Fitness: Boot Camp: Not For The Faint Of Heart

by Stephen Kelly

Fitness trends come and go, and what’s vogue now is destined to become yesterday’s news. Remember the Jane Fonda workout? Tai-Bo? Pilates? Anyone? Didn’t think so.

But one fitness program that has stood the test of time is the boot camp. Yes, the term itself conjures images of barrel chested, buzzed cut Marine sergeants barking orders while calling you unpleasant, unprintable names. While not for the faint of heart, those brave enough to take the challenge find that boot camps offer a great alternative to the gym that will kick your workout (and fitness levels) up a few notches.

Perhaps boot camps have remained popular because there’s nothing fancy or trendy about them. These workouts are as basic as you can get: an hour of running, jumping, aggressive calisthenics, and more running, usually in an outside setting. Simple workout clothes and a sturdy pair of running shoes is the only equipment needed.

The fitness boot camp workout is designed to push your body to the limit, challenging the cardiovascular system and larger muscle groups by utilizing efficient compound movements. Based on activity drills taken from real military training programs, boot camps favor intense aerobic workouts over weight training, putting emphasis on balance, coordination and stability.

Other than the obvious fitness gains, boot camp participants can expect great improvements in:

• Strength and endurance

• Stamina

• Motivation

• Well-being

• Self-confidence

• Stress reduction

Still, the boot camp experience takes a dedication and mental toughness that goes beyond simply going to the gym. Most classes start early in the morning, and the typical boot camp participant will pack more activity into an hour-long session than most people do in a day.

All of this action generally happens outdoors, utilizing local parks, beaches and hiking trails as courses. A good instructor will also find ways to incorporate everyday items into an overall workout and a park bench can double as a dips or push-up station.

This back-to-nature aspect is a large part of the boot camp’s appeal, but offers a different challenge when the weather gets nasty. True to their nature, most instructors will take you out anyway. It ain’t pretty when you hear “drop and give me twenty” when you’re face to face with a cold, muddy puddle. But getting down and dirty is part of the fun of boot camp. Perhaps appealing to the kid in us, being covered in mud becomes a badge of honor.

While some fun is had at the expense of course instructors and their supposed “sadistic” natures, it’s this toughness that takes the boot camp workout to the next level. It’s not so easy to slack off when you have a pushy trainer breathing down your neck. Often like real soldiers, boot campers gain a tight camaraderie amongst each other, developing a “survivor” mentality while feeding off the energy of both the instructor and fellow participants.

Boot camps have grown in popularity in the past few years, so there’s probably any number offered in your city. As with any workout program, do your research before starting out. Boot camps often offer different experience levels, and the novice may want to start with the basics. As always, it’s advised to get a fitness test or a physical before starting such an intense program.

Boot camps, however, are all about the instructors. Good trainers will keep things fresh and exciting by changing courses and exercises and they’ll know how to keep participants motivated while amping up the fun factor. And while trainers may take great delight in bossing people around, the best will treat participants with respect and professionalism. Still, check the instructor’s credentials and certifications before entering a program, and a boot camp’s website will usually give you that information.

Because of their low overhead, most boot camps are relatively inexpensive, and can be cheaper than joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer. While some camps offer individual session fees (typically $10 to $25), most encourage buying multiple session plans. These prices may vary per boot camp, but generally will cost $150 to $300 per plan. Some boot camps list their pricing structures on their websites, while others require you to e-mail them for their fees.

Whatever the price, boot camps may be perfect for those who like discipline and structure in their workouts, with optimum conditioning offered as a reward for all that yelling and dirty work.

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