B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 22

Unhappy Campers

 Why young athletes and boot camp workouts don’t mix.

by Mike Mejia, CSCS

With the popularity of lacrosse at an all-time high, more and more players are looking for ways to stand out from the competition. This has invariably led to a growing number of teens hitting the gym in an effort to improve things like strength, speed and power. And while there are a variety of ways that young athletes can train to achieve these objectives, “boot camp” style workouts should not be among them.
Easily one of the hottest trends in the fitness industry, boot camp classes are turning up just about everywhere these days. You’ll find them offered at local gyms, outdoors in parks, and even in specially designed facilities stocked with truck tires, plyo boxes and other alluring types of equipment.
Yet, despite their undeniable popularity, there’s plenty of reasons to be wary of this ultra high-intensity approach to fitness- especially if you’re a young athlete. Sure, they’ll give you a “good workout”, but at what cost? Do you think, perhaps, that the constant overuse of specific muscles, combined with what is often faulty technique, might actually increase your likelihood of injury? Or, are you one of the many who buy into the hype that training this way will give you the ultimate edge on the playing field?
Count me amongst the former group. I’ve seen enough of this type of training over the past several years to know that it’s not something I’d recommend for developing young bodies. I don’t care whether it’s labeled as boot camp, Crossfit, or any other slick marketing term meant to lure in impressionable young athletes, the end product is usually the same: tons of overuse with an almost blatant disregard for proper form.
Rather than just randomly bash this popular workout style, though, I’m going to break down exactly how I feel it comes up short. Then, in part two of this article I’ll offer up an alternative approach that’s both safer and more effective.
Quantity over Quality:
One of the biggest problems I have with this type of training is that more often than not, how much you do takes precedence over how well you’re able to do it. As I just mentioned, I’ve seen plenty of these classes in action over the years. And while it’s true that some instructors do a much better job of monitoring their students than others, it’s tough to keep an eye on everyone and maintain a certain pace to the workout when you’re dealing with what are often large groups.
Invariably, you’re going to get a few sloppy reps here and there, and it only takes one wrong move for someone to get hurt. This holds especially true for teens; many of whom have very limited training experience to begin with. Even if you are lucky enough to avoid injury, though, doing exercises with poor form just to keep up with the pace of the workout, instills bad exercise habits that can set the stage for problems down the road.
Take the use of Olympic lifts and plyometric exercises in these types of workouts, for example. When done with proper technique, they offer some of the best ways imaginable to improve explosive strength and power. That is, provided of course you also stay within a repetition range deemed to be most effective in helping to bring about these types of improvements. The fact is, the average person simply won’t be able to maintain proper technique for 10, 15, or even 20 reps (and sometimes more!) of these types of drills.
They’re far too technically and metabolically demanding for that! If you think I’m wrong, watch someone the next time they do a high-rep set of box jumps and see if those landings don’t start getting louder as they get up past the 8-10 rep range. Or better yet, watch the bar speed of someone doing a power clean drop precipitously as they get further and further into the set! And trust me, when the fatigue starts to build, form usually goes downhill in a hurry!
Besides, even if you are well conditioned enough to somehow hold proper form for high reps, you’ll essentially be negating any explosive benefits that could have been derived from doing these exercises in the first place. In fact, you’ll actually make yourself less explosive by teaching your body to move more slowly! And for what? Just to be able to say that you endured doing X number of cleans, or plyo jumps, or those ridiculous “kipping” pull-ups (don’t even get me started on those) in a specified time? Congratulations! Maybe you can mention that to your opponent the next time they go blowing past you!
Hurst so good?
Jarring landings atop plyo boxes and using subpar form during Olympic lifts aren’t the only ways that boot camps beat up your body. Take something as seemingly innocent as the Burpee. This body weight exercise and boot camp staple can either be a brutally effective conditioning drill, or an injury waiting to happen. It all depends on how you do it.
If you’re able to drop down lightly and quickly into a squat without bouncing, kick back into (and hold for a split second) a proper push-up position, kick back into a squat and then hop back up, these may be to your liking. Unfortunately, this is seldom how Burpees are done.
More often than not, what you see are people bouncing down into the squat position and then allowing their hips and head to drop as they kick back into the push-up position (yeah, that’s great for your spine). Then it’s one more jarring slam to the knees as they kick in and attempt to get back up. Oh yeah, and did I mention they’re then expected to repeat that same sequence at least a dozen more times!
But wait, there’s more! I haven’t even mentioned how imbalanced these workouts tend to be. Chuck-full of all sorts of push-up and pull-up variations, there’s certainly no shortage of internal rotation dominance going on. Meaning that over time, this style of training can wreak havoc on your posture by causing the shoulders to pull forwards. Throw in what is often a heavy abdominal focus with lots of crunches, sit-ups and the like and it won’t be long before you’re sporting the posture of a shrimp!
As far as the lower body is concerned, all of the squatting and lunging that’s called for can put some serious strain on your knees- especially if you’re overusing your quads in favor of those often underworked glutes and hamstrings. But hey, what’s a little muscle imbalance in the name of a great workout! Right?
Instead of trying to prove what a bad-ass you are by testing the limits of what your body can endure, why not opt for a much more sensible approach. Trust me, you’re still going to work hard! You’ll just be doing so in a way that eliminates a lot of unnecessary orthopedic stress.
In part two of this article, I’ll show you a sequence of exercises designed to give you an excellent conditioning stimulus, while at the same time, stressing the kind of balanced development an athlete needs to help steer clear of injuries. So be sure to give them a try- just don’t be too surprised if after doing so, you decide to give the more traditional approach boot camp training the “boot”.  

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