Were You Born for Boot Camp?

Boot-camp style fitness classes put you through the paces for an allover workout that leaves you energized and confident. (What's not to like?)
Good Morning Campers

First, let's demystify what has become a popular trend in fitness classes: You'd practically have to join the military to find a "boot camp" featuring red-faced instructors blowing whistles, lowering your face into the mud with their feet and screaming at you to “give me 10 more!”

If the Boot (Camp) Fits...

Before you sign up for a boot camp, do a little homework. Cedric Bryant, PhD, FACSM, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE), offers the following points to consider:

  • Sample a class before making a commitment.
  • Make sure the instructor is certified by an organization that has been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
  • Make sure the instructor asks you to complete a health-screening questionnaire.
  • Avoid instructors who recommend or supply nutritional supplements to participants.
  • Avoid instructors who adhere to the “no pain, no gain” training philosophy and who encourage participants to work through pain or injury.

The fact is, while there may be a few hard-core boot camp-style classes out there, most fitness boot camps are simply challenging drill-based classes that are loyally attended by people who just want a darn good workout. And they get it. You can too! We've answered all your questions about boot camp classes below. Now get out there and give us 20! (Just kidding.)

Do you need to be fit for boot camp?

There is no "typical" boot camp participant, or minimum athletic ability or experience (though as always, you should talk to your doctor before embarking on a new fitness regimen). “I have clients from their early 20s to late 50s,” says Andre Short, owner of and instructor at Go Hard Bootcamp in Atlanta. “Some are former athletes looking to get back in shape, some are new moms and some are people who have never set foot in a gym.”

Will the instructor be a tyrant?

In a word, nope. Yelling, belittling and intimidating class participants really only results in one thing: An empty class next time around. Aside from making sure that no one gets injured, encouraging clients is actually one of the main responsibilities of a fitness boot camp instructor. “I motivate, encourage, and help change people’s exercise philosophy,” says J Crawford, Morning Crunch Boot Camp instructor in Sherman Oaks, CA. “It’s about play. I want people to realize it’s fun to move around — just like when you were a little kid.”

What are typical boot camp moves?

The regimen depends on the instructor and the class, so this is where it pays to read the class description and ask questions before you sign up. Crawford keeps his classes fun by meeting at a local park and challenging his students to engage in various forms of exercise, including running up and down small grassy hills and doing push-ups on nearby park benches. Other instructors have been known to put their students through vicious games of tag and tug- of-war in addition to traditional circuit and resistance training.

“Drills include circuits that sometimes include a mix of cardio and strength exercises,” says John Wayman, owner of Beantown Bootcamp in Boston. His students work up a sweat by jumping rope, running sprints and strengthening their muscles with exercise bands. “Most circuits are structured by time, usually 30 seconds or a minute,” continues Wayman. “This allows participants to be able to take it at their own comfortable pace and progress when they feel ready.”

Can you get a boot camp workout without exercising with strangers?

Sure, there are ways to get the benefits of a boot camp class without feeling self-conscious. Many boot camps offer private group training sessions. “There are tons of boot camp classes in New York City, but we couldn’t find an established one that worked within our schedule and location parameters,” says Stephanie Marks, a prospective boot camp client. “I spoke with a representative from boot camp class, who told me that if I could get a group of at least four people, he would set up a class with a trainer where and when we wanted.”

Marks organized a class of moms from her neighborhood and from her daughters’ pre-kindergarten classes. The group began meeting at a local park for six-week sessions three times a week. “Since I knew all the other women, I wasn’t nervous about keeping up and I knew it wouldn’t be competitive,” says Marks. “I would say, without hesitation, that I am definitely the fittest I’ve been in a long, long time.”

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