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Do Boot Camps and 12 Week Transformations Work?

Andrew Dixon Transformation

FIT4Action is not really a boot camp. We are an Outdoor Fitness Group, we’d even call ourselves a Lifestyle Fitness Solution. And we’re quite proud of the distinction.

Call it what you will; Boot Camp, bootcamp or boot-camp, where did this modern fitness label come from? It is suggested that the term originated from as early as World War I where new recruits were taken through intense physical training to bring them up to speed for military requirements. It was on the first day of these camps that soldiers were given their new boots, from which the phrase was born.

Although the military has drifted to the term “basic training” in modern times, “boot camp” has become synonymous with fitness groups, particularly the outdoor variety. Military style training techniques with highly intense training sessions were designed to get the most out of participants over the shortest period of time. You only need to search for the term “boot camp” to see how many groups wrap this banner around their training. And so it is with heavy heart that FIT4Action has relented to include the term “boot camp” in its search tags and advertising in order to capture internet traffic using the modern buzzword, if only to bring you here so we can tell you more. And just to clarify, we are NOT a boot camp!

What’s the difference? Firstly, it’s important to recognise that if a fitness program is intense enough to bring around massive short term gains, weight loss and fitness, then it’s likely to be too intense to be maintainable. Imagine working at 95% of your capacity 6 days a week or even twice a day and maintaining that over a year. You’re sure to drop a truck load of weight, but at the same time become a platinum member in the loyalty club of your local physio, if you can walk that far. Intensity levels that high over prolonged periods are reserved for the military, professional athletes, and the experienced glutton for punishment. But even athletes don’t work at this level the whole time, training is planned in blocks of periodisation of high and low intensity to ensure correct recovery and progression over various facets of fitness.

Modern groups don’t really fall into this category, they use the label “boot camp” as this conjures up images of tough resolve and quick results, whereas in reality, they train at an intensity to retain clients and they are more simply… fitness companies. And there is nothing wrong with that.

It’s important to remember that fitness is a temporary state. You can’t bank it. You can’t expect to train like a pro-footballer throughout your teens and early 20’s and without further training, retain the body of your youth into your 40’s. While there are some benefits of training that you will take to older age; the fat loss, bone density, muscle growth, serotonin producing, disease fighting benefits of exercise begin to fade within weeks of ceasing training. Studies have suggested that new participants who have trained for only 8 weeks and stop, can lose all cardiovascular benefits within a few months, whereas those who have been training for long periods of time, de-condition over a much greater period.

The human body is an amazingly adaptable organism. Any process or system of the human body under appropriate stress will adapt to better deal with that stress. When you lift heavy weights, your body receives the message that it needs to be stronger to complete this task and providing the training stimulus isn’t beyond the body’s ability to recover, it will adapt and slowly become stronger. The same applies to bone density. If we begin running, the shock to the bones in our legs tells the body it needs reinforcement and begins to remodel the bone to cope with the extra stress. Too much stress too soon, and the bone fractures. All of these functions are of course dependent on correct nutrition and exercise variables.

When you stop training, the process reverses; you use it or lose it. Your muscle will be broken down (it doesn’t turn to fat) and your bone tissue will reabsorb and used for other functions within the body.

I can hear the cries as I type, “What? I have to train forever?” Ideally…yes. Regular exercise and proper nutrition should form a part of everyone’s life, for your whole life. And whilst the goal posts for frequency and intensity seem to shift with every year, to perform no exercise was never a suitable option. As a trainer, I have once been asked how long our program takes. My response of “forever”, though honest, was not so marketable.

So wouldn’t it make sense that if you intend to incorporate fitness training for the rest of your life, that you train at intensities and frequencies you can maintain for the rest of your life? For an effective program you certainly need to vary days, weeks, even months of higher and lower intensity depending on commitment and goals. But, balanced with appropriate rest, consistency has been identified as the factor contributing the most to fitness success.

