Fitness Boot Camps: Fad or Fact?

[“Bootcamp” by Oklanica, Flickr Creative Commons]
[“Bootcamp” by Oklanica, Flickr Creative Commons]
Please Note: This blog post is written just from one perspective and may not apply to all. Although I have the goal of losing weight, this blog post is written with the understanding that not everyone holds this same goal. This blog post reflects my experience and is not meant to encourage readers to pursue enrollment in bootcamps or to seek to lose weight. 

Can you believe it? It’s already April! We’ve now waved goodbye to winter and said hello to spring…finally. It’s also that time when I want to say goodbye to those few extra pounds I put on during the cold months. If any of you are like me, it’s a lot more difficult to lose weight than it is to gain it. I’ve tried changing up my eating habits and taking up more rigorous exercise plans. I’ve even done what some people consider an extreme in exercising: fitness boot camps.

Fitness boot camps have become a very popular workout regime embraced by people of all ages, shapes, and levels of physical stamina across the country. Fitness boot camps are a type of group physical training program characterized by intense cardio and strength-training routines during a 1-hour period. Modeled after military boot camps, fitness boot camps are generally composed of calisthenics, or exercises like push-ups, crunches, pull-ups, and planks that rely on one’s body weight and require little equipment. Fitness boot camps also usually adopt a circuit-training format, which is composed of 6-8 circuits of strength and cardio exercises completed one after the other for 60-90 seconds each with 15-30 second breaks in between circuits. An example of a circuit would be sixty seconds of squats, lunges, and mountain climbers followed by a 30-second break and then 60 seconds of push-ups, scissor kicks, and side planks. Free weights, medicine balls, jump ropes, and exercise sliders may also be incorporated into circuit training for extra resistance.

So, are fitness boot camps a safe and effective way to get into shape? The answer is…it depends. What may work for some, may not work for all. According to About Health, fitness boot camps have both pros and cons. As far as pros, fitness boot camps are a cost-efficient way to get a full body workout with opportunities to share motivation and camaraderie with fellow boot campers. Therefore, along with promoting physical wellness, fitness boot camps also offer opportunities to strengthen one’s social wellness. However, there are also some limitations to this form of exercise. Because fitness boot camps are group workout sessions, participants may not be able to receive the one-on-one consultation that characterizes individualized personal training programs. Second, fitness boot camps typically require participants to have a steep learning curve. It may take some time to learn the workout routines and to identify exercises you may need to adapt to your abilities and needs.

Overall, it’s very important that you consult with your physician and, if available, complete a fitness assessment to determine if there are exercises that may aggravate prior injuries or health conditions before you engage in fitness boot camp or any other fitness programs. Fitness boot camps can be a great way to shed the winter weight in preparation for summer, but just like any workout, consistency is key. Completing a couple boot camp classes in early May may not help you meet your health goals before Memorial Day. Sticking to a workout plan along with healthy eating habits requires time, dedication, and commitment to translate to results. But you can do it—with or without fitness bootcamp!

