Boot camp is a high-intensity, military-style workout program that combines muscular endurance, strength and aerobic fitness. Bodyweight exercises and unconventional equipment include (but are not limited to) sandbags, tyres and kettle-bells, making the experience different from that of a regular gym workout. The classes are often conducted outside, regardless of weather conditions, and are a popular option for those who like to train hard, with others, outside of a gym setting. The cost will vary, depending on the frequency of sessions, but training in a group is a good way to get fit without breaking the budget. A standard six- to eight-week course with two to three sessions each week will set you back anywhere from $200 to $800.
Boot camps are usually organised by gyms, personal trainers or specialist group training businesses. Some providers will offer a selection of difficulty levels, making boot camp an appropriate option for beginner, intermediate and advanced fitness enthusiasts; this is something you should check before enlisting. A good instructor should be able to offer alternatives for most exercises to suit varying fitness levels.
Is boot camp for you?
Boot camp is not suited to everyone and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you’re considering signing up, be prepared for the “blood, sweat and tears” that are sure to follow. This style of training is best suited to those who enjoy exercising in a group environment, aren’t afraid to get dirty and like to be pushed to the max.
If you prefer to exercise solo, wouldn’t dream of training in the rain and have a problem with authority or following orders, boot camp is not for you. It’s important to decide what you want to get out of your training and whether boot camp can give you those results. As with any group fitness class, it can be difficult for even the most experienced trainer to watch each individual’s technique at all times. This fact, combined with the intense nature of boot camp, can lead to injury. Those who have a history of injury, or a current injury, should consult a professional before enlisting in a boot camp course.
The boot camp experience
So what exactly are you signing up for when you “enlist” in a boot camp? Expect your drill sergeant to be dressed in camouflage, looking like they won’t take no for an answer — and they probably won’t! Be prepared to run, jump, lift weights, box, move your body under and over obstacles and to throw around heavy, cumbersome objects. Be ready to bond with others in the group, offering and receiving support and motivation, and to experience just a little bit of healthy competition. Most importantly, make sure you are geared up to push yourself to your limits and beyond, as you will most definitely be tested both physically and mentally.
All boot camps should be held in a safe environment with sufficient light and nearby access to bathrooms. Your instructor should offer encouragement, support and guidance, confirming sessions, contacting you if you miss one, constantly monitoring your technique and progress and motivating you to work your hardest. Some type of fitness assessment or test should be carried out at the start of the course and again at the end. This will show you where you have improved and highlight your achievements. As you progress through the course, assuming your attendance and effort are adequate, you should see noticeable changes in both your physical capabilities and your physique.
A good time or a long time?
Boot camps are a great way to improve your fitness in a short period of time but are they suitable for long-term training? Depending on the style of the boot camp, it may be OK to continue past the standard six-week course and use it as a regular form of exercise. Some boot-camp courses are very high-intensity and are best suited to a short-term shape-up before a special occasion or to spice up your regular exercise routine. Because of the high-impact exercises, high intensity and huge physical demand of these courses, continued participation may result in injury, overtraining or loss of motivation.
Other boot-camp courses may be more sustainable, particularly if the instructor implements regular fitness testing and sets appropriate activities instead of simply aiming to completely exhaust the group each session. It’s also important to realise that boot camp is designed to offer general, functional fitness for most people; it is not tailored to the individual. If you have specific training goals that go beyond weight loss and general strength and fitness, boot camp alone probably won’t do the job.
If you are planning to make boot camp the main feature of your long-term exercise plan, it may be worthwhile considering additional fitness options to supplement these sessions. You may want to attend a yoga or Pilates class once a week to focus on your core strength and flexibility and to relieve stress. Alternatively, you may find you benefit from a gym resistance training session or a one-on-one personal training session in conjunction with the boot camp, to focus on muscle groups and fitness areas that may be missed during group sessions.
Boot camp preparation workout
Before beginning boot camp, although not essential, it will be beneficial for most people to prepare so that you get the most from the course. This preparation could include lifting weights, bodyweight exercises and aerobic activities, but should focus primarily on cardiovascular fitness. This boot camp preparation workout can be done just about anywhere, without any equipment.
