Way back when, I used to teach bootcamp classes.
I never felt like I was very good at them to be honest.
I’m just about as far from your typical group class instructor as you can get. When I coach people I’m not your standard overly chipper, hyperactive trainer. Think of the personal trainer from broad city -- I’m the opposite of that.
Basically, whenever I hear canned motivational sayings I throw up in my mouth a little bit.
As someone who’s more on the introverted side of things, it’s just not how I like to conduct myself. For in person training, small groups and 1-on-1 where I can make sure exercise selection is productive and technique is dialed is more my speed --it's what I'm good at.
In other words, if you ever see me with a mic leading a group class know that I’m dying inside.
That said, intense group classes are popular. While not my thing, they seem to draw a lot of people into the fitness space. And anything that gets people moving more and having fun with fitness is pretty cool.
However, high intensity exercise coupled with the common overuse of high impact exercises like burpees and jump squats can contribute to some pretty pissed off joints.
If you’re reading this, you may have had to work around a cranky knee, shoulder, or lower back.
Look, group classes clearly aren’t my cup of tea. But since people do really enjoy them, I want to provide some advice to help make these kinds of classes as kind on the joints as possible.
Injuries/aches are obviously a bad thing. There’s the obvious reason that pain and reduced mobility kinda defeat the point of exercise for many, but also if you’re hurt you can’t workout -- not optimally at least.
So I want to give you some tips to keep your joints healthy so you don’t have to miss workouts or feel awkward doing a modified version of the exercise (I know nobody cares, but it still always feels awkward when doing something different than the group... for me at least).
1. Don’t push through the pain
Group classes will motivate you to work harder in the moment. This is why so many people like them. You can feed off of other people’s energy and push yourself harder than you thought you could.
Sometimes this is a good thing. Other times, not so much.
If something feels off, don’t push through it. Otherwise, you may turn something small into something big. It’s usually better to listen to your body.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re not made out of glass. I don’t want you to get paranoid and think any discomfort is an injury waiting to happen. All I’m saying is to use good judgement.
Don’t be the person who says, “My knee has been bothering me for weeks, but a million jump squats will be fine.”
It’s harder to reign in your own effort when everyone else is working their butt off. But if you listen to your body and make smart decisions, you won’t feel like a wreck later on.
Muscle burn is fine. Joint pain is usually not.
2. Prioritize recovery
Group classes are intense. Which means you need to have intense recovery to match. Work hard, recover hard.
The best thing you can do here is to make sure your stress is managed and you get lots of quality sleep. Foam rolling, stretching, supplements, everything else is secondary to stress management and sleep.
Depending on the type of class, this also might mean giving yourself a day of recovery in between classes. The people in my classes who complained about their joints the most, were the people who went everyday, despite me telling them to take a day off here and there.
3. Slow down
Group classes tend to be very fast paced, but the faster you do an exercise, the more likely you won’t have good control of the move. Look, I’m not saying taking 10 seconds for every rep, but stop racing through your reps.
Ok, some exercises you have to do fast(ish) like running in place or jumping jacks. But, for strength exercises, use a slow controlled tempo on the way down, pause briefly, then use a faster tempo for the way up.
This is related to the prior point. Slowing down really just a means to having better control over a movement.
The point is to control the movement rather than just going through the motions. As you get fatigued this will be more challenging. Do your best to stay focused as you get more tired and out of breath.
Now, like I said, some movements are fast, like a jump squats, but even then, you should be trying to exercise control over the movement. This leads me to the next point.
5. Learn to land from jumps by absorbing the impact
Bootcamp instructors loooove jumping because it makes people tired quickly.
Strength and Conditioning coaches will usually only employ jumping exercises for low reps. They do this because they use jumping exercises (or plyometrics) for power development. So it makes sense you want to keep the athlete fresh. You can’t express maximum power if you’re fatigued.
Personal opinion: High rep jump squats are dumb. If you want to create fatigue there are other exercises that are easier on the joints, like a kettlebell swing. Nonetheless, you’re going to run into high rep jump squats in group classes, so unless you want to skip them or swap them out for another exercise, you need to learn how to land properly to minimize stress on the knee joint.
The cue I like is to try to land quietly. If you make a loud thud, you’re not absorbing the shock well. This comes down to bending the knees, ankles and hips in time with your landing, like a spring.
Before going into the next jump squat, stand up and reset. That way you can reestablish your stance before the next rep.
6. Get enough protein
Eating more protein is probably a good idea anyway because it helps with feeling full and keeping calories low. But when it comes to high intensity workouts and recovery, you especially need to prioritize protein. This is because protein’s primary job is to repair/build tissue. So if you want to recover better from your workouts, aim for 1g/lbs of bodyweight.
So if you weigh 200 lbs that’s 200g of protein a day. That probably sounds like a lot to you. And psychologically speaking, it is. Most people aren’t getting anywhere near this amount.
Scientifically speaking though, this isn’t actually anywhere near the upper limit of healthy protein consumption. But it’s probably enough. And 1g for every pound of bodyweight is just easier to remember.
7. Integrate proper, structured, progressive strength training within your training week
Again, this needs to be balanced with recovery and protein. You can’t just keep adding and adding more to your workout routine.
Strength training is going to do a lot for building sturdier, stronger joints.
Getting stronger just makes the body more resilient, from increased bone density to stronger muscles -- a stronger body won’t get injured as easily, provided you train intelligently.
Plus, if you throw around heavy weights during your strength workouts, the 5-10 lbs dumbbells common in bootcamp classes will feel much easier to handle, even when you’re fatigued.
Strength training just 1-2 times per week focusing on big, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, and pulls will not only make your body more resilient for bootcamp class, but will speed up your results.
As I said, I’m biased towards structured workouts -- comprehensive workout programs that have logical and intentional progressive steps towards a goal. I beleive this to be the fastest and most direct path to body composition goals.
However, I know this approach isn’t as appealing for lots of people and that’s ok.
As long as you keep showing up and are enjoying yourself that’s awesome. This post is to help you keep showing up. I want you to have the tools you need to continue to enjoy your workouts. Because it’s hard/tedious to workout when your joints are giving you trouble.