For many people there is an almost mystical element to the workings of boot camps, and to military training in general, which gives rise to a fog of misconception. Military physical training is an effective means of transforming a body of people from ‘couch potato’ civilians to soldiers ready for frontline duties.
The purpose of outdoor fitness, military fitness and fitness boot camps is similar but also different. Boot camps take exercisers who choose to train in a manner similar to the military but there are numerous differences. Splitting clients by their fitness/ability level is one such difference. The induction process and fitness assessment also play an important role in determining an individual’s ‘starting’ level.
This is in contrast to the military, where all individuals are expected to start, and continue, at the same level of progression. Remedial training is provided for those individuals who either do not progress at the specified level or where an injury is identified. Although there is no typical session, most training providers follow a framework consisting of five phases which encompasses induction, injury identification and types of training.
Many training providers have also diversified into other, related, areas to generate new income streams and provide consumers with more choice.
The Role of the Induction Process and Fitness Assessment
The induction process and fitness assessment provide both the instructor and the individual with an indication of the individual’s fitness background and current fitness level. This information is used to determine the appropriate starting level and to monitor their progress. Although instructors will encourage individual’s to move up or down a level, where appropriate, this is entirely at the discretion of the individual.
It is difficult to describe the typical fitness boot camp session, as sessions vary from session to session, according to the venue, the instructor, the group and even the weather. However, in general, it is an hour-long medley of running, walking, strengthening and conditioning exercises, individual, partner or teamwork exercises and fun games, based on the training exercises used by the military.
Although the content of each boot camp will vary between training providers, there is a general framework to the basic structure of each individual session. The framework (Table 1) consists of five phases:
- Main theme
It should be noted that throughout the session the instructor should ensure a dual approach of group-based and individual teaching points to encourage and ensure correct and safe techniques.
Table 1: Training framework to the basic structure of individual sessions
A range of mobility and pulse-raising exercises
May include the following elements:
A range of pulse-lowering and stretching exercises
Phase 1: Pre-session
As well as the pre-session principles identified in the Induction & Medical Screening section for trial members, there are other principles to consider:
- Instructor introduces themselves to the group;
- New members introduced to the group; and
- Instructor checks for any injuries that may affect a member’s ability to take part in the session.
It should be noted that the instructor who inducts trial members prior to the class starting may not be the instructor who leads their ability group level. When this is the case, the principles identified above should apply.
Phase 2: The Warm-up
The warm-up is designed to raise your body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate, to mobilise your joints and ‘wake up’ the neuromuscular (nerve to muscle) pathways to prime your body for the specific activity it is about to undertake. In military training, the warm-up is usually limited to around 10 minutes, and is broken down into the following stages:
- Mobility exercises: these gentle movements are all performed while stationary, and their purpose is to mobilise all the major joints of your body.
- Pulse-raising activity: this initial pulse-raiser uses large muscle groups in repetitive movements to get your heart beating faster and to raise your body temperature. It can be done indoors, such as marching on the spot, or outside by walking forwards, then gradually building up to a gentle jog over a 3-4 minute period.
- Specific mobility exercises: the content of this warm-up segment depends on whether you are about to go for a run, workout with weights or take part in a kickboxing class. The exercises involved should take your joints through a similar range and direction of movement as the activity. For example, to warm up your trunk for a core conditioning workout, you might mobilise the area by arching and rounding the back from an all-fours position.
- Final pulse-raiser: in this final warm-up stage, you further raise your heart rate and body temperature by working at a progressively faster pace. Ideally, this should be the activity you are about to perform. For example, if you are going for a run, your final pulse-raising activity should be jogging, with the pace gradually building up to your usual exercise intensity. Avoid a time lag between your warm-up and your main activity otherwise many of the benefits will be lost.
Phase 3: The Main Theme
Due to the concept of no typical session it is difficult to describe exactly what training an individual would experience during their boot camp workout. Apart from the bread and butter exercises – for example press-up, lunges and squats (known as core exercises) and running training – there are also a number of other training methods and concepts used by the various training providers, as highlighted in the attached ‘Training Methods and Concepts’ section.
