Meaghan Baron, 30, joined a postnatal boot camp last summer to tone up with friends after the birth of her son. "I was looking for a way to get in shape while getting the baby out of the house," says Meaghan, who lives in Toronto. "I increased my cardio endurance, met some great moms and got inspired to get back on track." Best of all, the boot camp was held at a park near her home and she didn't have to bring any equipment. Boot camps are booming, promising an intensive, exhilarating workout. Here's what they have to offer, and how to choose one that meets your needs.
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Boot camps combine cardio and strength training through exercises such as squats, push-ups, lunges, calf raises, planks and jumping jacks. Bonus: You can burn 300 to 500 calories an hour in a boot camp. Judi Haig- Tullio, a group exercise instructor in Toronto, adds, "People aren't competing with each other in the gym mirror." Instead, she says, participants "see other people succeeding," which can be very motivational.
Find the right camp
You can choose from introductory, postnatal, senior, cancer-survivor and vacation boot camps – and the list goes on. Some boot camps are held in local parks, others in community centres or private gyms. How do you find one? Ask neighbours, friends and co-workers or try an online search for programs in your area. Expect to pay between $100 and $350 for a 10- to 12-week program.
The best boot camp for you is a class that suits your fitness goals and is taught by an instructor who has the experience – and flexibility – to meet them. "The instructor will make or break the class," says Darlene Buan- Basit, a Toronto-based chiropractor and certified fitness expert.
Page 1 of 2 – On page 2, find a list of health precautions to be mindful of before beginning a fitness program such as boot camp.
Buan-Basit says you should ask about the instructor's background (look for more than two years of teaching experience) and credentials (does she have basic certification or a college diploma in phys-ed?), as well as whether she has CPR and first-aid training. Also ask whether the instructor is willing to make modifications for exercises that cause you discomfort.
A good instructor should also ask you about any injuries or health problems you might have, or do an assessment to determine your fitness level, says Scott Lear, an associate professor in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. You can also ask your instructor if she will do a followup assessment after the camp has ended to see if you've lost pounds or inches and achieved any other goals.
Buan-Basit also advises selecting a class with fewer than 10 participants, to ensure the instructor can modify your technique if it's incorrect. "Anything over 10 people and the instructor will have trouble watching you." And don't forget to ask whether there's a cancellation policy if you're injured.
Before you get started
Get a thorough checkup from your doctor, particularly if you have...
• Heart disease or have had a stroke. Because boot camps push their participants hard, a doctor's clearance is critical, says Scott Lear, an associate professor in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
• An acute injury. Pushing your body when it's injured almost guarantees that your injury will become worse, says Darlene Buan-Basit, a chiropractor and certified fitness expert in Toronto.
• Diabetes. "Your blood sugar can drop suddenly," says Buan-Basit. Lear adds that diabetics need to monitor their insulin carefully as it can fluctuate during exercise.
• Carpal tunnel syndrome. Boot camps can involve numerous repetitions of exercises that place a lot of weight on your wrists – such as push-ups and planks. Ask the instructor for optional exercises to avoid straining them.
• Asthma. Bring your inhaler. A fast-paced workout, combined with a high pollen count and smog advisory, could cause an attack.
Page 2 of 2 – On page 1, learn how to find the best boot camp program for you.