Fitness boot camps offer an opportunity to build your strength and endurance. But make sure you know what to expect before marching into boot camp. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Just as the armed forces are experimenting with changes to boot camp, such as adding yoga and Pilates, fitness buffs are signing up for boot camp workouts modeled on old-school military training. What's the appeal of a boot camp workout? Building strength, endurance and agility to conquer your daily routine. But are you up to the challenge?

Boot camp workouts can vary but generally include a fairly intense mix of strength training and aerobic elements. One boot camp workout might stress calisthenics while another stresses military-style drills. Some even incorporate martial arts moves.

In pretty much all cases, however, you can expect to do calisthenics, such as pullups, pushups, lunges and crunches, as well as drills and sprints. In essence, a boot camp workout is a type of interval training — bursts of intense activity alternated with intervals of lighter activity.

The goal of a fitness boot camp is to provide a whole-body workout that builds strength and endurance. Boot camp workouts also attract many people because they:

  • Offer a more challenging and varied workout
  • Require little or no special equipment
  • Create a sense of camaraderie among the participants

Fitness boot camps often appeal to individuals looking for a more intense workout. Boot camp exercises usually involve ballistic, rapid movements that can be too challenging to those who aren't already in shape. But if you have a strong foundation of strength and aerobic training, you're probably ready for boot camp. Before you sign up, though, ask how the program is structured and if there are any prerequisites to assess if it will be a good fit for you.

If you are older than age 40, are pregnant, haven't exercised for some time or have health problems, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a boot camp class — or any new exercise program.

It's also important to let your instructor know if you have health issues or special needs. And be sure to tell your instructor if you have difficulty with a particular exercise. Skilled instructors are attentive to proper form and technique and can adapt exercises for you.

Opinions are mixed, but boot camp workouts have many fans who say this type of workout is great for improving overall strength and conditioning. In addition, this type of high intensity aerobic interval training burns more calories in less time compared with moderate aerobic activities.

Finally, a well-structured boot camp workout can help you meet the recommendations for physical activity in healthy adults:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week
  • Strength training exercises at least twice a week

To find a fitness boot camp, check local fitness centers and gyms. As you consider your options, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the instructor's qualifications?
  • Is the class a good mix of aerobics and strength training?
  • What do people who've taken the class have to say about it?
  • Is this class a good match for my fitness goals?

Boot camp may not be for everyone. But if you're looking for a high-energy workout that offers variety and camaraderie, boot camp may be just what you need.

Apr. 16, 2013