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Outdoor Boot Camp 101

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Group Fitness, The Ultimate Guide to Starting a training Boot Camp

How to Host a Boot Camp That Clients Will Be Telling Their Friends About

There’s nothing quite like exercising outside: fresh air, sunshine, and green grass. The chance to be outdoors instead of inside a gym is just one of the reasons outdoor boot camps are so popular right now.

What also makes them popular with trainers and clients alike are the low overhead and low operating costs. For all of these reasons, an outdoor boot camp is a great business model to add to your other client offerings.

If you’re contemplating running an outdoor boot camp business, there are a few things to consider when putting your venture together. It’s not quite as easy as putting up a few fliers and finding park space. You need a smart, well-thought business plan to bring your boot camp to life.

There are a lot of factors to consider, and it’s important to start planning months in advance, so let’s get started.

Bootcamp Basics

Before you begin to look for locations and start recruiting for your first class, you need to begin by drafting out a plan for boot camp basics. The best place to start is with defining your target audience. This will help you work out other details:

  • Who will sign up for your boot camp? Figuring out your target audience is the first and most important step. It will inform all your other decisions. For example, if your typical client is a stay-at-home parent, then you might hold your boot camp while the kids are in school. If it’s a sports performance camp for kids, you need to choose a different time.
  • What’s the local climate like? Weather and temperature are important considerations for outdoor fitness. If you’re hosting a summer boot camp, hold classes when it isn’t too hot to reduce the risk of heat stroke. During the spring, you may have to contend with rain or unseasonably cold days.
  • How frequent will classes be? Will your boot camp be held once, twice, or more times per week? Will you include Saturdays, or hold classes every other weekend? You will need to have this information decided when you are putting in requests for locations.
  • How long will one boot camp last? Decide on how long your boot camp will run. For instance, it could be 6, 8, or 12 weeks. Make sure you consider your audience when choosing. If your goal is sports performance for kids, then a shorter boot camp might be more appropriate. If you are creating a body fat loss challenge, then a longer duration challenge would be better.

Location, Location, Location

This is what it’s all about, right? Well, mostly. There are a lot of things that go into putting an outdoor boot camp together, but a good location is critical. It’s a great idea to choose something that is centrally located to your target audience and easily accessible.

Here are a few popular settings for an outdoor boot camp:

  1. Public parks (city or county)
  2. Private parks
  3. Public school sports fields
  4. Private school sports fields
  5. Your own backyard—space permitting

Pro Tip: Know that, aside from your backyard, you may need to reserve the times in advance, get a permit or some other type of permission, or even pay a rental fee to hold your boot camp.

Always scout your boot camp locations in person before selecting a location. And ask some important questions as you go:

  • What is the watering and mowing schedule for the area? You don’t want to have to compete with a loud lawnmower or make dodging sprinklers a part of the class.
  • Are there features that you can use to add variety to workouts, like hills, trails, or a track?
  • Are there bathrooms nearby that your clients can use? If not, make sure they know to use the bathroom before they leave home.
  • Will there be access to drinking fountains? If not, let your clients know that they need to bring water.
  • Is there a playground close by? This is not a requirement, but it’s a nice feature for clients with children, especially if you are targeting a stay-at-home parent audience.
  • Is the area safe for you and your clients?

When Bad Weather Happens – Alternate Locations

Once you have carefully selected the location for your outdoor boot camp, it’s time to think about what you will do during inclement weather.

Will you still hold class when it’s raining or windy? Will you cancel and reschedule classes? Will you have rain dates selected ahead of time? Or will you find alternate locations to hold the classes if the weather is bad?

If you decide to hold boot camps in an alternate location during inclement weather, make sure that you make arrangements well in advance. Some indoor ideas are church recreation rooms, schools, community buildings, and even your home if you have enough space.  

Most any alternate venue you choose will likely also require permits, permission, fees, and making sure you can be fit into the schedule, so make your alternative plans in place well in advance. You may need to apply for several different facilities before you find one that is willing to work with you and your schedule.

When considering an indoor facility to use during bad weather, make a checklist:

  • Make sure the ceiling height and space are adequate for your activities.
  • Check for bathroom accessibility.
  • Find out about fees for cleaning or if you are expected to clean up after a session.
  • Determine that the building and location are safe.
  • Find out how you will get access to the space you need if no one else is there to let you in.

It is also good practice to provide a copy of your professional insurance policy, CPR certification, and relevant fitness certifications to the building owners so they know that your class is covered in case of an accident or injury.

