How to become a good bootcamp instructor

Being a Bootcamp Instructor is a fantastic way to make a difference (and make a great living too!) but it does come with its own unique challenges.

In this two part series we offer practical advice in how to run a successful outdoor group fitness business:

Delivering Successful Bootcamps

Inspire. First and foremost, Bootcamps and outdoor fitness training should not be used as an opportunity for trainers to ‘smash’ their clients. We do not disagree with hard training, but poor programming, poor exercise selection, and over-training leads to injury, fewer clients, bad reputation and potential litigation.

Bootcamps are meant to inspire clients to push past their limits, and achieve their goals, all without injury. This is done through fitness leadership, teamwork, changes in lifestyle and a no BS approach to training.

Leadership. ‘Leadership by example’ is best suited for Bootcamps. Within reason (accommodating your own energy levels, and safety of the group), get ‘down and dirty’ with your group. Your clients will look to you as a role model for guidance and inspiration, they’ll observe your form to modify their own, and sometimes give you a cheeky challenge!

A good instructor will assist weaker members with form, give encouragement to all, and push those that are taking it easy. Your style is yours to develop, but your clients will respect a trainer that is ‘firm but fair’ and capable of doing the assigned activities. A spin instructor doesn’t stand around and yell commands, so why should a Bootcamp instructor?

Teamwork and ‘Esprit de Corps’. Outdoor training with your group offers the opportunity to create team challenges, which, in turn, promotes teamwork, morale and sense of achievement.

Structure your team challenges to cater for all fitness levels by using ‘handicapping’, understanding and matching your client strengths and weaknesses, and challenging different fitness components (eg CV Endurance vs. Core Strength). Have a social event too!

Bootcamps are a lifestyle fitness regime. Linking into the first point, the real benefit comes from continuing with a structured fitness regime on a regular basis.

Harness this viewpoint to keep your clients coming back each month by ensuring your Bootcamp and outdoor fitness classes are different each time, your training is structured and professional, and you continual set small, achievable goals. For example, the City to Surf races around the country are a great goal to train for!

No BS training. Real military physical training is functional and always has a purpose. Whilst the training is challenging, it is always balanced. It is balanced by ensuring cross training principles are used to avoid overuse injuries, and it is balanced by allow some sessions to be self-paced. Self-paced lessons allow each client to be challenged to their fitness level.

Military training is a lifestyle approach, soldiers don’t miraculously become fit in their basic training, but at the end of it they understand the benefits of training and want MORE. Bootcamp classes aren’t always (sometimes, but not always) about lifting tyres and carrying sandbags, or wearing camo clothing and yelling! In the strictest sense they are about an initial period of strength and conditioning, and preparation for subsequent training.

Do this with your clients, keep them coming back. Vary the intensity, structure, activities, equipment and objectives to keep them guessing.

Finally, you do not have to be a boxer to teach boxing, but you do need some education to be safe and effective. It is same with Bootcamps! Ongoing training will ensure you are safe and effective and equipped with some great tools to be a great Outdoor Group Fitness Instructor.

Running a Bootcamp – showing Leadership

It is worthwhile to examine leadership in Bootcamps and outdoor fitness training because it has an enormous bearing on how successful bootcamp training is for both client and instructor.

Definitions. Whilst there are many definitions of leadership, the easiest and perhaps the most versatile is that of one person influencing others to achieve an outcome. If you are running an outdoor fitness group or bootcamp then you are responsible for motivating and influencing others to achieve an outcome.

Leadership by example. It is well known the best results are gained by a leader setting the example. Bosses who get involved are able to relate easier to their team than those who don’t.

When leading your classes, are you the style of instructor that stands flat footed, or the one that gets involved by cueing, demonstrating, participating and challenging?

Transformational leadership. One of our favourite styles of leadership is that of the transformational leader. This is someone who does not rely on reward or punishment, but relies on setting a vision for the team to achieve a better outcome.

This vision is then used to inspire the team to work hard towards the goal. If the leader truly believes in the vision, their enthusiasm will be infectious, and the group won’t have realised how hard they working! Set goals for a better future, and truly believe in them.

Know Your Team. To lead your team, you need to know each of them. Force yourself to learn their names, as this will enable specific comments, and tailoring.

