While there are those people who jump headlong into exercise, pulled in by the rush of endorphins and an eagerness to look and feel better, others need a push.
That’s where Tony Ludlow comes in. The former staff sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps leads participants five days a week in push-ups, crunches, weight training and jumping jacks through his USMC Fitness Boot Camp in the parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church in East Memphis.
Ludlow hails from Ft. Smith, Ark., and a military family.
“I’ve got family members that have served in the Marine Corps going back generations,” he said. “Military service was kind of expected. It wasn’t really a matter of whether or not you would serve, just which branch you’d serve in.”
He enlisted after high school and served from 1975 to 1985. After leaving the Corps, he went into education and taught world history and English as a second language in Japan at an international school and a Japanese University. He had served in Millington and came back to Memphis in 1998, where he taught and was the athletic director at Memphis Catholic High School.
He began a similar boot camp program while in Japan.
“The parents would drop the kids off at school in the morning and then they would work out with me, and then they’d go on their way to their jobs,” he said.
He coached multiple sports at Catholic and restarted the boot camp program in 1999. When his sport was in season, he would be on campus by 7:15 a.m. and might not leave school until 10 p.m., going home to grade papers and complete lesson plans. The boot camp grew from his desire to stay fit while making some extra money on the side.
“I had to carve out some time in my own day to work out and early in the morning was the only time I had.”
A 5:30 a.m. class was implemented.
“It did not take off,” he said, joking that “I started out with five and by the time we got to the end of the first month, I had grown it to three. So I didn’t really think this was going anywhere.”
Despite that slow start, it had grown to a dozen by 2000, adding another class when his basketball season was over and time became available. Now retired from teaching, there are three classes with about 150 regulars, the 5:30 a.m. class averaging about 65.
Ludlow says that at the time he began his program there were only five similar programs in the country. After being featured in a Wall Street Journal article in 2005, he said, “it was like last week’s step aerobics instructor became this week’s boot camp instructor.”
Though others claim to be bringing boot camp to the masses, Ludlow has experienced the real deal. That’s not to say he brings every aspect of Parris Island to East Memphis. Touted on his website as being a “Marine Corps style fitness program,” he adds that it’s “… for everyone at any fitness level.”
The workout is conducted at a fast pace and is varied depending on the day, but focuses on push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, lunges and squats, and some light dumbbell work.
“I try and vary the workouts from day to day because I’m doing the workouts three times a day and I don’t want to be bored,” he said. “It’s the full-body workout, it’s not a body-builder workout; it’s really to emphasize all aspects of fitness, which would be muscle strength and stamina, cardio-respiratory strength and stamina, balance, flexibility and agility.”
Ludlow said people come to him to regain some youth and for the camaraderie of a “shared misery.” His client base is a cross-section, from former college athletes wanting to get back in shape to those who have never worked out at all; the youngest is 18 and the oldest is 67.
“What we had as a gift of youth, we no longer have as we get older,” he said. “That gift gets taken away, in the middle of the night somewhere, I guess, someone comes in and steals it from us and our metabolism has changed and our abilities have changed along with them.”
Ludlow pushes the Marine Corps discipline to the edge of the cliff, yet understands when to back off and does so with good-natured ribbing instead of insults.
“When you’ve got recruits on a small island off the coast of South Carolina, they’re not going anywhere,” he said. “That lawyer that shows up at my place driving his BMW, if I do the drill instructor routine on him, he can get in his BMW and drive home and never come back.”