The Science Behind the Benefits of Fitness Boot Camps

Boot camps have taken the fitness world by storm, growing in popularity to an extent that there is a boot camp for just about everything – brides who want to trim down for their wedding, new recruits looking to get in shape for basic training, people seeking a prison-style workout taught by former convicts, the list goes on.

While boot camps may seem like a fad, new research is shedding light on the scientific reasons they are, in fact, quite effective for people looking to lose weight and improve their overall health.

Weight Loss

Over a decade of research exists touting the lab-based benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT), however, new studies are diving into the real-world implications of fitness boot camps. An April 2018 article published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, for example, shares the findings of a 12-month long intervention in overweight and obese adults. Of the 250 adults involved in the study, those who stuck with routine HIIT were more likely to show beneficial weight loss and visceral fat reduction as well as report greater enjoyment of the physical activity.

Researchers believe that boot camp-style fitness programs that incorporate HIIT could be more effective in the long-term than routine moderate-paced cardio workouts for many reasons. Rapid, intense spurts of exercise actually induce a surge of organic compounds like growth hormones that can continue burning fat and fuel an energy expenditure long after you finish exercising. In addition, short bouts of HIIT appear to positively impact the genes which stimulate mitochondrial growth, generating widespread biological changes that improve physical and mental health.

Increased Heart Rate

The American College of Sports Medicine shares a basic formula for calculating your maximum heart rate: 220 – your age = MHR (maximum heart rate). While closely tracking your heart rate may not be a priority for you, it will serve you to understand how heart rate reflects progress when it comes to fitness boot camps. For beginning cardiovascular activity, the average healthy person wants to aim for getting their heart rate up to 50 – 65% of their MHR.

With HIIT like you often find in fitness boot camps, you’re more likely to see your heart rate jump up to 80-85% of your MHR and then fall back to 50-65% during short rest intervals. This helps strengthen the heart muscle even more which, in turn, contributes to improved circulation and a boost to the rate at which oxygen is distributed around your body and to your muscles (aerobic capacity). Experts recommend tracking your heart rate regularly, measuring it specifically within the hour after you finish a workout. As the heart muscle strengthens over time, you will see that number decrease.

Functional Fitness

Boot camps facilitate a comprehensive workout that targets both the upper and lower body through exercises loosely modeled on military training. Calisthenics performed in a fitness boot camp require little equipment and focus more on body work exercises like lunges, squats, planks, and push-ups. Combined with high intensity intervals of running, jumping, and bodyweight training, boot camps emphasize what is commonly referred to as ‘functional fitness.’

Acute body awareness combined with the versatile strength and flexibility boot camps offer will come in handy in real-world scenarios where it’s not weight machines in a gym that you need to master but basic life tasks like carrying groceries, moving furniture, climbing stairs, and so on.

Additional Considerations

Basic boot camp guidelines recommend you gradually build up intensity and heart rate to avoid injury, especially to the joints and other soft tissues in the body. If you do incur a fitness injury from overuse, adhere to the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and talk with your medical professional. Ice therapy is specifically recommended for those suffering from back pain associated with intense boot camp training.

Be wary of launching into physical activity that spikes your heart rate well over 80% of its MHR as well, especially if you are out of shape and haven’t exercised in a while. For example, if you never run and are overweight, tackle brisk walking before you ever take on intense sprints. The “training” part of fitness boot camps means thoughtfully growing your body’s ability to do more and more, not killing yourself to complete a hardcore workout all at once.


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