The Legal Details – Permits, Licenses, and Insurance

Once you have looked at several potential locations, it’s time to get permission to use those facilities. Consider applying for several different locations in case one or more of them are unavailable to you during your requested times. This process might take some time, so it’s a good idea to get this done several months in advance.

If you’re looking at city or county parks, you will need to get permission from those local government agencies before using the parks. Public parks are for public use, but you still need to get permission to use the area if you are running a business on the grounds.

Some municipalities require people to get permits to use the parks for business purposes, but some do not. There may also be fees involved. Always ask and never assume that because it’s a public place that you can use it for business without seeking permission first.

Some public and private schools allow people to use their tracks and outdoor space for boot camps, but again make sure that you fill out paperwork and seek the proper permissions first. Schools will often have other groups coming in to use their grounds, so you need to make sure that you have gone through the proper channels to secure a spot.

Be prepared to provide a copy of your certifications, CPR certification, and copies of your insurance to the people managing the grounds that you will be using.

Most importantly, you must get professional insurance for your training business before training outside of a gym.

Typically when working in a gym there is insurance in place that will cover you, but if you take your training outside and on your own for boot camps, you must carry your insurance.

There are several great companies out there that have insurance policies created just for trainers and group fitness instructors, and they are not expensive—usually less than $200 a year for an individual trainer. Just be sure to clarify with your insurance carrier that you need a policy that covers outdoor classes.

Pricing – A Fine Balance

Next up: Deciding on a pricing structure—paying by class or by program—how much to charge, and how much profit you want to have earned by the end of the program. Ask yourself some important questions:

  1. Will you charge for each class or will you charge a lump sum for the entire series of classes?
  2. Will you give participants a discount for referring friends?
  3. If you charge by the class, will you offer punch cards? Will participants receive a discount for bulk purchases?
  4. Will you use a cash system where people pay when they come to class, or will you collect funds ahead of time through an app or PayPal?
  5. How will you handle refunds if someone is not satisfied with the classes or, due to some circumstance, couldn’t continue coming to the boot camp?

Pro Tip: Writing out a refund policy is important. Make sure it is stated very clearly in the paperwork that participants fill out, so there are no surprises if participants drop out or move and request a refund.

Data Collection and Paperwork

Now for the less exciting part of planning a boot camp: paperwork. Systematic data collection is imperative to a well-run boot camp program because it helps you keep track of clients, it guides your marketing, and it helps keep the clients safe and protects you as well.

1. Collect information from potential clients, those who show some interest in your new program.

A Google form is an easy and accessible way to collect and organize all the relevant information.

The form should include things like first and last name, home phone, cell phone number, email address, basic fitness profile (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), and any serious health conditions that might exclude them from participating. Google forms are free, easy to set up, and they organize all the collected information in a nice spreadsheet, making your job much easier.

Pro Tip: Set a date or time for the form to stop accepting new entries so that you can automate a hard deadline for registrations.

2. Send out the mandatory forms to be filled out before participating.

Once you have collected the basic information from participants, you can send a welcome email that has a waiver, PAR-Q, payment options, and basic health history documents attached.

Or, you can send links to these documents if you have them hosted online so your clients can download them from your website. Just make sure to tell participants that they must have the proper paperwork filled out before they come to the first class to participate.

In the welcome email, tell your clients about the locations, provide an address or a map, and give any essential items that they will need to bring with them to the classes, like water.  Note whether bathrooms or water fountains are nearby as well.

Pro Tip: To make your life easier, consider automating emails sent to your clients by using a newsletter service like MailChimp or MadMimi. These let you customize the emails with logos and links to your social media accounts. Some of these services even offer free accounts for small email lists.

Privacy Alert: If you are collecting email addresses, make sure that you respect the privacy of your clients. Don’t send out anything to this list that are not related to the boot camp unless they have given you permission to do so and keep it separate from any other email lists you have to avoid spamming your clients with the information they never asked for.

3. Find a safe place to store all of the information you’re collecting.

Because this information is protected by HIPAA law, you need to make sure that any personal information of your participants is kept secure. If you print this information, keep it organized and filed in a locking cabinet at your office or home. If this information is kept in digital form, put a passcode on your computer for safekeeping.

Because this information is protected by HIPAA law, you need to make sure that any personal information of your participants is kept secure. If you print this information, keep it organized and filed in a locking cabinet at your office or home. If this information is kept in digital form, put a passcode on your computer for safekeeping.

