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What To Expect From Your First Boot Camp Fitness Class

gym class holding kettlebells

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty adventurous person, but when it comes to fitness, there are two words that strike fear into my heart and have me running for the hills (even in my lycra leggings): Boot camp.

The calorie pulverising benefits of military-inspired classes are no secret – many promise to burn up to 1,000 a session.

But what usually stops people from signing up to them (me included), is the preconception that it’s going to be a humiliating, painful and disheartening experience at the hands of a masochistic instructor.

These high-intensity, army-style training workouts are designed to build strength and fitness through a mixture of running, push-ups, sit-ups and weighted exercises over a gruelling one-hour period.

They were big news in the US in the Nineties, but have gained a cult following across the UK in recent years – thanks to the rise of boutique gyms and a general obsession with high-octane, fat-blasting classes.

So how bad is it? With a New Year in full swing, I went along to Barry’s Bootcamp in Victoria, London, to find out what you should expect from your first foray into this intensely punishing discipline (spoiler: it’s not as horrendous as you might think).

1. You probably won’t have a shouty instructor

red lit gym (Liz Connor/PA)
The instructors aren’t as angry as you’d assume (Liz Connor/PA)

The days of angry, Navy SEAL-style trainers shouting, “Drop and give me 20!” are over. These days boot camp instructors are high-energy beings, sprinting up and down the class in a Britney Spears-style headset and shouting words of encouragement.

My chiselled trainer – who looked like he’s fallen out of a Calvin Klein billboard ad – bellowed feel-good cheers like, “Good job guys, you’re smashing it”.

Sure, they’ll still whittle you to a sodden mess with their instructions, but at least you won’t be publicly humiliated in the process.

2. It’s not as intimidating as you’d think

The red room of pain AKA Barry's Bootcamp
The red room of pain AKA Barry’s Bootcamp (Barry’s Bootcamp/PA)

Naturally, the first thing you’ll think as the treadmill starts up is, “What have I done?” and, “How can I possibly survive the next hour?”

Thankfully, boot camps are not a one-size-fits-all, and whether it’s taking place in a gym or outside on the grass, they’ll give you the option to push yourself as hard as you want. If you can’t run as fast as your neighbour, no big deal – set the treadmill at an achievable pace for you and push yourself safely within your own boundaries.

The instructor won’t reduce you to a bumbling, tear-filled mess if you’re a newbie that needs to grab a few minutes to catch your breath either.

3. It’s a full body workout

Journalist Liz Connor tries out Barry's Bootcamp
Journalist Liz Connor tries out Barry’s Bootcamp (Liz Connor/PA)

Boot camp workouts can vary but generally include a pretty heavy mix of strength training and aerobic elements.

You can expect to do calisthenics, such as pull-ups, push-ups, lunges and crunches, as well as drills and sprints.

Gym-based routines like Barry’s generally involve 30 minutes of cardiovascular sprinting on a treadmill for an interval period, then leaping off and furiously doing press-ups and lifting weights on the floor.

Expect to feel destroyed from the get-go. You’ll feel the burn the next day in all your major muscle groups – chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs and calves.

4. You’ll torch calories

Yes, boot camps are brutal, but they’re effective. All that lifting, running, squatting – and a few thousand press ups – will elevate your core fitness to a whole new level. The non-stop nature of circuits like Barry’s means a session can burn anything from 800 to 1,000 calories.

5. There’s a social element

Let it be said that there’s something deeply unifying in group torture. If you entered the class avoiding eye contact and setting up your treadmill in silence, you’ll soon be high-fiving your neighbour, delightedly whooping the arrival of the last set of exercises and pulling ‘I’m going to vomit’ faces at one another.

Of course, there will always be those beautiful, machine-like beings who sprint for 30 minutes on a treadmill and don’t drop an ounce of sweat on their perfectly coordinated sports bra and leggings. Ignore these mythical creatures.

6. You’ll probably want to give up

women running on treadmills
The workout is split between the treadmill and the floor (Liz Connor/PA)

I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind at least once every three minutes while Mr Calvin Klein shouted over the top of pumping house music tracks behind me. The fast-paced format of the class means there’s very little rest or recovery time, meaning you’re running in a permanent state of ‘knackered’. Singletons, don’t expect to catch the eye of ‘The One’ here either: you’ll likely make unattractive screaming and grunting noises throughout the duration of the class.

7. It will leave you with a feel-good buzz

Despite the high possibility that you’ll want to vomit on your lovely new Christmas trainers, one of the best things about high-intensity interval training is the rush of endorphins it releases. A morning boot camp session is enough to fuel you through the afternoon, with the energy to blast through your emails, rip through life admin and even feel enthused at evening plans on a weeknight.

If you’ve fallen out of love with exercise, a boot camp might be just what you need to get back in the zone. If nothing else, your limbs will sing with the sheer relief that only 60 minutes of pure punishment could deliver. Go investigate.