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Are You Butch Enough For Boot Camp?

by StephenKelly

Remember the Jane Fonda workout? Tai-Bo, anyone? Didn't think so. The truth is, workout trends come and go faster than Madonna running a paparazzi gauntlet.

But one fitness program that's stood the test of time is the boot camp workout. Yes, the term conjures images of barrel-chested drill sergeants in buzz cuts barking orders and calling you names like "maggot" and "sissy boy." No, this fitness regimen is not for the faint of heart, but those brave enough to take the challenge find that boot camps offer a great alternative to the gym while kicking your workout up a notch.

Perhaps boot camps have remained popular because there's nothing fancy or trendy about them. These workouts are as basic as you can get — an hour of running, jumping, aggressive calisthenics and more running, usually in an outdoor setting. For equipment, you need only simple workout clothes and a sturdy pair of running shoes.

The fitness boot camp workout is designed to push your body to the limit, challenging the cardiovascular system and larger muscle groups by encouraging efficient compound movements. Based on activity drills taken from real military training programs, boot camps favor intense aerobic workouts over weight training and put the emphasis on balance, coordination and stability.

On top of the obvious fitness gains, boot camp participants have found great improvements in:

  • Strength and endurance
  • Motivation
  • Well-being
  • Self-confidence
  • Stress reduction

Still, the boot camp experience takes a dedication and mental toughness that goes beyond simply going to the gym and lifting weights. Most classes start at five or six in the morning, and the typical boot camp participant will pack more activity into an hour-long session than most people will in a whole day.

All of this action generally happens outdoors, using local parks, beaches and hiking trails as courses. A good instructor will find ways to incorporate everyday items into an overall workout. (A park bench, for instance, makes a great place to do dips or push-ups.)

This back-to-nature aspect is a large part of the boot camp's appeal, but the outdoorsiness offers a different challenge when the weather gets nasty. True to their nature, most instructors will take you out anyway. It ain't pretty when you hear "Drop and give me 50" and you find yourself face down in a cold, muddy puddle. But getting down and dirty is part of the fun of boot camp, perhaps appealing to the kid in us.

While some fun is had at the expense of course instructors and their supposed "sadistic" nature, it's this toughness that takes the boot camp workout to the next level. It's not so easy to slack off when you have a snarling instructor breathing down your neck. Often like real soldiers, boot campers acquire a tight camaraderie among each other, developing a "survivor" mentality while feeding off the energy of both the instructor and fellow participants.

Boot camps have grown in popularity in the past five years, so there's probably any number offered in your city. As with any workout program, do your research before starting out. Boot camps often offer different experience levels, and the novice may want to start in the boys' section and work up to the men's department.

Boot camps, however, are all about the instructors. Good trainers will keep things fresh and exciting by changing courses and exercises, and will know how to keep participants motivated while still having fun. And while trainers may take great delight in bossing people around, the best will treat participants with respect. Still, check the instructor's credentials and certifications before entering a program, and a boot camp's Web site will usually give you that information.

Because of their low overhead, most boot camps are relatively inexpensive and taking part can be cheaper than joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer. While some camps offer individual session fees (typically $10 to $15), most encourage buying multiple-session plans. These prices may vary per boot camp, but generally will cost $150 to $300 per plan. Whatever the price, boot camps may be perfect for people who like discipline and structure in their workouts and want optimum conditioning in return for all that yelling and dirty work.