Each morning at 5:30, I meet 60 women in a parking lot who are anticipating an hour of high-intensity, fat-incinerating, body-shaping, heart-enhancing, energy-boosting, muscle-strengthening and life-changing workouts. Is it possible to deliver? Absolutely! However it takes experience, planning, leadership skills and... equipment.
I'll be completely honest when I say that there are many days where we use nothing but our bodies for the entire hour and the campers pour themselves into their cars having burned 700+ calories and having worked every major and minor muscle in their bodies. But let's face it; equipment not only adds to the intensity of the workout but also the ability to work muscles differently, adds to the variety of exercises you can perform and increases the fun and mystery factor for your campers.
You can plan an entire workout around one piece of equipment or pull all of the equipment out for a total body-blasting workout. For starters, I'll cover some of the details you might not consider when developing your boot camp equipment budget. Each day at camp you should have a clipboard with your roster for attendance as well as an enclosed binder with each camper's registration information. You can also keep extra copies of guest waivers, assessment forms, nutrition seminar handouts and food logs in the same binder for convenience.
Next, secure a professional scale, preferably one that measures body composition, or choose another means to test body fat such as a caliper or infrared device. A tape measure will hardly break your budget; however be sure to have two on hand along with a stop watch, whistle, iPod and iPod player with at least 10 hours of music that a majority of people will be motivated to move to. You'll also need index cards, chalk or markers and a white board. Invest in a first aid kit, extra ice packs, honey sticks for those hypoglycemic moments, and then pray not to have to use any of them.
Okay, now on to the workout basics: Every boot camp coach should expect to invest in a minimum of 20 cones, 15 jump ropes, a set of ladders, rings, hurdles and enough fitness tubes with handles for each of your participants. Have two to three exercise mats and a pair of 5-, 8-, 10- and 12-pound dumbbells on hand for those who may have forgotten or when you see someone is not challenged enough with the weights they have. Direct each camper to bring their own dumbbells and an exercise mat. This is enough equipment to create unlimited circuits, stations, obstacle courses, speed agility and quickness drills, as well as muscle- and cardio-endurance workouts! A seasoned trainer will be able to create a years' worth of unique workouts with this equipment. Expect to invest under $400, which is exactly the price of a month of my camp.
If you have access to more equipment or simply want to spice thing up, the following equipment can work beautifully in your boot camp. Medicine balls make for an excellent exercise station and are outstanding for partner work, but having a medicine ball for every participant would be expensive and cumbersome to store, transport and set up at camp. Other equipment that falls into the same category are body bars, BOSUs, kettlebells, slam balls, super bands, ankle cuff bands, foam rollers, TRX and jump boxes. This equipment can be slowly added to your tool box in quantities of two or four for circuits and stations.
Many coaches have become creative in coming up with boot camp equipment and have used everything from children's toys such as Frisbees, hula hoops and scooters to building equipment such as slosh tubes (made with PVC pipe and filled three-quarters with water before capping), and jump boxes. You can add sports equipment such as tennis balls or basketballs. I've also known coaches to swing by the hardware store to pick up cinderblocks and sand bags, the automotive shop for some discarded tires or the marina for battling ropes.
It's easy to get carried away with equipment and the unlimited exercise possibilities. Keep in mind that you'll need a safe storage place for all of your equipment, which would ideally be in a location that is convenient for setup and clean up. If you need to store and transport equipment daily, consider your vehicle size, the extra time to setup and clean up and storage space.
Some other nice-to-haves are sleds, running parachutes, batons and Fit Decks, but keep in mind that boot camp programs are highly instructor driven and never equipment driven. There are days where I use imaginary hurdles, ladders and rings. The equipment does not make the class, but it sure can add to it with an instructor who is competent, confident and extraordinarily enthusiastic.
If you decide to add additional equipment to your class, get the proper training. For example, do not simply pick up four kettlebells and think you can safely instruct your campers without getting instruction yourself. There are training materials and even certifications that come with most equipment. Take the time to work with campers on proper form any time you introduce a new piece of equipment. Introduce equipment one piece at a time so that they are not taking time away from camp to learn proper form and usage for several modalities.
When you are considering your equipment purchases, keep your environment in mind: Do you have access to benches, trees, fences, stairs, bleachers, a track, walls, curbs, courts, sand, trees, hills and so on? Use what you have in nature. If you are on sand, that becomes a natural balance tool. If you are on gravel, you are not going to want to jump rope. You probably don't want to put a BOSU on a dirt trail.
Also keep in mind that transporting equipment and using it outdoors shortens the life of the equipment, and it must be inspected and replaced more often. The weather will also determine what equipment you use some days. For example, a windy day would not be a good day for fit balls, unless the workout includes chasing them. A good wind will also blow over hurdles!
Finally, keep your camp population in mind. If you are working with women only or athletes or seniors or youth, your demographic will determine which equipment is most appropriate. The list above is not all inclusive, but it covers a majority of the tools for a successful and productive boot camp workout. If you make a poor choice, your campers will let you know!
Do as much homework as you can prior to investing in any equipment for your boot camp program. Once you have determined what you want, plan your workouts out on paper to ensure they work logistically, and then be prepared with a plan B in the event more people show up than you have equipment for, the flow is not working for the levels of the people in your camp or the weather is not cooperating.
Once you become boot camp certified, choose quality exercises, quality equipment, expect great results and put your all into the development of each boot workout! Your campers will be thrilled... and tell friends!
Kelli Calabrese, MS, is a 24-year fitness industry leader and the Master Trainer for Adventure Boot Camp, the largest boot camp system in the world. She is the author of the ABC Drill Book featuring over 100 boot camp workouts and drills. Learn more at www.KelliCalabrese.com, www.AdventureBootCamp.com, or email Kelli@KelliCalabrese.com.