The problem with boot camps

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

The other day I was at the park with Alek, and I saw a boot camp-type class with about a dozen women in the grass next to the playground. They were doing some reasonable movements - lunges, jumping squats, push-up variations, but the quality of their movements was just terrible. Not one person went below a quarter squat, most wormed the push-ups, and the lunges were all over the place. I don't blame these women, who were clearly trying and working hard, or even the instructor, who was demonstrating with lovely form and explaining things right. Instead I blame the format.

These boot camp classes are really popular, and a lot of people equate them with the type of work we do in the gym minus the barbell. And sometimes I wonder, if the movements are reasonable (like I saw), are these workouts really so bad? But in my park experience, I realized the problem: rushing. The instructors teach fairly big groups, they get their students through a lot of work, and they can't take the time to actually teach the movements and correct people. I'm sure the instructor saw the quarter squats and she clearly knew how to do a proper squat, but after her class got through their 20, they needed to go on to the 50 lunges or whatever was next, and then the thing after that. There simply was no space in the class format to walk around and give each person cues to improve their movements and help them develop strength through their full range of motion. There were no movement standards, and I doubt any of the women in the class realized they were falling short.

People pay good money for these classes, and they may be quite happy with them, because they are doing work and getting out of breath. But they are not learning or pushing themselves to improve. If you want to have fun and get out of breath, take a spin class. (I did for years - it was great.) Don't go to the park and reinforce partial movements that don't actually build strength and kid yourself that you're doing functional fitness.

At our gym, we TEACH. That means we expect you to get outside your comfort zone, to keep working on stuff that's hard, to put your body through full range of movement, and to learn to move properly with and without weight. We will correct you, give you cues, give you drills, and modify your movements. Form is hands-down our top priority - I don't care how many reps you do, how fast you move, or how much weight you move unless you move with good form. The people that we attract totally get this. I am so pleased at everyone's attention to form and willingness to keep working at it. I have seen every one of our athletes get better and better, first learning to move properly, and then adding speed, pounds, and reps. As coaches, we will continue to demand the best from you. If the next time you see someone doing quarter squats in the park, you feel emotional pain and have to stop yourself from shouting "Go lower!", we know we've done our job.

Amy Santamaria