How to Foam Roll

By: Emily Wheeler
"Foam Roller" by Naoto Sato; Flickr Creative Commons
“Foam Roller” by Naoto Sato; Flickr Creative Commons
       Think about that feeling when you wake up the day after an intense workout and as soon as you move to get out of bed you can’t help but groan because you’re so sore. Now think about how having someone else massage an especially sore muscle or doing it yourself can hurt but feel good at the same time. Lifting weights, general strenuous exercise and even stressful daily activities can cause our muscles to feel tight and sore. We can even get “muscle knots,” as people like to call them, where a particular area of muscle feels uncomfortably tight and stretching just doesn’t release the tension enough to feel completely normal. Firmly massaging these “muscle knots” with a thumb can even cause pain to radiate out to the surrounding muscle, even though that’s not where you’re touching.
       For quite some time, athletes and personal trainers have been using a simple secret to release this muscle tension and discomfort: the foam roll. A foam roll is exactly what it sounds like, a cylindrical piece of hard foam, and it is designed especially for use in self-massaging sore and tight muscles! The official name of what most people casually refer to as “foam rolling,” is self-myofascial release, which means to massage your own muscles to release tightness and soreness. I prefer the fun verbified form of the noun, so I’ll call it foam rolling.
       The first time I learned to use a foam roll, I actually wasn’t feeling very sore at all, nor could I identify any especially tight muscles; I was just doing it because I was learning how to do so in a fitness class. However, we started by rolling the quads and hamstrings and I quickly realized that whether you think you do or not, you probably have a lot of muscle tension that could benefit from some foam rolling! I usually have fairly tight hamstrings, so as soon and I put the pressure of my body weight down onto the roll and started moving it down the back of my thigh, there was definitely some major discomfort involved!
       Now, why would I do something painful, you might ask? Foam rolling muscle pain is one of those “it hurts, but in a good way” kind of muscle feelings. Stretching, or a deep tissue massage, can also be painful, yet people still do it voluntarily and claim to feel better afterward. This is a similar situation and you’re just going to have to trust me until you try it when I say that you’ll feel so much better afterward.
       Here are the basics of how foam rolling works. First, start with your foam roll, comfortable clothing, and some space to lay on the floor. You’ll pick a muscle that you want to target, and we’ll just stick with the hamstring example for now. Your hamstring muscle runs down the back of your leg from the bottom of your gluts down to the back of your knee. Start by placing the foam roller under your leg at the top of one of your hamstrings, stretching out that leg and leaning back so that your hands are on the floor behind you and are holding you up slightly. Then, slowly release your arms so that your hands are still on the floor behind you but the majority of your body weight is resting on the foam roller. Then start to move yourself backward over the roller slowly, so that it rolls down toward the back of your knee. This is where you might start to feel some discomfort, so listen to your own body to tell you whether you’re feeling pain (bad) or discomfort (good), and use your arms to lift some of your body weight off of the roller if it becomes painful.
Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.
Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.
Now, there are a few key rules to remember when foam rolling to keep it safe for your body:
  1. Always roll very slowly to achieve maximum benefits, and when you find an especially sore spot, pause there to let that point relax and prevent unnecessary pain
  2. Never roll over a joint or directly on a bone. Doing so can cause more harm than good. An example of rolling over a joint would be rolling down your hamstring all the way down to your calf, because you’ve rolled over your knee joint. Instead, roll down to just above the knee, move the roll beneath the knee, and then continue to roll over the calf. An example of rolling over a bone would be laying on your stomach and rolling up your quad over your hipbone. Any bones that you can clearly feel are not protected by muscle and you shouldn’t be rolling over them.
  3. Do not roll your lower back or neck muscles. These are more sensitive to damage, and your pain in these areas might be coming from a problem that needs to addressed by a professional, such as a chiropractor.
  4. Do not roll the same areas over and over in a short period of time. If you concentrate on a certain muscle group, wait at least 24 hours to roll that muscle group again to give it time to relax and heal.
  5. Always roll with the grain of the muscle. Your hamstring runs vertically down your leg, so you should never roll horizontally across your hamstring muscle. It’s best to actually keep your rolling in a single direction, so after your roll down your hamstring, remove the roll and start back up at the top if you’re going to do it again instead of rolling back up the hamstring.
       Here is an awesome article called “How to Foam Roll Like a Pro!” It includes cartoon graphics to help you know how to target certain muscles! I have to say that I think that place that is consistently most uncomfortable yet most beneficial to me is rolling my IT band, which is the muscle that runs down the outer side of your leg above the knee. Try rolling yours and tell me if that doesn’t make you make some crazy faces because you had no idea how much tension you had to release there.
Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.
Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.
       Shortly after you foam roll, and especially the next day, you should start to feel your soreness fade, your muscles become more relaxed, and your range of motion increase compared to before you foam rolled! You can purchase your own foam roller at any major sporting goods store for anywhere from $10-$40 depending on how intense you want to get, but you can also check out foam rollers from the front desk of the Student Recreation Center on campus for convenient and free use! P.S. Side comment– I have no idea why a hunk of foam can cost $40.
       Try it out the next time you come to work out and make it a regular part of your routine! I can’t lie, I almost kind of like the sore feeling in my muscles after a good workout because it makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile when I can actually feel the change, but what I don’t like is constant or long-lingering soreness and foam rolling definitely helps me prevent that from happening! Ironically enough, it can also help you wake up and start your day in the morning if you have time, but can still help you relax and feel ready to sleep if you choose to do it at the end of the day. It might feel silly at first, but give it a try and you’ll see why it’s worth it! I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing some foam rolling this week after I attend the “muscle-cut barbells” and “upper body conditioning” group fitness classes; be sure to check back in at the end of the week to read my reviews on what I thought about both classes!

Workout Wednesday: The Importance of a Proper Warm-up

by Emily Wheeler

If you’ve ever been to a group fitness class on campus or participated in a sport, you know that the workouts always start with a warm-up before the real workout begins, but how often do we warm up on our own before starting our personal workouts? Is the warm-up really necessary, anyway? Chances are, you’ve probably already discovered that you won’t die if you don’t warm up properly before you go to the gym or for a run, so why take the extra time to bother with a warm-up? Excellent question; let’s look into those reasons that make a warm-up worth it.

Why warm up?

