f you peruse your community ad spaces, you’re likely to find at least one — more likely, several — fitness “boot-camp” promotions promising your best body ever. The locations vary, but it’s a safe bet that boot campers will congregate in public spaces like the park or local sports stadium. These group workouts are usually primarily bodyweight-based and are typically well under an hour in duration. Get in, get sweaty and get out.
Hard-training men and women are attracted to these workouts for several reasons: They take up very little time, they can be done for a fraction of the cost of a gym membership, and they come complete with a trainer to bark orders, mix up the workouts and make sure you’re pushing it to your own personal maximum.
But the main draw, perhaps, is the concept of boot camp itself — the primal, conscripted feeling that there are high stakes attached to every minute of the workout, that rest is for the weak and that this is a battle to be won. Though your muscles wail in agony and your lungs burn dry, there is no surrender. This routine, you resolve, is the most direct path of attack toward a leaner, more muscular build.
However, you don’t need a paid professional to march you through the mud to a better physique. By understanding the basic underlying principles and payoffs of boot-camp training, you can put yourself through the paces in the quiet of your own garage or backyard. Alas, you can be an army of one.
Boot-camp training simply capitalizes on the use of compound movements in order to maximize calorie burn, metabolism and hormonal response. But what’s not present in most workouts, sadly, is an effective use of rest. Boot-camp training is, by nature, rest-minimal. This not only ratchets up intensity but also instantly increases workout efficiency. Think about that next time you see a dormant set of dumbbells next to a workout towel at the gym. Where did that guy go, anyway?
Boot Camps Build Muscle Some people might think that boot-camp-style training is less effective at building muscle than other protocols. These people posit that because you aren’t squatting under a bowing barbell, you aren’t likely to see any appreciable gains in mass. But science has basically thrown that theory by the wayside. Recent research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology shows that lifters who lifted lighter weights, reaching failure at 25 to 30 reps, experienced the same amount of hypertrophy (read: growth) as those who trained in the six- to 12-rep range. The key factor was taking the exercises to failure. Not surprisingly, momentary muscular failure is easier to find when you’re sucking wind and the combined salvo of multi-joint movements has tapped all your body’s energy systems. Those multi-joint movements also help to elicit a greater release of natural growth hormone and testosterone, which both play a key part in helping to increase muscle size.
Boot Camps Burn Fat The use of compound movements places a huge energy demand on the body, and that means calories get burned. But the real torture (and benefit) is in how these exercises are prescribed. Forget about one to two minutes of rest. Like high-intensity interval training, boot-camp training condenses or eliminates rest in order to supercharge metabolism, extending the calorie burn beyond your last rep. Piece together two to three of these workouts per week and it’s easy to see how quickly changes to body composition can occur.
On these pages, we provide you three boot-camp options. None is more effective than the other, so choose the one that you are least afraid of or switch it up and try a new one each time you train. Because you’re not using huge amounts of weight, the stress on the central nervous system won’t be as high, but because of the high muscular and metabolic demand of boot-camp training, you will want to allow yourself at least one day of rest between sessions.
The first boot camp is the most simple and accessible of the bunch because it requires no equipment. You can perform this workout at the park, on a sports court or even in your living room. The workout consists of four mini “blocks,” each with a different prescribed rep range and specific demand, each capped off with a sprint performed at 100 percent effort. (Note: Living-room trainers can simply sprint in place.)
The first block emphasizes explosive movements. By performing the plyometric versions of the push-up and squat, you call more growth-prone, fast-twitch muscle fibers into play while also waking up your central nervous system for the work that lies ahead. Double crunches hit the entire length of your rectus abdominis.
The second block includes more-familiar, standard-pace versions of the push-up and squat. Because the push-up tends to be a stronger movement for most gym rats, you’ll make it more challenging by moving your hands in and keeping your elbows tight. This adjustment will emphasize the triceps. You’ll follow that with standard bodyweight squats. In this version of a squat, your quads are the primary movers because you’re able to keep your spine more erect, like in a front squat.
