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Bootcamp = BootCAN’T or why Group Exercise Classes are really GROUP INJURY!! February 14, 2010

Posted by fitmontclair in Group Exercise, Health & Exercise, Injury Prevention, Montclair, Women's Health.
Tags: , , , ,

Hi Everyone,

Here is my first real post for 2010! Take a deep breath and rememberA mind is like a parachute, it only works when open!”

This post is a detour from the ongoing topic of the “Abdominal Exercise Myths”.   I will return to them shortly after I post all the updates & info I promised for 2010!

I have also been repairing all the missing photos in the earlier posts, they should be completed soon (I am working on a way to make them permanent) – also make sure read to the technical update post if you are having trouble viewing any blog pictures.

First, the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!!


The Giardia Parasite is tough, but I AM TOUGHER!

(Safety Tip: DRINK BOTTLED WATER when traveling!)


This post is about a topic that I have had concerns with for the last decade (and is a major reason I do not work in commercial fitness anymore) the popularity of group exercise classes.

I feel this post is very timely with many people making New Years Fitness Resolutions and already counting down the days to Memorial Day Weekend! (note: 104 days and counting!) Recently due to the economy and slick marketing the emergence of so called “fitness bootcamps” is progressing at an exponential rate and along with that the rate of exercise induced injuries is also increasingit is NOT a coincidence!

Several weeks ago I was asked to consult for a small commercial club whose members were complaining about developing nagging pain & injuries after attending their new bootcamp class.

First, understand I love intense exercise and challenging movements BUT only for those who qualify for them and can do them CORRECTLY &  WITHOUT ANY TYPE OF PAIN!

Back to  my observations, overall the class was well run following basic protocols for warm up etc; although within 1 minute of the start of the exercises I immediately had the answers the club manager was seeking! The instructor was obviously a good athlete and highly coordinated & agile.  The problem was the participants!

The class was composed of what we call in fitness  &  re-hab “Motor Morons”, almost all of them had lost the ability to perform basic, primary movements (Squatting, bending, lunging, stepping, pushing, and pulling) in good form with proper balance, coordination and flexibility!

The bootcamp program consisted of various bodyweight & dumbbell variations of: squats, lunges, step-ups, pushups, jump rope drills and other calisthenics. The class members tried as best they could to perform them and assumed they were doing things right (for the instructor offered NO corrections) but their squats, lunges and step-ups were HORRIBLE with knees buckling in, backs rounded over, heads protruding forward like a giant chicken and no sense of stability or control of their bodies- it looked like a combination of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration and mass epileptic seizure!


Back to the group exercise class I was auditing…

The instructor just kept on with the program, increasing the intensity & difficulty of the  movements (I wonder if she was trying to teach a good class or have a good workout for herself?) She just kept shouting encouragement to the class as their knees and backs continued on taking a beating!

The class assumed they were having a great workout for they were hot, sweaty and sorenone of them realized the DAMAGE they were doing to their spines & joints!  NEVER judge the effectiveness of an exercise or workout based on the amount of pain and soreness it induces – THAT IS JUST STUPID!!  

“No Pain, No Gain” is the Mantra of AN IDIOT  and shows  a very low level of knowledge about true exercise & training and a COMPLETE DISREGARD FOR THE SAFETY OF THE CLASS PARTICIPANTS!  Proper exercise never causes pain during a class or training session and only produces mild soreness or discomfort in some people the following day which  dissipates in 48 hours or less!

It was the accumulated trauma they were incurring several times a week in the “bootcamp” that was leading to the pain and injuries they were complaining about. Why, because the movements were too hard for the members!!!

The average guy who works a desk job 40-50 hours a week, takes blood pressure medication, and has not exercised since high-school  is NOT in condition for a “bootcamp” nor is the mom who has had several kids, is overweight, highly stressed, and taking anti-depressants (did you know a side effect of SSRI anti-depressants is ligament laxity..) yet this is the exact population the media is marketing these intense classes to; This is idiotic, reckless and dangerous!

