Why Boot Camps Are Bad for Your Posture

How getting "fit" can cause more harm than good.

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Bad Plank Edited

I love a good workout. The burn, the sweat and the panting can make it miserable when you are doing it, but the after-glow and benefits are tremendous. It’s rare that I will discourage anyone from doing ANY kind of workout, except, when there is a chance that the workout is wrecking your posture. After checking out some of the new boot camps in my area that tout a “brand new body”, I have determined that despite the cardiovascular benefits, a majority of these classes can actually do more harm than good.

The concept of a boot camp is to combine muscle strengthening with high intensity cardiovascular training, into one neat, low equipment workout. “Low equipment” usually means that the activities are performed with limited assistance, therefore relying on body weight to make the exercises challenging. So what does a low equipment exercise selection in the average boot camp look like? 

Every one I tried involved many exercises in the “plank” position; face down, with the hands on the ground and your whole weight loaded on your chest and shoulders. You can also expect burpees, push-ups, mountain climbers and planks to be littered throughout the workout, with little attention being paid to proper form.

What does this mean for your body? Well let’s talk about the most harmful postural misalignment in our society today, Kyphosis. This occurs when the shoulders round forward bringing the head forward and affecting the curvature of the upper spine.

This posture creates tension in the neck, stress on the shoulders, and even affects the middle and lower back. The chest muscles are usually very tight, and the back muscles are weak and under-utilized. This posture is becoming more problematic as our society spends more time in front of smart phones and computers.

Now, in a Boot Camp, they take the population (of which almost all clients already have some degree of Kyphosis), and they give them a workout that emphasizes this postural problem by working the (already tight) chest muscles and shoulders. By doing excessive planks, pushups, burpees and mountain climbers (all done in the face down position with the hands on the floor) the client is accentuating this Kyphotic posture, instead of working to counteract this “forward” posture through back strengthening and chest opening exercises.

To make matters worse, these boot camp classes aim for quantity of movement, over quality. Look around any boot camp and watch what happens when the instructor asks the group to hold a plank for two minutes. Clients will clench their hands together and round their upper back (check out the guy in the blue shirt) to make it easier and often will lift their hips up and place all their focus on the shoulders instead of their core.

If you put them in the proper position, it’s likely they cannot hold the position for even 30 seconds using the correct muscles.

Other workouts such as Yoga, certain Pilates classes and traditional strength training using weights don’t place the body in this face down position excessively, and these other workouts can counteract today’s postural issues through proper exercise selection. This is why I pick on Boot Camps; it’s for a good reason.

Have you been to a boot camp workout lately? Did you count how many “face down plank” type of exercises they asked you to do? I have, and in one 45 minute class we spent 22 minutes in a plank position. This was nearly 50 percent of the class!

Comment below and let me know if your local class pays attention to your posture…

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