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Trainer Q&A: Are Bootcamp Workouts Effective for Building Muscle?

Our experts weigh in on whether these high-intensity workouts are helping you build muscle.
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The high-intensity workout trend is sweeping the nation leaving lifters cranking out rep after rep of kettlebell swings, barbell lifts, and bodyweight exercises. All of these exercises are crammed together in one short, butt-busting workout that leaves even the fittest individuals gassed on the floor. Bootcamps and group workouts combine the camaraderie and friendship with the huffing, puffing, and sweating, revolutionizing the concept of a hard workout. These intense sessions promise huge benefits in just a few hours a week, but will they pay off in the long run and deliver your goal to build muscle or are you just spinning your wheels in the wrong direction?

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Bootcamps are extremely effective in terms of delivering a great workout because they combine several intense exercises and string them together into one difficult circuit. The end result is a very high heart rate and a huge calorie burn. This is especially beneficial for those looking to lose weight. In fact, Rob Sulaver, head coach at Bandana Training and personal trainer at Peak Performance in NYC, acknowledges that most bootcamps are built for those looking to lose weight. "For guys looking to pack on a few pounds, the high-intensity classes may not be the best choice," Sulaver says. Since the exercises are strung together with little rest in between, participants typically have to use a lighter weight than usual to maintain form. This shifts the focus from strength to cardio. "In order to build muscle, lifters should be focused on putting a huge amount of strain on the muscle and working with heavy loads," he says. Due to the intense nature of bootcamps, it’s usually not possible (or safe) to work with the loads necessary to produce muscle growth.

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In fact, long bootcamp workouts may even be detrimental to lifters looking for size. The length and intensity of the workouts may be enough to send the lifter into a catabolic state (breaking down muscle) during the workout. Although cardiovascular fitness may improve, muscle size and strength may decrease. To build size, incorporate high-intensity bootcamps sparingly. Dedicate the rest of your time to working with heavy strength training and improving your nutrition intake.

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