Think of it this way, in REAL life who goes to bootcamp? – YOUNG men & women either around 18years old after high school or at around 22 years old after college or a military academy!

***At these ages people are usually in the BEST SHAPE OF THEIR LIVES!! – they can handle the rigors and intensity of bootcamp WITHOUT PAIN & INJURY!***

Speaking of pain, many exercise bootcamp instructors love to use the “No pain, No gain!” slogan – THIS IS NUTS! As I stated above “No pain, No gain” is the mantra of an idiot with a severe lack of training knowledge and skills!

When  was the last time you had to overcome the pain of a combat wound in an exercise class.....

When was the last time you had to overcome the pain of a combat wound in an exercise class…..

Lets think about this rationally and logically for a second.  Soldiers MUST learn to train in, endure, and overcome pain to SURVIVE COMBAT SITUATIONS !!

You could also apply this model to Police, Firefighters, and professional athletes to some degree for they may be called to action in a situation where they need to be able to mentally block out pain and push onward, BUT NOT the average person looking to get fit & healthy!!  The reason being that pain causes compensations in movement!  WE ALL INSTINCTIVELY MOVE OUR BODIES AWAY FROM PAIN!, eventually you run out of compensations and GET INJURED!

Which is the whole reason behind my being hired to consult, THE MEMBERS WERE OUT OF COMPENSATIONS AND DEVELOPING CHRONIC INJURIES!

Now there are exceptions to every rule and I am sure there are men & women who have kept their physical conditioning and abilities at a high level  and can handle and safely participate in a bootcamp class – BUT these are the EXCEPTIONS, NOT THE NORM!

So how do you know who qualifies to be in the class?You screen them, just like the U.S. Army!

** In the army if you don’t pass the physical, you can’t join! The more intense training you want in the armed forces, i.e. special forces etc the more screening and tests you must pass and you receive more training so as to prevent injury – injured soldiers are not much use! (neither are injured people..)**

Back to the matter at hand, I had identified the probable cause of the members aches & pains but I had to be sure and come up with a solution. In talking with the group exercise director my worst fears were confirmed! As with almost every commercial gym in the country there was no screening process for class participation, the instructors do not even review a health or medical history for the class participants – no wonder people are getting hurt!

In a commercial gym you pay your money and you are free to take any class you want, try any piece of exercise equipment in the gym because although you may not have filled out any health & injury forms (I am not talking about the piece of paper that is given to you from the sales people when you sign-up for membership) you did sign a liability waiver that pretty much absolves the club from all responsibility – of course you are not told this and it is written complex legal terms…

When was the last time you were told you could NOT take an exercise class or use a machine in the gym because you lacked a basic movement skill? Were you ever given a screen or assessment to determine which exercises were safe for you and which were not? Commercial gyms and most outdoor “camps” are all an “Exercise at Your Own Risk”  proposition – They just don’t tell you that when you are signing the contract!

Well I had a great solution -one that has proven effective in many small gyms, private training studios, and group exercise programs. YOU MUST HAVE MINIMUM MOVEMENT & FITNESS STANDARDS AND ALL PARTICIPANTS MUST MEET THOSE STANDARDS OR NOT PARTICIPATE IN THE CLASS DUE TO RISK OF INJURY!!!

I Never train anyone or teach a class without a comprehensive health & injury history and some form of movement assessment. A major component of my assessment protocol is the FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN (FMS) developed by Gray Cook, MSPT, OCS, CSCS, RKC and Lee Burton, Phd, ATC, CSCS.  The FMS is a system that screens out pain & potential injury risk. It then compares and ranks an individuals primary movement patterns to anatomical & physiological norms for human movement and generates a score for each individual. The movement score tells you the level of risk for the individual and WHAT TYPE OF EXERCISE THEY NEED!  This system is currently used by many professional and collegiate sports teams, U.S. Special Forces, Physical Therapists, and professional trainers.


