Boot camp classes are popping up everywhere, but they are not all the same. Some are definitely better than others, and more importantly, some are better FOR YOU than others.
The guidelines listed below pertain to a bootcamp class that are offered through a gym or certified trainer. They do not really apply to the informal groups that are popping up everywhere. These more informal groups don't claim to have certified instructors, and they don't claim to be responsible for you in any way. You can show up and participate if you want, but you are responsible for yourself.
I work out with a group like this and love it. But keep in mind, there will probably be no fitness test before you start, and nobody is going to ask you if you have a medical condition or injury that would keep you from fully participating.
What you will get is the motivation, camaraderie, and education. You will learn new exercises, you will be pushed, and you will definitely get coached on proper form.
Having said that, if you are looking for a class at your local gym, here are 9 guidelines that will help you find the right boot camp class for you.
Your safety needs to be the top priority in any exercise class. The instructor should put you through a fitness test at the beginning of the course to assess your fitness level.
Your instructor should ask you if you have any medical conditions or injuries. If the instructor doesn’t ask, that should probably be a red flag. If you have a medical limitation, make sure you bring it up. The instructor should be able to tailor your workout so that you get the maximum benefit without aggravating the condition.
If you're considering a more independent workout group, i.e. on that is member led and not necessarily led by a certified instructor, it's your responsibility to make sure you are fit enough to participate. 999 times out of 1000 you will be with a group that will have a "leave no one behind" policy, but if you think you might need special attention, take that into consideration.
Some classes are heavy on cardio. A lot of classes have a theme like martial arts, boxing, skiing, or anything else you can think of. Some focus on general strength and endurance. Check with the instructor before signing up for the class.
Check the instructor’s education, certifications, and experience in running fitness classes. Look for a nationally recognized certification such as American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), or National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). As a minimum, he or she should also be certified in CPR and basic first aid.
This one is important. Boot camp classes are good for a variety of fitness levels as long as the instructor is able to offer modifiers to make each exercise easier or harder depending on the level of the participant. The instructor should be able to suggest modifications to the exercises to accommodate beginners, those with limitations, and those who are in good shape already.
Find out if you can go watch a class before you sign up. That way you can make sure it is what you want and you are comfortable with the way it is run.
People are comfortable in different size boot camp classes, but here is one take. If you like personal attention and coaching, a group of 6-12 people is big enough to give you the advantages of a class, but small enough to give you enough personal attention with the instructor. Nobody will just coast in the back.
A big advantage of boot camp classes is the added education you get while getting in shape. You will already learn a lot of exercises you can take with you and do anywhere. In addition, look for things like food management tips, menus, and a food log.
This may go without saying, but a boot camp workout should always begin with a warm up and end with a cool down. The instructor shouldn’t assume you arrived at 5:30 AM warmed up and ready to start sprinting.
Good boot camp classes may not need to score perfectly in all nine categories to be right for you. But the more the better.
If you’re still a little nervous about jumping into a class for the first time, try some of the ready made workouts on this site. Or put together a workout of your own.
Working out with a good bootcamp class DVD is also a great place to start. It could help with your baseline fitness and relieve some of the anxiety of not knowing what to expect when you get to your class.