Definitive Guide to Boot Camps
06. Boot Camp Basics
Official military boot camps are grueling, sometimes demeaning, and require recruits to develop mental toughness. One positive outcome, though, is that you may get into the best shape of your life so far. Those boot camps get you into shape in a short but intense period of time. Most people who have gone through them praise the experience as being a valuable and necessary part of their physical and psychological training.
Yet, not everyone wants to or can join the military for that kind of concentrated physical training. Not everyone wants to be demeaned or put through brutal psychological challenges as a part of their experience. Most civilians are just interested in basic training boot camps for the strong physical component that whips people into fit shape in a matter of weeks.
The good news is that you do not have to join the armed forces to get rigorous physical training to improve your fitness quickly. Fitness boot camps have come on the scene to make similar training available to people in all walks of life. These new boot camps offer a kinder, gentler version of basic training. It is just what many people are looking for to boost their fitness program to a new level.
If you are interested in learning more about fitness boot camps, this Definitive Guide to Boot Camps will fill you in on all the details. You will learn what a boot camp is, where the notion came from, and the advantages and disadvantages of the boot camp system. Here you will find information on what happens in a boot camp workout, how to choose a boot camp, and more. With all this information in mind, you will have a better idea of whether boot camps are for you. Then, if you are still interested, you can get started on a course that could improve your fitness dramatically.
Fitness Boot Camps are specialized group training programs that are designed to challenge participants more than the usual gym workout. The best boot camps thrive on an atmosphere of group cohesion and camaraderie. Most boot camps are held outdoors, but sometimes they are moved indoors for inclement weather.
These physical fitness training programs usually run between 4 and 8 weeks at a stretch. Boot camp sessions are around 45 to 60 minutes in most cases. Some boot camp groups meet 3 or more times per week. There are also boot camp companies which offer an option of unlimited workouts during the times they are conducting classes. Many participants go on to continue the boot camp classes on an ongoing basis.
There are no special physical requirements to start most boot camps. As long as you do not have severe health conditions that preclude vigorous exercise, you should be able to fit in just fine. Boot camps begin with testing to establish a baseline of your physical fitness. This helps the boot camp leader understand your needs better. It also gives a point of reference so that you will know how far you have come when you are retested later on during the boot camp.
Very little equipment is used in most fitness boot camps. Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises are top on the list. Interval and circuit training are common components of the programs. Some exercises employ naturally occurring equipment, such as park benches or outdoor stairs. Sometimes free weights, kettle bells or medicine bells may be used, especially on indoor days. There may also be time for discussion of fitness topics such as nutrition.
Boot camp trainers work on both your physical and psychological health. The current norm for these trainers is a positive but forceful attitude, encouraging you to do your best. Boot camps are given the name because they are difficult and demanding, but that does not mean they have to tear you down. A fitness boot camp is a place to learn how to handle tough challenges well and gain more self respect as a result.
Fitness boot camps have a relatively short history, but the underpinnings of the system go back as far as ancient times. In those days, there were no boot camps. However, there was physical training for soldiers. Prospective soldiers were tested and trained in physical abilities as well as in the art of war.
When modern armed services came to be, there was sporadic and inconsistent training for new recruits. The different branches of the military in various countries began to devise standardized training methods to indoctrinate the new soldiers into the fold. Along with this instruction, a course of rigorous physical exercise was implemented to push soldiers to the limits of their abilities and endurance. The physical aspect of the programs became respected and even feared as a set of intense and exhausting challenges. In the end, though, soldiers who passed boot camp felt a great sense of achievement and an enormous improvement in physical fitness.
Since then, civilian boot camps have emerged as a fitness trend. In 1990, there was a Canadian skier who was an Olympic hopeful. This fitness enthusiast, Cat Smiley, worked out using military physical fitness training methods. She pushed herself hard in the hopes of achieving her goals. Eventually, in 2001, she decided to share her boot camp program with others, beginning the first Original Boot Camp.
Smiley’s military style was distinctive, and many thought it was too harsh. That has not stopped her success. Those who are willing to undergo strict discipline and intense motivation tactics use her camps to become more physically fit in a short time.
