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Death to Bootcamps

It is 2021, we are 10,000 months into a pandemic, and there is no better time to rethink the “bootcamp” fitness model and the bootcamp mentality.  Let’s have a fitness industry reset, shall we?  When you know better, you do better!

The implications contained in the name “bootcamp” immediately put participants on notice that they are in for a tough time. There is nothing wrong with working hard, but all too often bootcamp classes end up hurting participants rather than helping them improve their health and fitness over the long term.

YOU DESERVE BETTER.

Am I against people getting up and getting moving?  Absolutely not!  Am I against movement that will injure you, crush your spirit, and prevent you from exercising LONG TERM and CONSISTENTLY? Absolutely.

What is your first thought when you think of a bootcamp?  I will go first:

  • Military
  • Grind
  • Uncomfortable
  • Soul crushing
  • Hateful
  • Usually early mornings (to make it more hardcore)

If you look it up, Wikipedia says:  “Boot camp is defined as a type of exercise program based on military-style fitness training. An example of boot camp is an early morning class that has students doing lots of running and push ups.

 Also mentioned: … “trains groups of people, may be outdoors and may involve physical training similar to that used by the military or activities borrowed from military basic training.”

 Another Google search also turned up:   “Boot camps are part of the correctional and penal system of some countries. Modeled after military recruit training camps, these programs are based on shock incarceration grounded on military techniques. The aggressive training used has resulted in deaths in a variety of circumstances.”

A common word you’ll find in these searches is ‘disciplinary’, implying that fitness or exercise is a punishment. Fitness should never be considered discipline or punishment, but unfortunately this approach to exercise is a significant problem in our industry. A common example of this mindset is using exercise to punish yourself for eating food you weren’t “supposed” to eat, or to make up for activity goals you didn’t meet.   Exercise can and should be enjoyable, and you just need to find what is enjoyable for you.

Let’s face it, many fitness “professionals” make exercise out to be awful and use that as their main selling point.  These professionals are usually lacking expertise and experience, and they seem to believe the entirety of their job is to make people tired rather than making them better. They throw together a bunch of the most exhausting and most hated exercises in a circuit with minimal rest and call it “bootcamp” to make it sound cool.  Exercise simply doesn’t have to be like that.  It should be challenging, yes.  But it should also be something that you can do repeatedly over the long haul.

Bootcamps tend to attract people who are new to fitness, who are after quick results, or who are under the impression that the more hardcore the experience is, the better the results.  Essentially, bootcamps are money-making tools used by less-qualified trainers to attract people who, for one reason or another, have been led to believe that soul crushing “HIIT-like” workouts are the only way to get in shape.

The biggest attraction to bootcamps is the promise of HIIT (high intensity interval training), which has been marketed to burn the most fat and improve cardio faster than all other exercise methods. Research has indeed demonstrated that properly programmed and properly applied HIIT can do just that!  HIIT involves short and very intense bursts (90% of maximum intensity) of exercise (5-20 seconds) with brief (30 to 90 seconds) intervals of rest in between. This style of training should only last between 7-15 minutes, at most.

The problem? 99% of the time, people are not doing actual HIIT training as tested in the scientific research.  Real HIIT training means your heart is working at 90% of your max capacity for a very brief time period. Bootcamp classes do not get participants’ heart rates anywhere close to this. And if your class is lasting 30-60 minutes, that cannot possibly be HIIT training…because you would literally be dead. So let’s be real – you are doing moderate intensity interval training (MIIT), which is still valuable and beneficial to overall fitness and health, as long as your form is good and you are not hurting yourself.  (I would also note that you do not need to do MIIT every day to get in shape.)

ARE YOU GETTING TIRED or ARE YOU GETTING BETTER?

Most people need to learn how to move correctly before they can even attempt to do anything high intensity. The complete mismatch between low readiness for movement and high workout intensity is why and where injuries happen.  Unfortunately, most people that do bootcamps either:

1) don’t stick with it long enough to see any kind of results, and/or

2) get hurt, which is why they don’t stick with it.

These common outcomes can completely deter well-meaning people from exercise because it is grueling, it is not enjoyable, and it now comes with a fear of injury. However, the goals of improved endurance, strength, and cardiovascular health can all be improved without risking injury and crushing your soul, but you likely won’t hear the bootcamp instructor tell you that.

Unfortunately, any shitty programming may produce some of the desired results if it is done with consistency.  That’s the beautiful thing about our bodies.  They adapt, and doing anything is always better than doing nothing.  With bootcamps, however, these adaptations come at a high cost – injuries and bad habits from constantly training under fatigue.

We now know what bootcamps really are – moderate intensity circuit training.  When programed and coached properly, moderate intensity circuit training has a place!  It’s a great way to work on conditioning and endurance.  But let’s move past the marketing hype that it is a fitness panacea, and past the belief that almost puking after every workout is the ticket to being in shape.  Exercise should build you up, keep you injury-free, and not consistently crush you and prevent you from enjoying its benefits in life.

Listen, if bootcamps are your thing and they are the only thing that gets you up and moving, GREAT. I can’t hate on that.  Group-style classes are a great budget friendly way to get in some exercise, with a community, and who can hate on that.  Just be sure you are signing up for group exercise that is programmed intelligently and with the purpose of actually helping you get better, not just tired.  Always consider longevity and safety when you commit.  Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor about the programming, and walk away if they are doing burpees (See Blog “F*ck Burpees”:   https://www.svptfitness.com/fck-burpees/ ).  If exercises are programmed for longer than 10-15 seconds at moderate intensity, you are not doing HIIT.  You are doing MIIT and that’s okay…just be real about what you have signed up for.

If you are doing bootcamps for fat loss or to change your body composition, remember – “Exercise Won’t Give you a 6-Pack:  https://www.svptfitness.com/exercise-wont-give-you-a-6-pack/  Crushing your soul and body every day in the name of “HIIT” will not help you burn fat (or to the extent you think it does).  Sorry, but the truth hurts.

As always, my bias is obvious and I will always tell anyone looking to improve their fitness: hire a professional to build a program for YOU – your body, your lifestyle, and your goals – so that you can exercise, enjoy it, and STICK WITH IT.

 

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT, CFSC

Owner, SVPT Fitness & Athletics