If you are collecting medical history information about your participants, make sure you are only asking for information that is relevant to your class. Medical information is protected by the HIPAA act and you are responsible for keeping that information safe and secure. The less information you are responsible for, the better.

Forms: The mandatory forms that you should be sending out to participants include:

  • PAR-Q form: PAR-Q is short for physical activity readiness questionnaire and is a basic screening tool for participants.
  • Basic health history form: Collect some basic health history on the people who are participating, like current and past major health problems, medical complications, injuries, and exercise limitations.
  • Waiver of liability: A waiver of liability is required by many professional insurance companies and is an essential form for any activities you lead. Make sure you include a place for emergency contact information in this form or on the Google document.
  • Media release: You might want to take photos or videos of the boot camp classes, or collect testimonials for marketing purposes. If so, you need to get participants to sign a media release. Explain what will happen with the photos, and give participants an opt-out option so they can decide not to participate in photos or videos.

Marketing – Bringing in the Boot Campers

Once you have all of the important details set for your boot camp, it’s time to market your classes and bring in the clients. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Flyers. Create some paper flyers that you can take to community boards in your area. Make sure they include all the pertinent information, like date, time, location, and contact information.
  • Virtual flyers. While making your paper flyers, also create virtual flyers and images that you can use on social media to promote your boot camp.
  • Paid advertising: You might also want to consider some traditional, paid options, like newspaper ads, radio spots, or even use social media’s pay options, like Facebook ads—you can target these to your chosen audience by location and other factors.

Pro Tip: PicMonkey and Canva are free online programs you can use to create professional flyers. If you want to add some nice images, you can get no-cost royalty-free images from websites like Unsplash and Death to Stock.


You don’t need a lot of fitness equipment to run an effective boot camp class. Start small and add on as you grow your business; there’s no reason to spend a lot of money on equipment right away.

My favorite way to set up boot camp classes with less equipment is to work in circuits. You can incorporate a limited amount of equipment into several stations mixed with bodyweight exercises for a great workout.

If you have equipment, but not enough for everyone in your class, you can make it work by splitting the class into two working groups—for example, a cardio circuit and a weight lifting circuit, switching after 20 minutes. Or, you can split into a morning group and evening group, or limit the number of participants and create a waiting list.

It’s important to consider the logistics of your location when it comes to equipment: will you have to haul equipment up a hill or over a long distance to get from the parking area to your class location?

If it’s going to take a lot of time to set up or move around, you don’t want to have too much equipment. Alternatively, you can invest in a small cart or wagon to move your equipment around. Resistance bands and suspension trainers are a great option since they are lightweight, compact, and affordable.

Pro Tip: Ask your clients to bring one or two-gallon milk jugs filled with water to use as weights during class. It costs next to nothing for these makeshift weights with handles so that participants can bring their own. They can bring one or two depending on how much weight they want to add to their workout.

Class Essentials

Now that you’re just about ready for your first class, there are a few essentials that you should always keep on hand. I carry a “Bootcamp box” with me to every class that includes the following:

  • Bottled water. Encourage your participants to bring their water, but if your students forget to bring water of their own and drinking fountains are not readily available, it’s a good idea to keep a case of bottled water in your vehicle and a few bottles in your boot camp box just in case.
  • Electrolyte powder packets. It’s important to have these on hand—especially when it’s hot out— and powder packets are the easiest and lightest options. Participants can add it to their water bottles if they need it. Some ideas are Propel, Emergen-C, or Ultima.
  • First aid kit. Never start your boot camp without one of these.  
  • Sign-in sheet and clipboard. Keep track of participants with a sign-in sheet for each class, and keep a clipboard and extra pencils and pens on hand.
  • A safe place for cash. If your clients are paying cash per-class, have a lock box or a safe place in your locked car to stash it.
If you want to create an outdoor boot camp for this summer, now is the perfect time to get started with the planning process. With this guide, you’ll have all the essentials you need to start putting together your outdoor boot camp business. And remember to have fun with it and be creative—your clients will enjoy it even more if you have fun too.
Enjoy working with groups and want to add another skill set to your personal training repertoire? Sign up for the ISSA's online course in Group Fitness. You'll learn how to maximize your time and impact with fun and engaging classes that keep clients excited to return for more.

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Group Fitness, The Ultimate Guide to Starting a training Boot Camp, Boot Camp 101 Handout

Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!

Sarah Parker

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