In the third block, you’ll go for higher rep counts on “easier” moves. Push-ups are performed with standard hand spacing — just outside shoulder width. Perform your walking lunges under control, being sure to come up to a fully upright position on the positive portion of each step. (Note: Indoor trainers can substitute alternating lunges.) After lunges, drop to the deck for 30 crunches.
The final block, while rough in its own right, serves as a bit of a break from the chaos because it calls for isometric holds. You’ll hold in the top of the push-up position and the bottom of the squat for 30 seconds each, then knock out a 30-second plank from your elbows. After that, hop up and sprint one final time.
In any one block, pause only if absolutely necessary and then only for a second or two. Always make sure at least to begin the next activity because transitions are the most likely place for additional rest to creep in. Rest one to two minutes after going through the whole lineup, then blast through it again. Repeat for two to three total trips through the gauntlet — if you can.
BOOT-CAMP ALPHA: Bodyweight Only
Bodyweight training is great, but some of us love our equipment. And by taking a few — just a few — toys out of the box, you can put together a brutal body-transformative boot-camp routine. This workout will require you to tote along a jump rope, a kettlebell and a medicine ball. The jump rope will appear throughout the workout. By working in a hard minute on the rope at every station, you can keep your heart rate up. It’s built-in cardio — no running required — that also provides skill work and takes up very little space.
You’ll start with 10 kettlebell swings. Press your heels hard through the ground and make your hips do the work — if you feel like you’re doing a squat with a front raise, you’re not being aggressive enough on the positive. After a minute on the rope, you’ll move to medicine-ball crunches. By adding resistance to your ab work, you can achieve that muscular, deeply channeled look that so many cover models sport. More rope follows, and then the goblet squat, in which you hold the kettlebell tight to your body, just under your chin. After another minute on the rope, you’ll move to the medicine-ball throw. The open-space answer to CrossFit’s wall ball, this will simply call for you to hold the med ball in a deep squat, then explode up and out, releasing the ball up and forward at roughly a 45-degree angle. Jog to the ball, pick it up and repeat for reps, then get thee to the rope again. The kettlebell deadlift high pull is pretty much what it says: You’ll deadlift the kettlebell from the ground and row it upward as your hips reach full extension, like in an upright row. A minute on the rope preps you for one-arm bent-over kettlebell rows, which mirror bent-over dumbbell rows in their execution. A final minute on the rope and you’re ready to start it all over again. (After one to two minutes of rest, that is.)
BOOT-CAMP BRAVO: :Minimal Equipment
Not ready to fully abandon your current routine? The thought of using bodyweight moves and sporty devices is a turnoff? No problem. This dumbbells-only routine is sure to make you a believer in boot-camp principles.
Complex training, which strings together a series of exercises using the same weight, is a well-researched yet highly underused tool in gyms today. Olympic athletes use it all the time to build muscle, speed and stamina. No reason you can’t be doing the same.
Boot-Camp Charlie requires one set of dumbbells. The weight you select for this boot-camp complex should be roughly what you’d use for 15 challenging reps on the dumbbell curl. Doesn’t sound like much until you plug it into this lineup, in which you’ll be aiming for 15 to 20 reps of each exercise — without rest between moves.
You’ll start with upright rows. With your traps and middle delts starting to burn, you’ll bring your core and lower body into play by transitioning to thrusters. This exercise, which pummels the senses, leads into two-arm dumbbell rows. After your final rep on rows, you’ll hold that body position, move the dumbbells close to your body and start on Romanian deadlifts. Under normal circumstances, this would be very light weight for this exercise, but because your lower back has been slightly fatigued from the rows, your hamstrings end up carrying more of the load. The next exercise will be walking lunges. Lunges have actually been shown to increase strength in the hamstrings more than in the quads or glutes, so digging into those hammies post-Romanian deadlifts will be a bit tougher. The bulk of the big moves out of the way, you’ll finish with curls and extensions, both of which will be slightly tougher because your biceps, triceps and forearms have contributed greatly to every preceding exercise. Finish the boot-camp complex with weighted crunches, holding the dumbbells at a fully extended position above your shoulders.
BOOT-CAMP CHARLIE: DUMBELLS Only