Start three to six weeks before boot camp commences and complete this 50-minute workout three to four times a week on non-consecutive days. Consult a doctor before commencing any exercise program.
Part 1: Five-minute warm-up
The warm-up may include any activity that involves constant movement across several joints, using large muscle groups. Options include jogging, light skipping, cycling and walking lunges. The idea of the warm-up is to increase blood flow to the muscles, raise the heart rate and warm the joints and ligaments, allowing greater flexibility and reduced risk of injury.
Part 2: Bodyweight circuit
Complete as many repetitions of each exercise as possible (while maintaining proper form) in 60 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of skipping or another cardiovascular exercise of your choice. Repeat the circuit two more times, being sure to quickly write down your score after each set. You may find you need to pause during the circuit; this is fine, but keep the timer going so you can compare your performance as you improve.
- Start with hands and toes on the floor, your body in a straight line from shoulders to toes, hands placed slightly wider than shoulders and directly below them.
- Keep your core tensed, pulling your navel in towards your spine.
- Bend at the elbows and lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, then extend arms and return to starting position. Your body should remain straight throughout.
- For beginner push-ups, start on your knees rather than your toes and keep your body straight from your shoulders to your knees.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Your toes should be pointing straight ahead or slightly turned out.
- Bend at the hips and knees, allowing your knees to move forward slightly but not to pass over your toes.
- Keep your back straight, your chest upright and your knees directly above your feet.
- You may put your arms out in front for balance while continuing to bend at the knees until thighs are about parallel with the ground. If your flexibility or strength won’t allow you to squat this deep with correct form, go as far as you can. Your range of movement will increase over time.
- Stand up straight, completely extending knees and hips.
- Place your hands behind you, on a sturdy bench or step, with your fingers pointing towards your body.
- Rotate your elbows so they are facing directly behind you, not out to the sides.
- Your knees should be at about 90 degrees, keeping your back straight and core tensed.
- Bend your elbows and lower yourself until your upper arm is parallel with the floor.
- Return to the starting position, keeping your back straight and close to the bench or step.
- For an advanced version, begin with feet further away from you; or even put them on a raised surface, with your legs out straight.
- Take a step forward, with the sole of the front foot firmly on the ground.
- Drop down so your back and front knee are each at a right angle.
- Ensure the front knee stays behind the toe and directly above the foot.
- Keep the back straight and pull the navel in towards the spine to activate the core.
- Step back into starting position and repeat with the other leg.
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent at about 90 degrees.
- Tuck your chin in towards your chest, place your fingertips on each side of your head and support lightly.
- Keeping your lower back flat on the ground at all times, flex your waist to bring your shoulders and upper back off the floor.
- Reverse the movement until the shoulders touch the floor.
For each exercise, remember to breathe in a deep, controlled manner. You should exhale on exertion which, for these five exercises, is the phase in which the body is being lifted or is moving upwards.
Part 3: Ten-minute sprint training
Complete short, intense sprints, followed by a longer, steady jog. An example of this would be to run as fast as you possibly can for 10 seconds, then to jog for 60 seconds and repeat. This can be done outdoors or using a treadmill and, if you don’t have a timer, use landmarks such as trees or telegraph posts to divide your sprints and jogs.
As your fitness improves, amplify your sprint training using one or more of the following methods:
- Increase the sprinting time.
- Increase the sprinting speed.
- Decrease the jogging time.
- Increase the jogging speed.
- Spend longer than 10 minutes on your sprints.
Part 4: Five-minute cool-down
Jog for three minutes and finish with two minutes of gentle, static stretching.
Boot camp — yes or no?
Boot camp is not for you if you:
- Prefer to exercise solo
- Don’t like training outdoors
- Don’t like training in the rain
- Have a problem with authority or following orders
Boot camp is for you if you:
- Enjoy exercising in a group environment
- Aren’t afraid to get dirty
- Don’t mind some healthy competition
- Like to be pushed to the max