There are no shortcuts in wellness, but retreats often offer a chance to kickstart those healthy habit changes with vigour. The Ranch in California has long been synonymous with meaningful lifestyle overhaul and quick slimming solutions, with participants losing as much as six per cent of their body fat in a week. As international yoga teacher and Compare Retreats Expert Mary Tilson found out though, it’s not just about aesthetics—The Ranch, with its tough-love approach, is about building mental strength as much as the physical. Mary completed The Ranch 4.0 retreat programme on her recent trip to California, which condenses The Ranch Malibu’s high-intensity fitness and nutrition programme into a four-night retreat for those on a tighter schedule. Hosted at The Four Seasons Westlake Village, Mary checked in to discover what makes The Ranch’s boot camps so effective.
With its picturesque, rugged Californian coastline serving as the perfect outdoor gym, and every variety of wellness expert under the sun, it’s no wonder the highly-acclaimed, ultra-luxe “boot camp” The Ranch Malibu, has its roots in LA’s West Coast.
Before touching down in LAX, I had already completed an initial consultation call with The Ranch to confirm my physical ability was up to par and received a series of emails including an extensive information pack with a 30-day preparation plan.
As I made my way off the plane, Jason, a driver who was pre-arranged by The Ranch greeted me with a warm smile, swiftly grabbed my bags, and had us on our way in a matter of minutes. The vibrant shades of green and abundance of wildflowers on display easily stole my attention away from LA’s notorious traffic. Arriving at the end of March meant the rains were just beginning to subside and Southern California’s infamous super bloom was in full swing. I was already beginning to see the bright side of any challenges that may lie ahead. Between April and May are ideal times to book in at The Ranch to make most of the iconic spring scenery before the summer heat wave rolls in.
The drive is roughly one hour to The Four Seasons Westlake Village, depending on traffic and an additional 30 minutes to The Ranch Malibu location, nestled into the Santa Monica Mountains.
Every participant of The Ranch 4.0, including those who arrive with a partner, is provided with private accommodation at The Four Seasons Westlake Village to allow time for self-care. There are of course a few important modifications to every room before arrival: minibars are locked up, sugary snacks and coffee makers removed, and a generous bag of Epsom Salt is left behind to ease sore muscle pain. I was pleased to peel back the curtains beside the bed to reveal a stunning view of the hotel’s waterfall stone garden with a mountain backdrop.
Unlike the seven-day signature programme at The Ranch Malibu, which takes place at a secluded retreat in the mountains, The Four Seasons Westlake Village does require an added layer of personal restraint to avoid the surrounding restaurants, bars and coffee shop which are open to general guests. In order to limit temptation, a garden greenhouse became our retreat sanctuary, where clean plant-based meals were prepared by The Ranch 4.0’s celebrated Chef Meredith. We were also provided with a separate access point to our rooms in the Four Seasons through the California Health & Longevity Institute, which helped keep our focus aligned.
The 1,500 calorie-per-day meal plan excludes any use of animal products, processed foods, artificial sweetener, gluten, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. In order to prevent a complete shock to the system and ease guests into the detoxification process, The Ranch provides a thorough prep programme 30-days in advance and weekly follow up emails with words of encouragement.
As someone who regularly opts for a plant-based diet, the delicious, homemade meals were one of the greatest luxuries on our retreat. That being said, it is imperative for anyone taking part in The Ranch programmes to take the preparation seriously to avoid the risk of stomach upset, headaches, and other detox symptoms, as your body will need to reserve all of its energy for the programme itself.
At every meal, Chef Meredith presented us with a creative, plant-based spin on popular dishes such as ‘crab-less crabcakes’ made with hearts of palm, lentil burgers with crispy kale chips and a cauliflower crust pizza with basil pesto and macadamia nut cheese. Her passion as she described what was on the table left no question that every nutrient-dense bite was made with love. Several members of the group who expressed fears of a restrictive diet were pleasantly surprised by how filling the carefully portioned meals were.
The final day included a cooking class where Meredith revealed her secrets, demonstrating the simplicity of our favourite plant-based dishes and taking no excuses as she sent us home to cook for ourselves.
