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February 2, 2011

By Gerard Bochese

Besides offering membership and personal training, most gyms also provide a group class schedule that boasts a variety of classes, including spinning, yoga, zumba, “butt and gut,” and a host of other classes focusing on a particular theme.  One of the more popular classes at a lot of gyms is one that derives its name from the military: Bootcamp.

Unlike spinning and yoga, where you generally know what to expect in the class depending on the teacher you gravitate toward, bootcamp classes come in all shapes and sizes.  Bootcamp class in Gym “A” can be entirely different than bootcamp class in Gym “B”.  So how do you choose which bootcamp to attend?

First of all, before attending any bootcamp class you need to make sure you have attained a fairly high level of fitness. Being an avid runner or cyclist does not mean you are ready for bootcamp.  Having a good cardio base from these above exercises is a help but you need to make sure you have a strong core, and are strong in your basic movement patterns of pushing and pulling and lunging and squatting.  Too many people enter these classes with incorrect form on the basics and are exposed to repetitive movements with bad form, which will eventually lead to some type of injury or inflammation that will cause them to stop taking the class.

In terms of choosing a bootcamp, there are certain things to look out for:

Too many of these classes are designed with the sole purpose of “killing” the participant.  It is easy to “kill” the participant (just keep throwing tons of exercises at them with no break), it is hard to find the right balance which pushes the participant but allows them to stay injury free and also improve their fitness performance.  As a participant, you want these classes to make you feel strong and empowered in your everyday life and your other recreational activities such as tennis, cycling, other fitness classes, etc.  If you constantly feel beat up from the class it is a classic sign of overtraining.

Watch out for:

  • Tons of repetitions.  If the instructor is using a clock to time circuits and you are doing 2-5 minutes of curls, lunges, dumbbell presses or some kind of strength exercise that would normally be done for 8-15 reps in the gym, you’re doing too many reps.
  • Hundreds of push ups throughout the class.  Instructors often like to throw push ups in all over the place.  If you find that your form is breaking down on the push up, you’re doing too many.
  • Massive amounts of plyometrics.  Plyometrics are designed as an extremely explosive and neurologically advanced exercise.  Therefore, the body can only handle small spurts of them with good form.  Once you are exhausted and the plyometrics become slow and sloppy, they are defeating the purpose of the exercise (quick and powerful).
  • You feel like you are just going through the motions because you are physically shot.  You need to be crisp and strong during the exercise to benefit from it.  If you are slogging through tons of reps and exercises just to complete them, you won’t see many benefits.

Look for Rhyme and Reason

  • There should be a format to the class.  Start with a dynamic warm-up followed by an organized selection of exercises that compliment each other.  If the exercises seem like a “hodge podge” of activities thrown together to eat up time and simply cause exhaustion the class may not be as effective as you think.
  • If you go to an earlier blog entitled “Starting Point” you will see that all  exercises fall under six Primal Movement Patterns:

1)   We push

2)   We pull

3)   We level change (squats, lunges, step ups)

4)   We flex and extend

5)   We twist and rotate

6)   We ambulate (walk, run, hop,)

To create balance in your exercise routine you must do an equal number of these exercises.  Look for this exercise selection and balance in your boot camp class.  Again if you are doing hundreds of push ups (push movement pattern) and never doing any type of pulls (pull ups, band and dumbbell rows, etc.), or are doing much less pulling, then you do not have balance and this can lead to overuse injuries and postural issues.

Furthermore, if many of the movement patterns are being left out and there is continued focus on similar movement patterns, you are not achieving balance and are being cheated out of an effective full body work out.

Finally, make sure the majority of the class is taught in a “vertical” position.  That means from a standing ground base position. We must deal with gravity and ground reaction forces in our everyday world on a constant basis, so we’d better train and be strong from a standing position.  If the majority of the bootcamp class is done sitting or lying on the floor, a major component of fitness will be left out.

Good luck in finding a boot camp that works for you.  Do some research, use some of my suggestions, and don’t just listen to a friend who says “you got to take this class”.  Look for the “science” in the class not just an exhausting array of exercises.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    February 3, 2011 12:47 pm

    Instead of jumping in a “Boot Camp” try a certified crossfit gym. They have fundamental’s class that will teach you proper mechanics and than you will be ready to rock. They use a timer but usually there are specified rep counts per round. In almost every crossfit gym there are as many if not more women than men and there is nothing like shared misery! Crossfit’s motto is “The only machines are they one’s they build” Try it they are better than any bootcamp!

  2. Steve Powers permalink
    February 4, 2011 9:53 pm

    Unfortunately, as a former Crossfit participant, I find the Crossfit program has all the negatives as found in this blog-a hodgepodge of exercises with no rhyme or reason.

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