Not to get too hyperbolic, but starting an exercise program can be life-changing. If you're already on that path, but you haven't found an activity you love or you're not seeing results, joining a boot camp might be just what you need.
Before images of drill sergeants pop into your head, know that most boot camps have dropped the yelling thing and realize that boot camp is more than just push-ups and running (although it is a lot of push-ups and running). It's a full-body, butt-kicking, physically and mentally challenging workout with a community of like-minded people to cheer you on.
Not only can boot camp give you the metabolic boost you need to finally lose weight and get in the best shape of your life, it can also hold you accountable and make you mentally stronger. It's a workout you'll want to come back to day after day — and here are six reasons why.
1. You'll Quickly See Results
Whether your goal is weight loss, increasing stamina or getting stronger — or all three — boot camp can get you there faster than your old, stale gym routine. Classes contain a mix of cardio and resistance exercises that'll keep you moving the entire session. This keeps your heart rate up for maximum caloric burn — an average of 600 calories per session, according to research by the American Council on Exercise.
In addition, boot camp usually involves alternating periods of very vigorous activity with periods of more moderate activity. This qualifies it as a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, which improves your cardiovascular fitness more than steady-state cardio, according to a 2014 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal of Sports Medicine.
And a 2017 study in Journal of Diabetes Research found that women who performed HIIT workouts lost just as much abdominal fat as women who performed steady-state cardio but in considerably less time. In short, when you join a boot camp, you won't need to spend hours on the treadmill anymore to get results.
2. You'll Find a Community to Support You
Going it solo on the treadmill can be disheartening. And wandering around the weight room among strangers who barely even make eye contact can make you feel like the gym is a very lonely place.
But you'll find the environment of a boot camp to be much different. In fact, you'll notice that many boot camps use their strong community spirit as a selling point. Arriving at class, you'll see friendly faces that become familiar after a while. During class, you'll provide support to each other when the going gets tough.
And according to a 2017 study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, exercising with a group can improve your life. In the 12-week trial, a group of students exercised in two groups — a group exercise class or on their own (or with up to two partners).
Researchers assessed the students' physical, mental and emotional quality of life and stress levels weekly. Those who exercised in the group environment had significant improvements in the quality of life measures and markedly decreased stress compared to those who exercised alone or with a friend or two.
You can even find people at boot camp who share your specific goals, such as losing weight or training for a marathon. When you have community to share in those goals and celebrate milestones, you're much more likely stay in the game. And who knows, you might even meet your BFF or find romance among your new fitness pals.
3. It's a Workout You Can Take Anywhere
Boot camps tend to be calisthenics-focused, meaning they rely on exercises you can do with your own body weight. Attending boot camp regularly means you'll quickly master how to get in a workout anytime, (almost) anywhere.
So if you travel for work and can't make it to class, you can do many of the exercises you've learned in boot camp in your hotel room. Or if your finances become tight and you have to take some time off, you can do the routines in your living room. You'll have an arsenal of exercises you can draw from, so you'll never have a reason to miss a good sweat session. It's not as good as making it to class, but it gives you the freedom to be independent.
4. It Can Help You Lose Weight
Struggling on your own with low motivation, lack of support and no guidance can hold you back from reaching your weight-loss goals. Many people battle their weight for years because they don't work out regularly or intensely enough, they get bored with the same old fitness routine, they don't strength train and they don't have anyone to hold them accountable.
Boot camp can check all those boxes by providing regular classes that are intense, fun and effective, with a community of people to support you and hold you accountable and coaches who provide guidance.
And working out with a group of people of different fitness levels might boost your calorie burn. A Kansas State researcher looked at how people perform in groups and found that those who work out in a group with people who they perceive to be better than increased the duration and intensity of their workouts by up to 200 percent.
If weight loss is your primary goal, choose a boot camp that specializes in this area. These will typically highlight weight loss on their websites and provide both fitness instruction and a nutrition component. Of course, boot camp in and of itself isn't weight-loss magic; it all depends on you doing the work and sticking with the program.
5. You'll Become Mentally Stronger
Learning to push yourself when the going gets tough is a life skill many people don't ever practice in the course of their daily lives. Believe it or not, boot camp can help. In fact, before they became a mainstream fitness craze, boot camps were used primarily for reforming convicts and soldiers who committed criminal acts.
Boot camp is "a workout that kicks serious butt in a way that may leave you gasping for air and sore, but that also builds that empowering, transformative attitude that only comes when you've pushed yourself past the limit that you previously thought you could go," says the website of BootcampSF in San Francisco, Calif. "Turns out that this is the same recipe that helps to build your mental toughness."
It takes willpower not to give up when your muscles are burning and you don't think you can do another rep. But you're there to give it your all, and your classmates and coaches aren't going to let you fail. Although you may want to quit, you'll soon develop the ability to do just one more rep — and then another. Over time, this strengthens your mental muscle and enables you to go further in other areas of your life.
6. You'll Find Out Exercise Is Actually Fun
It's true: People do love working out, and you can too! Typically, people hate to exercise if they haven't found the right workout. Going to the gym, plodding along on the treadmill, wandering around the weight machines wondering what to do is uninspiring for plenty of people. Many end up doing the same exact thing every time they go to the gym — and then quit when they can't take the boredom anymore.
Finding a workout that's fun can increase your ability to stick with an exercise program, according to a 2016 study in Psychological Health. Every day is different at boot camp. You may never do the same workout twice, so you'll never experience the mind-numbing repetition of your old gym routine. You'll constantly be introduced to new exercises, taught new skills to master and challenged mentally and physically — and you'll feel rewarded by the results.
You'll look forward to coming to class each day because of the good vibes and community; for many people, boot camps and other group workouts become fun, social outlets. There will still be running, but you never know, you might even learn to love it!
- American Council on Exercise: Fitness Matters
- BMJ: High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Journal of Diabetes Research: Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women
- Bootcamp Military Fitness Institute: History of Bootcamp
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association: Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students
- Kansas State University: Burning More Calories Is Easier When Working Out with Someone You Perceive as Better
- Psychological Health: Self-Efficacy versus Perceived Enjoyment as Predictors of Physical Activity Behavior
- BootcampSF: How Your Boot Camp Workout Also Builds Your Mental Toughness