Ex-military heroes get city fit with boot camps

The military-style fitness camps are designed to provide a great workout through army motivational techniques. Picture: contributed
The military-style fitness camps are designed to provide a great workout through army motivational techniques. Picture: contributed
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Venture into a park near you and you may spy a keep-fit squadron being put through its paces by former members of the military.

TEN-SHUN you lazy, unfit, post-holiday flabby, belly bursting, wobbly lot of lardy old couch potatoes.

For in case you haven’t already noticed, there’s a military coup going on in a park, hill and suburban street somewhere near you.

Instructors in army-style fatigues with their “squadron” of red-faced, puffed-out conscripts are pounding the streets and doing press-ups on spare grassy knolls and park benches, all in search of a victory in the battle of the ever-increasing bulge.

Of course, military-inspired fitness camps and workouts have been part of the city’s exercise regime for years. But the difference is that now they’re on a far more authentic scale, bigger, more intense and, if you’re on the receiving end of a former soldier determined to get you working to the max, perhaps a little bit more serious.

For increasingly it’s ex-soldiers, commandos and paratroopers who are hitting the fitness trail, putting the wealth of experience they’ve gained in gruelling real-life military situations into square-bashing the rest of us into better health.

According to former paratrooper Eddie Brown, who runs Edinburgh City Boot Camps, having the real professionals on your fitness case means a military-style workout regime that combines all the unique motivational and team-working skills drawn from years of experience serving Queen and country.

“Those of us who are ex-military know it’s got to be a combination of the physical work and being very motivating. It’s about pushing people and getting them to do their best but not yelling at them,” explains Eddie.

“There’s a big difference between someone who’s a recently qualified fitness trainer who does a circuit class outdoors and calls it ‘boot camp’ and what people with a real military background will do.”

Eddie, who served for six years with the Parachute Regiment, runs his outdoor fitness classes at various venues around the city centre, often using street furniture as a prop for various heart-pumping 

His 45-minute classes cater for all abilities and are based around high intensity interval training, designed to keep the body burning off calories long after the workout has finished.

“My approach is to be supportive and to encourage,” he says, “but people have to want to embrace the fact they are there to work hard.”

He can at least prove he’s been there, seen it, done it when it comes to overcoming physical challenges – the 38-year-old served in Northern Ireland for over two years and had time in the United States “jumping out of planes”.

He says that means his support can be particularly beneficial, in particular to people who join up hoping to get fit for a particular challenge of their own such as the Spartan Race or Tough Mudder.

Certainly it’s helped one of his Stockbridge regulars, medical secretary Nora Steven, 63, to carve nearly 30 minutes off her half marathon time.

“Before I was just running on my own, but with Eddie I’m working my whole body and I love it,” she says. “His army background means you really respect what he’s telling you. He has a way of encouraging you so you really want to get out there and do it.”

In Holyrood Park and at the Meadows, ex-commando Jim Cusick draws on both his experience as a Royal Marine and as a leading international boxer with more than 150 fights under his belt. Now on civvy street, he’s still in army combats, putting members of his Commando Park Training squad through their paces.

Jim, 35, works with a network of former Royal Marine instructors running hour-long classes at the Meadows, often taking the fitter participants on challenging runs up Arthur’s Seat and employing military unit-style teamwork to help them through.

“Every instructor has a military background so they’re highly trained, very fit and good at motivating other people by building up their confidence,” he says.

“It’s not about shouting in someone’s face to do something faster, or putting people off by making them feel they can’t do something. It’s about helping them push up to the next level.

“There is no humiliation or danger and the whole idea is to enjoy the session,” adds Jim. “It’s about feeling inspired and encouraged.”

• Edinburgh City Boot Camps run at various locations, for details go to www.edinburghcitybootcamps.com or call 07837 922865

Commando Park Training runs sessions four evenings a week, meeting at the Meadows. Details from www.commandopark training.co.uk or 07977 578293.

• A CHALET in the Pentlands with a personal chef and yoga, pilates and behavioural coaching may not sound like roughing it military style, but it’s where Matt Smith – who has 20 years’ military experience, ten of it in outdoor training – runs Battlecamp weekends.

Matt, 37, says he prefers a modern “holistic” approach to fitness combining physical challenges with eating advice, relaxation and massage. “I want to get away from people thinking it’s about shouting at people. In the army we’d send guys away to try different things, including yoga at Aldershot. It was about taking people out of their comfort zone,” he says. “They went off thinking yoga was for sissies and came back saying it was among the hardest things they’ve done.”

Battlecamp weekends are designed to “kickstart” a new fitness regime, with physical challenges combined with support from other professionals in their field to help change unhealthy habits and therapeutic “down time”. “It’s about positive mental and motivational encouragement – not screaming and shouting,” he adds. “Yes you’re outdoors a lot of the time and you do get muddy, but at least there’s a massage and a nice meal afterwards!”

n Battlecamp weekends are run from aluxury lodge near West Calder. Details from www.battlecamp.org or 07875667958