In 1998, the American Council on Exercise first took note of the new boot camp-style training trend. In a similar time frame, John Spencer Ellis was creating his Adventure Boot Camps in America. Ellis is a personal trainer, but also has extensive education in health, business and education. He also has certificates in a variety of exercise modalities. His Adventure Boot Camps are designed for women. This is not surprising since women take boot camp classes more often than men on average.
Ellis’s philosophy in boot camp training is to encourage rather than to demean. He likes to promote a sense of community and teamwork. His fitness boot camps have come a long way from the basic recruit training of military life. Ellis has now trained Adventure Boot Camp instructors and expanded his business across the country and around the world.
By 2011, fitness boot camps are held by various fitness groups and trainers in every major city and many smaller cities and towns. Women and men work separately or in co-ed groups, led by trainers who are well acquainted with the system. There are also fitness boot camps for children, seniors and athletes. There are more people doing boot camp and there are more businesses holding the sessions. The modern fitness boot camps are becoming more popular by leaps and bounds. There is no reason why they will not continue on strong in the coming years.
Boot camps have certainly made an impact on the world. Given all the great benefits of the programs, it is not surprising that people would want to participate in them. There may be a few disadvantages, but they are very minor or may only apply to a few people. Overall, the programs have many advantages to recommend them.
Boot camps are more challenging than working in the standard gym environment. People push themselves harder and work out more vigorously. More challenges are presented to them, and most people rise to the occasion.
2. Weight Loss
Participants in the typical boot camp session burn 9.8 calories per minute. That equals nearly 400 if you are in a 40-minute class, or almost 600 calories if you workout for an hour. This is a phenomenal rate, and can easily lead to weight loss.
3. Cardiovascular and Respiratory System Improvement
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends working out at 70 percent or higher of your HR max and 50 to 85 percent of VO2 max to increase the health of your heart and lungs. One study of boot camps, cited by the American Council on Exercise1, found that participants worked at 77 to 91 percent of HR max, giving the heart a healthy workout. They were also exercising within the guidelines for V02 max.
Most boot camps use a wide variety of exercises in their workouts. Instructors tend to like to keep the sessions interesting with new and different exercises, along with different combinations of old favorites. What is more, many of the partner and team workouts are ones that you will not do anywhere else.
Boot camps foster a sense of camaraderie among all the participants. Members of the group do work together in team exercises and to accomplish team objectives. People cheer each other on when they have achieved a goal or conquered an exercise that was difficult for them.
6. Enthusiastic Instructor
A good boot camp has an enthusiastic and often charismatic instructor. She will guide the participants in such a way that they want to please her and earn her respect. She will promote good will among the members of the group and encourage all in their quests for better fitness.
7. Outdoor Environment
Boot camp sessions will usually take place outdoors. The settings can be gorgeous in some areas, with both natural wonders and beautiful architecture. The fresh air can be exhilarating, and the sunshine can be pleasant.
Compared to working with a personal trainer, you can save money. You still get a good workout and you still get feedback about your form and progress. You save because more people are paying for the instructor’s hour beside you.
1. Limited Personal Attention
Boot camps do individual assessments and cater to individual needs to a certain extent. Yet, they cannot match the personal attention you get when you hire a personal trainer. A personal trainer can keep an eye on every aspect of your form. She can give you a plan and daily workouts that are designed specifically for you. She will hold you accountable if you do not show up for a session.
Some people do not like to exercise as intensely as boot camps require. They do not want to push themselves beyond their comfort zones and try to do more than they did before. For these people, boot camps might be a bit much.
3. Some Militaristic Trainers
They are rare, but there are still trainers that bark orders and demean their trainees as if they were in the old-school military. Anyone who encounters an instructor like this might suffer tremendously throughout the course or may even leave the group immediately. The best solution if this happens is to request your money back. In any case, it is best to find a more encouraging and positive instructor. Today’s boot camp is a place to enjoy yourself and revel in your accomplishments.
To say that the purpose of a boot camp is to get you in shape quickly only tells part of the story. First, you have to define what you mean by “in shape.” Second, there are several secondary reasons to do it besides the physical workout. If you are thinking of participating in a boot camp, consider all its purposes.
