Bootcamp or Bust?

It’s no secret that bootcamp in Hong Kong is booming. I teach several weekly groups around Hong Kong and there are other trainers who specialise only in bootcamp classes. So how do you know if bootcamp’s the way to go for you?

Well, first of all it’s best you know what you’re getting yourself into. Bootcamp’s are fairly easy to spot; groups of people sprinting, jumping, crawling and lifting their way around Bowen Road for example, or the parks and the beaches. But what’s all the fuss about?

Why choose bootcamp?

There’s no denying that a properly run bootcamp class is extremely efficient. By that I mean that with the right exercises you’ll be crossing off strength and cardio training in one hour. You may also be training in ways that improve your coordination, balance and agility. One of my favourite things about bootcamp is that it’s the perfect way to get interval training into your workouts. These short intense bursts of effort are one of the best forms of exercise to increase metabolic burn throughout the day and can be completed in a short time frame. In other words, they can blast fat like no-ones business.

Now throw in a dose of motivation in the form of your fellow bootcampers. Much like Crossfit, the bootcamp community has a reputation for being supportive and friendly in a way that pushes you to perform better than you might working out alone. According to research, when someone’s watching you workout you actually improve your performance by up to 25%, which is a real boost for the body.

Bootcamp is also friendly on the wallet. Since most trainers aren’t having to fork out an arm and a leg on space rental they can pass the savings onto the clients. Whereas studio based classes are reaching peaks of over $300 per hour, bootcamp is still affordable, with many classes around the $100 – $150 per session mark. Just don’t use it as an excuse to drop class at the last minute!

Variety is the spice of life so they say, and that also rings true for exercise. A good bootcamp class will have you guessing what’s next and will normally involve at least one ‘game’ based exercise. The benefits stretch further than your mind, since mixing up exercises constantly challenges your body preventing plateaus in your progress.

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Some bootcamp’s around HK are also starting to get educational, hosting workshops and extra info sessions on everything from nutrition to supplementation so you can learn whilst you burn.

Hold your horses, there are a few reasons that bootcamp might not be the best choice for you…

Large group sizes can keep costs down but it can come at a price too. If you’ve got a high ratio of clients to instructor then it’s unlikely that your instructor will be able to watch you all the time to make sure that your technique is correct, which in turn can lead to an increased risk of injuries. Since I often train postnatal women or people who haven’t worked out before, I keep my class sizes down to just four people for this very reason. If you’re not sure about how to do an exercise properly, make sure you ask your trainer to help you out.

Whilst most professional bootcamps are designed to include exercises that you can adjust to your own fitness levels, they do tend to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s not a sign of a bad bootcamp, it’s just the nature of group fitness. If you’re harbouring any injuries, are postnatal or have any reason that certain exercises are contraindicated for you, then bootcamp may not be the place for you. You can end up doing more harm than good if you push yourself to do exercises that aren’t suitable.  Consider one on one training or a specialised program instead.

It’s also time to get real about bootcamp and the results you can expect. Like any fitness routine, you need to be consistent to get results, and ideally you need to be hitting at least two or three strength workouts per week. If your bootcamp uses strength training then that’s awesome, just make sure you turn up regularly and you will reap the rewards. If you’re less than consistent or only attend bootcamp as a one off once a week, the chances are it will improve your health but you won’t be seeing amazing transformational results.

Are you around at the time that bootcamps are run? Most of our HK bootcamp classes are still early morning or late evening affairs so the working crowds can get in a good workout. There are a few sessions starting up later in the day, but if you’re like me and at home with the kids mornings and evenings then sticking to a bootcamp regime may be tough. You can always organise a private group session at a time that suits you with a handful of neighbours and friends.

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And finally, remember that your bootcamp instructor will make all the difference. Which leads me to my next point….

You don’t have to suffer…

Unfortunately for the fitness industry, and for you, bootcamp instructors aren’t always judged on the right criteria. Let’s imagine Joe, our Drill Sergeant instructor who is really into fitness and knows all the moves like squats, push ups and sprints. Jo doesn’t actually have a fitness background but he’s really good at putting together KILLER challenges that leave you breathless, (or close to vomiting). Clients are sweating and grunting left right and centre as Joe tells them there’s no pain no gain and pushes them to complete all the challenges no matter what. By the end of each session clients are convinced they’ve just done ‘like, the best workout eveerrrr.’ Joe is an awesome bootcamp instructor right? Not necessarily.

Trainers have to balance a scientifically good workout with making you feel like you’ve killed it. This shouldn’t be an hour of interval cardio training, which won’t give you a rounded workout but will leave you feeling like you’ve just completed an amazing feat of fitness! But often the toughness is what makes clients recommend a trainer, so you can see how trainers can get lulled into providing less than stellar workouts. Remember that whilst bootcamp should push you, toughness isn’t the best indicator of a great session.

When looking for a bootcamp check out the instructors qualifications and make sure that the bootcamp you sign up with does a fitness assessment before you start. The instructor should ask you about medical issues, injuries and help you to work around any issues. If they don’t think that bootcamp is for you, or aren’t OK working with you they should refer you to a doc or ask for medical clearance before taking your cash.

They should hold a CPR/First Aid certificate and ideally a personal training qualification or have a background in fitness instruction. Hong Kong is a little more lax than the USA when it comes to  regulating this industry, but it’s the qualifications that will make sure your teacher knows how to train you without risking your wellbeing. This includes being able to offer variations on exercises that accommodate all fitness levels and being able to offer alternatives where necessary.

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Run the other way if…..

There are many first class bootcamps in Hong Kong and hopefully you’ll never meet one of these offenders. If you do, then reconsider joining that group and look elsewhere.

Be wary if your instructor can’t answer questions or refuses to talk to you about individual issues. You should never be encouraged to work through pain or injury or told that bootcamp will fix all your health issues.  Also be wary of instructors who are keen to diagnose your aches and pains. A good instructor should always look out for you, which means referring you to a qualified doc or physio to get checked out.

Which Bootcamp?

Some of my favourite bootcamps around HK include the female only Bikinifit, which isn’t actually a true bootcamp in the sense that it’s more in depth and asks for more commitment (and is generally more awesome if you’re looking for a real change!) and Apefit with Linds Russell who caters for a range of clients across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon side and the New Territories.

Coastal Fitness’s SMAC (Strength Mobility and Conditioning) classes are a great place to push harder and have a great combination of total body fitness exercises based out of Happy Valley infield. And of course my own Lithe Fitness private small group bootcamp classes are great for female clients who are looking to get fit on their own schedule. I also like the bootcamp sessions at Elite (Victoria Park or Wong Nai Chung Gap) which have a great mix of training modalities to whip you into shape.

With the warmer weather still some time away, get outdoors now and enjoy!

Elle Kealy is an international business coach for fitness health and wellness professionals looking to launch their businesses with a bang and women’s fitness expert, personal trainer and nutrition coach helping women around the world eat better and feel fantastic in just 90 days or less. For more information on working with Elle visit

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