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What to Look for in a Boot Camp

Lisa Maloney
boot camp fitness

Boot camps have been an enduring fixture on the fitness scene for years now. These high-intensity, military-style "back to basics" workouts made it into the American College of Sports Medicine's list of fitness trends for eight years running. However, it takes more than a muscle-bound trainer barking orders in your face to deliver results. If you want the best possible experience in the boot camp world, your workout should have the following features.


It doesn't matter what else the boot camp has going for it: If the place and time aren't convenient for you, it'll be a losing battle. Remember, any time you start a fitness habit, the goal is to make it something you can sustain over the long term. When you choose a boot camp that's hard to get to, you're pre-loading yourself with excuses not to go.

Passionate, Certified Leadership

The best trainers are both passionate and certified by a reputable organization like the American Council on Exercise or the American College of Sports Medicine. It's the passion that makes them motivating and inspiring and the certification that makes them safe and effective. A certified trainer knows how to screen students responsibly before the workout and monitor them during to make sure you don't get in over your head. Observe a class, try a trial workout, and don't be shy about asking why the instructor has you doing exercises a certain way. If he or she doesn't have an answer for you, or if anything seems unsafe (or simply not fun), pass on that boot camp and keep looking for another.

Tailored to Your Fitness Level

It can be inspiring to work out with people who are more fit than you or to watch a beginner meet or beat their own goals. However, it's no fun being constantly left in the dust or held back if the other exercisers can't match your efforts, so make sure the workouts you're getting into are compatible with your fitness level. Talk to the trainer beforehand and if you're still not sure, consider investing in a trial workout or fitness evaluation to help you decide if that boot camp is right for you. It's normal to be a little extra sore when you first start a new workout no matter how fit you are, but if the soreness is debilitating or lingers for more than a few days, you need to either tone done your efforts or try an easier boot camp. Don't worry -- boot camps make you strong fast, so you'll be ready to go back to those harder workouts in no time.

Incorporates Exercises You Enjoy

You may love to hate your boot camp instructor during the workouts, but that doesn't mean you have to hate the exercises, too. Remember, the best workouts -- boot camp or otherwise -- are the ones you enjoy for their own sake. It's okay if you're not a huge fan of one or two of the staple exercises as long as there are more than you enjoy. (Not many people like burpees!) So try everything and give yourself a few weeks to get used to the workouts, but if you find yourself hating every single exercise that comes up after that trial period, you're not in the right place.

Requires a Reasonable Level of Commitment

There's no way around it, boot camps are hardcore. But that means something a little different for every person, so take the time to make sure your expectations and the instructor's match up. How often does she expect you to be in class? Does she insist that you buy a huge class package to start, or will she let you try it out first to see if it's a match? Some instructors will expect you to set a specific goal, then help you drive yourself to it; others are okay with occasional drop-ins and working out simply for the sake of moving.

Shows Results

Some boot camps will have a promotional website with before/after photos and testimonials from students. If the boot camp you're considering doesn't have this, that's okay. Just check out the current students and chat them up about their goals and the progress they're making. If most of them haven't set specific goals and aren't monitoring their progress, either you've wandered into the world's easiest-going boot camp or the instructor isn't on top of the goal-setting portion of his job.

The Right Boot Camp for You

Ultimately, the key to finding the right boot camp is knowing what you want out of your workouts and what level of commitment you're willing to give, then finding an instructor that's compatible with those wants and needs. If you ask, observe, and stay open to trying anything at least once, you'll find the perfect workout for you in no time.

What to Look for in a Boot Camp