Boot camp workout: Is it right for you?

Fitness boot camps offer an opportunity to build your strength and endurance. But make sure you know what to expect before marching into boot camp.

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By Mayo Clinic Staff

Just as the armed forces are experimenting with changes to boot camp, such as adding exercises similar to those performed in yoga or Pilates, fitness buffs are signing up for boot camp workouts modeled on old-school military training. What’s the appeal of a boot camp workout? Building strength, endurance and agility to conquer your daily routine. But are you up to the challenge?

Just what is a boot camp workout?

Boot camp workouts can vary, depending on their focus. They generally include an intense mix of aerobic, strength training and speed elements within each class session. One boot camp workout might stress body weight exercises (calisthenics) while another stresses military-style drills.

In most cases, you can expect to do calisthenics — such as pullups, pushups, squats, lunges and crunches — as well as drills and sprints. Some include specific resistance or strength training workouts. A boot camp workout is basically a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — bursts of intense activity alternated with intervals of lighter activity. A boot camp workout also can include functional fitness, such as using whole-body, multijoint exercises that simulate movements people do in life.

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What are the benefits of a boot camp workout?

The goal of a fitness boot camp is to provide a whole-body workout that builds strength and aerobic endurance. Boot camp workouts also attract many people because they may:

  • Offer a more challenging, varied and fun workout
  • Require little or no special equipment
  • Create a sense of friendship (camaraderie) among the participants

Also, because a boot camp workout generally is done at a higher intensity than moderate aerobic activity, the same health benefits — such as a lower risk of heart disease — can be achieved in less time than in moderate activities such as walking.

Is a boot camp workout for everybody?

Fitness boot camps often appeal to people looking for a more intense workout. Boot camp exercises usually involve ballistic, rapid movements that can be too challenging to those who aren’t already in shape.

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But if you have a strong foundation of strength and aerobic training, you’re probably ready for boot camp. But before you sign up, ask how the program is structured and if there are any prerequisites to assess whether it will be a good fit for you.

If you are older than age 40, are pregnant, haven’t exercised for some time or have certain health conditions, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a boot camp class or any new exercise program.

It’s also important to let your instructor know if you have health issues or special needs. Also tell the instructor if you have difficulty with a particular exercise. If the movements in the class are new to you, take it slower at first to ensure that the way you are moving is correct. Stop if you get fatigued or tired to the point where your technique breaks down. Skilled instructors are attentive to proper form and technique and can adapt exercises for you.

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Does boot camp deliver results?

Opinions are mixed, but boot camp workouts have many fans who say this type of workout is great for improving overall strength and conditioning. This type of high-intensity aerobic interval training also burns more calories in less time compared with moderate aerobic activities, and can improve your cardiovascular health and fitness. HIIT can also improve the amount of muscle versus fat in your body (body composition) and the rate that you burn calories (metabolism). Resistance or strength training also can improve blood sugar control, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and they may help you lose weight.

Finally, a well-structured boot camp workout can help you meet physical activity recommendations for healthy adults.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:

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  • Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equal combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefit.
  • Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Signing up for boot camp

To find a fitness boot camp, check local fitness centers and gyms. As you consider your options, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the instructor’s qualifications?
  • Is the class a good mix of aerobics and strength training?
  • What do people who’ve taken the class have to say about it?
  • Is this class a good match for my fitness goals?
  • Have I established a base level of strength, conditioning and proper movement patterns to prepare me for the class?

Boot camp may not be for everyone. But if you’re looking for a high-energy workout that offers variety and camaraderie, boot camp may be just what you need.

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