Some Thoughts on How to Structure Effective Bootcamps

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Bootcamps are all the rage nowadays.  It seems you can’t walk more than a block in your own neighborhood without running the risk of a kettlebell flying out of nowhere and hitting you on the side of the face, or watching as a group of people are being run through the gauntlet with an endless array of push-ups, burpees, jumping jacks, cone drills, and whateverthef***thatexerciseis by the big meanie-head bootcamp instructor.

And it’s with good reason.  Bootcamps – which is just a glorified way of saying “group exercise class” without actually saying it – are a great option for those with busy work (and life) schedules, and who also thrive in a group training environment.

And without beating around the bush, bootcamps are generally much, MUCH cheaper compared to one-on-one personal training.  While I don’t have the exact stats starring me right in the face, it’s been noted that, with regards to disposable income, roughly 5-7% of the population can afford to hire their own trainer on a consistent basis.

Jump to the semi-private side of the fence – as is the case with bootcamps – and that number increases to 40-45%.  That’s a pretty significant jump, and a huge reason why they’re so popular.

You can imagine with all the various bootcamps out there to choose from, that the “market” is somewhat watered down and gives rise to some pretty atrocious iterations of what a bootcamp should entail.

In short: there’s a lot of shit and shenanigans out there.  But that can be said with any industry whether we’re referencing lawyers, contractors, dentists, babysitters, or Lady Gaga impersonators.

It may come as a surprise to some that Cressey Performance actually has a bootcamp program.  Contrary to popular belief we don’t just train professional athletes or Victoria Secret models.

Even more surprising to some is that all the coaches are involved in some way or another. I cover every Friday morning bootcamp.

And as a staff we’re all really proud of how much our program has grown since its first inception close to two years ago.

That being said, what follows are some bullet point quips and insights as to how we’ve structured our bootcamps and why I feel it’s a step above the rest.

1.  We Actually Coach!

I’ve watched and observed other bootcamps in action, and I’m sometimes left speechless as to how much of a circus they can be.

There’s no inherent rhyme or reason as to what’s being done, and it’s almost as if the instructor just tossed a bunch of random exercises towards a wall and decided to see what stuck.

In other words:  there’s very little structure or planning involved.

Even worse, the execution of the exercises by the bootcampers themselves is spotty at best.

Listen, I understand that things aren’t going to be perfect 100% of the time and it’s impossible to have your eye on every single person when the action starts.  But at the same time, I find it inexcusable – and downright lazy – when there’s NO coaching being performed.

First of all, we make it a point to never let the coaching to client ratio get too skewed.

We’ll never sacrifice the quality of the training at the expense of getting more people in the doors.

If you find you’re unable to take the time to coach people up because there’s too manyto keep tabs on, then maybe it’s time to either 1) hire another coach to help out or 2) change up your schedule.

We like to place a premium on the coaching side of things with our bootcamps and prefer to take the time to coach people up on their hip hinge technique (deadlift), squat technique, push-up technique, or anything else you can think of.

If anything it adds added value to the classes, and the participants themselves really appreciate it.

2.  Have Regressions and Progressions Handy

Along those same lines, unless your name is Gandalf, you’re not going to be 100% perfect 100% of the time with your programming.

Our first bootcamp starts at 5:30 in the morning.  I usually arrive around 4:45-5AM so that I can take the time to organize and set-up the classes for that day.

In actuality we’ll sit down as a staff and “program” the classes a head of time in 4-week blocks, but there are still times where I know new people will be showing up and I need to plan accordingly.

The likelihood I’ll have someone on their first day perform conventional deadlifts – even if they’re programmed – is slim.  Instead, I’ll need to make sure I have appropriate regressions in my back-pocket so that that individual 1) feels like they’re getting some attention 2) they’ll still getting a training effect and 3) my corneas won’t bleed.

As a coach, it’s your job to make things seem seamless.  If someone comes into class and they’re unable to perform a certain exercise and then you start stumbling around trying to figure out what they should do, you’re going to come across like an asshat.

3.  Techno

I have no evidence to back this up, but I’m pretty sure everyone’s favorite day to do bootcamps is Friday. Why?  Because they know I’m going to be blaring techno for five straight hours.


4. Don’t Just Beat People to Pulp


Photo cameo by former CP coach, Brian St. Pierre.

I get it.  Bootcamps are meant to make people hate life and to it’s your job to ensure that they’re leaving each and every class in a pool of their own sweat and/or they can’t feel the left side of their body.

I don’t agree with this mentality.  Most people move like ass and make the Tin Man look like Kelly Starrett.  It’s important to take into context movement quality and that you’re making a concerted effort to make people BETTER each and every session.

Here’s  a quick peek into how a typical session looks like when I coach class.

Note:  We run bootcamps every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and each day has a specific goal or “quality” we focus on.

Monday tends to be more conditioning based (since most bootcampers spent the weekend crushing Tiramisu and god knows what else).

Wednesday tends to be more circuit based.

And Friday (my day) has an emphasis on strength.  Big surprise, I know.

I wake up at 3:30 AM brush my teeth with rainbows after I piss excellence and wash my face with glory.  Then I head to the facility to set-up.

I generally start each session with me walking in and going all General Zod on everyone just so they know what’s up:

I’ll have the class foam roll for a good five minutes and then we’ll perform a thorough warm-up consisting of positional breathing drills, glute activation, t-spine stuff, lunges, squats, skipping and some light movement prep.

From there I’ll have two stations set-up which may look something like this:

A1. Trap Bar Deadlift x5
A2. Push-Up Variation x5
A3.  Reverse Crunch x10
A4.  Yoga Plex x5/side

B1.  DB Goblet Bulgarian Split Squat x5/leg
B2.  Carry Variation x20 yd/arm
B3.  TRX Row x10
B4. KB Swing x10

Depending on the number of participants per class I’ll either set these up as straight sets (x number of sets per exercise) or I’ll set a timer for 10-12 minutes and have everyone go through in circuit fashion, but making sure focus on QUALITY reps and progressive overload.  The objective here is NOT to whiz through the exercises and try to perform 17 rounds.

Then, to finish up, I’ll devise some sort of “sucky” finisher  that they’ll all groan about but do anyways because I told them to.

The entire time, however, myself and the other coach are roaming around the floor coaching people and correctly form if needed.

This approach may not have the glitz, glam, and bells and whistles (and puke buckets) of some other bootcamps, but I can promise you everyone gets a solid workout in and they’re learning along the way.

5.  Don’t Be Afraid to Slow Things Down

We’ll often implement “coaching moments” into our bootcamp classes where we’ll allot a 5-10 minute window to introduce a new exercise or concept to the group.

For example, you can’t just put Turkish Get-Ups or KB swings into the mix and expect things to go smoothly.

It’s often beneficial to slow things down and take the time to address the group as a whole and break down certain exercises. Trust me, it makes things infinitely easier down the road.  Likewise, it adds a degree of “service” or “velvet rope treatment” to the class which people always appreciate.

And those are just a few thoughts and insights as to how I approach bootcamps and how I feel we as coaches and trainers can make them better.

Also, for those interested, I’d HIGHLY recommend Bootcamp in a Box by Mike Robertson, Molly Galbraith, and Jim Laird.

Many of the systems and concepts we use at Cressey Performance are a direct influence from this product and I can’t recommend it enough.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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