Which brings me to 12 week transformations, 8 week body blitzes, 6 weeks to six-packs and so on. Firstly, if you have completed a transformation program, you wouldn’t need to go back, right? You’re transformed after all. The real transformation is what happens after you stop training. It may come as some surprise that companies that specialise in transformations, ironically gain most income from return custom, after ensuring that the down-time between plans is just enough for you to drift back to your old ways, gain weight and lose fitness. And so the cycle begins. All backed up by before and after photos of sad, badly lit, stooping individuals next to their smiling transformed self. I have never been more opposed to transformation programs than when I witnessed a participant win a transformation competition twice. I personally felt compelled to award another prize for the sheer scale of de-conditioning between events. And as rapid weight loss and re-gain has been proven to increase the level of visceral fat, which is the fat around the organ constricting its function, it only adds weight to the flaws of the transformation system.

For a better insight on the validity of transformation photos, click here to read a great blog by Andrew Dixon.

The extreme exercise plans usually come hand in hand with extreme diets, crazy weight loss shakes and protein bars, all of which the transformation companies are happy to sell at massively inflated prices. But there hasn’t been a change, you’ve not established any healthier habits, you’ve simply substituted the original bad habit with another. It’s not hard to cut your calories in half and drop weight, finding a way of maintaining correct nutrition through change is the challenge. Fitness needs to be adopted as a lifestyle.

Short term transformations remain the most popular form of fitness programming on the market due to the saleability of a quick fix, apparent instant solutions and simple block programming for instructors. Everyone from Michelle Bridges to your local gym is getting on-board because it sells, despite much of your cash going to weigh-ins, photo shoots and lavish Biggest Loser style award parties. When did your health become a competition? The only person you need to compete with is the old you. But despite its downfalls, does it work for you? Maybe, in the short term, but it’s a far better arrangement for the average trainer who likes a few weeks holiday every few months and a sure-fire income from desperate return clients when they get back. If it took a lifetime of no exercise and bad nutrition to get you where you are, 12 weeks won’t turn that around.

Taking extreme efforts to change your life or personal fitness is always admirable. And if it takes a short term boot camp to trigger a new, healthy lifestyle, then it has served you well. But spare a thought of how you’ll feel this time next year, not just next month.

Everyone needs a break and a holiday throughout the year which is essential for full recovery, but if you’re fed up of feeling like you’re starting afresh every time you begin a new boot camp, don’t stop training, stop stopping training. Make exercise a habit, not a series of extremes. In a perfect world everyone would be training purely to maintain a healthy body weight and their chosen level of functional fitness that enhances their everyday lives, which of course, would mean the death of the weight-loss industry. Who wants that?

Training for particular events can often incur extra training loads, but with appropriate progression and rest, the body will adapt, but even these periods of higher volume don’t last forever. Ongoing fitness is a lifestyle, an attitude and you need to train as such. The participant who trains 4 times a week is likely to be able to reach a higher level of fitness than those who train twice. But these are individual variables, based on goals and personal circumstances. Whether it’s 2 or 4 times a week, it’s better than none, but you need to be able to maintain it safely with appropriate progression.

A good group trainer knows his/her member’s limitations and how and when they need a push, which is the advantage of established local groups over anonymous gym classes. Despite personal input from your trainer, don’t mistake this for personal training. Another frustrating modern phrase is Group Personal Training. This is a misnomer, an oxymoron. The reason Personal Training costs more is because all attention is one-on-one tailored exactly to the individual’s abilities and requirements for the period of the session. A single trainer can hardly do that for you, and the other 17 in the group. Where FIT4Action group sessions excel is our systematic progression through every movement pattern, energy system, muscle group and training type to ensure all round fitness for participants of any level. And we’ll be honest, we don’t want you for 12 weeks, we want you for life.

FIT4Action Outdoor Group Fitness is based in the Sutherland Shire in the South of Sydney and offers year round fitness to fit into its members schedule for an ongoing lifestyle fitness solution.

And did I mention… we’re not a boot camp.