Retreat Is Not an Option: How to Kick Ass in a Boot Camp Workout


There are countless ways to burn calories and develop cardiovascular fitness at the gym—like running on a treadmill, using an elliptical, or, if you’re so inclined, jumping and twerking in a Zumba class. But there’s nothing that shocks the system like a well-run boot camp. 

In boot camp, you’ll get a total-body workout led by a drill-sergeant type who pushes your body full-throttle to the point of failure as you circuit through cardio and strength exercises in quick succession, working every muscle group in a fast-paced, 30- to 45-minute session. Boot camp will have you shredding fat while maintaining lean muscle, increasing your endurance. It’ll also pump up your metabolism so you continue to burn calories hours after your final rep. Ready to enlist? Here’s how to do it.

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How to Choose Your PT Session

Not all boot camps are created equal. Since Barry’s Bootcamp ( launched the trend in the late 1990s, “boot camp” has become a catchall for any military-inspired classes, even if they’re decidedly low-intensity and cardio-heavy, with dance-y moves and empty punching and kicking rather than full-body functional movements. 

“I was in the Marines, so I know what boot camp really is,” says Eric Salvador, head instructor at the Fhitting Room ( in New York. “It’s not just running around the park, and doing stepups.” To find a good one, check out the class description, says Justin Flexen (yes, his real name), group fitness instructor at NY’s Crunch Gym ( “If you see high-intensity or Tabata, that’s pretty hardcore.” And try to ask the instructor if classes use equipment like free weights, medicine balls, or plyo boxes. While body-weight exercises like pushups, squats, and lunges are great, we prefer mixing in the strength benefits of increased resistance.

And the final tell, according to Salvador? “See if there are other guys in the class.”

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DO Introduce yourself. “Many friendships have been forged by the agony and triumph of high-rep burpees, deadlifts, and Tabata circuits,” says trainer Jonny Edward of Denver’s Pura Vida Fitness (

DON’T Bring your ego. “Some people come in their first time thinking it’s an easy class,” Salvador says. “But halfway through, they’re like, ‘Oh, shit!’” He suggests taking it easy the first class, and pushing yourself harder after that.

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1) More than anything else, hit the cardio hard: “Most guys don’t get enough cardio, so make it count in boot camp,” Flexen says. That means pushing yourself to the point of failure on body-weight exercises that make your heart pound, like mountain climbers, sprinters, burpees, and squat jumps. “This is metabolic cardio,” says Flexen, “which means you’ll be burning calories a lot longer, even when class is over”—an effect you can’t get from jogging on a treadmill. 

2) Make PT part of your routine: You need at least a twice-a-week habit. When you’re consistent, Flexen says, “you get stronger, your endurance improves, it takes longer to feel fatigued, your heart is strengthened, and you burn more calories for a lot longer.” 

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Don’t get pissy if the instructor yells at you. “If someone corrects your form, you’re not being picked on, you’re actually getting value from your training,” Salvador says. 

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