bear grylls

Getting fit military style with Bear Grylls

With the launch of Be Military Fit’s Special Ops programme, Time & Leisure headed to Battersea Park to try it out

Be Military Fit has been bringing its distinctive blend of outdoor fitness, sports science, and its rich military heritage to people’s lives since 1999. Pioneered by MD Tommy Matthews and with the help of British former SAS serviceman and survival instructor, Bear Grylls, the training sessions enlist the help of ex-veterans as instructors, getting people outside, whatever the weather, getting active, using local parks and green spaces, and feel part of the local community.

“We’re really proud of what we’re doing here,” Bear tells me. “There is something special about BMF. I love that military heritage and the fact that we’re re-establishing some strong links again to provide really functional outdoor training.”

The programme’s military ethos at its core is something that makes it stand out from the crowd of fitness fads. “It’s not just for everyday people getting involved, but for PTIs (physical training instructors) leaving the services, who can be our instructors. This is the thing I’m most proud of – the fact that veterans work with us, plus we also offer them free access to classes and always will. There are so many soldiers who miss that sense of camaraderie and community after they leave the services and I think it gets ever tougher for people leaving.”

bear grylls

The military element not only benefits ex-servicemen and women, but is what encourages people to enlist, with rough and ready sessions designed to push you to the limit, and the instructors bringing a taste of army training. Bear explains: “You have this huge population of people who love the values of the military and see it on TV shows and love the ethos and want to brush with it. BMF is smart because we bring that together and give people a chance to experience that camaraderie and at the same time really achieve their fitness goals.”

Their latest programme added to the bill – Special Ops – isn’t for the faint hearted, and lures a mixed crowd, all keen for a taste of the extreme to improve their personal fitness. “The special ops programme is mission focused,” explains Bear. “So we get people together as a team and create imaginary situations: we’re going to get these jerry cans here, we’ve got an imaginary river here, we’ve got a time limit there, we’ve got one man down and he’s been swept down a river. It’s a fantasy – but we’re creating a work out where everything is a new mission instead of feeling like you’re just banging out 20 press ups – there is a purpose to it. People are living in the moment of challenge and being pushed all the way through. It’s tough, it’s challenging, it’s uncompromising, but it’s focused and people come out of it feeling like they’ve really achieved something.”

This sense of community is key to the principal ethos of BMF, and employing ex-recruits is one way of welcoming those ex-servicemen and women back to a community where they may largely feel abandoned. With mental health such a key topic in the public psyche at the moment, BMF really helps people get out, talk about their experiences, and feel part of a wider community. “I really believe that it becomes so much more powerful – that sense of ‘I can conquer’ today,” Bear says. “Most of us have tough days where it’s hard to be motivated but I think having a community and the outdoors quietly hardens people in a quiet way. It’s more important than even fitness – it’s friendship first, fun and banter. Some of the military vets who come and train for free have said they’re so thankful for feeling part of a community and have found the exercise offered makes a huge difference to their PTSD.”

Bear and Tommy also claim the weather makes a massive difference to mental wellbeing. “It’s just about feeling alive and being outside. There is something so amazing about being outdoors and being in contact with the ground, the environment, the wind and the rain and in the gym you don’t necessarily communicate with people.” Bear laughs: “Actually, our numbers go up in bad weather. We’re developing this tribe and community of people who embrace mud and rain – they love it.”

After Special Ops, what’s in the pipeline for BMF? “We’re hoping to launch a new app as a personal trainer. We want to launch base training camps which will be shipping containers converted to outdoor gyms, and that’s where we believe we’ll become disruptive to the fitness market. We’ll be bringing our military heritage and strength training and sports science to central London, plus the equipment to keep it rough and rocky.”

A kids programme is also in the pipeline. “Bear and I did a workout with local school kids from Chelsea recently and we’re hoping to see a kids and family training programme rolled out. For those mums that can’t get away – it’s all about inclusivity.”

bear grylls

Be Military Fit – tried and tested

With BMF launching their new military fit programme, Special Ops, I got the chance to try out one of the vigorous exercise sessions and was put through my paces by the ex-vets.

Designed with a rich military heritage at its core, the military training involved in my work out with the team at Be Military Fit involved a rigorous session that incorporated everything from strength training to aerobic activities.

Groups were divided into teams of six and we were given a mission involving the military kit laid out in front of us, including army vests, with daunting-looking equipment like thick ropes and heavy stretchers. We were given an imaginary scenario and split into teams, with a limited amount of time for transporting our equipment, loaded onto a stretcher, across to Battersea Park. We ran along the beautiful riverside and past the iconic power station, with the booming commands of the ex-vet instructors attracting attention from passers-by. We managed to get our loads of equipment across to the park, and were barely given time to rest before completing a tough tug of war – which my team lost brutally.

We then lined up and began a seriously intense session of interval training. The task involved running around 100 metres, before 10x press ups, sit ups, lunges, and other rigorous exercises, before running the next 100 metres. After half an hour we were all exhausted, with team members trying to catch their breath lying on the ground gasping for air while I took to leaning against a nearby tree.

No time for rest though, and we were back in our teams, transporting our stretchers to another part of the park. Here, in our groups, we were all instructed to get into a crab position with a thick army rope laid across us. In our awkward crabs, we then raced the opposing team, crabbing 100 metres to the finishing line. Harder than it sounds, both teams lost members along the way, but both groups had instructors on their side to spur us on and keep up the pace.

Another lap around the park and we were back at the starting line. After this point, we had minor casualties among us – rope burns, a couple of grazes, and we were all equally splattered in mud with twigs in our hair and soaked in rain and sweat. But it didn’t matter because our focus had evolved to not be about our own individual pain, but the gain our teams. Being encouraged and motivated by being part of a team, and the help of instructors’ positive and rousing commands, is what drove us on and made us forget the fact our bodies were in agony. This community spirit and teamwork left me on a natural high and stayed with me for the rest of the day, plus a whole-body ache (which stayed with me for the rest of the week.)

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