Better Bootcamp – Active Agility Exercises

Summer’s nearly here and the number of people looking to exercise outdoors is going to multiply quickly. Some will do it alone, some will be dragged out by their private trainer and a lot will sign up for a group training program commonly referred to as bootcamp.

Bootcamp programs are everywhere these days; in the parks, on the seawall, even in the children’s playgrounds before the kids are out of bed. Because of the demand for instructors to teach all of these classes, and the fact that sessions are often run during prime morning and evening timeslots, when full-time personal trainers are booked solid, the truth is that not all bootcamp instructors are the most highly qualified or experienced. There are some committed, educated professionals, but many are working day jobs in other industries, making extra cash teaching these fitness classes. Because of this, the level of knowledge and expertise about anatomy, biomechanics and athletic conditioning might not be what it should. Hopefully I can help.

With this Better Bootcamp series, I will provide useful information about a number of the common exercises incorporated in bootcamp classes. If you’re joining a group training program this summer, you’re likely to come across these exercises. Hopefully I can educate you about how to perform them safely and effectively. Some of the recommendations may seem a little picky, like when I talk about maintaining a neutral pelvis, but believe me when I tell you that this is the kind of stuff that makes the difference between a successful training session and an icepack on the low back.

Whether you’re doing these exercises on your own, or participating in a bootcamp group somewhere, make sure you warm up fully before performing the movements. Pay close attention to the recommendations and stop if you feel pain.

Try to initiate movements from your mid-section rather than your extremities

Lateral Shuffles

In bootcamp, lateral movement is often incorporated as part of the warm-up, which is fine. The reason I’ve singled this movement out is because it helps me to teach an overall movement strategy that can be applied to almost every exercise you do. This is the strategy of proximal to distal movement, which I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from well-known physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, and it’s an important one. I’ve touched on the concept in previous columns, and the easiest way to explain it is that all movement should be initiated from your core, and then transferred to your extremities, rather than the other way around. In lateral shuffles, this means that rather than casting your leg out to the side and then following with the rest of your body (Figure 1) you should lead with a small lateral movement at the pelvis and allow the leg come along as part of the deal. (Figure 2) If you do this properly, you stand a much greater chance of maintaining stability at all of your joints, while improving movement efficiency.

Proper core muscle activation can help you protect your spine

Star Jumps.

This exercise involves jumping from a position with arms and feet together, spreading out like a star while in the air, and then landing back in a closed position. There’s one technique point that can help to prevent stress through the lower back when doing star jumps. Often as bootcampers fatigue, they will begin to lose control of their movements, and what happens is that they will really start to throw their arms and legs. This exaggerated movement puts increased ballistic forces through the mid-section, where the muscles are also tired. In the star jump, this can cause hyper-extension of the lower back at the top of the movement. You can prevent this by activating your deep abdominal muscles (lightly draw your belly button inward and upward toward your spine) to stabilize your lower back and pelvis as you jump.

The leg thrust portion of the burpee can sometimes be the most challenging

Burpees (aka Squat Thrusts).

Because burpees are so dynamic, involving multiple muscle groups during the squat, leg thrust and jump portions, it’s not easy to break it down to highlight one aspect. The area that I find to be most challenged in this movement is the lower back. When doing the burpee, be certain that you’ve activated those abdominal and lower back muscles to stabilize your lumbar spine and pelvis and prevent hyper-extension or excessive flextion during the movements. If your instructor is asking for burpees and you’re not feeling up to the task, skip the leg thrust portion of the exercise and just do the squat and jump. Another option is to just kick one leg back, rather than two, alternating legs on each repetition.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is a kinesiologist, posture expert, entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community.


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