Reboot Your Boot Camp

Boot-camp instructors share their favorite ways to keep participants happy, engaged and well conditioned.

By Cathie Ericson
Dec 20, 2013

Why do people come to your boot-camp classes instead of booting up their Blu-ray™ disks? There are a lot of reasons: Variety, camaraderie, encouragement and motivating music are all essential elements of a perfect experience. There’s nothing worse than a bummer boot camp, and you work hard to keep participants motivated and on track to reach their fitness goals.

You know how important it is to keep your classes fresh so people aren’t bored. But changing up your boot camp also keeps it effective. Different workouts contribute to ongoing gains by ensuring that muscles are continually challenged in new ways. Variety ensures that participants use many muscle groups and are not overtraining and straining with repetitive movements.

What can you do to keep the enthusiasm and fun factor high? We talked to instructors nationwide to find out what they do to keep their boot camps fresh—not only for participants, but also for themselves. Many of these savvy instructors recommend keeping the workout a secret until boot campers arrive. The element of surprise keeps them on their toes and makes them wonder what might happen next time. Instructors also recommend accommodating all fitness levels, which is another
of boot camp’s strengths: Students can work at their own pace and do their personal best.

Read on for ideas on how to invigorate next week’s boot camp.

Fun Advice From the Field

“I don’t repeat exercises more than twice a month, and I also use different formats. Sometimes I’ll have class do a certain number of rounds: 10 reps of this, 15 of that and 20 of something else. Other times they’ll do as many rounds as possible (“AMRAP”) in a given amount of time, or I’ll have them do 100 of four different exercises, broken up however they like, as fast as possible. I also head to the park and use landscape features such as hills and stairs whenever possible.”

—Meredith O’Brien, FitNicePT, Virginia Beach, Virginia

“When I start getting bored, I join my entire group for a high-rep workout I call the ‘Nifty Fifty,’ which is 50 reps of 10 different exercises. I am also constantly learning new techniques and switching out equipment. For example, I might incorporate a rebounder trampoline or FitRanXTM, a standardized ranking system used for gauging fitness levels. The workouts fly by, and people really get results.”

—Nathan Jordan, Jackhammer Strength Training, Columbus, Ohio

“I incorporate competitions into the workouts to create a sense of competitiveness and fun. Participants forget they
are actually working hard.
We might do partner workouts or try a team activity like tug of war with battle ropes.”

—Salim Koroma, Koroma Elite Fitness, Miami

“I use different tempos for movements, so we might do a lifting tempo of 2 seconds up; pause; 2 seconds down—or we might work on time under tension. Sometimes I will bring in a deck of cards and stick to the four basic movements of bench press, squat, deadlift and shoulder press. I’ll assign a movement to each card suit, and then whatever number is on the card indicates how many reps they have to do. Jacks, kings and queens are 10. Aces are 20. Jokers are 50 jumping jacks.”

—Joe Pepe, HealthEase, Philadelphia

“Sometimes I surprise my boot campers with an ‘off-site’ workout where we meet at my warehouse and then run to a park close by where we use the basketball courts and picnic tables for different workouts. One time we went to a big hill and did hill repeats. People were shocked when I told them they had just run more than a 5K without realizing it.

“I also incorporate games like hand tap, where everyone is in a plank position and you have to tap another boot camper’s hand to accumulate points. After a couple of minutes the boot camper with the most points wins. I will usually give some small prize to the winner.”

—Corey Enman, Fitamorphosis, Burbank, California

“I incorporate celebration days where I give prizes for best costume or craziest shoes. I also might mix it up with a slip and slide, pool or sand, or even set up an inflatable obstacle course.”

—Scott White, Personal Power Training, Phoenix

“We all know amazing music is a necessity for a workout, but we take it a step further by successfully turning boot camp into a ‘night club’ setting by using sexy red lighting, pumping music and outgoing, personable instructors. Clients feel like they are getting a workout while at a nightclub.”

—Barry Jay, Barry’s BootCamp, with locations in California, New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Florida and internationally

“Partner drills are always fun because the goal is to work together and build trust. Also, sometimes you find a new workout buddy. I like to match fitness/gender/ body type for a ‘piggyback’ partner drill where people switch off piggybacking each other down the field. I also like to fuse boot camp–style strength exercises and drills with dance moves. For example, we’ll do a sequence of walking push-ups, skaters and burpees and then a “kick-step-drop-’n’-pop” dance move. Combining boot-camp drills with dance moves makes [the workout] challenging and fun, and it makes people smile!”

—Sarah Machacek, Warrior of Wellness, Northern Virginia

“Sometimes I’ll introduce a sequence of Tabata moves. Basically you do a move for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and repeat, for a total of eight rounds. Then you do another one. It’s great because you can incorporate any exercise, from push-ups to planks to jumping jacks to skate slides, etc. The time goes really fast as you’re counting the moves down.”

—Tricia Borgen, LA Fitness, Beaverton, Oregon

By incorporating a spirit of creativity and adventure, you keep your classes fun and motivate your students to reach their goals. Remember that not everyone will love every activity, and that’s okay. By switching it up, you ensure that members never know what will come next, but they’ll be there to find out.

Boot-Camp methods

According to Greg Justice of AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas City, Kansas, “the key to metabolic resistance training—or boot-camp workouts—is that it uses a perfect blend of both anaerobic and aerobic exercises to build muscle and burn fat as efficiently as possible.”

In broad terms, according to Justice, a successful boot-camp instructor can implement four basic types of interval/circuit training methods:

  • Volume intervals. These are repetition-based activities; for example, 15 squats, followed by a minute of rest; then 2 more sets before moving to the next exercise.
  • Time intervals. Participants alternate between exercising and resting for a set number of rounds. For a high-intensity, focused workout, for example, you may decide on 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest for 20-30 rounds.
  • Timed volume intervals. These combine the previous two methods. participants d
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Cathie Ericson

Cathie Ericson is a Portland, OregonÔÇôbased writer and fitness enthusiast. You can find her running, boot camping or kickboxing when sheÔÇÖs not protecting her online reputation @cathieericson.

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