Not So Basic Training

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How boot camp workouts work—and why women seem to love them the most

When you first walk into Burn Boot Camp Lynchburg, you’ll notice it isn’t your typical “gym.” There are no treadmills or bulky weight machines in sight. The soft, carpeted floating floor is sectioned off into zones and alongside the walls are a variety of hand weights and lots of bright blue equipment: Burn Bars, ladders, and ropes, to name a few.

No two workouts are the same—but members always know one thing for sure: they are in for a heart-pumping 45 minutes.

“Our whole mindset is to keep moving,” said Tasha McConnell, head coach. “Once you step on the floor, you’re not supposed to stop moving.”

She isn’t exaggerating—when I took a class to fully “research” the topic, I found myself gasping for breath within minutes and shaking from muscle fatigue by the end. But I never stopped moving because the chorus of encouragement from other participants gave me the strength I needed to finish my workout with a smile on my sweaty, exhausted face.

Boot camp–style group fitness classes are becoming a popular form of exercise, especially among women, because of the personalized environment, fat-burning benefit, and natural camaraderie. Workouts vary from gym to gym, but generally they are a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which builds strength, endurance, and agility, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Burn Boot Camp Lynchburg’s workouts are sometimes formatted as intervals or sometimes dictated by one’s own pace. Members get a mix of strength training, metabolic conditioning, speed and agility, and core conditioning each week.

Fit Body Boot Camp, located just down the road in Forest, also follows a HIIT model, with sessions lasting 30 minutes. Head Coach Brenda Brady says that by offering a single type of workout, a boot camp, they attract members who are seeking similar things, resulting in a tight-knit community.

“It’s more than just fitness,” Brady said. “Some people come here for stress relief, some are here for fitness, some are here for the camaraderie with other people. There are so many reasons that people work out, and I think they’re finding that they get what they need when they come here.”

While any workout can be personalized, boot camp–style workouts can be modified to make exercises easier or more challenging without compromising the benefits of certain movements.

“We always have a basic exercise [and then]there’s always going to be a modifier to make it easier, and there’s always going to be something we can give the athlete to make the exercise harder, so we can hit everybody’s level and keep them challenged where they are in their fitness journey,” said Brady.

Another big focus of boot camp gyms is removing as many obstacles as possible.

“We have people who have never had a gym experience ever, and we also offer free childcare,” McConnell said. “We’re just trying to take those hard challenges out of it. That way they can focus on those 45 minutes and really focus on themselves.”

Additionally, two of Burn Boot Camp’s daily camps are for women only. This helps foster a comfortable environment where women can focus on their personal wellness journey and build relationships with and empower, rather than compete with, other women.

“We try not to be competitive,” McConnell said. “We want a focus that is very you-versus-you. … We are very judgment free, but [we]also push their limits at the same time.”

While the relationships between members are apparent, Burn Boot Camp member Holly Howard says she enjoys the environment because she feels like she receives a more personalized experience.

“I’ve actually met a lot of people through [Burn], and … people are motivating. I’ve done a lot of regular gyms, and you don’t get that same thing unless you’re going with a friend,” Howard said. “The trainers that have been here know everybody’s name, so that’s really motivating. … They come and push you to do more.”

McConnell emphasized that there is nothing wrong with traditional gyms, but boot camp gyms offer a unique and motivating atmosphere that keeps people on track to meet
their goals.

“Anybody can get a good workout anywhere. You can go to Planet Fitness and get a good workout, you can work out at home,” McConnell explained. “But it’s that difference of, are you going to work as hard by yourself or in a setting … with people surrounding you who have like-minded goals?”

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