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The Best Boot Camp Moves You’re Not Using

It’s 8:00 o’clock Saturday morning at San Diego’s Mission Bay Park. You might expect a quiet morning with a few “early-bird” families strolling along the park’s winding paths. However, the park is far from quiet. Cast your eye around and you will likely see a group of sweaty individuals working for the weekend. Some groups stay put, while others travel along the bay’s expanse. The 2005 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, Todd Durkin, MA, and his team chant loudly as they sprint by a group of women performing squats with strollers nearby. Similar scenes are taking place in fitness facilities, parks and public spaces around the world. It is a sight to behold and offers firsthand evidence of the power and popularity of fitness boot camps.

A Brief History

Boot camp classes have become a solid contender in the fitness world. According to information from the 2010 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Trends report, 41% and 25% of respondents offer small-group boot camps and outdoor boot camps, respectively. The data also show that 63% of those offering these programs expect their growth to continue. For individual professionals and fitness facilities alike, boot camps can be a significant profit center, and yet, despite their new popularity, they’ve been around for quite some time. According to the U.S. Navy, the term boot was used during the Spanish-American War to refer to recruits (Naval History & Heritage 2010). Naturally, “boots” attended camps designed to produce fast-track improvements in physical prowess and combat readiness. When “civilians” eventually learned of the power—and challenge—of boot camp, early-morning groups formed to mimic the military-style training.

These days, boot camps are varied and appeal to different types of people. Many follow traditional methods with “screaming-sergeant” instructors, while other classes are more like playtime or recess. While it’s an inspiration to see so many exercise groups at Mission Bay Park (or your local park), a challenge arises: How do you set yourself apart from the pack?

10 Experts, 10 Exercises

Boot camps need to offer more than push-ups, burpees and sit-ups to survive. In a world of seemingly endless options, the most successful fitness professionals serve up a healthy mix of traditional, contemporary and fun options for getting in shape. Keep your clients coming back for more with the following 10 exercises from 10 experts around the world.

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Partner Reaction Drill

Expert: Leigh Crews, owner, Dynalife Inc., Cedar Bluff, Alabama

Equipment Needed: none

This cardio drill is a great way to turn up the heat. It increases camaraderie and social interaction, cognitive stimulation and reaction skills.

The Exercise. Have your participants pair up and face one another. Set up commands, each one associated with a specific activity. For instance, “When I say, ‘1,’ face your partner and yell, ‘I’m a happy camper, sir!’ When I say, ‘2,’ slap the ground with both hands and then do a double high-five. When I say, ‘3,’ do a tuck jump and a hip bump.”

At your signal, all participants default to fast feet. Start slowly calling out numbers in no particular order to allow everyone time to get used to the commands. Increase the mental and physical challenge by increasing the speed at which numbers are called, or call two numbers in quick succession. Participants return to fast feet after each task.

Regressions and Progressions. Follow this simple chart to learn ways to increase or decrease the challenge, based on your participants’ skill levels:

The Human Bench

Expert: Tony Cress, owner, Tony Cress Personal Training, Las Vegas

Equipment: partner

This drill offers great variety for boot camps. It allows you to maintain some of the “traditional” exercises while adding creativity and intensity as desired. The drill also brings a sense of teamwork to the group; working “off of” each other can be more fun and helps form companionship.

The Exercise. In pairs, partner A acts as the “bench” and sets up in an elbow plank position, maintaining optimal alignment and engaging the gluteals and abdominals. Partner B then performs various exercises with hands placed on the “bench’s” shoulders. Examples include push-ups, mountain climbers, split-leg squats and bench hops. After 30 seconds have passed, partners switch positions. The entire circuit lasts 21/2 minutes.

Regression. Position the body on hands and knees while acting as the bench.

Progression. Position the body in a hand plank or push-up position while acting as the bench.

The Telemark Lunge

Expert: Cat Smiley, owner, The Original Boot Camp, Whistler, British Columbia

Equipment: none

The telemark lunge is a powerful progression for traditional lunges. It offers you the variation you need when working with participants of different fitness levels. This advanced lunge adds a cardiovascular component when space restrictions make running or other locomotive activities impossible.

The Exercise. Take a big step forward and lower the body down until the front thigh is horizontal. Create a square, making sure the knee never passes over the toes. Explode up, driving the knee toward the chest. Travel vertically, not horizontally. Keep the torso straight and drive the arms up to help with balance.

Regression 1. Do a walking lunge.

Regression 2. Eliminate the forward motion and simply alternate legs.

