It’s Spring - Throw the Doors Open and Get Outside!

Time to amp up the energy in your group exercise lineup for spring or summer? Take your mission—and your clients—into the fresh air with a boot camp.

by Cathie Ericson

It's Spring-Throw the Doors Open and Get Outside!

A successful boot camp means more than taking an indoor workout outside the gym.

Outdoor boot camps are soaring in popularity, due in large part to their reputation for delivering challenging workouts that incorporate group camaraderie in a natural setting. A variety of studies have shown that escaping the confinement of the gym to exercise outside (especially for those who have been indoors all winter) can not only make the workout feel easier and more enjoyable, but also improve self-esteem and mood (Logan & Selhub 2012; Kerr et al. 2012; Thompson et al. 2011).

Ready to hit the great outdoors? We talked to some experienced instructors to bring you the 4-1-1 on getting your outdoor boot camp in gear.

A Boot Camp by Any Other Name…

If you're picturing a format heavy on military-style calisthenics like burpees, pushups and other body-weight exercises, you're on the right track. Though a boot camp workout can be military-inspired, it doesn't have to be, says Ariane Hundt, an instructor who calls herself "head of butt-kicking operations" for Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp. "A boot camp can simply be a tough workout that's structured in a way that challenges participants to build muscle, strength, endurance and better mental strength in a group setting," she explains.

Boot camps are a great way to mix participants of different skill levels because the exercises are typically easy to modify. "With beginners, we lower the intensity, maybe having them walk up a hill rather than sprint, or use lighter weights while more advanced exercisers push themselves harder," says Angela Hirschy, owner of Key Intensity Fitness & Nutrition Boot Camp in Atlanta.

Participants tend to be adventurous, and just like in military boot camp, they rely on the camaraderie of their workout partners to get them through, says Michelle Brown, owner and program director of Gumsaba boot camps in the East Bay area of California.

Ready to learn how to build your own boot camp business? Here are five steps to help you launch your mission this spring.

1. Choose Your Battlefield
Most outdoor boot camp organizers look no further than their local park, field or school. But if you think you're going to just head out to a park and start coaching triceps dips on the nearest bench, you'd better do some more homework on the requirements. Most parks require a permit, so check with the parks department or your city offices.

But you can turn that cost-of-doing-business into a marketing plus, as Brown does. "Since our inception in 2010, we have paid our local parks and schools between $20,000 and $30,000 in annual rent. That adds up to a lot of support for our community, which our clients benefit from and appreciate."

If you're using private grounds, seek permission and make sure you carry adequate liability insurance. (Speaking of permission slips, be sure all participants sign waivers before their first workout. Hundt suggests finding preliminary forms online and then customizing them as needed or recommended by an attorney.)

2. Gear Up for Success
Most outdoor boot camps use the structures naturally available in the park environment such as benches, stairs, walls, fences and grassy areas and hills, notes Hundt. Body-weight exercises like planks and lunges work well in that setting, and Brown recommends adding variety with resistance bands, medicine balls, kettlebells, battle ropes and Suspension Training® straps, if there's a place to secure them properly.

If that sounds like a daunting amount of equipment per person, consider dividing up participants into groups, with just three to five per station, which can help reduce equipment needs.

Or, to help with startup costs and convenience, some classes request that clients bring their own equipment: Hirschy's students bring a mat, medicine ball and hand weights.

3. Round Up the Troops
Now it's time to do a little recruiting. A few things to remember here:

Consider the headcount. It can be tempting to make your class as big as possible, but capping it at about 15-20 is considered ideal. Hundt limits her class to about 15 participants to ensure everyone gets proper instruction, form correction and encouragement.

Fewer than five boot-campers, though, and you're going to lose money, cautions Hirschy. Besides, bigger classes create more group energy and motivation. Having more participants can also make it easier to split up the group into small circuits-for example, three by five in a class of 15.

Get the word out. Word-of-mouth is the best (and cheapest) form of marketing. "Make your customers happy, deliver results, ensure they see success, and be there to support them on their journey, and before you know it, they'll bring their friends, family and co-workers along," says Hundt.

Of course, social media is a key way to market, as well as offer regular communication about fitness challenges, occasional free workout plans and newsletters with educational material. Encouraging participants to post selfies or group photos and tag your organization blends social media with word-of-mouth, as their followers are bound to be intrigued by the cool workout. First-timer specials, referral bonuses and class packages can also help bring in new recruits.

4. Find Your Price Point
"In this day and age, boot camps can be found on every corner, so your price has to take into account your market size, your competition and the uniqueness of the experience you offer," Hundt says. (The average boot camp workout is $10-$35 per participant per class.)

"The instructor needs to ensure the pricing is enticing, while conveying that the workout is worth the investment," she says, adding that a long-term customer paying $10 per session is better than a client who pays $30 but comes only once or twice. That's why Brown has her clients commit to a monthly contract.

Hirschy keeps her prices relatively low because she is competing with gyms that are open all day and provide all the equipment. She charges $64.50 monthly for three workouts per week.


5. Communicate Like a Friend, Not a Drill Instructor

In a boot camp setting, it's a must for instructors to be involved with their clients and provide constant communication, focusing on an inspiring and encouraging tone. Some more tips:

Be inclusive. Brown says to definitely make sure you're addressing each student by name and not just focusing on your regulars or standouts. The number-one objective for a boot camp class is to make every single client feel like they're succeeding. "If participants feel forgotten or ignored, that's a disaster," she says.

