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Hunger Games

The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu’s new four-night program promises quick gains—and losses.

James Kohler, a behemoth with 20-inch biceps and a neck the size of a tree trunk, reaches over my head to affix a gas mask–like contraption to my face. The device, which links to a computer attached to a treadmill, will restrict and measure my ability to inhale and exhale while I run—slowly at first, then faster and faster. As I pick up speed, I point at intervals to a sign in front of me to illustrate my level of exertion. The numeral 1 on the chart means very light effort, while 10 indicates total fatigue.

By minute two, I am a 5. At minute three, an 8. Minute four never happens—I am toast. But Kohler, an exercise physiologist at the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village’s California Health & Longevity Institute, is impressed. “You are in very good shape,” he says, removing the mask from my beet-red face. “Most people don’t make it past the first 90 seconds.”

It is day one of the Ranch 4.0, a new four-night health retreat offered by the Ranch at Live Oak Malibu and taking place at the nearby Four Seasons in Westlake Village. Debuted in September, the program (priced at $3,800 per person, all inclusive) is an abbreviated version of the Ranch at Live Oak Malibu’s weeklong boot camps, which occur at the 120-acre retreat in the Santa Monica Mountains outside Los Angeles. The 4.0 version features the same rigorous regimen as the original—with up to nine hours of daily exercise and a diet free of sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, soy, and dairy—but incorporates the luxuries of a stay at the Four Seasons, as well as the scientific testing of the hotel’s institute.

At the institute, I undergo a battery of tests (including my treadmill procedure, which measures metabolism and endurance) and an inventory of my habits (alcohol and red meat: yes; cigarettes: no). My fellow guests and I then gather in the hotel’s greenhouse lounge—designed exclusively for Ranch 4.0 participants—for a sparse dinner of spinach leaves and a main course with the contemptuous name of “cauliflower steak.”

To be sure, the Ranch 4.0 is no sublime spa getaway. Rather, the results-drivenprogram is intended to jump-start a healthy lifestyle. “It’s a shock to the system for sure,” says Alex Glasscock, who, along with his wife, Sue, opened the Ranch at Live Oak Malibu in 2010. “But it’s important to remind our bodies that we don’t have to rely on sugar and caffeine and alcohol to get through a day. For most of our clients, this is a way to get back on track.”

The Glasscocks’ version of clean living begins with an early-morning yoga session at the Four Seasons’ fitness studio followed by a 5-to-6-hour hike and up to four additional hours of fitness classes—stretching, weight training, and more yoga. Daily massages serve as merciful breaks from the strenuous slate of activities, as do small but frequent meals. In the evenings, post-dinner lectures led by the program’s über-fit staff focus on healthy practices for real life, including food guides and fitness tips based on the results of our tests at the institute.

By day four, I find that many of the hardships of day one have become routine. I rise before my 5:30 am wake-up call. I finish first in a 10-mile hike. And, though my gut groans at the sight of my miniature chickpea-and-kale falafel balls, my taste buds are grateful for the fresh flavors. Back at the institute, Kohler spares me the strain of another treadmill test, but an exit checkup shows empirical signs of improvement: 3 pounds and 7 inches lost.

Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, California, 818.575.3000, www.fourseasons.com; The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu, 888.777.2177, www.theranchmalibu.com

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