Guest Blog: Boot Camp Basics

IngridAndersonPTI participated in a “boot camp” style exercise group on Thursday last week, and one thing is certain: I am out of shape. Four days later, I’m still sore. Wikipedia defines boot camp as: “ a type of group physical training program conducted by gyms, personal trainers, and former military personnel. These programs are designed to build strength and fitness through a variety of intense group intervals over a 1 hour period of time.”

I have participated in three different Atlanta outdoor fitness boot camps over the past five years, and can say with certainty that all boot camps are not created equal. Research has shown that working out in groups gets the same results as working out alone; however the social aspect increases compliance and motivation. Some of us love exercise, but others need that little extra social motivation to stay compliant.

Refugees from high-intensity group exercise make up a small but significant portion of my client base. These formerly sedentary individuals, lured by promises of fast results (or by the low prices offered on Groupon or Living Social) jump in with zeal and intensity. For those who have never participated in group exercise, this can lead to fatigue, burnout and, worst case, injury.

However, if you are smart about how you chose your group and take responsibility for your own health and safety, you can get good results from boot camp and other group fitness without injury.

Consider your goals. When a 58 year old female stay-at-home mom told me that she injured her shoulder performing a barbell snatch: Barbell Snatch Video

My first question was “What are you training for?” Her answer? “I just wanted to lose a little weight and get in shape.” For this woman, who had a history of shoulder problems including multiple shoulder surgeries, barbell snatches were never going to be a good idea, no matter how good her form. And what “functional” activity was she getting ready for? So ask yourself the same question when evaluating classes: “What do I want? What am I training for?” And the follow up to that question is: “Is it worth it?”

Be honest (with yourself) about your fitness level. This is exactly what I did NOT do last week. I tricked myself, thinking, “I’m in pretty good shape, I run and cycle and do core work. I’ll be fine!” Well, an hour of squats, lunges, sprinting and pushups are not the same. I should have been getting ready for a month, or attended a class that was designed for newcomers to fitness. Even if you are not new to exercise, even intense exercise, evaluate where you are TODAY, and be honest.

Ease in. See above. When starting a fitness program, it is not a good idea to work out the same body parts multiple days in a row. Nor is it useful to be so sore that you can barely move for four days. If you start a program and find you are unable to perform all of the exercises, stay for half the class, or ask the instructor for modifications based on your fitness level. Sign up for a per-class rate instead of a monthly membership, because you will be more likely to overtrain if you feel you have to get the most out of an unlimited pass.

Listen to your body. Many sedentary folk have a difficult time discerning the difference between the strain of effort and the pain of injury. You must learn to discern these, and when those “twinges” that indicate injury are felt, they must be respected and accommodated. Sharp pain and pain in joints are those to listen to. At the first sign of pain in your knee, for instance, evaluate your form with the exercise. If you are fatigued and your form is suffering, ask the instructor to give you an alternate. If he or she refuses, this is a red flag.

Do your homework. “Personal trainer” is not a protected term in Georgia, and pretty much anyone can call herself a trainer. When selecting a group, search the website for the type and amount of training they have had. Call and ask questions. A good training program includes days of training as well as practical exams. You aren’t working out on your computer, so their training should not have been 100% online. Read reviews on Yelp, Angie’s list and others, paying attention to the negative reviews. Do they have multiple complaints about injuries, lack of supervision or huge classes? Again, red flags.

Beware of any program, gym, class or instructor who tells you that their way is the only way. Many groups are dogmatic about their way, and will overwhelm you with “evidence” that you must squat below midline, work out every day, etc. to get fit. There is not one way to get fit or strong, and there is not one group or program that is for everyone.

A good boot camp, group fitness class or gym will have well-trained instructors who watch you and listen to you. They understand that improper technique will lead to injury and losing clients. A good instructor to student ratio is 1:10, though with some classes you need more or less, depending on how many “newbies” there are versus experienced members. You should feel free to ask questions, ask for an alternate or decline to do an exercise.

I will be back to boot camp this week, but this time, I’m staying for half the class and doing girly pushups, and my body will thank me!

Dr. Ingrid Anderson, PT, DPT, OCS

Ingrid is owner of Intown physical therapy located in old fourth ward, Atlanta. For additional information visit


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