Is Boot Camp for You?
Karen Asp - Live Right Live Well
With swimsuit season fast approaching, you're looking for a quick way to shape up.
The trouble is, motivation isn't your strong suit. The solution? Sign up for a boot camp class. Although boot camps have been around for several years, they're now hotter than ever. In fact, the American Council on Exercise lists boot camp classes among the top fitness trends in 2009. So what's behind their popularity?
For starters, there's the calorie burn. Boot camp classes incorporate body-weight exercises and cardiovascular intervals, which can be intense, thus boosting the burn. Body-weight exercises might include push-ups, squats and sit-ups, while cardio intervals could entail jumping jacks, squat thrusts, step climbing and running, says Stacy Berman, a New York City-based trainer and founder of Stacy's Bootcamp, an outdoor boot camp program. Put them all together, and you end up burning mega calories -- 400 calories in a 40-minute boot camp workout, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Do an hourlong boot camp workout, and you could toast a whopping 600 calories.
In his two years participating in Fort Wayne Adventure Boot Camp in Indiana, landscaper Bill Hoot dropped 70 pounds. “I was 250 pounds and knew I had to lose weight,” says Hoot, “so when I saw a flier for a boot camp class, I thought it sounded like fun.” An added bonus: Hoot lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol levels so much that he’s no longer taking cholesterol-lowering medications.
In addition to improving cardiovascular fitness, boot camps also increase muscular strength, which is crucial if you're tight on time. "Many people have trouble fitting in strength training and aerobic workouts," Berman says. "Yet with boot camp, you do both in one workout,” which is a great two-for-one deal.
Finally, boot camp workouts are just plain fun. "Boot camp workouts offer variety, which makes exercising more enjoyable and could help you stay committed to exercise," says John Porcari, Ph.D., professor of exercise science and sports science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and lead author of the study mentioned above.
Finding the Best Boot Camp
Although boot camps attract men and women of all ages and fitness levels, they're not for everybody. If you’re at high risk for cardiovascular disease, it’s important to get approval from your physician before partaking in a high-intensity workout, advises Porcari. If you have orthopedic problems like knee or back issues, you should also be careful, as many boot camp moves involve impact, which could exacerbate your problems. And if you're new to exercise, you may want to hold off on boot camp until you've gained some aerobic fitness and strength.
Otherwise, do your homework and talk with the instructor, as no two boot camps are the same. Tips for finding the best boot camp for you:
1. Ask for referrals or sit in on a workout to see if you like the class and instructor, recommends Berman. Some instructors are drill sergeants who employ the no-pain-no-gain philosophy, which is never good.
2. Find out if the boot camp provides a good balance of cardiovascular fitness and strength training, which is ideal for getting in good overall shape.
3. Ask about class size. Berman likes classes of no more than 12 to 15 people, as that allows her to pay attention to everybody and recommend modifications where necessary.
4. Consider the length and focus of the program. Boot camps run anywhere from three to eight weeks, and may even be targeted to specific populations like new moms, couples or brides-to-be, so look for one that fits your schedule and goals.
Then prepare to burn calories and build muscle. And don’t be surprised if you notice mental benefits as well. "In three weeks, you might go from doing one push-up to 10 push-ups, which can boost your confidence," Berman says. "You'll then wonder what else you can do in life that you didn't think you could!"
Karen Asp is the fitness columnist for Allure and writes for numerous other publications, including Fitness, Natural Health, Men's Fitness, Prevention, Self, Shape and Women's Health. Asp is also a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor.
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