With everyone from Oprah to infomercials touting how quickly boot camps can whip participants into shape, camps are popping up in Everytown, USA, quicker than fast food restaurants. The opportunity to lead a boot camp is highly attractive to fitness professionals who are eager to go from one-on-one training to leading the masses; however, coaching a boot camp requires more skill, creativity, instinct, planning and even entertainment than some fitness professionals would venture to think.

So, who makes the best boot camp instructors? Are they personal trainers, group fitness instructors, former military personnel, coaches or some combination thereof? The answer is that boot camp instructors need specialized training similar to someone wanting to become an expert in training clients for triathlons or conducting a Pilates session. Having prerequisites such as those a personal trainer, group fitness instructor or coach have are necessary but are not complete enough to lead a safe, effective or profitable boot camp class or program.

A difference lies in going from training one client in a gym or even a group of students in a fitness class to leading 15-75 people in a boot camp class. No longer confined to the four walls of a state-of-the-art facility, a boot camp is more than an outdoor personal training session or even taking a strengthening class outdoors. If boot camps were the same, it would not have the popularity, produce incredible results or be as attractive to those campers enlisting all over the world.


Think It Through, Play It Safe

There are many safety and logistical components to leading a boot camp, from designing workouts to accommodating varying abilities and goals. For example, if you have a boot camp with 50 participants of varying abilities and have limited to no equipment, you need to be prepared to keep everyone moving in a productive way for the entire hour. There is much planning that goes into the workout, and the instructor needs to be able to think through the flow of drills, obstacle courses, cardio and strength segments and even stretching to make sure everyone is getting an effective and safe workout with little to no down time while providing the most benefit with the least amount of risk.

For example, if you send campers out on a looped run, what are you going to have the faster campers do while they are waiting for the slower campers to filter into base camp? Can you see everyone at once to monitor them? Can you give directions to the ones who are returning in the middle of the pack and still keep the slower runners moving while keeping the faster runners motivated? If the faster campers are standing around waiting for the slower campers to return, well, they simply are not going to be "happy campers."

Additionally, leading an outdoor boot camp is filled with obstacles that even experienced and trained boot camp instructors may be challenged by. When exercising in the outdoors, the instructor is subject to dealing with things that can change at a moment's notice, such as lighting, weather (ice, humidity, cold, wind, fog, dust, etc.), wet surfaces, closed areas, construction, traffic, visibility, mosquitoes, available rest rooms, noise as well as other things in the environment that may vary when you show up for leading a camp.


Boot Camps Require More
One of the reasons that boot camps take additional skills and training is that it's more than a class — it's a program that includes nutrition, lifestyle change, support, education, fitness assessments, physical tests, coaching and more. Fitness pros should hone their skills in providing campers with information to change their lifestyles, such as nutrition basics and behavior modification. It's also important that they be proficient in coaching to varying populations and personality types as they may be tripling their client base.
Because the boot camp involves more than showing up to train one client or conduct one class, additional business skills are needed to understand how to attract people to boot camps, provide them with safe, effective and fun workouts, communicate effectively, process payments and registration forms, conduct fitness testing in groups, keep everyone thrilled, design and place ads, be visible in the community and, ultimately, run a profitable camp.
From finding the ideal location to filling your camps, conducting a boot camp program may not be nearly as easy as some make it seem. Many boot camps have fewer than 10 participants and are not profitable. Without the right formula, boot camps can be a disaster, but with a passionate, educated and experienced boot camp instructor; it can be the best thing one does with their fitness career.
The Right Stuff
The instructor needs to be sharp — and by that, I mean smart! They should be able to learn all of the participants' names, their health histories, needs and goals, choose appropriate exercises and have modifications ready. They need exceptional communication skills to be able to provide specific feedback, plan transitions, keep everyone moving and thrill them at the same time so that they want to come back for more. Making 40 or more participants feel important in an hour-long session takes exceptional effort.
Boot camps can be geared to accommodate different populations, such as children, women, teens, seniors, the overweight, athletes and so forth. If you are opening your boot camp up to anyone, you may have campers who range in age from 11 to 65 and from athletes to those who are morbidly obese. Boot camp instructors should be prepared to work with all abilities.
Whereas a personal trainer may have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of state-of-the-art equipment in a temperature-controlled environment with a medley of popular music at just the right volume, a boot camp instructor may be in wet grass with a handful of jump ropes and cones, ready to lead a small mob of 50 women who are looking for an intense and engaging fat-burning session. Boot camp instructors must be well-prepared and quick on their feet.
The Benefits Outweigh the Fears
There are many benefits of conducting a boot camp. If reaching more people, working fewer hours, producingphenomenal results and earning more than you dreamed per hour is a goal of yours, boot camps may be the perfect solution. Regardless of your experience, I highly recommend you attain boot camp specific training to avoid errors, jump-start your boot camp business and ensure greater levels of success for your clients and profitability for your future.
Creating a successful boot camp program may be daunting for some fitness pros. From finding the best location to creating a well-indexed professional website to constructing the right image, selecting the necessary equipment, choosing the best time of day, pricing, safety measures, assessment software as well as the best system to administer the program, all has to be figured out prior to even thinking about conducting that first workout.
Designing boot camp workouts is more than push-ups in the mud or pushing a Hummer across a field. If you want campers to return, workouts should be engaging, challenging and include a mix of games, obstacle courses, drills, cardio, strengthening, flexibility and fun. The workouts also need to be progressive for repeat campers as well as give new and deconditioned campers a sense of accomplishment.
The name "Boot Camp" can be very intimidating to precisely those who you are looking to attract. You need to know how to attract your desired market without being intimidating by letting them know that boot camps can be the very thing that changes their lives and helps get the positive momentum going for their health, fitness and well-being.
The beauty of boot camps is that, regardless of your background as a kickboxing instructor, yoga teacher or even a soldier in the military, you can take with you what you have learned and incorporate flavors of it throughout the workouts. If you are a "boot camp" instructor who has simply taken your indoor workouts outdoors, you are selling yourself and your campers short. Both you and your participants will be disappointed.
With the right formula, boot camps are not only highly lucrative, they're a wonderful way to reach more people per hour, have more visibility in the community by being outdoors, and a complete boot camp program accelerates the campers' success. Those coaches and campers who are catching on to the phenomenon of boot camps are loud and proud of its accolades. The boot camp is a program that is here to stay, and trainers who feel they are a right fit for being a boot camp coach should consider the necessary training to be the best and stake claim to their territory before someone who is ready to enlist beats them to it.
Kelli Calabrese is the editor of Personal Fitness Professional magazine and is the International Master Trainer for Adventure Boot Camp — the largest boot camp program in the world. She is the coach of Argyle Adventure Boot Camp and the co-author of Personal Training Prosperity. For more information, go to www.ArgyleBootCamp.comwww.AdventureBootCamp.com orwww.CalabreseConsulting.com.