Pounding up the steep edge of a rocky ridge in Southern Spain's Sierra Nevada mountain range, I can feel my leg and bum muscles burning as we push onwards and upwards at a fast pace. Although the exertion means I don't have any breath left to spare on chatting to my companions I feel more physically vital, not to mention emotionally calm, than I have in months.
This is day five of fitness guru Danni Levy's 5 Star Bootcamp, based at the five star Los Monteros Hotel in Marbella, and it's plain to see that the relentless tyre throwing, psycho step classes and circuit training exercises leading up to this brutal hike have had a positive effect on every member of our sixteen-strong team. Hiking in this beautiful scenery lends a wider perspective, both literally and metaphorically, and it is clear that we are all noticeably fitter than we were when we flew into Malaga airport a few days ago – most of us pasty, bloated and stressed out.
We've all seen those pictures of reality and soap stars and various WAGs building up a sweat on the beach, engaging in vicious looking boxing and kettle bell workouts, expressions of intense pain etched on their faces. Thanks to TOWIE, we are also all familiar with the phrase "no carbs before Marbs", which is how the cast refer to getting in shape for a soujourn at their favourite holiday hotspot. They've taken it a step further now, combining carbs and Marbs as they decamp to Essex-on-sea to drop a dress size in a week, shedding pounds and inches fast. With so much celebrity endorsement and a slew of inspiring before and after pictures to prove they really do work, bootcamps are springing up all over the Mediterranean to meet demand. There are several in Marbella alone, but as a bootcamp veteran there is no doubt that the 5 Star Bootcamp is the best I've ever been on.
Firstly, Los Monteros is a fantastic base; it's a well-run, beautifully appointed hotel - the sort of place you'd book for a proper holiday. The ambience here is a million miles away from the bunk bed, scratchy blanket and army rations found at so many camps. It is beyond lovely to stagger back to your room after a crazy day comprising seven physically gruelling workouts and relax outside on your huge balcony, to slip into the fluffy bathrobe and run a deep bath filled with posh bubbles. The food, whilst necessarily calorie controlled and super healthy, is delicious and it's a revelation that despite the small portions none of us complain too badly of hunger pangs. Breakfast is egg white omelettes freshly cooked to order, ham and fruit, yoghurt or porridge from the plentiful buffet. Pointedly ignoring the platters of chorizo, tortilla and creamy scrambled eggs, not to mention the ice bucket filled with champagne, is hard but will power is easier to find in such a tight knit group. Lunch is fish and salad or brown rice with chicken and tomatoes and dinner could be soup followed by steak with spinach and vegetables or chicken and ratatouille. Bone tired, as soon as we finish eating we head to bed, where we are all agreed we haven't slept so soundly for years.
Secondly, the team of trainers out here motivate us as much as they make us laugh. It's a hell of a lot more pleasurable to giggle through the pain of an endless series of squat thrusts and jumping lunges than it is to grimace at the antics of a shouty, sergeant major type. Most of us respond better to charisma and enthusiasm than we do to yelling and screaming, and although these guys don't let us get away with anything less than a hundred percent effort at all times they also have charm by the bucket load. The gorgeous Danni Levy presents a diet and exercise show on the Active Channel and stars in Living TV's series Bigger Than Britney. She is also the author of The Pyramid Diet (Penguin, £12.99), which, unlike the many high-protein diets out there such as the Atkins and the Dukan, is sustainable, suitable for everyone and allows you to be sociable too. Just looking at her stunning gym-honed figure as she demonstrates the moves makes you want to give it your all in the hope that one day you too could look this good. Her sidekick Dean Ash is a bodybuilder with a never ending supply of one liners whose muscles really are something to behold. Mick Ham is a boxer from the world famous Peacock Gym in Canning Town who wears t-shirts with slogans like 'Stamina for Sale' and puts us through our paces on the beach with boxing based circuits and pad work in pairs.
Day one was probably the biggest shock to the system, starting as it did with a four mile run along the beach, in the sand which plays havoc with your calves, before breakfast. This was followed by circuit training, followed by kettle bells, followed by Swiss ball before lunch. An hour later and we were back on the grass under the trees by the pool stretched out on our mats doing pilates, which was followed by a Salsa class. I work out regularly, doing body pump followed by spinning twice a week, lots of dog walking and weekly yoga sessions but this was a most definite shock to my system. Although I thought I was fit before I arrived it's six months since my last bootcamp and seven hours exercise in one day has been a wake-up call.
By day three I feel noticeably slimmer and can see the beginnings of some impressive abdominal muscles, by day four my triceps are pleasingly visible for the first time in ages. I feel compelled to walk around flexing my arms like Popeye and saying, "welcome to the gun show". Avoiding the morning champagne bucket has become a breeze and because I'm not hungry I don't even bother eating the chocolate left on my pillow before I turn in – an unprecedented move, hunger or no. The psycho step classes don't seem to get any easier but it's clear that the pounds are falling off us.
Scrambling up a steep incline in the rocky terrain of the Sierra Nevada, there is nothing to see but vast nature all around us. This bit of Andalucia is made for hiking and thanks to the week's events I feel like a machine and couldn't love it any more. Everyone's mood is buoyant, the jokes are flying around and as a herd of mountain goats skip past ahead of us the 5 Star Bootcampers break into the Sound of Music, Glee-style. A four hour hike up the side of a very tall mountain might not sound like a winner on paper but this is turning out to be my best day of the year. There is something about achieving good results through hard work with a group of mates that leaves you all on top of the world, high on life and determined to keep it that way.
At the weigh-in on the last day I'm delighted to learn I've lost seven pounds, two inches from my waist and one each from my bust and hips. Not only have I seen off the dreaded muffin top right in time for the start of summer I also made a load of lovely new friends and was inspired to enter a 10k fun run the weekend after I got home. I've got to tell you that I practically skipped it, thrilled with my new level of fitness thanks to Danni and her team and determined to keep it up. If you want to be fitter, healthier and have more energy then book yourself a place at the 5 Star Bootcamp and buy a copy of this woman's book immediately – I promise you won't regret it.
The Pyramid Diet by Danni Levy is published by Michael Joseph, £12.99. For more information on Danni's 5 Star Bootcamp in Marbella, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By: Sara Lawrence