The main and most basic reason that warming up before vigorous exercise it worth the extra time is that it prepares your body for the workout that is to come, decreasing your risk or injury or pain from the exercise.  A warm-up prepares your body through mechanisms such as increasing overall body, blood, and muscle temperature, stimulating dilation of the blood vessels and preparing your body’s cooling mechanisms, and improving your range of motion before you even start the exercise.  Increasing muscle, blood, and overall body temperature before you start your workout allows your muscles to become more pliable and allows more oxygen to be available to the muscles, increasing your muscular endurance.  Warming up also allows your body temperature to rise more slowly than it would if you started your workout immediately from a resting heart rate and room temperature, and that slow rise prepares your body to react to the exercise, making you sweat and cool yourself more efficiently.  All of this means that a proper warm-up can decrease your risk of over-heating or over-stretching a muscle as you exercise and can also improve your overall performance.

I also enjoy warming up before I exercise simply as mental preparation! It can be hard to feel like exercising in the morning if you’re tired, or in the afternoon or evening after a long day.  Your body might be tired and feel a bit sluggish when you start, but turning on an  up-beat song that you like as you warm up for just five to ten minutes can increase your energy levels and make you feel ready to start your workout off well.

Types of warm-ups: 

So now you know that warming up has many fantastic benefits for your body, but did you know that there are two different main types of warm-ups depending on the type of exercise you are going to be doing? These two main types are (1) warm-ups that are directly related to the motion of the exercise or sport that you will be performing directly afterward, and (2) warm-ups that are unrelated (or at least less related) to the motion of the sport or type of exercise you are about to perform.

As an example, let’s say you’re going for an outdoor jog.  (It doesn’t have to be outdoors, it just sounds nicer to me.) An example of the first type of warm-up would be to walk briskly for a few minutes, jog slowly for a few minutes, and then maybe add some short bursts of faster jogging or even sprints until you feel nice and warm, you start to perspire, and your heart rate begins to increase.  You shouldn’t be extremely tired, sweaty, or hot by this point, but your body should be prepared for physical activity and you can then begin your run at your normal running pace now that your muscles are nice and warm. We see how this type of warm-up uses the exact same motions and muscles as the exercise itself.  The second type of warm-up applied to this same situation could include stretching your leg muscles by standing, touching your toes (or as close as you can get), and then holding for fifteen seconds before switching to a different stretch, such as a sitting toe-touch, butterfly stretch, or a hamstring stretch by standing on one leg and pulling the other up behind you.   These movements are not necessarily the same movements that you will be doing while running, but the same muscles are involved and will become more pliable through the stationary stretches as well.

Continuing with the running warm-up as an example, it may be most useful to combine the two types of warm-ups by walking briskly or jogging for a few minutes and then stopping to stretch your already-warm muscles, which can allow the stretch to be more effective and comfortable instead of starting off by stretching a cold muscle.

Next time you work out, take the extra five minutes to stretch before you start! Your workout may go more smoothly than usual and you’ll likely be less sore the next day! Try creating your own personal warmups until you find the one that is best for you– it’ll likely require some trial and error, but that’s okay! For some ideas about the types of stretches and warm-ups that might be good for you and your favorite form of exercise, I’ve added a few videos below so that you can actually see some ideas. (I feel like this first guy really enjoys looking at his own muscles.)

This website has some great advice about warm-ups as well, with a video of an excellent dynamic-stretch warm-up embedded in the site.  Check it out and consider applying it to your own workout, whether you’re lifting weights or just doing cardio—it’s great for either!

The following video is a great five minute warm-up before starting a cardio workout and can be easily completed in your apartment or dorm room before you start your run or head to the gym! The timing is such that you can just follow along with the video and you’ll be warmed up in no time!

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we’ll be swapping blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

Workout Wednesday: Five Health Benefits Of Regular Exercise That You Can’t Get From Good Nutrition Alone

by Emily Wheeler

On Tuesday, I talked about the health benefits of good nutrition that you can’t reap just from exercising regularly and, as promised, today we’re exploring the opposite topic: what are some of the heath benefits of exercising regularly that we can’t get simply from having healthy dietary habits?

1.   It not only reduces, but reverses the effects of stress on our bodies, and can help to lessen depression! If there is something that all college students have in common, I would have to say that it would be stress.  Even in this big bundle of diversity that we call UNC, we all have the common factor of stress, because there is most likely something in each of our lives that keeps us on edge, whether that thing is grades, our parents, money, or just figuring out what we’re doing with our lives.  Over time, stress can cause some wear and tear to our bodies, which translates into faster aging of our tissues as well as mental side effects, such as depression, which can then translate into more stress because it makes it even harder to overcome the thing that causes us stress! However, the good news is that a study from the University of California—San Francisco in 2010 showed that exercise can actually create a visible difference in the physical aging of and damage to our individual cells.  Stressed out women exercising for as little as 45 minutes a day for 3 days (only three days people! That’s the time between now and the blog I posted on Tuesday!) had cells that “showed fewer signs of aging compared to women who were stressed and inactive.” It is also proven to lessen depression by releasing chemicals in the brain that work to make us happier and more satisfied with our lives from a scientific perspective. Wrinkle cream? Try exercise instead.

