The Problem with Bootcamp-Style Workouts

Written by Colin Meadors

So, what do I mean by “bootcamp” workouts? These are the group training classes that usually consist of bodyweight or minimal equipment exercises (push-ups, air squats, burpees, running) with the sets/reps/rest aimed at pushing you to failure and ultimately kicking your butt. The term “bootcamp” refers to military bootcamp which is the initial training all recruits for each branch of the military attend to become indoctrinated into military lifestyle. For many, it is a tough process that involves rebuilding oneself from the ground up. While these workouts can be easy to put together due to the lack of equipment requirements and build camaraderie through shared “suffering”, there are a few issues that I have with this style of workouts:

Real Bootcamp Ends

After about 8-15 weeks (depending on the branch of the military we are talking about) the bootcamp ends. Why? The stress and strain often seen within bootcamp is not meant to be sustained over long periods of time i.e., months and years. When it comes to physical fitness, if you want to get the most out of training a long-term view is the best approach. Do you really want to go to a class where every workout is written to make you end the session lying on your back staring at the ceiling questioning the meaning of life and thinking “I am so trashed”? If you do, props to you. However, just because you’re crushing yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting better. Think about that.

Real Bootcamp is Progressive

With bootcamp being the first military training people receive, it is very structured with training building upon itself each week. For example, when I attended Army Basic Training, the Thursday of the first week involved a 2-mile foot march with our issued (and very uncomfortable) rucksacks. Each week we repeated the process of flopping out of bed around 3AM to do another incredibly mind-numbing fun speed-walk under the weight of our packs while building up blisters from our stiff new boots.

This progressed each week until our final ruck march of 14 miles. Sounds like a good time right? The morning sessions of pull ups, planks, running etc. progressed each week as well. Most bootcamp-style classes I’ve seen don’t start with a beginning week to get people settled in. Instead, classes sometimes take people from 0 to 100 on their first day giving them large sets of pushups and burpees.

Real Bootcamp Controls All Elements of Daily Life

“Ok, wait a minute Colin…I have a friend that went through actual bootcamp and they came back in awesome shape! Doesn’t that mean all of those hard workouts actually work?” The thing to remember here is bootcamp doesn’t just include structured workouts, even the food and sleep is controlled (along with the awesome haircut). Everyone eats the same amount of food. Everyone is forced to go to bed at the same time. Exercise alone is not enough to get performance results. Lifestyle, food, sleep, hydration, and stress are all factors that can positively or negatively affect the results of your training.

Overall, if you enjoy bootcamp classes and you’re getting the results that you want, keep at it. If you ask me, I believe training is a lifelong pursuit that has no finish line. As such, I like to have options. Different tools (barbells, bands, sleds, bikes, etc.) and different goals depending on what attributes I am trying to improve (strength, endurance, explosive power). Ultimately, find something that gets you moving and that you enjoy so that you can do it for a long time.

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