[Note: Currently I am the only trainer in Montclair CERTIFIED to administer, score & correct the FMS: click here for more information]

The plan of action I developed was to have all class participants fill out a comprehensive health & injury history and to have the group exercise instructors get certified to administer the FMS. The next step would be to screen the class members and those that didn’t achieve a minimum passing score would be put into a class designed to fix their movements and increase their scores at which time they would be allowed back into the bootcamp class. The time off would not only fix the movements that were causing them pain but would allow the chronic injuries they had developed time to heal.

I explained my idea to the group fitness director and club manager and made an analogy to high school classes. There are advanced classes that students must place into, regular classes for the average student, and remedial classes for those that are performing below minimum accepted standards. The majority of the bootcamp (and most group exercise participants) are performing BELOW MINIMUM ACCEPTABLE MOVEMENT STANDARDS which is causing the injuries!

They needed a remedial exercise class to restore proper movements. These classes could be: core conditioning, Yoga, Tai Chi, flexibility, or basic body weight training. The class would be matched to the basic movement & exercise skills the member was lacking. Once a passing FMS score was achieved the member could return to the “bootcamp” class or any class they wished for their risk of injury would be greatly reduced!

I was thanked for my observations but told that the group exercise instructors did NOT want to become FMS certified they thought it was unnecessary and the management team of the club felt restricting members from participation in a class would hurt business in this economy.  I asked them how they thought a personal injury lawsuit would affect their business in this economy – THERE WAS NO REPLY!

Here are some closing thoughts:

Do you really think an exercise class that does NO screening, NO movement testing is SAFE?

Does this guy look motivated & attentive….Do you actually think he can move FAST enough to prevent an injury..

Most injuries occur in about 1/ 100th of a second, Do you honestly believe in a class of 10 or more people one single instructor can monitor everyone’s exercise form and prevent an injury BEFORE it occurs?

Do you really think that 25 year old young adults  and out of shape, middle-aged men & women need the same LEVEL OF INTENSITY & DIFFICULTY when exercising?

– My closing advice is to use the same level of scrutiny in choosing exercise instructors & personal trainers that you would when CHOOSING A SURGEON FOR YOUR CHILD! This type of diligence would go A LONG WAY IN PREVENTING EXERCISE RELATED INJURIES!

I love exercise, any exercise (individual, group, teams etc) PROVIDED IT IS SAFE and the level & intensity is APPROPRIATE FOR ALL PARTICIPANTS and that there is a valid, reliable screening process in place to prevent injuries in those who are NOT YET ready for the class, workout, or “bootcamp” – once your injured, it is too late – YOU CAN’T GO BACK!

As always I hope I gave you something to think about!

Never be afraid to question an instructors credentials or methods when it  comes to YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY!!!

Remember your health is in your hands!



Using Science to Maximize Health & Performance



1. Donna Searl - April 19, 2010

I am just about to start a boot camp myself and have been wondering how i go about doing the assessments i usually do on PT clients. I thin this had been very informative and would like to know how i go about getting FMS Certified?

fitmontclair - April 19, 2010

Hi Donna,

Thanks for the comment, glad you read the blog. For details on the FMS tests click on the link in the post. To get certified you need to take the live 2 day course. If you go to Gray Cook’s website, http://www.functionalmovement.com it has the schedule and all the details.

Until you decide if you want to get certified an easy thing you can do is take the basic movements you want to teach (squat, lunge, push-up, etc) and have the participants try a few, you can do this in groups of 3 – 5 people and see who has good form and if anyone can’t do the exercise or has pain – these people should NOT take the camp until they can do the movement pain free. I also e-mail people a health & injury history form that they must complete and return to me and included in that is a liability waiver.

I also find it very helpful if I keep the age groups close if possible, that way younger more athletic people are not slowed down by older individuals who may need more instruction and the older people are not intimidated by the younger, more athletic participants. although this is a generalization for I have older athletes who move great and young “motor morons” who don’t qualify for the class.

If you have more questions, feel free to post them or e-mail me. I hope your camp goes well and that you keep reading my blog.

Best wishes,


2. brenda - March 25, 2012

Thanks, Gordon, for writing what need to be written.

