British Military Fitness hung up its boots this last week, to reincarnate as Be Military Fit.
While the concept of organised, multi-level, outdoor group workouts remains unchanged, the whole outfit has moved to what they hope will be a more inclusive brand. But what does this mean for our beloved institution of park-based pain and gain? We sent Andrew Wood to find out, as they ventured to their local park to CATCH A BEAR.
Andy has trained at BMF Swindon for 4 years, so when the rebrand was announced, we could think of no one better to smash out a National Fitness Day session, catch up with Managing Director, Tommy Matthews and, then, err, grill Bear.
Over to you, Andy...
We have a rule at BMF Swindon; if you are late to a session you have to stand in front of the group and do 5 burpees whilst everyone else holds in the bottom of a press up.
Fair enough right? Except it turns out that this rule still applies at 7.29 on a beautiful if slightly chilly morning in Lydiard Park, Swindon. This scene is made all the more amusing by the fact that we’re due to go live on Facebook for a 20 minute HIIT workout in 1 minutes time and we’re all still face down on the floor!!
BMF Swindon itself has seen huge membership increases in the last 2 years due to the hard work of Nick (current) and Kev (former) as park managers. So much so that we were voted park of the year last year! You’d argue then that there was a winning formula in there somewhere right?
However - in recent weeks emails have been fired out from BMF explaining a series of changes being made. In short they’re rebranding to Be Military Fit with a new logo and a whole host of new features. BMF Swindon had been chosen as the venue for a workout launching this new branding and helping to kick off National Fitness Day!
The workout was to be broadcast live on Facebook and included a celebrity participant - none other than Bear Grylls! Once he’d gotten up off the floor (he happily joined in with the punishments!) he gave a brief introduction and kicked off the workout.
For those of us who are already BMF members, the exercises are all very familiar. Starting with brief mobillsation we’re swiftly moved on to a series of bodyweight strength exercises incorporating lunges, press ups and squats. This then progressed into the high intensity section with active recovery. Internally I was left debating why anyone would ever call mountain climbers “active recovery” and although 20 minutes may seem like a short period of time - we still effectively covered most bases. More importantly the workout left everyone absolutely buzzing from the atmosphere of the morning.
This for me is one of the most important aspects of BMF and is one of the things they’re really focussing on with the relaunch. Community. It’s why I got into BMF some 4 1/2 years ago in the first place. Being able to exercise outdoors with your mates is just plain fun and frankly - it works (I myself lost a stone within the first month of BMF training).
They’re also promising a whole host of other benefits. Programming will be upgraded with a raft of new class types being offered, as well as nutritional advice being made available. I know from personal experience that it’s easy to kid yourself that you eat well so this will certainly be welcome!!
Additionally there’s promise of widespread expansion to many more parks including international venues (hence dropping British from the name). One email received lately was also welcoming applications to form part of a member council - liaising regularly with management to ensure BMF are delivering what the members actually want. I’m sure this can only be a good thing
I know there’s been a level of unease around some of the changes with plenty suggesting that the old formula was plenty good enough. Having seen the level of commitment and enthusiasm being put into it though, it feels like they’re not so much shooting for a completely fresh start - moreover significantly improving something that was already pretty damn good. I for one can’t wait!
Managing Director Tommy was pretty excited to launch National Fitness Day, not just to existing BMF members, but to “inspire many others, and make sure everyone understands that it’s easy to get into fitness. NFD is in its 5th year; last NFD, 5.1million people exercised across 18000 activities, so [partnering with it gave BMF] an opportunity to really create a spark within a nation. The World Health Organisation has just released statistics stating that inactivity is the 4th biggest killer globally (just to get the morbid stuff out the way). But we’re not just looking at physical benefits [of exercise], but mental ones; it helps people to build communities within society.”BMF have seen some real growth since its inception, and is in around 140 locations with 300 fully trained instructors from the top to the bottom of Scotland, England and Wales. “We’ve got great opportunities for people to get outdoors, get active and get with the military fitness programme.” But what about people who want to get fit, but are put off by a potentially aggressive sounding military theme? ‘If that seems a bit intense, we’ve got the active programme, which is a low intensity introduction to exercise, so it’s great for beginners, and active older adults. We are developing lots of programmes specifically for kids too. We hope to have something for all ages, abilities, and fitness levels.”
So what will this new partnership with Bear Grylls do to the brand we have come to love? Let’s find out.
Bear: [Exercise] been a huge part of my life every since I was a little kid. In kids, it’s so natural; you want to move, you want to climb up stuff and jump off stuff, and life sometimes beats that out of people. For me, physicality is always at the heart of my life in the military, expeditions and my TV ventures.
What I have learned is that [exercise] affects so much – not everything of course, but so much. Physiologically speaking, it drives endorphins around, makes us feel better - and since life throws a lot of stuff at all of us – the more equipped we are, the better. You only have to chat to some BMF members here to know– they aren’t all athletes - they have regular day jobs, but they know if they start their morning right, the rest seems to follow. So they start it together, outdoors, and they start it strong.
Andy: So why the BMF rebrand?
Bear: BMF is a brand I have loved for years – I used to train with them before I joined the military. It’s got such great British heritage and is a brilliant community. The plan is to take it to the next level and bring some fun, innovative, really pioneering programmes to it, and then to take it around the world. We are all part of the same mission –which is helping people live empowered lives.
People love it, they love the military ethos, and they love the outdoors and community - that is always going to set BMF apart.
Andy: But why is the LION GONE? People love the lion!
Bear: We are not just UK. We live in a global village nowadays. So many people from around the world said they wanted to train like this, and we didn’t want people to think it’s just for British people. We want to lead the way but we want to be inclusive.
Bear: Outdoors, community and that sense of fun. A little bit of bad weather and mud is good for the soul. Life requires resilience – most people aren’t used to [training outdoors, but] when you get used to training like this, there’s something primal and empowering about it.
Andy: Will anything change about the classes?
Bear: We are adding more parks and more countries. That’s part of the reason we’ve come on board! We’ll have a whole bunch of new programmes; the three main classes are Crossrun. BMF active and Be Military Fit. We have worked hard to bring ‘best in class’ trainers in – we want to be at the cutting edge of the fitness industry. That’s why we’ve taken our time with this. It’s been fun to see people’s responses to it, as we now have huge support and new equipment that will be rolled out over the next year.
Andy: And what do you say to the people having a bit of a grumble about change to put their minds at ease?
Bear: If you’re not changing, you’re standing still. If you’re standing still, you’re going backwards or sinking. You have to adapt. The only people who like change are babies with wet nappies. The values and heart can still be there - this is about community, outdoors, friendship fun, fitness, but we’ve got to adapt and grow.
Bear: Never giving up.