When asked about the standout feature of The Ranch compared to the infinite wellness retreats to choose from, Lisa, the Director of Operations, spoke without hesitation to the strictly enforced ‘no options’ guidelines that all participants are required to follow.
In addition to four-hour daily hikes, high-intensity fitness training, and a detoxifying meal plan, The Ranch Malibu location even goes as far as to confiscate car keys to make sure participants don’t escape. The tough love of The Ranch is certainly what distinguishes it from a luxury retreat that includes sitting by the pool sipping wine, but it is also what promises sustainable results and a newfound sense of empowerment. The glow in Lisa’s face as she described the long list of benefits of the programme served as a reminder that I was in good hands.
On check-in day, everyone on The Ranch 4.0 is given a brown leather bracelet in place of a watch to symbolise being on “Ranch Time”. It was reassuring to see a handful of people in the group who were returning for a second, third or fourth time, awarded with silver pendants on their wristband. From this point on, you are asked to relinquish responsibility and trust the process, even when the voice in your head starts steering you elsewhere.
05:30 Wakeup Call over the Radio
06:00 Guided stretching and myofascial release with the foam roller
07:00 Breakfast: The Ranch’s signature granola with fresh berries and almond milk
08:30 Four-hour hike
13:00 Lunch: Lentil veggie burgers with seasoned kale chips
14:00 Rest time
15:00 Strength Training
16:00 Core Exercise
17:00 Restorative Yoga
19:00 Dinner: Indian Curry with Chickpea “tofu”
The challenging schedule would not have been possible without the support of a team who was there to meet every need from wrapping blisters to handing out cool lavender towels at the end of the trail.
While it would be easy to write The Ranch off as an experience reserved for the insane, fitness junkies, it truly is accessible for anyone with a strong desire to create positive change. As we were frequently reminded, hikes are about the time rather than the distance which accommodates a wide range of physical ability.
After fuelling up on lunch, the afternoon fitness classes tap into any remaining energy, focusing primarily on the upper body and core, before we were melted into a restorative yoga class. The fitness trainer, Peter showed no mercy as he took us through gruelling circuits, which I found myself crawling between by day four. The classes were made accessible through modifications, music, and a healthy dose of humour.
BodPod Body Composition testing, which reveals body fat percentage, and VO2 testing for maximum fitness capacity with Dr Scott Silveira of the California Health & Longevity Institute is also included. I would highly recommend taking advantage of both given the valuable insights shared into personal health. Scott also delivered a lecture to the group with practical tools to improve results and resources for ongoing training.
The Ranch’s guests are driven by a range of motivations from weight-loss to kicking a smoking habit to needing time to disconnect, and will inevitably discover unexpected benefits along the way.
I’ve always maintained a healthy level of scepticism towards “quick-fix” solutions when it comes to wellness. If you’re wondering if you will lose weight during this retreat, it is almost guaranteed that at least a few pounds will be shed provided that the prescribed programme is followed. However, I found the true transformation happened within, in those moments of deep connection alone on the trail, awe-struck by California’s wild, natural beauty, and the sense of empowerment that came from exceeding self-imposed limits and confidently walking away with a new set of goals. It comes as no surprise that there is a 45% return rate from Ranch guests, and I can certainly see myself contributing to that statistic.
While there is certainly no sugar-coating the intensity of The Ranch 4.0, if true transformation is what you’re after, you can count on the team to take you to your edge and hold you accountable every step of the way. As our guide, Angela, reminded us on the last day, “The body is capable of amazing things. It’s the mind that needs to be convinced otherwise.”
The support from the staff. I was impressed by the way our guides created alternate routes to challenge the go-getters at the head of the pack, which included a couple of former marathon runners, while creating opportunities for the rest of the group, such as one woman recovering from a back injury to enjoy the hike at a manageable pace. As someone in the middle, it was a relief to not have to feel a sense of competition with anyone but myself.
My best advice while considering this programme is to make the commitment and give yourself to the programme 100%, including the full 30-days leading up to the retreat. This also requires taking the time needed off work and making sure family needs are met prior to the start of the programme.