1. Physical Transformations
One of the main purposes of boot camp is to transform the physique of a participant. She may want to become more muscular or lose weight. She might want to look better in summer clothes. Boot camps can serve this purpose well in many cases by helping people firm up their bodies, lose body fat, and develop a more muscular physique. The fresh air and sunshine can also banish the paleness many people acquire from staying indoors all the time.
2. Teach Exercises
One of the primary purposes of boot camp is to teach new exercises. The instructor should also make sure everyone knows the proper ways to do familiar exercises. Then, the instructor might also give tips about how to move from one exercise to another during the workout.
3. Observe and Correct Form
One purpose of doing a boot camp is to have a trainer there to observe your form and correct you when necessary. If you are not an expert in body mechanics, it may be hard for you to recognize when you are moving incorrectly in ways that could cause injury. Correct form will not only keep you safer, but will also make your exercising more efficient and effective.
4. Provide Discipline
Even though fitness boot camps are not as harsh as they once were, there are still high expectations to meet. The instructor will demand that you do the exercises to the best of your ability. Even if he does so in an encouraging way, the discipline will be stronger than if you were to try to work out on your own.
5. Promote Self-Confidence
When people complete boot camp they are generally more positive and self-confident than they were when they started. They see the results of their efforts in their increased fitness, and they realize they have power to make a change in the world. These attitudes are not only good for the participants, but also for the community at large.
6. Teach Fitness Concepts and Tips
Boot camps are also designed with the purpose of teaching trainees about fitness concepts. They should learn about exercise theory and tips. Other topics might include nutrition, rest and workout safety.
7. Develop Support System
A secondary purpose of boot camps is to help participants develop a support system. By being around people who are interested in good health and fitness, you become more involved in the subject. By working on team exercises and challenges, you develop a strong bond with these like-minded people. You stick with your exercise program longer as a result. Boot camps serve all these purposes exceptionally well.
Boot camps can be different depending on the area and the instructors, but there are a few basics that are fairly standard among all of them. There are just certain things you need to know, and that nearly all the boot camps do, require, and expect.
1. Assessment and Retesting
Boot camp personnel will take assessments of your physical fitness at the beginning of boot camp. You might be asked to do some particular exercises, perhaps sit-ups, push-ups, and sprints. Usually your heart rate and respiratory rate will be measured, along with the number of the exercises you could complete in the given time. Body measurements may also be taken. After the program is complete, you will be asked to repeat the process and the same measurements will be taken for comparison.
2. Adjusting for Physical Condition
Boot camps that take participants of all fitness levels have to be able to adjust their workouts so that each person can take part to his fullest capacity without being unsafe. A good boot camp instructor will constantly make changes in exercises for the people who are not able to keep up, and may present extra challenges to the fittest in the group.
3. What to Bring
Nearly every boot camp has a list of items you need to bring with you. You might just need comfortable clothing to wear. Sometimes, you need an exercise mat to work on. Some boot camps have you bring small dumbbells, and others improvise by having you bring jugs of water which you lift in the same way. Always ask for this list.
4. Pay attention
It is imperative to pay attention during fitness boot camps. The instructor will remind you of this, but it is up for you to follow instructions carefully. If you do not give your program the proper consideration, you might misunderstand how to do an exercise, fail to hear workout advice, or miss nutritional lessons altogether. It is one thing to have fun during boot camp, but you should always be serious about your fitness.
5. Try Your Hardest
You will be in an atmosphere where it comes naturally to do your best when you are in boot camp. The social environment is such that people tend to cheer each other on to their highest achievements. If you are not in boot camp to give it your all, you are probably wasting your money.
6. Be safe
No reputable boot camp instructor would advise you to workout in any way that was unsafe. Listen to and follow safety warnings carefully. Also, if you feel you have pulled a muscle, sprained a joint or been injured in any other way, stop exercising and ask for help.
