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FoodFit tips for what to look for in a boot camp.

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In Shape

Boot Camp: A Back To Basics Workout

It's a frigid winter morning in Boston. As the sun rises over the icy banks of the Charles River, ex-United States Marine Corps officer Charla MacMillan leads a group of recruits — as she likes to call beginners in her boot camp training class — through a rigorous forty-five minute workout.

Class begins with exercises most of us learned in school — jumping jacks, push-ups, and marching drills. Recruits then do pull-ups, bench dips, and crunches.

Three mornings out of the five-days-a-week mandatory attendance, there's also at least a 10-minute run.

Beginning to sound like the military? That's because it is. The initial six-week program is based on the same training that MacMillan had when she joined the Marines.

Be All That You Can Be?

Don't be confused by the name. Boot camp doesn't mean you pack your bags and brace for a week of basic training in a remote location. It's a workout class, though not necessarily at the gym.

Last year, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) predicted a huge rise in the number of boot camps, and they were right — boot camp classes and cousins such as firefighter and elementary school workouts are springing up in every major city.

Is this intensive fitness program for everyone?

"Eight to eighty, blind, crippled or crazy. If they can't walk, we'll drag 'em," answers George Hyder, director of the Georgia boot camp Steel Ballet. Other boot camp instructors, however, are more cautious. Many programs require a physical fitness test before enrollment.

"For many boot camp classes, you need to get in shape to take the class, not take the class to get in shape," explains Richard Cotton, chief exercise physiologist for ACE.

Rain, Sleet Or Snow

Why would anyone take a class that often meets outside in all types of weather and where, if you sleep in, the instructor calls you at home wanting to know why? According to sports psychologist Dr. Caroline Silby, the answer lies in the discipline and the accountability of boot camps.

"When people connect with the instructor in any exercise program, they're more likely to keep going," she says.

"People also bond with the other members of the group and help motivate each other. For people leading busy lives, they just have to show up each morning and the rest is taken care of," explains Silby

For MacMillan, one of the selling points of her program is its familiarity. "We all learned these moves in gym class. It's back to basics. People get tired of learning a dance routine just to stay fit."

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Sign Me Up

So what should a prospective recruit look for in a boot camp?

  • Find an instructor who is certified by ACE or another top national fitness organization. You can expect some yelling and shouting from almost any "drill sergeant," that's part of the program. But, as Dr. Caroline Silby explains, "There's a difference between connecting with people and making them scared of you."
  • Observe a class before signing up. Since many boot camp classes are outside, it's easy to stroll by and take a look. Even when classes are held inside a gym, it should be possible to watch.
  • Get a sense of the level of fitness in the class compared to your own. ACE considers boot camps a "higher risk" fitness program because they include movements that have a higher risk of causing injury. People who have a prior injuries or health concerns should be particularly careful.


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