I am a personal trainer, group X instructor in several formats and
work in corporate health coaching and consulting.
I love to dance and enjoy taking Zumba classes.

There’s one Zumba instructor who constantly screams out at the class, “NO PAIN NO GAIN!!!” and I’ve sworn I was going to tell her how dangerously wrong she is, but never have. She also has terrible form herself, is obviously not a dancer and doesn’t have a clue how to do a cool down or which muscles to stretch.

I don’t know if you realize that to become a ‘licensed’ Zumba instructor, you simply pay $200.00, take a one day Zumba workshop, where there is NO TESTING, (either written or physical) for these soon to be ‘instructors’. When I learned this from their website, I was shocked.
The are not required to be group exercise certified and I think that is a huge mistake. I think they want to turn out as many Zumba ‘instructors’ as possible and perhaps making requirements to increase quality of these instructors would cut into their profit margin. ($$$$!)

As a result, most of them are not also group x certified, dancers or even have any athletic background. They are NOT taught how to cue a class, they are taught NOT to use a mic, and some classes are packed with upwards of 35 people and I’ve witnessed many injuries take place because of awful teaching, awful choreography and clueless instructors.

Sorry, just had to vent.

Thanks again for this article. I’m tired of innocent people paying a lot of money for unprofessional instructors. Group X Managers/Coordinators need to know this and thoroughly screen all of the instructors accordingly.

fitmontclair - March 25, 2012

Hi Brenda!

Glad you liked the post! You are right about not needing more than an online multiple guess test and a fee payment to become certified; but it is not just Zumba – it is every area of fitness!

Very few organizations require a college degree or practical testing. I could count all of them on 1 hand.
I firmly believe that “what your trainer doesn’t know can and often does hurt you!” I have stated in several interviews that people’s health is in their hands and that they “should use the same scrutiny in choosing a trainer as you would in choosing a surgeon for your child..” This didn’t make me many friends, but I care about helping people more! People have to realize there are risks involved, REAL training & trainers put loads in excess of 2 or 3 times a person’s bodyweight on their spine and joints! A great rule I learned is that if a trainer does not understand and cannot explain how an exercise effects a person: anatomically, physiologically, and neurologically THEY ARE NOT JUSTIFIED IN PRESCRIBING IT TO A CLIENT!

As for the “No pain, No Gain” instructor – that is NUTS, especially for a dance class! Dance is NOT supposed to hurt! You should print a copy of my blog post and give it to her or even better her students!

Feel free to pass on my blog to anyone you think can benefit from it and if you would like to place a link to any of my posts feel free to do so, but please give me credit as the author.

Have a great day!


3. your hcg - September 2, 2012

Hi, I want to subscribe for this website to take most recent updates, therefore where can
i do it please help.

fitmontclair - September 2, 2012

Hi Roxana,

Since this came thru as from “your hcg” I think it may be spam and got by my filter (need to upgrade that now) but in case it is a real email there is a link on the right hand side of the page that you can click to subscribe to the blog by email.

If this is a real email, then thank you for reading the blog and your interest in further posts!

Have a great day!


4. LAM - October 21, 2012

Gordon ,

This was a GREAT read ! I’m a Certified Personal Trainer and also teach a group fitness class . I am VERY careful with all of client’s and participants and will always make modifications when it comes to injuries . I also believe an instructor teaching a boot camp should not train with their participants . You should ALWAYS focus on your clients for proper form . I train myself on my own time . What’s difficult for me is I’ve had a few participants with injuries in the past and would not listen to me as far as modifications even though I’ve warned them . This is very frustrating to me !

fitmontclair - October 21, 2012

LAM glad you liked the post and took time to comment!

I agree, REAL trainers and coaches DO NOT train themselves with their clients or classes; these people are paying for 100% of your time, focus, attention and effort!

REAL trainers also DO NOT carry cell phones during appointments or classes, they DO NOT take calls (except extreme emergencies ) during appointments; and ANY TRAINER that texts, IM’s, or uses facebook during an appointment is an ABSOLUTE DISGRACE!!!

