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The Boot Camp Mindset: Does It Work?

Photos of various people exercising

The idea of jumping into an intense workout program to quickly lose a bunch of weight is appealing.

But is it a good idea?

Let’s find out.

What Is It?

Boot camp style workouts have become so popular, it’s hard to define what they are.

For the sake of this article, I’m not referring only to workouts that specifically use the term “boot camp.”

I’m talking about any form of particularly intense exercise, used with the idea of launching yourself toward your goals like a rocket propelled grenade.

Except, like the grenade, you might be on a path to self destruction.

The Mindset

What is the boot camp mindset? It boils down to two thoughts that threaten your results.

1. “I can do anything for a short period of time.”

I made 20 bucks once eating a literal mouthful of ketchup. I don’t recommend it.

I knew I could do it because, even though it wasn’t exactly pleasant, it was short lived.

I’m sure you could tolerate workouts that will leave vomit stains on your favorite shoes if you think it’ll only last a few weeks.

And you’re right, eventually it will come to an end, which is a big part of its appeal.

It’s not comfortable to confront our issues, so the sooner you can be done with it, the better.

That’s the trouble with this mindset — you might fix some of the symptoms, but you’re not dealing with the root of the problem.

2. “The higher the intensity, the more I succeed.”

This is a common idea that’s not only incorrect, it’s detrimental to your goals.

And yet it’s one of the main reasons people join a boot camp style gym/program.

You don’t improve by testing your limits every time you step foot in the gym — that’ll just burn you out.

After awhile you’ll either hate it and quit, or you’ll get hurt and be forced to slow down.

Any goals you have will be better reached with slow progressions over time.

Even most pro powerlifters (whose sole purpose is to lift as heavy as humanly possible) spend most of their year lifting weights that are relatively easy for them.

Don’t get me wrong, they challenge themselves at every workout, but there’s a difference between a challenge and constantly stressing your body to its limits.

There’s something far more important than the intensity of your effort in the gym:


The easiest of exercise, done consistently year after year, will outperform the most intense workouts that are only kept up for a few weeks or months.

It’s Not All Bad

I’m not trying to pick on boot camp programs, or any particular style of intense workouts. They have their place.

In the military, the purpose of boot camp is not just to whip everyone into shape physically, but to prepare them for the lifestyle of the rest of their military career.

Intense fitness programs can work for you in the same way.

They can be a temporary increase in intensity, giving you a boost toward your goals, and ultimately a more fit, active lifestyle.

Unfortunately, many programs like this don’t prepare you for your next step — when you get done, you have no idea what to do.

I offer two solutions.

1. Have a baseline.

If you’re out of shape, your baseline will be different from someone who’s been working out for years. You might need to start by just going for a walk 3 times a week.

Your baseline can and should change over time.

Those 3 walks will eventually become second nature. At some point you can replace them with an easy workout that takes the same amount of time. Or do it in addition to the walks.

Even if you someday grow to love working at a higher intensity, you always need a baseline, because…

A) life gets crazy.

B) you need room to bump things up a notch from time to time.

2. Plan when you’ll raise the intensity.

Instead of thinking of a boot camp as a quick fix, make it a small part of the bigger picture.

I recommend starting at a lower intensity. Get into the groove of working out and establish your baseline.

Then, once or twice a year at the most, plan a few weeks where you push yourself a little harder than usual. Lift a little heavier, or spend a little more time in the gym, or do a boot camp style workout.

When you’re done, back off a bit and work at a more sustainable, moderate intensity for the rest of the year.

If you aren’t sure where to start, download our beginner’s workout program here.

On A Related Note

We’ve been talking exclusively about exercise, but the principles work well with your diet, too.

  1. A strict, but temporary, diet doesn’t confront the root of your problem, and you won’t know what to do when it’s over.

  2. Eating well consistently gets better results than doing an extreme diet for a short period of time.

  3. You need a baseline for how to eat year-round. Something manageable that works for you.

  4. You can attempt a rigorous diet once or twice a year to boost you toward your goals, but then go back to your baseline.

Whether diet or exercise, boot camps aren’t bad. Just make sure your mindset is one that focuses on a long-term approach, rather than short-lived results.


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