Exercise regimen for humans goes to the dogs
By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES - It's not easy doing a standing-up rowing maneuver with a stretchy band while holding on to two leashed dogs, each doing its best to yank your arms from their sockets. But this is what you get on a Bowwow Workout - and no one in our group seems to be complaining.
On a brisk Sunday morning, nine dogs and 11 humans have made their way to Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood and are warming up before embarking on a mix of moderately vigorous hiking and strength training (and in my case, repeatedly calling one's dog to order) that will last one hour and take us on a loop through the park.
Personal trainer Bruce Gilbert, who runs this weekly workout, is here with his border collie Louie. Keith, a dog trainer, is here with bassadore Katsu and black Lab Shoyu.
Marion, from England, didn't bring a dog - "I always end up with a spare," she says. This morning she gets landed with arthritic Shelly, a shepherd-collie mix, one of mine.
The air is fresh as we make our way up a dirt trail, green exercise tubing in our hands. The chatter is of law, the high cost of plane flights to Europe and dog acupuncture. Safe inside the canyon, everyone pauses to let dogs off leashes and then assembles, per Gilbert's instructions, at a set of picnic tables.
"Push-ups!" he yells, and we place our hands on the benches and huff through 15 of them - beginners leaning on tables, intermediates on benches and the fittest of the fit putting his feet on the bench and doing his push-ups from the ground. Then it's farther up the hill, past oak, eucalyptus, prickly pear and a fan palm or two.
Before the class is done, we'll have put in one hour of cardio hiking and a range of drills at stations dotted around the park - shoulder presses, arm curls, reverse dips, forward lunges, side kicks - aimed at strengthening different parts of the body.
Gilbert, 41, came up with the idea for these workouts several years ago. The bulk of his business, Balanced Fitness, is focused on helping people regain strength after injuries and correcting muscular imbalances to prevent them. "But I really love dogs," he says. "It struck me that there's a lot of people out there who need to exercise more and a lot of dogs that need to exercise more."
He was already bringing Louie to Runyon Canyon several times a week - dogs can run free there. "I thought: 'Why don't I have people come to the park and put together a program that's just a little more structured than having them come and hike?' "
The workout makes use of natural and man-made items scattered through the park; we loop tubing through gates and tree limbs as we exercise our back, arm and shoulder muscles, lean on picnic tables for those push-ups, use wire fences for balance during side leg kicks, and old, crumbling edges of roadway for forward lunges and calf-stretches.
At an old tennis court, we pause again. Gilbert has brought dog treats and doles them out to all humans who have come empty-handed. It is time for the dogs to shine.
"Everyone, line up on the end, here," he calls. "What you're going to do is a shuttle run to the center. You're going to come back and give the dog a treat - if he stays. If he doesn't stay, he doesn't get it. Then go all the way to the end and do the same thing. They're supposed to sit and stay.
"All right - everyone, go!
Although, not entirely. Gilbert's dog Louie sits and stays. Fourteen-year-old Montana, who came with acupuncturist Eileen, sits as well - then runs to every returning human to snag as many treats as she can.
My dogs don't stay. They seem perplexed at the notion. They do get the treats.
The Runyon Canyon hike is brisk in places - and at one point, fairly brutal. A steep climb up a crumbly track dotted with railroad ties rewards us with a stunning view of the city, however. The dogs lope along with us - nearly all of them. My arthritic Shelly gamely makes the climb. Younger, sprier Nightshade turns back halfway up and is later found gamboling down below.
Scrub jays screech, crows caw and the distant traffic rumbles below. From the top of that hill of pain, across the valley you see a long, straggly stretch of dogs and people parading along a trail, looking like a band of nomads on some grand expedition.
Dogs, everywhere. Three King Charles spaniels. A setter, a Saint Bernard. A giant, loping, Hound-of-the-Baskervilles-type canine. A diminutive dog in a bright pink coat and orange cape accompanied by a matching, pink-clad owner. And a small pug in a plaid collar, who is offered vigorous, amorous attention all the way down the hill by one of our number, Aldo.
If you're the kind who likes to concentrate intensely on your form during workouts, this isn't the fitness forum for you. But if hiking is your thing and dogs are your thing, and your dog is not unruly or aggressive, it's a good way to spend an hour on a Sunday before the heat of the day kicks in.
Nearly everyone--human and canine--ended up panting a little, and some of the smallest dogs on the trail that day were carried up the steep spots. But there's water for the dogs-- and those stunning city views.
Note to self: Bring treats next time.
And plastic bags.
Further note to self: It's really time to train my dogs.
Exercise with your canine companion in a