Is a boot camp right for me?

with advice from Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS,
Jim Liston, M.Ed., CSCS
and Mark Salandra, CSCS

Is a boot camp right for me?

Trends come and go for everything, and fitness is no exception. A variety of high intensity workouts, often labeled as “boot camps,” are infiltrating gyms and selling DVDs via infomercials. They promise rock-hard abs and easy-to-learn routines, but do they deliver healthy bodies as advertised?

There is no standard definition or regimen for a “boot camp.” The name is applied to a wide variety of workouts, depending on who is offering the training or class. Mark Salandra, the founder of (one of Physiquality’s partner programs), points out that one boot camp workout might stress calisthenics, while another emphasizes military-style drills. Some even incorporate martial arts moves and plyometrics.

One boot camp workout might stress calisthenics, while another emphasizes military-style drills. Some even incorporate martial arts moves and plyometrics.In most classes, you can expect to do calisthenics, like pull-ups and push-ups, lunges and crunches, as well as drills and sprints. In essence, Mark says, “A boot camp workout is a type of interval training — bursts of intense activity, alternated with intervals of lighter activity. It will generally include a fairly intense mix of strength training and aerobic elements.”

Co-founder of CATZ Sports (another Physiquality partner program) Jim Liston adds, “This combination of elements allows the client to get their cardio, flexibility and strength in one session. It also allows clients to train with a group of people that they like to be around, which makes the workout far more enjoyable.”

Be aware of the style of your instructor; it may clash with what best motivates you to work out. Jim says, “I have seen boot camp classes where the coaches are yelling and screaming for people to work harder. At CATZ, we are driven to create a culture where people are intrinsically motivated to be there. Our coaches are uplifting and make everyone in class feel welcome, competent and part of the group.”

Boot camp classes are not for everyone. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you are pregnant or older than 40, or if you haven’t exercised for some time or have health problems. Mark also advises letting your instructor know if you have health issues or special needs. “And be sure to tell your instructor if you have difficulty with a particular exercise,” he adds. Skilled instructors are attentive to proper form and technique and can adapt exercises for you.

High-intensity training and boot camp classes can lead to a variety of injuries and ailments.High-intensity training can also lead to a variety of injuries and ailments. Desirea D. Caucci, a physical therapist and co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, a Physiquality member in Pennsylvania, has been seeing more and more patients injured during high intensity workouts. “Some are major blow-out types of injuries like ACL tears, Achilles ruptures, and rotator cuff tears, while others present with lingering tendonopathies, back pain, and exacerbations of previous injuries,” she says. But, she adds, “In my opinion, most of these problems can be avoided with proper preparation, education and preventative exercises.”

Both the exercises and the class environment can contribute to such injuries. Mark reminds readers that not everyone is equal — if you are trying to keep up with people that are in better shape than you are, you have a higher risk of getting injured, in a boot camp or any group class or activity. In addition, with the number of people participating in a boot camp ranging up to 20 or 30 people, it is difficult for the instructor to make sure each person’s technique and form is correct on each exercise. (And if you’re doing it at home from a DVD, no one is there to make such corrections.) This raises the risk on injuries by doing the exercise incorrectly.

If you’d like to try high intensity training or a boot camp, here’s what our experts recommend:

  • “Most people’s bodies are not used to performing at such high levels, and jumping from a sedentary or low activity level type of lifestyle to a high level is the perfect recipe for injury,” says Desirea. She recommends a transition period to work up to higher levels; you can do this by first participating in a supervised low- to moderate-level fitness program to learn about proper form, body mechanics and safe strength training progressions. Then you can apply these principles to higher and more intense activity.

    Desirea cautions pushing yourself too hard during any type of activity. “Even for those who are used to exercising at high intensity levels,” she adds, “it is also important to ‘listen’ to your body. If a certain movement or lifting technique does not feel right, stop further attempts and try with less weight, less range of motion or by re-setting form.”

  • Do your research on potential boot camp classes.Mark recommends doing your research on potential classes. As you consider your options, he says, ask yourself these questions:

    • Is the class a good mix of aerobics and strength training?
    • What do people who’ve taken the class have to say about it?
    • Is this class a good match for my fitness goals?
  • The key to enjoying your workout, says Jim, is to go at your own pace and to be comfortable having exercises modified when necessary. To new trainees, he adds, “Don’t feel like you need to compete with anyone else. Put your plan in your calendar and stick to it, and, most of all, find a class that you enjoy!”

Finally, be sure any workout class is instructed or supervised by a health professional with adequate training and experience. Physiquality’s member locations, for example, are owned and overseen by highly qualified, strictly credentialed physical therapists — the medical community’s leading experts in helping people improve the way their bodies work, feel and move. You can rely on the Physiquality name as a “seal of approval” for health and wellness services that are safer, more effective, and more fun than you’ll find elsewhere, so our zip code search is a good place to start.

Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS

Jim Liston, MA, CSCS

Mark Salandra, CSCS

Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS is a physical therapist and a co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network clinic in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Desirea was the driving force behind the creation of an injury prevention iPad application called “Motion Doctor,” designed for consumers who are currently healthy and not experiencing physical pain.

Jim Liston, M.Ed., CSCS, is the co-founder of CATZ Sports, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. One of the country’s leading experts on training athletes and mentoring coaches, he has spent the last 20 years in the field of sports performance training honing his own abilities as a coach and a teacher. Jim serves on the Board of Councilors of the USC Division of Physical Therapy and as an advisor to a number of sporting clubs.

Mark Salandra, CSCS, is the founder of, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Mark educates and trains athletes young and old in strength and conditioning, with the goals of better fitness and lower rates of injury.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on sports and fitness, in addition to the below links:


Quinn, Elizabeth. Boot camp workout pros and cons., October 2, 2013.

Caucci, Desirea. Avoiding injury during high intensity workouts. The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 2013.

Boot camp workout: Is it right for you? Mayo Clinic, April 16, 2013.

Breene, Sophia. Know before you go: Fitness boot camp., September 3, 2012.

Deardorff, Julie. Rest and recovery: Why athletes need it. Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2011.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.