Towel Drags

Expert: Laurel Blackburn, creator, Boot Camps To Go,

Tallahassee, Florida

Equipment: towel, Frisbee® disk, paper plate or Gliding disk; dumbbells (optional)

Most exercise programs focus on old-fashioned crunches to target the abs, neglecting the deep muscles of the core. Towel drags challenge the deeper transversus abdominis and external and internal obliques. These exercises can be done indoors or outdoors as a group activity, as a game or one-on-one.

The Exercise. Begin in a plank position with hands on the ground and feet (toes) on a towel, paper plate, Frisbee or Gliding disk. Challenge participants to pull themselves across the floor as quickly as possible. Encourage them to maintain a straight line from head to heel, with tight abdominals and butt down. The slight weight shift and pulling motion will emphasize the deeper muscles of the entire trunk.

Game On! Turn towel drags into “towel drag races” by pitting individuals or teams against each other for a fun and challenging fitness game.

Regressions. Perform a floor plank while shifting weight slightly from side to side. Further regress the exercise by placing the knees on the ground.

Progression. Hold a dumbbell in each hand to perform a combination row and pull.

Medicine Ball Catch and Release

Expert: Tod Esquivel, owner, Indy Boot Camps, Indianapolis

Equipment: medicine ball

This exercise offers participants a heart-pumping way to improve lower-body strength and power. It also challenges hand-eye coordination and quickness. Perform a set number of repetitions or repeat the exercise for a set time, depending on your participants’ abilities.

The Exercise. Stand with an appropriately weighted medicine ball between the feet. Squeeze the ball between the ankles and lower into a full squat (or modify the range of motion as needed). From there, explode up while simultaneously releasing the ball and attempting to catch it. Return the ball to the start position and continue.

Game On! Split the group into teams or pairs. The team with the most catches at the end of a specified time period wins! A dropped ball results in a one-push-up penalty.

Regression. Eliminate the “catch” component.

Progression. Catch the ball with one hand.

Palm Wars

Expert: Daniel Remon, chief executive officer, Fitcorp Asia Co. LTD,

Bangkok, Thailand

Equipment: partner

This partner game emphasizes shoulder and core stability, as well as hand agility and quickness. Palm Wars acts as a great icebreaker, making clients laugh and letting them have fun while exercising.

The Exercise. Ask the group to break off into pairs. Partners then face each other head to head in a hand plank or push-up position. Feet are hip width apart for a more stable and grounded trunk position.

The objective is to slap the hand of the partner while preventing your own hand from being slapped. Cue participants to minimize hip swinging, keeping the front of the pelvis squared with the ground. The body maintains a straight line, with the core musculature consistently engaged. The hands keep moving as quickly as possible to avoid being slapped.

Game On! Turn this drill into a competition by challenging each individual to rack up more slaps than her partner. The person with the most slaps at the end of the drill wins. The losing partner performs an exercise of the winner’s choice.

Regression. Perform the drill from the modified, knee push-up position.

Progression. Allow participants to “crawl” around the exercise area.

Over and Under

Expert: Eve Fleck, MS, owner, Gym Without Walls, Los Angeles

Equipment: resistance tube

Using large muscle groups in combination with core stability is a great way to burn calories and improve strength, endurance, agility and cardiovascular function. This drill can be used with large groups of participants who are at different fitness levels. Partners assist and encourage each other, creating a fun and motivating group dynamic.

The Exercise: Over. Work in pairs. Attach a resistance tube to an anchor point (e.g., a pole) with a slip knot (place one handle through the other and pull until you have one long tube anchored to the pole). Partner A holds the tube without slack about 2 inches below the knee. Partner B performs continuous lateral hops over the tube for 30 seconds, bending the knees and engaging the abdominals upon landing. Switch.

Regressions. Lower the resistance tube, decrease the jumping pace or perform single-leg leaps over the tube.

Progression. Raise the tube to knee height.

The Exercise: Under. Slide the tube to about 3 inches above the waist. Partner A holds the tube. Partner B begins directly under the tube in a wide squat position, hinging forward at the waist and keeping the back flat and abdominals engaged. He maneuvers side-to-side, maintaining a boxing-style defensive position with the hands, lifting the chest and extending the legs as he clears the tube. After 30 seconds, the partners switch.

Regression. Raise the tube to chest height.

Progression. Lower the tube to waist height.

Three-Point Triceps Kickback

Expert: Jason Bosley Smith, CSCS, founder, TheFitRx.com,

White Marsh, Maryland

Equipment: dumbbells

Shoulder stability, core strength and upper-extremity endurance make this a truly integrative movement. Using this combination of body weight and free-weight resistance, you can take the traditional triceps kickback exercise to a whole new level of challenge and complexity. If equipment is limited, participants can work in pairs.

