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Injury Prevention: Boot Camp

Use common sense and clear cuing when designing and teaching these popular drill-based classes.

Are you interested in teaching a simple, drill-based, athletic workout? Boot camp may be just what you’re looking for. These classes have become increasingly popular, not only among large gym chains, but also in private clubs and personal training studios. The format appeals to a large percentage of participants, primarily because of its simplicity. People who are intimidated by other group classes are drawn to boot camp because they don’t have to follow complicated choreography.

Boot camp typically blends military-style and athletic-performance drills. The workout is straightforward and intense, and it can be done inside or outside. Often, early-morning classes will meet in a local park. The outdoor terrain, park benches and playground equipment provide excellent tools for a great workout. Partner and team drills add a social component and promote camaraderie.

As boot camp’s popularity has in-creased, so has the need for instructors to be aware of injury prevention. Safety starts with assessing your class and knowing each participant’s limitations and restrictions. You must be able to modify moves to adjust intensity levels. Cues must be clear and concise, with no room left for interpretation. Outdoor classes require special consideration, as you won’t have total control of the environment.

To teach boot camp, it’s important to hold a national group fitness certification and also be versed in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid. It’s also a good idea to carry liability insurance (and to make sure it covers outdoor classes). If you are experienced in teaching sports conditioning formats or have a military or physical education background, your transition to teaching boot camp may be easier.

If you are a new instructor or have no prior experience teaching boot camp, you should first participate in a number of classes and then mentor under an experienced instructor. These classes are often quite large, and conducting the workout efficiently and safely may require a number of instructors.

Regardless of your experience level, always put participant safety first. You will likely be teaching to multiple-level classes. Participants will have different performance abilities, which will make it even more important to have a sound, structured program with clear progressions and options.

Modifying and Adapting Moves

  • Always cue options for various levels of difficulty. Start each drill with a base move and add intensity accordingly.
  • Use the terms hard, harder and hardest to describe three options for the same drill. For example, cue a straight-line cone run like this: “Power-walk from point A to point B (hard); jog from point A to point B (harder); sprint from point A to point B (hardest).”
  • If you are using equipment in a drill, make sure participants choose a size or weight that allows them to complete the exercise safely. Use medicine balls, sandbags and the Body Bar™ to provide an intensity boost.
  • Show modifications before starting each drill.
  • Remind participants that they are competing only against themselves. Encourage them to give the workout their all, but also to be smart about handling a proper workload.

Indoor and Outdoor

Certain guidelines apply to both indoor and outdoor boot camp classes.

  • Properly set up all equipment before class.
  • Designate a course, or map out your plan, prior to class.
  • Keep first-aid kits readily available.
  • If class is held outside, carry a cell phone in case of emergencies.
  • Walk and inspect outdoor courses before class to examine the terrain and set up the equipment.
  • Do not hold outdoor classes in adverse weather conditions. Always be aware of the temperature and the weather forecast, and have an alternative plan of action for when the weather is bad.
  • On longer runs and drills, use the buddy system to ensure that all participants are accounted for.

Proper Cuing Techniques

  • Keep all cues direct and concise.
  • Be loud! Make sure everyone in the class can clearly hear you.
  • If necessary, keep making corrective cues throughout the course or drill: “Keep hips squared throughout the shuffle.” “Squat lower and keep your hands in a guarded position.”
  • Remind participants to use proper form when lifting objects or moving large items: “Remember to squat down and pick up your weights.” “Don’t hinge from the hip.” “Push the ball overhead, keeping it in front of your head to avoid hyperextension.”
  • Be aware of the spacing between participants, and use cues to describe the situation: “Incoming group of runners.” “Spread out and form a single-file line.” “Line up, tallest person first.”
  • Clearly explain the course or drill and then show the options for different levels of difficulty.
  • Include safety tips with each drill or task: “Be aware of fellow participants.” “Keep your head up and your feet moving.” “Please towel off sweaty equipment and floors.”
  • Always focus on the positive. Use affirmative statements, such as “Good jog,” “Way to go” and “Excellent work.” Keep the class atmosphere upbeat.

common aches and pains

Sprained/Strained Ankle.

This injury commonly results from tripping over a piece of equipment or placing a foot incorrectly during an exercise. To prevent mishaps, set up and store all equipment properly and give detailed cues on how to change direction safely.

Low-Back Pain.

Sometimes participants lift too much weight too soon, use improper technique or do rotation moves that their bodies aren’t prepared for. Be on the look-out for these risk factors, all of which can cause low-back pain.


By the time participants are thirsty, they may already be dehydrated. Make sure everyone has fluid during class and stays properly hydrated both before and after the session.

Bruises, Scrapes and Cuts.

These are very common in outdoor classes. Be sure that the terrain is clear of noticeable obstructions or potential hazards such as felled trees, broken branches, glass, divots, loose rocks and uneven ground.

Overheating and Heat Exhaustion.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness and nausea. Monitor participants to make sure they are not overexerting themselves and are allowing for intensity modifications and water breaks. If possible, schedule all outdoor classes during a cooler time of day or in shady areas.

Foot Pain.

This can be caused by a number of things, but a simple change in footwear will solve many problems. Advise participants to wear proper shoes for the activity. A good cross-trainer is the best choice for most people. An all-terrain shoe may be needed for outdoor classes.


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Jennifer Renfroe

Jennifer Renfroe is the regional director of group fitness for Crunch Fitness┬« in Atlanta. She is also a master trainer for the Nautilus InstituteÔäó/Schwinn Cycling┬«. Certifications: ACE, AFAA

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