Sunday, 17 May 2009

Stand by......GO!!!

Earlier this week I went along for my free trial class with British Military Fitness. This was something I’d written about doing in a previous post.

I turned up at their Mote Park venue in Maidstone nice and early and as 7.00 pm approached I noticed a group of healthy people gathering to the side of the leisure centre (ironically, most of the people to’ing and fro’ing the leisure centre looked anything but healthy, many red faced after their “workouts”, lighting a cigarette on their way back to the car!!).

Anyway, disclaimer in hand, I approached one of the instructors – a strong looking guy wearing DPM combat trousers, called “Danny”. All of the BMF instructors are either former or currently serving military – most Physical Training Instructors (PTIs), all with fitness instruction qualifications to their names. Danny gave me an overview of what would happen in the classes and talked me through the three different groups within the class – Blue bibs, Novice, Red bibs, Intermediate, Green bibs, Advanced. Unsure what these fitness standards meant in reality, I plumped for Blue… I didn’t want to overestimate my level of fitness and embarrass myself. Apparently it is for each individual to decide which bib they wear at any given session, which is cool as I guess you could up yourself and really cane it, or drop down if you needed to take it easy. I think the bib system is also good in terms of progress – it gives you goals to aim for, much in the same way as the belt system works in Martial Arts.

We jogged off to an area of the park for the warm up, which I had been warned would be the worst part. It consisted of a series of shuttle runs, gradually increasing in pace, with various exercises in between to warm up the major muscle groups. This was followed by a range of exercises and runs in groups, Greens, obviously running furthest and doing the most reps.

Then the whole group was split into two – one group of Blues with a few lower end Reds, the other group Greens with upper end reds. The session was then a series of short runs interspersed with various forms of abdominal exercises, squats, burpees (the exercise loathed by all who’ve ever done military PTI – we used to call them “bastards” in the RAF), various types of press ups and so on – all done in reps of 10-20, numerous sets so the overall number of reps is quite high. If you follow the PTI’s instructions and keep moving then you are doing something continuously for an hour, but there were a good few in my group that either found it hard to keep up or simply slacked off (which I have trouble understanding given that they’d paid to be there and to get fitter – each to their own). At the end of all this, there was a warm down run and some stretching.

The session lasted an hour and as I’ve said, if you keep moving, it can be an hour of non-stop movement which is good (how many gym sessions of an hour are a full hour of exercise?). The body weight exercises were in quantities enough to be challenging, but I found the aerobic aspect easy – I barely broke a sweat, but this has given me a bit of confidence in my existing level of fitness. I think, given that there was 1 or 2 lower end reds that were ahead of me and that I found some of the later press ups hard (damn you lactic acid!), I’m likely to stick with the Blues for a few weeks until I feel I can give a reasonable account as red – certainly I’d want to be at the head of the group I was in last night to feel that I was ready to move up….much like Jiu Jitsu – unless you’re at the top of the heap against all other white belts then you shouldn’t be thinking about a blue belt (IMO).

I went along to another session yesterday (Saturday) which was with a different instructor and was far harder - after some exercises my legs were like jelly and I found it really tough - great!! (Then I went and trained Jiu Jitsu for three hours straight after!!! - actually it was quite a good antidote.) Apparently there are some fitness tests coming up which should be a good way to guage where I am and also to track progress with future tests (approx every 2 months).

I can’t really think of any downsides with the experience. The instructors are friendly, knowledgeable, approachable and game for a laugh and any images anyone has of a PTI shouting into your ear commanding you to drop face first into the mud and give them infinity should be dismissed. Even in the regular Forces, I never met a PTI that needed to resort to that to get the best out of people – they just have a genuine desire to see people give their best. Do that and you’ll get along fine. The other participants are friendly and encouraging (I’d guess that 70-80% of the membership are women), it was well organised and exercising with other people, in a sociable way, outdoors is simply so much better than the sterile gym, full of posers and slackers. The other advantage is that there are no limits that will create routine, which can be a killer of even the most committed gym-goers. I know, from what Danny told me, and from experience that every session will be different – all you have to do is turn up and do your best with what the PTI gives you to do.

I feel I can make rapid gains with this, so I signed up for unlimited sessions per week - £38 per month where I live (it does vary region by region) which is only 50p more than my gym membership which I intend to cancel. I’ll be able to attend twice a week normally – Tues eve and sat mornings. The other advantage is that if I’m away somewhere with work, there are enough locations around the UK to be able to pitch up and train anywhere now that I’m a member.

Overall, it’s a great sociable, directed workout which I think will motivate me far more than the gym. I also like the format which, if you have the right mindset will encourage you to push yourself further than being alone on a treadmill will. Big thumbs up from me.

Catch you soon.