The Exercise. Choose a light- to moderate-resistance dumbbell. Assume a prone position with feet slightly wider than hip width apart, and place the hands together, with the dumbbell close by. Engage the abdominals and lift the body into a hand plank push-up position. Lift the dumbbell with one hand, bringing it next to the rib cage, elbow high. From this position, brace the body and extend the arm to perform a kickback. Complete a set and then switch to the other hand. Perform for a specific time, or complete a set number of repetitions.

Regression. Keep the knee of the base arm on the ground.

Progression. Use two dumbbells and alternate the kickbacks.

Partner Pull-Ups

Expert: Ben Blumenthal, managing director, British Military Fitness, Cape Town, South Africa

Equipment: partner

This fun—and challenging—exercise can be done with two or three people. It strengthens most muscle groups, especially those in the midback, upper back, lower body and core.

The Exercise. Stand facing a partner with feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, legs bent to 45 degrees. Keep the knees in line with the toes, and maintain a straight back at all times. With your right hand, grab your partner by the right hand in an overhand grip and lower him into a sitting position. Maintaining the squat position, pull your partner back to the standing position and switch hands. The “sitter” assists the upward movement by engaging the leg and core muscles.

Regression/Modification. To change the dynamic, work in threes. This variation requires two “pullers”—one standing on each side of the sitter. The person on the left holds a lunge position, with the right leg forward, and pulls with the left hand. The other puller does the opposite. Perform the exercise for a given time or complete a set number of repetitions, and then switch positions.

Progression. Instead of squatting, the sitter performs a jump squat or tuck jump.

The Run Lunge Tug of War

Expert: Nicole Pizzi, MPH, program manager, Wave House Athletic Club, San Diego

Equipment: resistance tube

Split the team into pairs. Each pair consists of a “holder” and a “runner”: the runner stands with her back to the holder; the holder wraps the resistance tube around the runner’s waist, securely holding both handles. Ask all holders to make sure they’ve got a tight grip on the handles before commencing. When ready, instruct the runners to run in place. Holders move forward in a walking lunge, simultaneously pulling the tubing handles into the rib cage with each step. Have participants perform the movement for 30 seconds and then switch positions. If space is limited, eliminate locomotion.

Regression. Runners: reduce intensity to a jog or a march in place. Pullers: alternate lunging in place or reduce range of motion with a step back.

Progression. Runners: do a high knee sprint or forward jumps. Pullers: add a plyometric component with a jumping lunge.

Build a Solid Boot Camp Business

Starting a boot camp business can be a lucrative opportunity for fitness professionals. In many cases the overhead is minimal, if nonexistent. Classes can be held in parks or at recreation centers for a small fee. Equipment adds variety to the program but isn’t necessary to produce an effective workout. However, best intentions and low expenses may not be enough to secure boot camp business success. Cat Smiley, owner of Canada’s first and longest-running fitness boot camp, The Original Boot Camp, offers insights for program longevity.

  • Trademark Your Business Name Early. Once you’ve decided to start a boot camp, you’ll want to come up with a good name. Check with local and national government agencies to determine whether the name is available before you spend any money on graphic design and website.
  • Be Yourself. Not all boot camps should be alike. Use your own confidence and creativity to make your program your own. Many trainers don’t have it in them to do the “tough-as-nails” boot camp. Instructors are most successful when they use their own personalities and styles while teaching.
  • Protect Yourself. If you are running an outdoor boot camp, you will need outdoor adventure waivers. Regular indoor or personal training waivers will not suffice. It is important to recognize that, as an outdoor activity, boot camp presents different types of dangers. For example, a participant might sprain an ankle on a pothole, or a tree might even fall on someone. Hire a lawyer and create an adventure-sport waiver.
  • Don’t Give Away the Farm for Free. Other trainers might call you and ask for tips and advice. Trust that you can be friendly and give advice without giving away trade secrets. Similarly, clients will sometimes want you to spend extra time helping them with exercises or nutrition advice after class. These are additional services that you can sell.
  • Stand Your Ground. Oftentimes, professionals will offer discounts or reduce prices to attract more participants. Set your price and stick with it. Have confidence that you are worth what you ask participants to pay.
  • Keep Numbers Manageable. A lot of people think success means having hundreds of people in class. My fitness insurance company recommends that I have no more than 10 clients per trainer. This is so that I can keep a watchful eye on all participants, which reduces risk and increases customer satisfaction. You might make more money with 20 clients, but if they hurt themselves owing to instructor negligence, those numbers will dwindle.
  • Avoid Early Expansion. As classes fill, it might seem alluring to hire multiple trainers to handle your classes. But extra trainers mean more overhead. If you keep things to yourself and show up to all the sessions, you earn all the income.
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Please see the accompanying videos (www.ideafit.com/top-boot-camp-moves) to view these exercises in action, with explanations from the experts themselves.

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