Boot Camp Newbie? 3 Crucial Things to Know Before Your First Class

Lately your motivation to get yourself to the gym is nearly non-existent. Your same old routine is getting stale, and you're not seeing the results you're after. Maybe you should just throw in the proverbial (gym) towel.

Take it slow when you're a new recruit to bootcamp. (Image: @linashib via Twenty20)

Hold up, wait a minute. Everyone experiences these bumps along the road, and it's often a sign that it's time to change things up. You have tons of options, from spinning to indoor surfing, but what about a good old boot camp?

Taking its name from the grueling training new military recruits undergo, boot camp is a high-intensity, total-body workout that combines cardio and strength training, giving you a big burn for your buck. While there are many varieties of boot camps, all of them are sure to get your heart rate up, make you sweat and challenge your muscles and your mind.

Be prepared: This is not your average aerobics class. So, before you lace up your combat boots gym shoes and grab that towel you were about to sacrifice to the laundry bin of lost fitness dreams, here's what you need to know so you can crush boot camp — without it crushing you.

1) Choose the Right Camp for You

Boot camps come in all shapes and sizes (as do their participants), from bare bones military-style classes to "boot-ique" camps in fancy gyms with fresh towels and lemon water. In order for you to have a good experience, you have to do some research and choose a class that: a.) sounds fun to you, and b.) does not make you want to run screaming. Because, while running is a part of most boot camps, running away to your house where it's safe and there are cookies isn't going to get you any closer to your fitness goals.

Also, many camps require you to pay for a session or a block of classes up front, so you want to make sure you're making a good investment.

Check out the website. You can get a pretty good idea of what you're getting into from reading the "about us," "first timers" or "FAQ" pages on a boot camp's website. For example, on the website for Barry's Boot Camp, the international boutique fitness studio with a cult-like following, it says "Barry's Bootcamp is anything but military in attitude. In fact, our encouraging community and instructors, alongside the workout, keep a lot of people coming back. (and making great friends along the way!)" Sounds pretty inviting.

On the other hand, if you need a lot of coddling and a comfy cozy feel, ConBody in NYC — a "prison-style boot camp" developed and taught by ex cons, might not be for you. It's probably not a good fit for those who want a smoothie bar and yoga classes — or even a smile. (Just kidding, we're sure they're very nice people!)

Observe the class. If the boot camp class is held at your gym, peek in through the windows (if there are any that don't require a ladder or periscope — that's just creepy). If it's not easy to peek in, ask the teacher if you can hang in the back for a little while. He or she will probably try to get you to join in, but it's OK to say, "No thanks, I'm just window shopping right now."

Talk to the teacher. If creeping on classes isn't your thing, a simple convo with the instructor can make you feel more at ease. You can ask any questions you want, for example, "Is this boot camp good for beginners?," or, "Should I get my affairs in order before my first class?"

Don't overthink it. As long as you are not joining the actual military just to get a workout, any class is likely going to be a fun and challenging experience that's not going to break you. So go ahead and give it a try. You can always approach the instructor before class and introduce yourself as a newbie. That should garner you a little more leeway for rest breaks and some extra one-on-one attention.

2) Know What To Expect

Any new workout can cause an otherwise seasoned fitness fanatic to feel a little out of their element. Here are a few universal things you can expect from a boot camp:

There will (probably) be running. Most boot camps involve that activity that is widely dreaded but an incredibly good form of cardiovascular exercise — running. With indoor boot camps, you may be running in place, running around a room in circles or running on a treadmill. At outdoor boot camps, you may have a "moving" workout, involving a steady pace jog, or short jaunts from point to point, with intervals of strength exercises in between. These runs typically don't last long, so don't worry — you can do almost anything for a few minutes at a time.

Don't feel pressured to run fast at first; an easy jog is challenging if you're not used to running. But once you're ready, pick up the pace. The harder you work, the more you'll get out of each class.

Some camps are held outdoors. If you have allergies and start sneezing at the first sign of spring, you'll probably want to skip the outdoor classes. But if you relish fresh air and sunlight, outdoor classes can be a great way to get outside the four walls of the gym. And, outdoor boot camps are often less expensive because there's low overhead costs. Keep in mind, they are often held even when it's hot or drizzly outside, so it does require a certain amount of hardiness and a wider variety of weather-dependent attire.

Every day will be different. Expect different class formats and exercises every session, which keeps things interesting and keeps you progressing toward your goals. If you're used to doing the same workout routine at the gym day after day, you'll be amazed at the results you'll see in just a short time from including more variety in your workout.

It will be awkward at first. As with anything you try for the first time, there's a learning curve. You'll do a lot of the old standbys — pushups, squats, lunges — but there will also be exercises you've never heard of before, such as spider crawl, battle ropes and ski abs. Do what you can and don't sweat it if you get it wrong the first time.

...and confusing. You may be doing exercises in a circuit where you go from one to the next, or you may be doing them in a quadrant circuit (a what?) where you cycle through four exercises in a station, then switch to a new quadrant. It may feel like everyone around you knows exactly where to go and what to do and for how long, while you just feel dizzy. That's because they've been doing this for a while. Stay alert, follow the person ahead of you, listen for the teacher's cues and you'll catch on in no time.

You can modify. Unless specifically stated, most boot camp classes are designed for people of all fitness levels and abilities. Don't feel like you have to use 25-pound dumbbells on renegade rows just because the hardbody in front of you is. Use a weight that feels comfortably challenging with the goal that you'll continue to get stronger and move up in weight or reps.

Going too hard too soon can lead to injury. So check your ego and work at your level. While instructors should push you — sometimes beyond where you "think" you can go — they should never push you to a place you don't want to go. After all, this is not actual boot camp and you are not preparing for war.

If you have an injury, such as a bum knee or shoulder, it doesn't mean you can't participate. It does mean you need to modify. Let the teacher know ahead of class, and use your own good judgement about whether or not to do a particular exercise.

Outdoor bootcamps are a welcome change from the typical gym environment. (Image: skynesher/E+/GettyImages)

3) Preparation Makes All the Difference

What you do before class can make your boot camp experience a lot more enjoyable. Don't show up to class 5 minutes late with one shoe untied and nothing in your stomach for hours. You will get crushed.

Be on time. Or even a little early, dressed and ready to go. If it's your first class, you will likely need to fill out some paperwork (something like: "This is boot camp. We will not be held responsible if you break yourself. But just in case, we have insurance.")

Eat right. Have a a light snack an hour before class. A mix of protein and complex carbohydrates will give you energy and aid muscle repair. Have a snack or a meal within one to two hours after class with the same mix of carbs and protein to support recovery.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Before, during, after. That is all.

Bring Your "A" Game. "A" stands for attitude — a good one. Come to class upbeat and ready to try something new. It's not going to be easy, but it can be rewarding if you stay positive and open-minded.

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