Share information. Clear communication is also needed outside of the class. Many boot camps set up Facebook pages or group chats, and Brown recommends having a mechanism in place to communicate in case of an emergency-or if, say, illness or car trouble delays the instructor.

It's also important to make sure that new participants know what to expect. "We tell them to come prepared for the weather and remind them that they might get wet or muddy-much different than in a gym setting," Brown says.

Offer motivation. She also stresses that some of the challenges you present might push clients out of their comfort zone: "They might not love everything we do, but it's just like in life: You have to figure out how it's benefiting you and making you stronger."

That can-do attitude is also emphasized by goal-setting activities that many boot camps encourage, as well as accountability, which Hirschy believes is one of the main benefits of the outdoor boot camp formula. "When a client doesn't show, people ask where he or she is. People need accountability to stay on track," she says.

Deliver Results!

When you combine these five goals with camaraderie and a sense of purpose, it's easy to see why outdoor boot camp instructors find it so rewarding to create an environment that allows participants to end each session with the confident feeling of "mission accomplished."

Never Led a Small Group or a Boot Camp?

Here is one way you can get started on your own boot camp or small group trainer mission.

There is an art and a science to leading and inspiring group exercise-no matter how many participants there are. It can be deceptive to imagine how easy it might be, but until you actually take on the responsibility of "herding the cats" in a group, you might not realize how much finesse and knowledge it takes to succeed.

NASM can get you on your way!

The NASM Group Personal Training Specialization (GPTS) is a hybrid of the best aspects from one-on-one personal training and group fitness. It strikes just the right balance for fitness professionals looking to branch out into a business model that maximizes their skillsets and revenue-and their customers' budgets.

Learn methods for designing, developing and delivering a successful group personal training program and overall experience. Coursework ($499; CEUs: NASM, 1.9/19 AFAA) will equip you to absorb all you need to get started. You will:

understand and learn to apply information on group personal training

create structured progression plans rooted in proven exercise-science principles

acquire the necessary communication and coaching skills for a dynamic group setting

successfully teach, train and motivate all participants

effectively transition group personal training into your business practice

develop a strategic business plan to maximize financial success

The online course includes an online manual, video demonstrations and lectures, interactive study materials, 120 downloadable group personal training programs, online quizzes, and an online CEU exam. Take a glimpse into your future today:

Sample Workout: Outdoor Boot Camp

Courtesy of Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp's Ariane Hundt,
this workout is designed for a park with benches and trees.
After a dynamic warm-up, give these moves a try.
(Modify as needed, based on client safety and ability.)

Forward lunge with twist: Reach arms straight front;
lunge forward with right leg. Hold lunge; rotate arms over
right knee, twisting from thoracic spine (engage abs). Reset.
Repeat on left side.

Plank to side lunge with twist: Plank with arms straight.
Step left foot next to left hand. Balance on right hand; reach left
arm toward sky; twist toward it to look at hand, open up chest.
Reset. Repeat on the right side.

Star jump: Jump up so arms reach up and legs open wide
like a five-point star. Land in a squat. Reset. Repeat.

Step-up: Place right foot on bench. Step up and down
10 times with left leg, keeping right foot on bench.

Tap-up: Place both feet on bench. Lower left foot to tap
ground and return to bench, holding on to back of bench as
needed (fatigues quads quickly). Reset. Repeat with right leg.

Tree squeeze: Sit with tree trunk between feet. Lift both
legs 10 inches above the ground; squeeze tree trunk as hard as possible between feet (firms adductors, challenges abs).

Wall sit: " Sit" with knees at 90-degree angle, back against
wall. Hold, squeezing glutes and thighs.

Park Bench Station 1: Pushups and Mountain Climbers

10 pushups (hands on bench)

30 mountain climbers

10 pushups (hands close together on bench; focus on triceps, upper back)

30 mountain climbers

10 pushups (hands on ground, feet on bench)

Progress to 30 slow mountain-climber crossovers (feet on bench) instead of pushups for final set.

Active Rest: Jog for 3 minutes to a big tree.

Tree Station 1: "Wall" Sits and Forward Lunges With Twist

Wall sit for 1 minute (back against tree)

20 forward lunges with twist

20 burpees

Wall sit for 30 seconds (back against tree)

20 star jumps

Active Rest: Jog for 3 minutes to a park bench.

Park Bench Station 2: Step-Ups and Tap-Ups

10 step-ups (right foot on bench)

20 tap-ups (right foot on bench)

10 step-ups (right foot on bench)

Switch to left foot on bench and repeat sequence.

Active Rest: Jog for 3 minutes to a big tree.

Tree Station 2: Tree Squeeze and Planks

Tree squeeze for 20 seconds.

Plank for 1 minute (arms straight).

Tree squeeze for 30 seconds.

Plank for 1 minute (arms straight).

Tree squeeze for 30 seconds.

Plank for 1 minute (arms straight).

Sprint Sequence Finish: Sprint for 30 seconds with all-out effort. Recover with 60-second slow jog. Repeat 5 times.


Jog at leisurely pace for a few minutes.

Flow from downward-facing dog to upward-facing dog a handful of times, focused on deep inhales and exhales.

10 x plank to side lunge with twist (Hold each for 15 seconds.)

Lie in a figure-four stretch (loosens hips and glutes). Reset.
Repeat on other side.

Done! High-fives all around!

Caption: Step outside for your step-ups and tap-ups!

Meet our experts

cathieerickson Cathie Ericson, Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer who specializes in health/fitness and business topics. She’s also a group exercise class devotee, who loves boot camps—just not at the crack of dawn. Find her @cathieericson.

The information provided is without warranty or guarantee and NASM disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information. Learn more