How Effective Is a Boot Camp Workout?

women with personal trainer doing outdoor boot camp workout
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Boot camp fitness has become extremely popular and classes are popping up in many local parks and gyms. They are easy to spot—small groups sprinting, jumping, and doing push-ups in synch under the watchful eye of a fit drill sergeant. They aren't military cadets or a high school football team; these are adult fitness boot camp participants who've paid a fee to be put through the paces by a personal trainer.

Boot Camp Workout Basics

Boot camp workouts are similar to other circuit training workouts. They use many familiar body weight exercises such as pushups, burpees, and crunches. You move from one exercise to another quickly, which helps keep your heart rate elevated and your body burning more calories at the same time. The difference from doing a circuit yourself is that it is a group exercise session with a leader calling the shots.

Pros and Cons

Fitness boot camps are taking the place of many traditional exercise classes and while they are a great way to build fitness fast, there are some things you should look for when picking a fitness boot camp. And there are some things that should have you running the other way.

Pros:

  • Efficient: You can often get a whole body strength and cardio workout in each one-hour session.
  • Motivational: When you exercise with a group of people there is built-in motivation.
  • Calories Burned: The fast pace and demanding exercise help you burn more calories per session than you might in other group exercise sessions.
  • Lower Cost: By sharing the personal trainer, you get a reduced rate.
  • Something Different: Boot camp workout break up the boredom and monotony of the same old gym or cardio workouts.
  • Educational: Most boot camp instructors start and end the session with some fitness, health or nutrition education so you learn as you train.
  • Portable: The exercises you learn at boot camp classes can be done nearly anywhere with minimal equipment, so you can learn new ways to exercise anywhere.
  • Interval Training Emphasis: The nature of the boot camp makes it a perfect way to perform interval training on a regular basis.
  • Modifications: Group leaders can suggest modifications to exercises to meet differing fitness levels and abilities of those in the class, or have classes geared for different levels.

    Cons:

    • Geared to Advanced Exercisers: By nature, boot camp workouts are intense, so they may not be appropriate for beginners.
    • One Size Fits All: A boot camp workout is designed with some basic exercises that should accommodate a variety of different fitness levels, but you often have to adjust your workout to fit your personal fitness level and goals.
    • Limited Personal Instruction: Depending upon how many are in your class, the instructor may not be able to provide enough feedback regarding your form, technique and injury prevention.
    • Steep Learning Curve: The first week of a boot camp workout will probably be a bit frustrating as you learn the routines and deal with soreness from starting a new routine. In order for these workouts to get results, you'll need to stick with it for a month or more.
    • Risk of Injury: If you aren't used to workouts of high intensity and fast pace, you may be at greater risk of muscle strains and other injuries. It's best to start these classes already having done the exercises sufficiently so your body is ready to do them in quick succession.
    • Scheduling: Most boot camps are scheduled for early morning or early evening.
    • Variability With Instructors: A successful boot camp workout depends on the instructor's knowledge and training as well as enthusiasm and personality.

    Signs of a Good Fitness Boot Camp

    Before you simply sign up for a fitness boot camp, check to ensure you are enlisting in one of good quality:

    • Safety: Make sure that your boot camp class requires a fitness assessment before they put you through a full-on workout.
    • Medical Clearance: Your instructor should ask if you have a specific medical condition, limitation or injury and tailor your program to these concerns. If they aren't comfortable working with your particular condition, they should offer to work with your doctor or refer you to someone with more experience with your condition.
    • Education and Certifications: Ask about the instructor's education, certification, and experience running fitness training programs. At a minimum. he or she should have a college education in a health or fitness discipline or a nationally recognized certification such as ACSM, ACE or NSCA as well as CPR and basic first aid training.
    • Try Before You Buy: If possible, observe a class before you sign up to make sure you feel comfortable with the way the program is structured and run.
    • Warmup and Cool Down: A boot camp class should always begin with a warm-up and end with a cool down.
    • Exercise Modification: Boot camp workouts are good for a variety of fitness levels as long as the instructor is able to offer modifications to make each exercise easier or harder depending on your level. The teacher should also be able to suggest modifications of the exercise to accommodate beginners, advanced exercisers, and those with specific limitations and be welcoming to all participants.

    Red Flags

    You may want to look elsewhere for a boot camp workout if you experience any of the following red flags:

    • The instructor can't or doesn't answer your questions.
    • The instructor says "no pain, no gain," or "exercise can fix all your health problems," or any other common fitness myth.
    • The instructor encourages you to work through pain or injury.
    • The instructor also sells a variety of vitamins, supplements, or herbal products. While there may be value in some supplements, you should check out any product and ingredients with your doctor or nutritionist before you taking them.
    • The instructor diagnoses and recommends a treatment for your pain and injury rather than recommending a visit to a physician.

    Do-It-Yourself Boot Camp Workouts

    Group exercise isn't for everybody. If you are self-motivating, you can put together your own boot camp workout.

    • Make a list of bodyweight exercises that you can arrange as a bodyweight circuit workout. These include exercises such as squats, lunges, dips, bupees, and pushups.
    • Arrange the exercise order so you are working one muscle group at a time, such as lower body followed by upper body. This gives the muscle groups time to recover before next being employed.
    • Alternate intensity of the exercises so the more strenuous ones that get your blood pumping (such as burpees) is followed by one that is lighter. This will ensure you are doing an interval workout with a hard interval followed by a recovery interval.
    • Use time to perform each exercise rather than counting reps. Intevals for each exercise are typically 30 to 60 seconds, with shorter intervals for the more intense exercises and longer for the lighter ones.
    • Have rest periods after a series of exercises, such as after every set of six exercises. Give yourself a couple of minutes to grab a drink of water and catch your breath, then continue with the next set of exercises.
    • Always include a warmup of five minutes of a light to moderate activity, and a cooldown.
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