7. Arrive On Time
You will be expected to be present for the entire class. This is crucial for many reasons. A very important one is that you need to do the warm-ups before the sessions and the cool-downs after the sessions. This is another part of exercise safety and efficiency. Consider all these boot camp basics when you get ready to start your class.
Boot camps may feature one method of training for all their sessions. Others use a variety of methods over the run of their sessions. In looking for a boot camp group, it is a good idea to ask about what kinds of methods are used. Then, you will have a better idea if the class is for you.
Boot camps which use the traditional method are fewer in number than in the past. This method involves browbeating participants, screaming orders, and basically making them feel inadequate through most of the grueling workout sessions. Then, in the end, the instructor will build them up and tell them how far they have come. There are some people who do well under such a system, but most people would prefer an approach that rewards success throughout the boot camp.
Fit and Fun Method
There are a very large number of boot camps that are based around a method of providing fitness and fun together. In these boot camps, everything is positive. Participants are still told and shown what to do, and sometimes forcefully. However, it is always in a spirit of being helpful and presenting a friendly challenge. What is more, fun exercises and events are included in the programs. Sometimes fun group exercises are done which involve everyone in an exciting game. There might be holiday workouts that are based on a theme and come with prizes for accomplishments. Fitness is the name of the game, and fun is the attitude.
The CrossFit method is commonly used in boot camps because its core ideas are so closely related to boot camp goals. The first CrossFit rule is that exercises must be functional. This means that they must work muscles in ways that provide strength in real world movements. The second is that there should be variability in exercises. Boot camp training is usually different every day. Finally, CrossFit promotes intensity in their workouts, and boot camps fit right in with this principle. Another reason to use this method is that there has always been an element of competition in CrossFit, but it is also a method that encourages group cohesion.
Some boot camps are set up for amateur or professional athletes. These boot camps may use many different methods for their strength and aerobic components. They will also feature agility training in most cases. Technical drills may be used, especially if the boot camp is for one particular team.
Of course, positive results are expected in all boot camps. However, there are some boot camp methods that focus on just that aspect of the workouts. Instructors challenge the participants to progress in their exercises regularly, sometimes even daily. Measurements and testing may be done more than just at the beginning and end of the boot camp in order to keep everyone on track and motivated. Learn about the methods of the boot camp you are considering and decide if it is right for you.
Boot Camp Workouts
Most boot camps have different workouts every day. That leaves room for an abundance of different exercises within the course of the program. Because of the outdoor setting and the limited equipment used, some exercises and workouts are used more than others.
Some of the most used exercises in boot camp workouts are bodyweight exercises. Push-ups of different types, sit-ups, donkey kicks, and planks can be done using nothing more than the force of gravity on your body. Plyometrics are often done using features in the natural environment. Sprints are classic exercises for boot camps.
Resistance exercises can also be done using free weights. These can include squats, biceps curls, and presses. Kettle bells, medicine balls and physio balls open up a whole new range of exercises for the workouts.
Some of the workout activities in boot camps are actually combinations of exercises. For example, many boot camps use an obstacle course. This can involve climbing, crawling, running, jumping, and other movements. Playing a team game like “capture the flag” might involve running or sprinting, hill climbing, jumping and any other movements it takes to get to the other team’s station.
Standard Workout Order
The workouts vary, but there are certain things that are standard in the workout order. First, there should be a warm-up period. Dynamic stretching can be used to improve flexibility for the session, and a little aerobic warm-up will get your heart rate up to exercising speed. Next are the exercises that must be done with precision while the muscles are not fatigued. This might be a good time to work with free weights. Circuit training may be the next choice, and interval training may also be a part of the workout. A fun activity might be included last right before a cool-down of static stretches.
Interval Training and Circuit Training
Interval training is used to improve aerobic conditioning. It basically consists of doing an exercise such as running at a high intensity level, slowing down for a time, and then increasing back to the higher intensity again. Circuit training is almost always a part of boot camp training. It is a series of exercises done in quick succession without rest between.
Some boot camps take place outside in all kinds of weather. Even those will go inside in case of dangerous conditions such as hail or lightning. Therefore, there are indoor workouts in most boot camps occasionally. If the indoor workouts are done inside gyms, there may be more equipment available, so different exercises may be used.