2.     Hello muscle mass! Everyone knows that if you want to bulk up and add some extra muscle mass to your already schmexy body, all you have to do is walk around eating protein bars and drinking protein shakes and your muscles will just automatically start growing, right?  If you just agreed with that statement I’m going to find you and personally kick the protein bar out of your hand.  You have been warned.  In reality, they key to gaining muscle mass and simply becoming stronger is exercise, because although food provides the energy, you have to put that energy to good use in a way that can actually stimulate change in your body composition! This is why a mixture of cardio and strength exercises in your weekly routine is especially swell, because let’s not forget that our hearts are muscles too! Want stronger legs? Squats and lunges can target those muscles. Arms? Try out some dumbbells or even some barbells! There are muscle cut group fitness classes this semester that use both! The main idea: to strengthen a muscle, you have to use it and make it work more than it would on just any old regular day.

3.     Anyone care for a little extra euphoria? Those chemicals that I mentioned earlier as beneficial for reducing depression include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  That runner’s high that you hear people talking about (even though I have quite a hard time finding it myself) really does exist, because the same chemicals are released in response to exercise as to many drugs that people take for the feeling of that “high” euphoria. Try out different times of the day to get in just 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, and see if it doesn’t leave both your body and mind feeling better afterward! Two days per week, I get up and exercise in the morning before my first class, because those are my longest days of class and I know that starting off my day with exercise keeps me more alert and in a better mood than if I just roll out of bed and lumber directly off to class.

4.     Fight the loss of brain function with age and help prevent the possible onset of Alzheimer’s. Many studies have been done in the past few years concerning Alzheimer’s disease and brain function, including memory, with age.  Although nothing has been proven to guarantee prevention of Alzheimer’s or brain function with age, one thing that has been proven to delay these events drastically is exercise.  It seems that not only does exercising regularly keep your body fit, but it can also serve to improve and maintain cognitive function, much like muscle function!  If you don’t think that this affects you, consider this quote from an article entitled “7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise”: “In 2000, Dutch researchers found that inactive men who were genetically prone to Alzheimer’s were four times more likely to develop the disease than those who carried the trait but worked out regularly.” You have the power to drastically reduce your chance of developing a devastating disease just by taking action now to keep yourself healthy and to protect you brain– why wouldn’t you do it?

5.     Be happier with what you see in the mirror. This one is not only related to the fact that those happy chemicals are floating around in your brain after you finish exercising, but it also relies on the fact that exercising naturally makes us proud of ourselves, because we got out and did something and used our bodies for good that day.  Even if not a single physical thing changes about your appearance, the act of doing exercise makes us feel more active and happy about doing something to improve ourselves, no matter how much you weigh and what you look like.  Food can also make us happy and eating well can make you feel better about yourself, but it’s just not quite the same as looking in a mirror at yourself and the sweat you just poured into the last hour and feeling the satisfaction of hard work well done.

6.    Get more done. (Bonus!) Stuck in the middle of writing a paper? Too tired to even start writing the paper? Getting away from the computer and doing some exercise might be the answer! Exercising increases blood flow to the brain, which can help to take away that sleepy feeling and make you feel prepared to work. Personally, long reading assignments for class tend to make me sleepy, but I’ve found that if I read while pedaling on a stationary bike at the gym then I feel much more awake and more likely to remember what I read! People who make time to exercise for just 30 minutes a day tend to be more productive than those who do not, which means that next time you think you have too much homework to squeeze time for exercise into your schedule, do yourself and favor and go exercise anyway; you might just be surprised at what you accomplish.

Pictures compliments of

Interested in the sources of this article and where the research references came from? Check out this US News health article on the 7 Mind Blowing Benefits of Exercise and this blog post entitled “13 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise.

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we’ll be swapping blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy!

In the past year or so, the news media started talking about “drunkorexia.”  That’s a catch-all term for a variety of unhealthy eating habits that are related to binge drinking.  For example:

  • Skipping meals or slashing your energy intake during the day so that you can drink more when you go out;
  • Feeling compelled to exercise more to burn off the calories you drank last night;
  • Forcing yourself to throw up after drinking or eating too much.

It’s hard to say whether this is a problem at UNC.  Most students at UNC drink moderately, if they drink at all, so it’s not an issue for the majority of students.  But lately I’ve been hearing some concerns from a few students about the calorie content of alcohol, so it seemed like a great time to blog about eating, drinking, and staying in balance.

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