Survival of the Fittest

"Drop and give me 50!"

It’s 8 a.m. Monday; red lights are blaring, and R&B is booming. I’m sweating on the treadmill in a small studio in West Hollywood, along with 24 other people who are hoping Barry Jay will whip them into shape at Barry’s Bootcamp — the hippest, hardest fitness class I’ve ever encountered.

"Do you hate me?" shouts the shirtless Jay, a 38-year-old muscleman from Monsey, N.Y. He stops at the treadmill next to mine. Panting, the slim blonde exhales: "No." He notches up her speed to seven. "This must be too easy for you," Jay says, and continues to circle the sweaty room, looking for cheaters — like me, a woman who secretly slows down when he’s not looking.

But he always knows. Luckily, when he catches me, he doesn’t mete out his usual punishment, to drop and do 25 pushups, shouting in between each one, "I will not cheat!", because it’s my first time at Bootcamp — and I’m pretty sure my last, if I make it out of here alive.

I didn’t know that I had this much sweat in my body. The hour-long class, which is divided between treadmill torture and weight training torment, is making me nauseous. "Throw up, and I’ll give you a free T-shirt, you won’t be the first," Jay says, smiling, as he sings along to Britney Spears and cheerfully pushes us to the max.

If you attend a full series of his Bootcamp, Jay promises you’ll be ready for battle, or Hollywood. Celebrity soldiers include — though not today — Sandra Bullock, Jamie Lee Curtis, Greg Kinnear and Christopher Noth (Big from "Sex in the City"). If you miss a class in the series without notification, Jay calls you on a speakerphone in front of everyone and makes them all do pushups. Public humiliation also comes if someone is cheating on the workout, or has a food list filled with too many calories.

But that’s what people have been paying Jay for since he founded Bootcamp with Rachel and John Mumford in October 1999. Jay, a Jewish publicist, had hit rock bottom after losing his job as PR man to stars such as Bill Cosby and living the party life of late nights and the drugs that went with it. He replaced the hard living with hard exercise, working in various fitness clubs around Los Angeles.

Though he’s never served in the military, Jay was inspired by its rigorous self-discipline, and created Bootcamp, which he teaches 27 times a week. "Fear creates our next challenge, something we need to embrace and then overcome. Overcome the obstacle and you will find victory," he says.

I don’t know about victory. Right now, I just want to complete 25 bicep curls, before I move on to 25 more pushups. I’m finally getting used to the burn, but I won’t be upset when the class is finished.

"On the count of three, I want everyone to release one big ‘Oy’," Jay tells us as we cool down. The response is weak; I think we have been pushed to our max.

"It will be painful, but you will except no other option. You will feel the benefits," he says. "You will find yourself willing to be pushed."

I’ll have to think about that.