Boot camp basics

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.

1) Push-ups

  • 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.

2) Squats

  • 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.

3) Dips

  • 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.

4) Lunges

  • 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.

5) Crunches

  • 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

Case study

Emelia is 23 and currently attending boot camp. She shared her experience.

Where and when do you train and what does the boot-camp course involve, including costs?

We meet in Homebush for an hour at 6pm on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. On Mondays we lift weights and sprint, Tuesday is a circuit session and on Thursdays we box. If the weather is bad, we train inside a carpark. The course goes for six weeks, after which there is a one-week break before the next course starts. The six-week course costs $290.

Do you think boot camp is for everyone, at any fitness level?

It’s a bonus if you’re already fit, but it’s not a necessity as you’re there to get fit. The first session involves fitness testing, to see where you’re at, so the trainer knows how hard to push each person. During the first course I did, we started with 22 people and finished with 13, so it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s hard work!

What are the hardest parts of boot camp and is there support and motivation available?

The hardest part is definitely getting there, especially in winter. It’s easy to make excuses but I remind myself that it’s only three hours a week and the results make it worthwhile. Our trainer sends us a text message the night before all sessions, telling us where we’ll meet, and usually includes a motivational quote. I’m motivated by not wanting to be the last to finish or the first to give up or to let the others down by not showing up.

What made you enrol in boot camp and what results have you achieved?

I have tried everything to lose weight but always put it back on. My mum, sister and cousin where signing up for the boot camp, so I decided to give it a try. I completed a six-week course and I’m now four weeks into my second course. I have lost a total of 12kg, the weight is staying off and my fitness has improved a lot. When I started, it took me eight minutes and 30 seconds to run a kilometre; it now takes me five minutes and 40 seconds.

Boot-camp survival tips

Due to the challenging nature of boot camp, attendance will often drop after the first few sessions. What can you do to get the most out of the course and to see it through to the end?

Do your research

Make enquiries with several boot camp providers before making a decision. If you choose a course that offers activities you enjoy doing, you are far more likely to enjoy the sessions and continue to attend. You may benefit from talking to the trainers before signing up as it will be easier to take orders from someone you get along with.

Take friends or make friends

Take a family member or friend along with you. Not only will this serve as motivation for you but you will be encouraging them to do something positive for their health and fitness, too. If none of your family or friends will sign up with you, make friends at the first session. These people will motivate you to work hard throughout the course and prevent you from slacking off. At some point in most sessions, you will be required to work in pairs and you will be reluctant to miss a session for fear of letting your partner down.

Get to know your trainer

Developing a rapport with your trainer will push you to do your best so as not to let them down and will make boot camp sessions more fun. Your trainer will be better equipped to give the group the best session possible if the training atmosphere is positive.

Set goals

Set realistic yet challenging goals and put reminders of these goals around your house and workplace. These could be a picture of you looking your best, a piece of paper with the number of push-ups you want to be able to do, or even a Post-it with the word “BOOTCAMP” written on it. Each time you see one of these reminders, you will be less likely to skip your next session and more likely to give it your all. Don’t forget to tell those around you about your goals; this will create accountability and help you stick to your training.

Be prepared

If boot-camp classes are held in the evening, after work, take your training clothes to work with you and go straight there afterwards. This way, you won’t come home, get comfortable and skip the session. Make the decision to attend sessions regardless of the weather so you don’t use that as an excuse down the track. There is nothing wrong with exercising in the rain; just make sure the surroundings are safe and that you change into dry clothing after the session.

Give it a fair go

Commit to completing the whole course, even if you hate it after the first week. Once you start to see results, you will be hooked, but you must see it through. If you reach the end and still loathe it, or have not seen results, then perhaps boot camp is not for you.

Now that you know what boot camp is all about and how to make it through, you can decide if it is your kind of challenge. If you sign up and start the course with an open mind, you will, at the very least, meet new people and have some fun. What have you got to lose?


Felicity Daley is a personal trainer at Gfitness Drummoyne who seeks to give her clients the knowledge, skills, motivation and support to achieve their goals and to reach their full potential. Ph: 0424 989 077

Felicity Daley

Felicity Daley

As a personal trainer, Felicity's philosophy is to take a balanced approach. Health is multifaceted and fitness means something different to every individual. A combination of muscular strength, physical endurance, agility and coordination, stability, nutrition, rest and mental and emotional wellbeing is essential in a well-rounded lifestyle. Felicity's aim is help you to achieve your goals in these areas by offering the support, motivation and information needed to do so!

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