fit nine minutes in their day. If it's done with a focus and students challenge themselves, a lot can be accomplished.