Boot camp workouts are designed to be intense and challenging in any case. They need to be that way to help you achieve the quick results that they promise. A great boot camp instructor will have a good grasp of what makes an appropriate workout and will know just how hard to push you.
In almost any town where you might live, you will have your choice of two or more boot camps. Since boot camps are so different from each other, it pays to find out all you can before you make your selection. Consider all the important factors before you make your choice. Ask some probing questions before you sign up for the class.
It may seem natural to choose the boot camp closest to you, but there might be something appealing about driving to a different location. There are several things to consider about the location. It is nice to participate in a boot camp that is in a beautiful setting, for instance. Remember that if you have to drive too far, your attendance may suffer.
It is absolutely necessary that you can get along with your instructor for the course of the 4 to 8 weeks or more of a boot camp. It is a good idea to try and meet the instructors before you go. Also, find out their credentials. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in exercise science or kinesiology is ideal. The instructor should at least be certified by a reputable agency that is recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
Make sure the time frame of the boot camp fits with your schedule or that you can bend your schedule to make it fit. It is not advisable to miss days during this training period, so it is best if it falls during a period when you do not have travel plans. Then, too, decide how long of a boot camp you are interested in being a part of and take that into consideration.
Find out just what you would be signing up for if you were to pay your fee. Ask questions about the methods used, the philosophy of the boot camp, and the types of exercises you will be doing. You will probably not be given a step by step guide to the program because variety and unpredictability is a part of boot camps. However, you should be able to get a rough idea of what goes on at the boot camp.
Although price is the bottom line for many people, it should only be part of the picture in choosing a boot camp. That being said, among similar boot camps there can be wide variations of price. If one boot camp is extremely higher than another, explain this to the sales staff or instructor and request an explanation. Most boot camp administrators will have some set answer as to why their program is higher. You just have to decide whether that is a good enough reason for you or not. Choose your boot camp carefully because the right one could transform your life.
The atmosphere of a boot camp is quite different from going to the gym to work out. There is a psychological aspect inherent in the structure of boot camps that promotes mental toughness. The course of the training helps participants develop in the ability to face difficult challenges every day.
Mental toughness is most often talked about in terms of sports performance. As such, it is a very valuable feature of sports-related boot camps. Teams who work together or individual athletes who participate in the camps can learn how to stay at the top of their game. Athletes will be especially interested in goal setting, imagery training, and learning the best mental attitude and focus for performing in competitions.
According to Lefkowitz and McDuff, in their “Mental Toughness Training Manual for Baseball/ Softball Players” sports psychologist Jim Loehr described 4 facets of mental toughness. They are emotional flexibility, emotional responsiveness, emotional strength, and emotional resiliency.2 These abilities help athletes handle competitive situations and setbacks with a balanced and responsive approach.
Yet, there are plenty of mental toughness lessons in boot camp for everyone. A good boot camp instructor will work with participants to help them develop self-confidence. This can be done by celebrating their accomplishments, presenting them with goals they are capable of meeting and cheering them on to victory in boot camp events such as an obstacle course or a team exercise. This newly acquired self-confidence will make the trainees emotionally stronger and mentally tougher.
Boot camp leaders often work on the mental toughness of their trainees by demanding hard work and discipline in every aspect of the training. While there may be some scaling back for individuals of different fitness levels, everyone is expected to work up to his highest capability.
The instructor provides tools for this success by teaching the attendees how to think positively and realistically about their training. He pretests the participants to know where to start, and helps them in planning goals that are challenging but attainable. He sets a strict schedule and expects everyone to follow the rules. The attitudes in present-day fitness boot camps may be more positive, but the training is still rigorous and demanding.
The boot camps that have the most intense mental toughness training are usually live-in arrangements. Participants go away for one to several weeks to stay at a training facility for the boot camp experience. Many of the boot camps geared toward weight loss are designed in this way. By having the attendees available for 24 hour training, trainers can demand much more.
The hope is that the boot camp instructors will prepare the participants well for the mental challenges of the program, whether it is an hour a day or a live-in program. With the right training, you can go to a boot camp and come out on the other side fitter both physically and mentally.
