The Most Intense Four Days of My Life

by Natasha Wolff | December 2, 2015 12:00 pm

Ever since I first heard about the Ranch at Live Oak[1], an intense, weeklong immersive fitness and diet experience in Malibu launched four years ago by husband and wife Alex and Sue Glasscock, I’ve been curious. I’m relatively active—I do Pilates and yoga regularly and take three FlyWheel classes a week. I’ve also been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, but like everyone, I have my weaknesses. (Hello, lattes and local beer.) After a summer of hosting international guests and a surfing injury that disrupted my usual fitness routine, Alex and Sue’s recently launched four-day version, the Ranch 4.0[2], was just what I needed, and they invited me to be one of their guests. Here’s what happened.

Day One

I arrive at the Four Seasons Westlake[3] from a cross-country flight about 40 minutes before the program begins. The front desk won’t grant me room access until they confirm that it’s been prepped by the Ranch staff. Translation: The mini bar is removed and room service privileges revoked. Before I get my body fat tested, I’m introduced to my seven compadres in this four-day adventure.

There are female Hollywood heavyweights—an agent and a casting director—who appear to be my age and fitness level, a woman who I peg for a publicist due to her incredibly tight body and hip workout gear, a 40-something triathlete guy with perfect posture and another tall, serious-looking man. Then there’s the two I’m most afraid of getting lapped by: a 60-something couple from Boston. She’s a tiny sparkplug with zero body fat, and he has loads of energy.

We spend the next few hours getting measured, weighed and shuttled between machines, treadmills and scales. In the VO2 test, designed to read one’s oxygen output, the subject wears a heart rate monitor, a finger pressure reader and an oxygen mask. Once I suit up and start walking on the treadmill, I’m instructed to indicate my level of exertion by pointing to a number, and about three minutes into this experiment I quit. Not because I felt like I was wheezing from the exercise, but because it was the most awkward experience.

After a stretching/yoga class, we receive our results; apparently I’m more out of shape than I imagined. I haven’t eaten in 16 hours (one must fast prior to body fat testing) and I’m seriously considering defecting—I’ve got a friend just 20 minutes away—when we’re told it’s time for a hike. To wane my hunger someone on staff hands me an apple.

Dinner is at 7:30 p.m. No one in our octet speaks much as we attack the salad and quinoa “meatloaf.” (In addition to a veggie diet, the Ranch promotes wheat-, alcohol-, caffeine-, sugar-, soy-, dairy-free living. In the past, I’ve maintained such habits, but it’s the Smurf-sized portions that are the challenge). Our first night ends with some sharing around the group, which is right up there with the treadmill on my happiness index. We’re given journals and encouraged to write three goals and three obstacles. I ask if we’re expected to share them later in the week. When the answer is no, I scribble some down.

Day Two

Turns out I was wrong about my fellow pilgrims in pain. The publicist, Rachel*, is a 40-something stay-at-home mom of five. And the tri guy, Scott, is actually in his fifties and has never done a marathon. We eventually dub them “the elites” as they consistently lead the group (by about 30 minutes) on our daily four-hour hikes, while the casting director and I consistently take up the rear.

This morning starts as they all do at the Ranch with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call and stretching/yoga class at 6. Breakfast—no more than 400 calories—is followed by the aforementioned hike, after which we head to Malibu to do squats, lunges, push-ups and other moves across a stretch of sand. Lunch (a cup of gazpacho and some coconut water) is gobbled in minutes. The only thing that gets us to move is the promise of in-room massages.

But first, we’ve got a circuit class. This 45-minute outdoor session is essentially the same workout we did at the beach: loads of planks, more lunges and some abdominal work for good measure. I leave for my massage feeling tapped out and cranky. Someone hands me an apple.

Tonight’s dinner is a salad and a cauliflower “steak.” Our Ranch lesson is in how to read nutritional labels, which I think is pretty basic for such a health-conscious crowd. Did I mention I’m exhausted? We all go to bed before nine.

Day Three

This is the hardest hike day. We climb continuously uphill for a full mile. The snack stop is under an arch that reads “Peach, Love, Joy,” none of which I’m feeling. The hike back is easier, giving us time to appreciate the landscape—an endless expanse of charred yet living trees that survived a brutal forest fire last year. It’s symbolic for how I’m actually feeling—you can live through even the toughest pain.

After lunch (a delicious kale and chickpea salad that I often make at home), it’s massage-and-classes o’clock. Today’s fitness class is a cardio dance workout. I arrive to the studio and start showing off my MTV moves. Kate, the leader, and her staff can’t believe a.) I’ve got the moves like Jagger and b.) I’m smiling. Bonus: The daily yoga class feels more restorative, and dinner is falafel!

Day Four

No one in our octet needs a foot wrap or even has a blister. Kate says it’s a first. Today’s hike is a trek through a portion south of Mulholland Drive, thick with foliage and relatively flat lands. We enjoy a snack next to a sun-dappled pond populated with lily pads. Before arriving at the rest stop, the elites do “extra credit” and hike to a spot where M*A*S*H was filmed.

Lunch is followed by a circuit training class that ends in puddles of sweat, and later, my massage therapist encourages me to ice my swelling ankle from this morning’s hike and sit out this evening’s yoga class. I refuse to tarnish my perfect attendance rate and join the class mid-session.

By now, our little octet has fallen into a rhythm. We encourage and challenge each other. We make each other laugh and we stave off tears of physical pain. At dinner (sunflower seed risotto and salad), we’re tasked with giving thanks. This time I don’t feel as hokey and genuinely thank my compatriots for sharing this adventure with me.

Final Day

The a.m. yoga/stretch session is bittersweet. No one has any muscle aches, and although we’re excited to return to our respective spouses and careers, we’ve formed our own fitness family here. Now when we get weighed and measured, we share the results. Everyone has lost weight and inches. There’s a cooking demo and promises of meeting for red wine in the real world. Then we’re off. It’s sort of like summer camp friends. We have the fondest memories, the desire to make healthy living even more of a priority—and oh yes, looser pants.

*Names of fellow guests have been changed to protect the masochists.

More Details:

The all-inclusive program costs $4,100 per person, Thursday through Monday weekly. For more details and information about the 4-day program, check out[4].

  1. Ranch at Live Oak:
  2. Ranch 4.0:
  3. Four Seasons Westlake:

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