I would FIRE immediately ANY trainer on my staff that did any of that!!
You are supposed to be a health care PROFESSIONAL – WOULD YOU LET YOUR DOCTOR, DENTIST, CHIRO, PT, MASSAGE THERAPIST, LAWYER, OR EVEN HAIRSTYLIST GET AWAY WITH THAT DURING YOUR PAID SESSION….If you do you are either a fool or spineless and NEED TO SPEAK UP!!! (talking in general to the blog audience)

I always train myself as the VERY last appointment of the day or on my off days, this way I am never tired, rushed, sweaty or sore for my client’s appointment; it means sometimes I am training myself at 10pm – but my clients deserve me at MY BEST!!!

People need to really think, have they hired a trainer OR A RENT-A-FRIEND…

As far a clients and class members NOT listening to you, that is why you need a wavier (specific to each class, and one for training clients) and your OWN personal liability insurance – DO NOT EXPECT CLUBS & GYMS TO PROTECT YOU OR THAT PEOPLE WILL KEEP THEIR WORD AND NOT SUE YOU FOR INJURIES!! I had my attorney help write, critique, and approve my wavier…

If a client or class member does unfortunately get injured that CAN SERIOUSLY HURT YOUR PROFESSIONAL REPUTATION! I would advise screening and or assessments for every class member and definitely for every training client! The saying goes “If you are not assessing, YOU ARE GUESSING !!!” and to me guessing with someone’s health & safety is: RECKLESS, UNPROFESSIONAL, AND DANGEROUS (FOR THE CLIENT)!

For clients that refuse to listen, contradict me, and are just antagonistic – I ask them “Do I go to your job and tell you how to do it, Do I go to your house and tell you how to run it” when they answer “NO” I tell them not to come into my house and tell me how to do my job! (then I find a way to politely tell them they need to find someone else to work with…) The beauty of NOT working for a commercial gym – I DO NOT train & work with ANYONE THAT I DO NOT LIKE AND GENUINELY WANT TO HELP!!

Have a great day!


P.S. You may also like this post on Spinning, for at the end it has some more guide lines that can be applied to all group exercise classes to make them safer!


5. Rosie - October 28, 2012

I seldom create comments, but i did some searching and wound up here Bootcamp
= BootCANT or why Group Exercise Classes are really GROUP INJURY!
! FITMONTCLAIR Blog by Advanced Fitness Concepts. And I do have a couple of questions for you if you tend
not to mind. Is it simply me or does it look like some of the
responses come across like coming from brain dead people?

😛 And, if you are posting on other places, I’d like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you list of the complete urls of your social pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

fitmontclair - October 29, 2012

Hi Rosie,

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and comment. If you have questions you can post them here in the comments section and I & the other readers can do our best to answer them. I find many readers have the same questions so if they are posted here, then everyone has a chance to contribute and benefit from the answers.

If the questions are of a personal nature, you can email them to me and I will do my best to answer them but it may take time to get to them.

As for social media, I really do not continue blog posts in other arenas or formats; especially with this post being almost 3 years old. If I do any updates they will either be added to the original post or as a new post if there is a significant change or development concerning the original post topic.

Have a great day!


6. Daniel Bryan - August 6, 2013

Hi Gordon, great article, I couldnt agree more. I have the same problem at my gym. I teach bootcamp and regularly have to really enforce good posture on participants. However when trying to get them to use functional exercises which are better than these crazy horror movements they are given by others trainers they occasionally complain that they don’t like those exercises and prefer to do the same thing as it apparently ‘tones’ those flabby areas. This is very frustrating, its mainly from those who only go to classes as I have discovered that these people do not like change at all. I tried to integrate a core activation warm up to help better prepare themselves as it would help their posture but was met with problems and was told by management to avoid doing so as despite it being for the good of the members, we had to keep the numbers up…:(. Very disappointing. And brngsn the question of who are we truly serving, human beings or profit margins. I think all group ex needs to go back to basics!!


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