Sustainable health: Bootcamp workouts that make you sick



Exercising should be healthy for you right? Well not all forms of exercise are good for your body. There are exercise routines that can cause tendinitis, back pain, shoulder clicking, and even tingling down the arms and legs.  Unfortunately, the average consumer can’t tell the difference between a safe and effective workout versus an unsafe and yet effective workout. Yes, you can get the “results” you want (i.e. fat loss, muscle toning, etc) but cause irreversible damage to your body.

The biggest craze in the fitness industry is boot camp workouts. Boot camp gyms have popped up across the country from California to New Jersey. The popularity of these kickboxing, yoga, weight training, and calisthenics combined exercises are sweeping the nation. We see it on infomercials, on weight loss competition shows, and in your local gyms. The widespread use of boot camp workouts gives the consumers a sense of legitimacy and safety to this type of workout. Unfortunately, the adoption of boot camp fitness centers has more to do with the financial benefit for the gym owner and less (much less) than the safety and well being of the clients.

Boot camp workouts can cause immediate injuries to your body as well as chronic pathologies.  This style of workouts involves full body exercises mostly with quick or even explosive movements like kicking, swinging a weight or a kettle-bell, sprinting, jumping, and punching.  These movements work the entire body and thus burn more calories and more fat. However, they also require much more skill and control overall your entire body. The increase in demand on your brain to control multiple joints puts your body at high risk of injury. If you do a push up or mountain climbers and you don’t have the capability to control your back from twisting and arching, you’re essentially taking your back bones and crushing them. Imagine pushing your bones together with 600-800 pounds of pressure and then rubbing them. OUCH! You may not have pain that day, that week, or that month, but your back will degenerate MUCH faster than normal. If you start to have aches and pains that are gradually popping up here and there, it’s because your joints and tendons are inflamed from the workout.

Being a physical therapist, I see new patients on a monthly basis with injuries as a result from these boot camp workouts. The common statement I hear from the patients after I explain about the dangers of boot camp workouts is “but I have really good form on all my exercises”. The unfortunate fact is, even if you have perfect textbook form on some of these exercises, they are still destructive for your body. Another unfortunate fact is that the trainer who is teaching, supervising, and demonstrating these exercise routines have little to no background in bio-mechanics and in depth anatomy. That means, they have no idea what each exercise is doing to your body beyond the superficial view of “it’s burning calories” or “oh, feel the burn right there”. I think I’ll save why this is for another blog.

In general, be very careful when you are deciding to join a boot camp fitness center or even worse, buy a boot camp style DVD workout series that is “Crazy” or has a bunch of numbers and letters like “P’s” or “X’s”…

So what’s the solution? In general traditional slow speed exercises are safer. Even if you don’t have perfect form or are doing exercises that are bad for you, at least the pressure through your body is less as compared with high speed exercises. Remember, if you want kick or punch, join a martial arts program. At least the teacher has years of experience kicking and punching and will serve as a good if not excellent teacher.  Do your research on the instructor of any exercise class. Find out who is developing the program. Did it come in a box that is pre-packaged (yes, most boot camp workout are generic workouts developed by a good marketing company) or was it developed by someone with expertise or at least a degree in exercise science.

In the next few blogs, I’ll cover why you can’t trust all trainers, why you should NEVER do a sit up for “abs”, and why people just can’t get in shape.

Steve Young, DPT CSCS

Director and owner of Body Solutions

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