Guide to Bootcamp Workouts
The smart approach to group fitness.
by Mike Mejia CSCS
Bootcamp workouts are without question, one of the most popular fitness trends to come in along in years. By offering people an enjoyable, cost-effective way to work up a sweat, these intensive group workout classes are quickly replacing more traditional forms of exercise as the preferred means of keeping healthy and fit.
All over Long Island, everyone from beginners to the most seasoned gym rats, are passing on treadmills and selectorized weight machines in favor of kettlebells, battle ropes and a host of other functional training tools designed to provide the ultimate physical challenge. Throw in an ultra-intense, in-your-face instructor and you’ve got all the makings of one fantastic workout!
So, why is it that I hate bootcamps so much? And why am I even less enthralled with their more demanding big brother, which goes by the name of “Crossfit”?
I mean, hey, as a strength coach and personal trainer, you’d think I would absolutely looooove any type of workout that gets people training this hard. You could think that, but you’d be wrong!
Not that I have anything against hard work. I’m a firm believer in having to “get out of your comfort zone” if you truly want tochange the way your body looks and feels. Its just that there’s a big difference between leaving one’s comfort zone and entering into the “danger zone”. And that’s exactly where many of these types of workouts can take you in a hurry.
Rather than just randomly rip on this style of training, though, let’s take a closer look at some of it’s less than desirable attributes.
▪ Lack of quality control: This one actually has two components to it- 1. There’s little if any attention given to pre-participation physical screenings and 2. bad exercise form is usually the rule, rather than the exception.
Let’s take these one at a time. In terms of physical screenings, while there are some bootcamp and Crossfit programs out there that take the time to assess participants before they embark on the training program, just as many (if not more), do not. This can pose a huge problem; especially when you have people of vastly different ages and physical abilities taking the same class.
If you’re not doing some type of baseline fitness testing and movement screening to assess a person’s likelihood for potential injury, you’re just opening yourself up for trouble. Potential pitfalls here range from someone blowing out a knee, to the flow of the workout being disrupted as some people struggle to keep up with the rest of the group.
And don’t even get me started on the kind of form I typically witness during these types of classes! While there are some excellent instructors out there who are capable of policing large groups, there are just as many who are more concerned with channeling their inner drill saergeant to give the “toughest class ever”. Who cares if you’re doing push-ups with your head hanging like you’re bobbing for apples, or your lower back is caving in to the point where you could serve soup from it? You’re working hard, right?
▪ Imbalanced workouts: Speaking of push-ups, they’re just one of the many “staple” exercises featured in these classes that can actually contribute to common physical imbalances. Whether it’s tight hip flexors from lots of prolonged sitting, or slumped shoulders from endless hours spent in front of the computer, or texting, there are a whole host of postural issues and strength imbalances that many popular bootcamp drills do nothing but accentuate.
Look, as someone who routinely works with large groups, I completely understand that exercises like the push-up, as well as lunge walks, wall sits and burpees are very easy to prescribe. They don’t require much in the way of equipment and are extremely challenging for most people. Unfortunately, they also don’t do a lot to strengthen the upper back and gluteal muscles- two areas in dire need of attention thanks to our technology driven society.
If you go the Crossfit route and start adding in endless reps of Olympic lifts, box jumps and those God-awful “kipping” pull-ups, you not only swing the physical imbalance needle further out of whack, but you leave yourself open to developing all sorts of overuse injuries! But hey, it’s a great workout, right?
▪ This Stuff is Not for Everyone: Despite everything I’ve written above, I do believe that this workout style has merit for some people. If you’re a healthy, relatively fit person between the ages of say 20 and 35, have no previous injuries and are not a complete workout newbie, bootcamps/ Crossfit may be just what you’re looking for!
If, however, you’re say a 45 year old with lower back problems and a “cranky” knee, you might want to take a pass. Or, what if you’re a 17 year old soccer player with zero training experience and limited hip and ankle mobility? Think bootcamp training might be the ticket for finally cracking the starting line-up? Well, think again.
The issue for the two examples I’ve given above (as well as countless others) is that the whole premise of these classes is to rapidly go from one drill to the next in order to keep the flow of the workout going and the metabolic demand high. There isn’t awhole lot of time to show you how to modify a particular drill so it’s easier on your back, or teach you the basics of Olympiclifting, or proper landing mechanics for plyometric exercises. Besides, even if there were, the rep ranges are usually so high that your body ends up succumbing to fatigue and your form goes straight down the toilet anyway.
A Smarter Alternative?
At its core, the bootcamp/ Crossfit approach means well. It was designed to provide extremely challenging, cost-effective fitness programming that frees people from the drudgery of the typical gym based model for keeping fit. Believe me, it’s a lot more fun to work the battle ropes than it is to zone out on a treadmill. And I for one would much rather crank out some kettlebell swings, or Turkish get-ups than do three sets of ten reps on the chest press machine. B-O-R-I-N-G!
If only there was a way to make this type of training safer and more conducive to helping correct common muscle imbalances rather than exacerbating them. A smarter approach that still allows people to work hard, but at the same time, eliminates the potential for developing overuse injuries and bruised egos.
Well, be on the lookout. Because very shortly, we’ll be unveiling just such a program.
“Smart Camp” coming soon at Physical Solutions.