The Marine’s boot camp is extremely challenging both physically and mentally. I have a lot of admiration for the men and women who make it through that program, and often times, I wish I had experienced boot camp for myself when I was a young lad (plus I certainly could have used some non-negotiable discipline back then!).
Because boot camp has the reputation of whipping cadets into shape quickly, many civilian fitness “boot camps” have been popping up all over the place. Although I’m generally not a big trend guy, I have to admit that I am fascinated by this development — so much so, in fact, that I recently decided to check out nine different and unaffiliated boot camps. What I observed was nothing short of comical.
There was no cool and effective military style training going on. I’m talking 0 for 9 here. After all the recent “boot camp” hype, I was expecting to see nine kick ass programs that challenged people both physically and mentally. Instead, I witnessed nine aerobics classes with instructors yelling themselves hoarse while trying to act like drill sergeants.
Based on my unfortunate observation, I will go on record and say that fitness “boot camps” are just the newest fad in the extremely fickle fitness industry. They are simply the latest version of the Jane Fonda Step class. Or Tae Bo. Or Zumba. Or any of those other silly fitness classes that I’m lucky enough to have forgotten about.
How can I make such a far-reaching and inflammatory statement? Well, I assure you that my intention is not just to pick on “boot campers” for fun (although it is tempting!). Instead, I want to share with you the shortcomings of the boot camp methodology — and how we can fix them. Here is a list of the many flaws I witnessed:
1) Poor exercise form- I can honestly say that I have never observed worse exercise technique in my life (and after 20 years in the biz, believe me, I’ve seen my share). I believe there are three reasons for this: unqualified coaches, poor coach to client ratio (some classes had 35 boot campers and only one coach) and classes that are too difficult for trainees to execute properly. This is common in boot camps because many instructors feel that a boot camp class must live up to its name.
2) No consideration for individualization- In one particular “boot camp” I checked out, there were some women who couldn’t even hold a plank. Yet they were instructed to do 25 push ups. I don’t think their elbows flexed even one inch during their sets. Instead, their hips and heads would just collapse and rise up again and again. That was the closest they could come to performing an actual pushup.
This is completely unacceptable. It is dangerous and has no positive training effect. Don’t get me wrong, I have been training groups of athletes for many years and I do appreciate how difficult it can be to manage a large group with different needs. But even if you wanted everyone to use the same training template, individual needs should to be considered if results are to be made and injuries are to be prevented.
3) Ineffective method of varying the resistance- Some of these classes had a pile of 5 and 10 pound dumbbells (and yes, these were for both men and women). So I guess no matter how strong or weak you are, you will start with 5’s, and when you are ready to increase the weight, you will go up to the mighty 10’s. Not a lot of options there, huh? God forbid you ever got stronger than that, because you would have nowhere to go.
4) Not concerned about gaining strength- The effectiveness of these workouts seem to be measured not by the actual results they produce, but rather by the amount that the client sweats during the workout. Is sweating really the ultimate barometer of an effective workout? If so, then napping in a sauna must be better than running hill sprints during the winter.
5) No rhyme or reason behind program design- There are no logical progressions, periodization or planning in these programs. They are completely random. Thus, boot camp workouts do not create the so-called phenomenon called “muscle confusion”. Instead they create the phenomenon called “no results”.
6) Some major movement patterns get completely ignored– Pulling motions were virtually non-existent in the boot camps that I observed. And to make matters worse, there seemed to be hundreds of repetitions involving the pressing muscles. This is the perfect recipe for imbalances, impingements and injuries.
I could go on about several other shortcomings of the boot camp system, but these are the main ones. The good news is that this post is not just an “Alvino rant”. I’m actually going to share with you how you can get great results with a military style-training program.
A military type of program is a great option for those who want to train like Marines as well as those who just want to take an occasional break from a traditional training program. Yes, even a meathead like myself likes to put down the barbell from time to time and utilize some bodyweight/military style workouts.
Here’s how to get maximal results from this style of training:
1) Getting Your Body Fat Down- Quite frankly, you can’t do a result-producing military style workout if you’re obese. Even a few extra pounds of fat can make many of the more productive movements too difficult to perform with good technique. This is because most military exercises utilize your own bodyweight as the source of resistance.
Losing body fat is best accomplished by following a sound nutritional plan while utilizing easier exercise variations than would be found in a challenging military-style program. As you get stronger (and lose body fat) you will be able to progress to some awesome advanced strength movements.
2) Master The Push Up- Ultimately, your goal should be to perform a one-arm push up. There are logical progressions that you should follow to work up to this exercise. Unfortunately, I can’t get into them here as those progressions are beyond the scope of this post. (More on these progressions in a future post)
3) Master The Pull Up- The top progression here would be a one arm chin up, but since very few people ever achieve enough relative strength and efficiency to perform this exercise, I will give you two very reasonable and doable guidelines: Be able to do 15 pull ups with your bodyweight and 5 chin ups with your bodyweight plus an additional 25% of your bodyweight.
4) Master The Pistol Squat- This is one of the toughest bodyweight movements to perform. You must start with the appropriate progression and have patience. It can take months to get this movement down.
The above strength exercises are the ones that should be monitored and tested, which is why I isolated them. In addition, however, you should perform inverted rows, handstands, hanging leg raises, bridges, and sprints to get a complete and balanced workout.
So there you have it: the good, the bad, and the ugly of military-style training. Stay away from those trend-driven “boot camps”. Instead, follow my guidelines, or find a tough and qualified trainer who can help you develop an effective routine that would make even a real marine think twice! Now get out there and start training, you maggots!!
Dedicated to your success,