Robert and Connie Hurwitz are no Mr. and Mrs. Olympia. After years of sporadic dieting, they had lost some weight. But they wanted to lose more, and their muscle tone left something to be desired.
So when they read about the Muscle and Fitness Bodybuilding Camp, they signed up.
As arrival day at the camp neared recently, the 45-year-old Hurwitz imagined being among muscle-bound campers who would scoff at his "pear-like body."
"I expected to be the small, fat, little guy," Hurwitz said.
But when he arrived, he realized that few of his fellow campers had the bulging muscles he had imagined.
"I don't feel like the small, fat, little guy; I looked around and said, 'Hey, I did pretty good,' " Hurwitz said, sitting with his wife on a bench in a corner of the camp gym.
For about $800, Hurwitz and his fellow muscle campers lift weights and attend nutrition and training seminars while living and eating for one week at Loyola Marymount University.
There are four sessions, and about 750 people--from engineers to rodeo bull riders--are expected to take part by the end of the summer, said Vince Scalici, an assistant director of the camp.
Most of the campers are people already interested in bodybuilding, who learned about the camp through Muscle and Fitness magazine, which is one of the sponsors. Instructors include former Mr. and Mrs. Olympias and a number of professional bodybuilders who have won the Mr. Universe and other bodybuilding competitions worldwide.
The Muscle and Fitness Bodybuilding Camp, operated by a private company that rents space from the university, began five years ago in New Jersey when directors Marc Missoreck and David Zelon, both bodybuilding professionals, saw a need for a comprehensive summer camp for bodybuilders similar to the basketball and football camps run by other professional athletes.
They gathered professional bodybuilders to instruct campers with varying degrees of experience. Professional nutritionists teach proper dieting techniques that stress nutrition and exercise as the best means to lose weight. After the first year, the camp moved to Loyola Marymount.
The gym, equipped with $500,000 worth of fitness equipment (including free weights, stationary bicycles, Nautilus machines and treadmills), looks like a bodybuilding supermarket. Areas are marked off--chest, back, shoulders, legs, arms--in the 12,000-square-foot facility for work on particular parts of the body.
At the far side of the room, a "squat machine" is surrounded on three sides by aluminum bleachers. Berry De Mey, who placed third in the Mr. Olympia competition in 1988, stands by the machine and gives a lecture on its use to develop strong legs.
As De Mey tightens his quadriceps in illustration, many of the 150 campers--in tights or sweats or Gold's Gym tank tops--flash cameras and focus video camcorders on him. "I have to show people what I did on my vacation," said one camper with a camera.
When De Mey finishes posing, he demonstrates the proper way to do a squat and then calls for a volunteer from the audience.
Warren Schetzen, a 35-year-old custom van dealer from New York, volunteers. "This is the one thing I came here for," he said, standing beside the squat machine with De Mey. Many of the campers, like Schetzen, said they had come to the camp with a particular goal in mind.
After the lecture, the group walks across the campus for a lunch of brown rice, protein drinks, hard-boiled eggs, salad and steamed turkey burgers.
For Henri Stetter, a Swiss business executive who lives in Hong Kong, the bland lunch is a welcome change. He complains of oily foods and lack of health consciousness in the Far East.
He says friends laughed at him when they learned that he planned to spend part of his vacation at a bodybuilding camp. But Stetter, the head of the sporting goods manufacturing division of his company, says the camp will help him learn more about the sporting goods industry in this country. The 34-year-old former member of the Swiss national basketball team also expects to improve his diet and weight-training skills for his daily hourlong workouts.
"I'm happy with myself. I'm just doing this to keep in shape," Stetter said. "I have a son who is 8 years old, and my goal is that 10 years from now I'll be able to keep up with him."
At an average age of 29, some of the campers had led lives as "couch potatoes," disregarding physical fitness, according to at least one camper, Lawrence Chabra, a graphic designer from New York.
Scalici says many of the people at camp take vacation time to be there, and "two years ago a couple spent their honeymoon here." He said that attaining bigger muscles and the desire to look better are the primary reasons people come to the camp.
"They come from all over, 50 states and 20 foreign countries, but they all want to look better," he said.
For the majority of campers, looking better is tantamount to feeling better.
"I feel like I can conquer anything when I walk out of the gym," said Gary Downing, a former Marine who owns a gym in Columbus, Ohio.
"I think a lot of men feel small," said Connie Hurwitz, one of 33 women at the camp. "Bodybuilding helps their egos and helps them feel more of a man. I don't know why, but I've heard it from several of them at our table. Each man had a certain part of his body that made him feel like he didn't look like a strong man."
Bodybuilding is "a confidence thing," Scalici said. "Many people call up the camp apprehensive, saying, 'I don't really have much of a body. Can I still come?' "I admire those people when they come here. They have a bit more guts to stick their fat bellies out. The first day they don't know what to expect, but by the final night, if they're in a big T-shirt or a bikini, they'll all be posing on stage."
Connie Hurwitz said bodybuilding has given her a better attitude toward her body, despite the fact that she is not as thin as she would like to be. "I can actually say that I see definition now. . . . I feel good about me. I guess I'm feeling good about me because I see results."