Phase 4: The Cool-down
At the end of every exercise session it is important not to come to a sudden halt, the idea is to slow down gradually. Therefore, the purpose of the cool-down (also known as the warm-down) is to return the body to its pre-exercise state, just like a warm-up but in reverse. If you do stop suddenly, the heart continues to pump large amounts of blood to the body, but the absence of activity means this blood can pool in the limbs, making you feel faint or dizzy. Stopping too suddenly also slows the removal of waste products from the body, hampering the recovery process and increasing the likelihood of sore muscles (e.g. DOMS, see Injury Symptoms & Prevention section). All you need to do is spend 3-5 minutes at the end of the workout reducing the pace, allowing the heart rate and breathing to return to normal. Body temperature will remain elevated for a limited period, making the cool-down period the perfect time to perform some stretching.
Stretching during the cool-down section of the workout helps the muscles relax and return to their resting length. This is important because the muscles have a tendency to shorten if they are not stretched after the constant contractions involved in exercise and over time, this can restrict mobility.
However, it is worth noting that a brief workout stretch is not sufficient to improve flexibility, it will only assist in maintaining your current range of movement (ROM). Acknowledging this fact – that stretching (or flexibility) is just as much a component of overall fitness as strength or stamina – the British Army incorporates regular standalone flexibility sessions into its military physical training programmes on rest or recovery days.
Phase 5: Post-session
As well as the post-session principles identified in the Induction & Medical Screening section for trial members, there are also other principles to consider:
- Speak with new members;
- General chat with current members; and
- Identify any injuries.
Styles and Variations
One underlying component of a good boot camp session is creating a spirit of teamwork, group support and cohesion. To do so, some training providers have started to focus their classes to cater to a specific demographic or those with a specific goal and the types of boot camp products that are available are endless. If you are seeking a specialised class or have a specific fitness goal, you will probably find a training provider that meets your needs. Some specialised training providers include:
- General fitness;
- Sports specific boot camps (e.g. ski preparation, running, cycling and football);
- Conditioning boot camps;
- Amphibious/aquatic boot camps (Crocker & Schwartz, 2009);
- Women-only fitness boot camps;
- Modified strongman training (Mitchell, 2012);
- Urban Gyms (Dixon, 2010);
- Pilates boot camps;
- Kids fitness boot camps;
- Fitness boot camps for seniors;
- Weight loss boot camps; and
- Boot camps for brides.
There are now many different types of classes available ranging from the traditional military style boot camps to the recently popular ‘women only’ group personal training camps, with a range of new boot camps continually emerging with a unique twist or a specific focus. There is also, apparently, even a boot camp that uses bungee cords! (Fitness Blogger, 2012).
As a method of developing other income streams, many training providers also offer alternative (substitute) and complimentary products. A sample of which are highlighted below:
- Indoor/outdoor circuits;
- Adventure days;
- Residential boot camps;
- Sponsored and non-sponsored running events (e.g. Demon run, tough mudder);
- Birthday parties;
- Corporate events and teambuilding;
- Personal training;
- Nutrition and weight loss programmes;
- Outdoor events and challenges;
- Personal development days;
- Fitness orientated holidays;
- Family activities;
- Running clubs; and
- Branded clothing and other products (e.g. car seat covers and stickers).
Crocker, S. & Schwartz, M. (2009) Collegiate Aquatic Centers Designed to Accommodate High-Activity Usage. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.athleticbusiness.com/articles/article.aspx?articleid=2710&zoneid=20> [Accessed: 17 November, 2012].
Mitchell, N. (2012) News: Introducing Our New London Fat Loss Boot Camps: Modified Strongman Training For Vikings & Valkyries! Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.nickmitchellblog.com/london-fat-loss-boot-camp/> [Accessed: 01 December, 2012].
Dixon, R. (2010) Urban Gym: An Outdoor Workout in the Heart of the City. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/18/urban-gym-outdoor-workout-city> [Accessed: 08 November, 2012].
Fitness Blogger (2012) Bootcamps. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.fitnessblogger.co.uk/boot-camps-c8.html> [Accessed: 08 November, 2012].