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A Beginner’s Guide to Bootcamp and Obstacle-Style Workouts

After COVID-era social distancing and solo workouts, interest in group fitness activities like bootcamps, fitness challenges, and obstacle courses that bring people together to break a sweat have surged.

Just like military bootcamps, where drill instructors run new recruits through a series of exercises from squats and lunges to crunches and pull-ups, fitness bootcamps are fast-paced, instructor-led classes that provide a total strength and cardio workout. No camouflage or buzz cuts required!

The latest data shows that outdoor activities, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and group exercise training are among the top 20 fitness trends for 2022. Bootcamps bring all of those elements together for one heart-pumping workout.

Ashley Borden, master CPT, a celebrity personal trainer and lifestyle expert, believes that bootcamps and obstacle courses appeal to those who love a challenging workout and thrive on competition. She adds, “You can’t check out mentally, you’re pushed by the feeling of others working hard around you and there is so much energy.”

Bootcamps can also be organized into obstacle races that challenge competitors to perform a series of exercises as part of a race for the finish line. These classes are great preparation for events like 5K mud runs and color runs. But the fast-paced workouts can be tough, and knowing what to expect can help make bootcamp less intimidating. 

Here are some tips if you are interested in joining:

Play detective. If you’re not sure what bootcamp is all about, watch a class in action. You can peek into the group exercise room at the gym or head to the beach or park where classes are being held to see what bootcamp is all about. Borden also suggests scoping out reviews to see what others are saying about the classes.

Gather your squad. Bootcamps are group fitness classes, so consider signing up with your own group. Showing up to class with friends will help you feel more comfortable, and ensure you show up and stay committed.  Group workouts have been linked to improved quality of life and lower stress levels. Plus, you’ll have someone to sip smoothies with after a hard workout.

Prepare to sweat. In an obstacle course class, expect to crawl, jump over objects, run through mud, or throw sandbags. Moving between high intensity intervals of strength training and cardio will have you soaked with sweat by the end of class. 

Bonus: High-intensity workouts might actually help reshape your metabolism and improve your overall metabolic health. New to bootcamp? Consider starting with a 30-minute class and working up to 60-minute sessions.

Know your limits. If you’re new to group HIIT workouts, Borden suggests skipping the obstacle courses unless you’re familiar with moves like squats, planks, lunges, and pushups.

“An obstacle course generally [requires] a constant momentum and movement forward to the finish line and not as much stopping for coaching cues,” she explains. “For beginners, it might be way too many moves you have never done under time and pressure, which is a recipe for injury.” 

For bootcamp workouts, consider showing up for class early to let the instructor know you might need some extra instruction or modifications for more advanced moves. Borden also notes, “You can also opt-out of a movement if it feels too dangerous for you.”

Put the kibosh on comparisons. It can be tempting to focus on the one person who seems to progress through the movements with ease while you struggle with squats or need to take a break between burpees. 

“Like any physical activity, you need to focus on your ability and dial in perfecting your movement patterns, not focus on what others are doing,” Borden says. “Everyone has different abilities and strengths.”

Instead of making comparisons, focus on your own workout.

Push yourself. While it’s essential to listen to your body and make modifications or take breaks as needed, keep going. 

Getting through bootcamp, completing a fitness challenge, or crossing the finish line in an obstacle race is a major accomplishment and the instructors are there to encourage you to make it happen. Sure, the workouts will be hard at first, but you’ll build strength and endurance over time, and experience the rush of endorphins that comes with a great workout.

“Challenge yourself wisely and have fun,” Borden says. “Nothing feels better than pushing through a discomfort zone only to show yourself how strong and powerful you really are—no matter what level you are or where you started.”

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