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. Nope, 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.

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.


  • 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.
  • Low 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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.
  • Warm Up 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 of these other common fitness myths.
  • 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. 
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