What Makes Boot Camp Workouts So Effective?

Lora Gordon, a marketing consultant from Portland, OR, had always been active, but when she turned 40, she needed something to kick her metabolism into high gear and [I] re-energize her to work out regularly. "I got bored easily in most exercise classes and didn't challenge myself hard enough [to] work out on my own. When a friend suggested I join her boot camp class, I was skeptical. I worried it would be too tough, even though I love a challenge. After one session, I was hooked and after a couple months, I was in the best shape of my life."

The American Council on Exercise says:

Boot camp workouts remain extremely popular because they provide a total-body workout that's varied, fun, and challenging. Up to 600 calories can be burned during a boot camp session, which is obviously going to facilitate weight loss. But in addition to a great cardiovascular workout, muscles are strengthened through high- and low-intensity exercises such as pushups, squats, and lunges. You don't typically experience significant muscle fitness benefits in other aerobic exercises.

What's a Boot Camp Work Out Like?

A one-hour workout includes cardio, strength training, balance, interval training, circuit training, and flexibility exercises. Every class should include warm up and cool down segments. Many are designed to provide cardio and strength training simultaneously by rapidly switching from one activity to another with no breaks in between. This rapid-fire technique is thought to provide unique benefits because the brain has to work harder to stay on task. Plus, the integration of fast-paced, high-intensity exercise with slower-paced, low-intensity activities keeps muscles and brain cells guessing, which is thought to increase metabolism and build muscle strength.

While hand weights, kettle bells, and resistance bands are often included in boot camp workouts, some trainers opt for exercises that only use body weight instead or non-traditional equipment like chains or blocks. Regardless of the props they choose, almost all workouts will include:

  • Squats (bending both knees in a stationary position) are a perfect exercise for working the large muscles in the thighs, hips, butt, and core and can be done with or without weights. There are a variety of ways to perform squat exercises, and a boot camp might include several styles with and without dumbbells.
  • Lunges are single-leg deep knee bends that works all the muscles in the legs, hips, and butt while activating core and back muscles for stability. Boot camps might include a variety of walking and standing lunges with and without hand weights or dumbbells.
  • Pushups work the arm, chest, back, and core muscles and when done in rapid repetitions. Pushups also provide an intense cardio workout.
  • Pull-ups work all upper-body muscles as well as core and back muscles.

Boot camps come in a variety of styles such as yoga, swimming, all-women's, or all-men's boot camps. Be prepared to move quickly and use your mind, body and, will power during your total-body workout.

Also, boot camps are appropriate for people recovering from injuries or have special needs. Just let your instructor know and let her adjust exercises to meet your needs.

How Do You Find the Right Boot Camp?

Word of mouth is always good, but make sure your "drill sergeant" is a certified fitness instructor or personal trainer with a good reputation. It's her job to push you to meet new fitness challenges, but not so hard as to cause injury. Ask for boot camp recommendations at your local fitness center and get ready for the best work out of your life.