Fitness Boot Camp 101: What You Need to Know Before You Start

Aaron Pearson
Fitness Boot Camp 101
Fitness Boot Camp 101

Fitness boot camps are all the rage lately, perhaps because they appeal to so many people for different, but equally important, reasons: time-to-completion (usually 45 to 60 minutes), high caloric burn rate (you get a great cardiovascular and strength training workout ), inclusiveness (anyone, at any level, can participate), camaraderie (take a friend or make a new one!), and format variety (every class is different.)

Moreover, most fitness boot camps—despite the traditional image of seemingly masochistic, army-fatigued individuals sweating it out at the crack of dawn—are, in reality, fun and effective, allowing you to be part of an exercise community that offers encouragement and support with each attempted Knee Tuck or Sit-Up.

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Whether you want to start an exercise program, mix up the one you currently have, or take your fitness goals to the next level, starting a boot camp regimen might get you into the best shape of your life.

Getting Started

The first step is to research boot camps available in your area. Online reviews often gives you a general idea of a camp's quality. Once you have narrowed your options down to three or four, take a look at each boot camp's website. Many post pictures, videos and member testimonials to give you a better idea of what they offer.

Many boot camps offer trial memberships—anywhere from a free day to a discounted week of workouts. Take advantage of these opportunities, especially the multi-day ones, because you will have a better sense of the camp after attending for a week as opposed to a day.

Things to Consider

Before you commit to a boot camp, think about your fitness level and goals, the best hours for you (if you are not a morning person, you probably should not sign up for a 6 a.m. class), and the kind of instructor you're looking for (do you enjoy being pushed to your limits, or are you looking to ease into your workout?). Then ask the owner or trainer some questions to see if the boot camp will meet your needs.

Other details to ponder are proximity to home (do you really want to drive 45 minutes to work out?) and instructor preparation (trainers with certifications and degrees have the education to back up their exercise philosophy, and they focus more on proper form and injury avoidance.)

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The more questions you ask, the better prepared you will be to make the most of your workouts.

Hidden Benefits

Jillian Michaels mentions that boot camps can lead to increased self-esteem and consistency, so the benefits are not just physical but mental as well, increasing the odds of sticking with a program for the long haul.

Committing to a boot camp does not mean you have to forgo other activities you enjoy. Many people opt for a two- or three-day-a-week schedule to accommodate their other interests, such as running, hiking, swimming and yoga.

Testing the Waters

If you are still unsure whether a fitness boot camp is right for you, try this mini circuit-training workout you can do at home without any major equipment.

Each round consists of three activities followed by one minute of jumping rope at an average of two revolutions per second. If you don't have a jump rope, you can jog in place. Each set is performed three times. Try to limit your rest periods to 10 seconds or less between sets. If you have a heart rate monitor, make sure you check it often!

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  • 50 Jumping Jacks, 10 Push-Ups, 50 High Knee Runs.

  • 50 Mountain Climbers, 20 Dips (you can use a chair), 20 X-Jumps (jumping in the air and making an X with your body).

  • 30 Pike to Planks (hold a Plank for 3 seconds and then a Pike, similar to a Downward Facing Dog, for 3), 15 Burpees, 50 Leg Drops (lie on your back, bring your legs perpendicular to the floor and lower and raise with control. Place your hands flat under your hips for support.)

  • 50 Plank Jumps (from a plank position, extend your legs to the side, as if you were doing a Jumping Jack), 30 Sumo Squats, 30 Lunges (15 per leg).

  • 50 Squat Jumps, 10 Handstands against a wall (hold for 10 seconds each), 20 Leg Lifts in a plank position.

Watch the videos below to see some boot camps in action:

Comfortable clothing (wicking fabrics are the best for high-intensity activity), appropriate shoes, weights, a towel, a mat and a positive attitude are all you need to become a boot camp big shot in no time!


Michaels, Jillian. "Need Motivation? Get into Boot Camp Workouts." American Fitness 31.1 (Jan/Feb 2013): 24-28.

Schriber-Lane, Jacki. "Reboot Fitness Camp." American Fitness 27.6 (Nov/Dec2009): 16-17.

This article originally appeared on Fitness Boot Camp 101: What You Need to Know Before You Start

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