Since boot camps are built around group participation, it is only natural that there should be some interesting aspects of social interaction there. Each boot camp will present a different social profile, but some themes are fairly common.
Makeup of the Group
The group in a boot camp is defined by the administrators or trainers who set up the classes. There may be a group for just women, just men, just children, just seniors, just athletes or there may be a co-ed group composed of a wide variety of ages and fitness levels. The type of group you are in will determine to a large extent the types of relationships that form within that group.
There is often an element of social support for exercise in a boot camp environment. Women are especially likely to form such bonds. The friendships that come about before, during and after the boot camp sessions strengthen the exerciser’s self-confidence. They nurture her and help her feel socially attached to the group. This works well for an activity which demands faithful attendance.
People who are new to boot camps will gain from their new social group by following the guidance of returning members. The instructor may be the leader, but in most social situations, there is a need for secondary help below the level of the leader. For example, you might want to know if the program really helps with weight loss. You know that the instructor will say that it does. A fellow member can give you a more unbiased opinion. If it is positive and realistic enough, it might make all the difference in your attitude and performance in the boot camp.
The individual’s level of commitment may be high or low when working alone. If the exerciser feels little commitment to a fitness program, she will likely have trouble forcing herself to work out. On the other hand, commitment is likely to be higher in a group, especially with a competent instructor. When one member of the group is feeling less enthusiastic about the sessions, the other members of the group can encourage her to stick with her commitment. By showing their own commitment to the program, they model positive attitudes and behavior for the discouraged member to follow. In a well-formed group, this translates into a high level of dedication to fitness goals.
The most interesting group dynamic of boot camp for many participants is the element of fun. In some cases, boot camp can be as much play as it is work. Of course, the workouts will be intense and the exercises will be rigorous. That is what boot camp is all about, after all. That does not mean the exercisers cannot have a good time as well. A great fitness boot camp instructor will know how to incorporate fun and enjoyment into the hard work of getting into shape. Fitness boot camp can be a pleasure if handled properly.
Fitness boot camps have become increasingly popular in recent years. Some people think these exercise courses amount to a passing fad. Others say that the camps serve a purpose that no other exercise program can fulfill. The truth is that exercise is going to be one of the greatest challenges of modern life in the years to come, and if fitness boot camps can meet that need they will last indefinitely.
What is more important is how well they are working right now. It is certainly important to find a reputable boot camp with reliable and knowledgeable instructors. Once you put yourself in the hands of a great boot camp instructor, you will have a better chance to reach fitness goals in a shorter amount of time than you might while working out on your own. The boot camp instructor brings some of the same advantages as a personal trainer, but without the higher cost. It is a winning combination for many exercisers.
The outdoor environment of boot camps is a part of what makes them different, and usually they are more enjoyable because of it. There are boot camps in exotic locations around the world, if you are not satisfied with the one in your community. However, you will probably find beautiful settings no matter where you go. Do not expect to play in lovely weather every day, though, because outdoor boot camps do not usually limit their sessions to gorgeous, sunny, mild days.
Excellent boot camps are hard work. They are challenging both physically and mentally. The sessions help you improve your fitness and increase your wellness. They help you develop mental toughness for further physical challenges, as well as for the ordeals of daily life. Boot camps have a place in today’s society where people are searching for more connectedness and inspiration for fitness. Boot camps have the potential of becoming a permanent fixture in the world of exercise.
1. American Council on Exercise: Drop and Give Me 20!
2. John Lefkowitz, PhD and David R McDuff, MD, “Mental Toughness Training Manual for Baseball/ Softball Players”
Eagle Tribune: Open Air Exercise Fitness Boot Camps Hit the Parks
Interval vs. Circuit Training – What’s the Difference?
WebMD: Fitness Boot Camps – Should You Enlist?
Los Angeles Times: Fitness Boot Camps Offer What Gyms Cannot
Roy F Oman, Ph.D. and Terry E. Duncan, Ph.D. “Women and Exercise: An Investigation of the Roles of Social Support, Self-Efficacy and Hardiness.”