Understanding your team will allow you to know their strengths and weakness, from here you can harness their strengths and work on their weaknesses….we all have weaknesses.

Be human. People relate better when they feel comfortable, allowing you to develop trust and rapport. These aspects are essential to your team’s survival. Let’s face it, the fitness industry can be very competitive, and clients can often change instructors.

The more you build the relationship, earn their respect, and believe in them, the more they will follow you and your classes. Don’t be afraid to have a laugh, or admit you’ve made a mistake, you’ll be surprised how much respect a little bit of humility can earn you.

Bootcamp Intensity

It is inevitable that many bootcamp clients will demand to see results and to see them fast! This is particularly true of new and (often) inexperienced bootcampers.

A man in a white t-shirt in a gym. He is a personal trainer. He runs bootcamps and outdoor fitness training

Some will see your bootcamps and outdoor fitness training as a ‘get fit quick’ scheme and want to push themselves hard. Now we all love to train hard (well maybe not at the time…), but before we get the sledge hammers and tyres out, let’s look at some guiding principles.

Train smarter, not always harder

So some simple aspects to consider:

Form over function, or function over form? 

Training hard inadvertently comes at the cost of form.

The key dilemma to wrestle with is whether the loss in form is allowable to ensure the intensity is maintained, or does the loss in form result in an injury.

This is a judgement call on your behalf, and you can always slightly modify the activity to a less risky option if your aim is intensity. Don’t forget to teach form first, then push the intensity. Asking a client to do an activity they are not familiar with will likely result in injury.

In all your sessions be sure to conduct a risk assessment (‘what if’). What if an ankle is turned during intervals, what if a hamstring is strained during sprints, what if someone hurts their wrist during boxercise, etc.

And always encourage proper rest and recuperation. Get them to stretch out their limbs, massage their aches and to listen to their bodies. We’ve negotiated a discount code for Healsage massage guns, if you have clients who regularly complain of sore and aching limbs.

Scaling yourself to satisfy all clients

As a companion to the above point is scaling.

That is, offering differing activities/reps/weight/range of movement/etc depending on the abilities of the person.

For example, during interval training, your faster clients can run 400m, whilst your slower clients can run 250m. (or make it time based, and everyone works at their capacity). The aim is ‘Individual Attention in a Group Setting‘.

Be careful to ensure high intensity training is not seen as an opportunity for your fitter clients (or even yourself) to receive an ego boost. This can be initimidating and demoralising for other participants.

Watch out for overtraining clients. There is always one fitness junkie who always wants to do more and is continually extolling the virtues of new techniques, new PBs, new fads and extra gym sessions.

Overtraining is real and so keep a look out for the symptoms and signals.

Know your fitness clients 

A crucial aspect of getting to know your charges is the detailed health screening and questioning you should undertake beforehand.

Be detailed, and use the results of your health screen to modify activities for clients and where necessary modify your entire lesson lessons (eg. no point running if half your class have lower limb injuries).

Also ‘know’ your clients, that is, know when they have more to give versus they have definitely had enough. We all have different thresholds.

Explain to them that the kitchen and what goes on in it is important. Clients need to understand the importance of good nutrition and eating smartly.

Protein and supplements can play an important role so direct them here for our in-depth guide.

High intensity training (HIT) delivers results so capture them 

Run a fitness test at the start and end of your training program (minimum 4 weeks) to show your clients the results. Their motivation and sense of achievement will increase, and they’ll want more!

And if they want more, advise them on safe and effective workouts they can do at home. Warn them of the perils of burnout too (see above point on overtraining).

Program your sessions thoughtfully to ensure fitness gains

Program exercise intensity gradually (according to your class), teach skills and form, develop strength, and then raise the intensity again.

Remember, there needs to be enough time for your clients to notice their changing body shape, fitness improvements and for the physical adaption to occur.

High intensity is a great tool, and part of your overarching skillset. Balance it out with your other tools and ensure it is all inclusive and challenging for all fitness levels.

Finally, work on the fact that fitness is part of lifestyle, not simply a rushed effort just before Summer or special occasion.

Part 2 of this series into running a outdoor group fitness instructor business can be found here.

If you’d like advice on growing a personal trainer business, read here.

Read this to understand the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in delivering better sport performance outcomes.

If you have clients who are looking for home fitness equipment, get them to read our buyers guide to the top rowing machines in Australia.