There is motivational shouting and laughter alongside running relays, tug of wars, burpees and more shouting. This is British Military Fitness at Tredegar House - and it is not for the faint hearted as ROB OWEN discovers.
NATHAN Gibbons is shouting at a group of men and women.
They are mostly clad in blue and red bibs and he is enthusiastically urging them to “push it”, before counting down, “four, three, two, one”.
“Stop,” he calls out.
Some of the group have their hands on their knees having just taken part in an intense set of drills including press ups, relays, burpees (press up to star jump) and several other extreme exercises.
Welcome to British Military Fitness (BMF) training.
Born in Newport, Mr Gibbons joined the army at 17 with the Royal Regiment of Wales. In his time with the regiment he travelled to Germany, Poland, Canada and Belize, and served in operational theatres such as Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo.
But after leaving the service he joined the military preparation college in Cardiff as a physical training instructor.
After a year in this post he took over the position of operations manager for British Military Fitness, and he now shares his expertise in the picturesque surroundings of Newport's Tredegar House in what has become one of the UK’s most popular outdoor fitness classes.
Mr Gibbons said: “BMF is one of the best ways to get fitter, faster, stronger and have fun while doing so. We try to make training fun and work to a standard, not to a formula. Every session is unique and designed to challenge, offering a variety of outdoor exercise and terrain.”
BMF was founded in 1999 by Major Robin Cope as an alternative form of group fitness training to gyms.
A highly decorated officer, he worked first as a military consultant on films including Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan, training Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks and Matt Damon to name just a few.
But he saw the potential for general public outdoor fitness classes, run by military trained personnel.
The first session – at Hyde Park, London – saw just three people turn up, but gradually the number improved and now there are more than 100 groups across the country operating seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year.
There are different memberships, catering to different needs and timetables, and different ability levels from starter to advanced with different coloured bibs used to distinguish between them.
Edward Saville, from Newport, is one of BMF’s biggest advocates.
“Aside from getting married and having my son, joining BMF is one of the best things I have done in my life,” said the 43-year-old. “That’s how highly I rate it.”
“My level of fitness has increased dramatically and I have made friends and formed relationships I never would have at an ordinary gym.
“I used to train at David Lloyd and the Celtic Manor, but I never knew anyone when I started there and I never knew anyone when I left.”
He said BMF was completely different, and called the social side “superb”.
“There are always social events and get-togethers planned, be it for the rugby or whatever. There is a real sense of camaraderie,” he added.
“Not long ago they organised a 54-mile walk of the Brecon Beacons, which had to be completed in 24 hours. Were it not for the training and the encouragement, not only from the instructors but training partners too, I would never have been able to do it. Certainly not at that intensity anyway.”
Mr Saville joined the Tredegar House class in 2011. He said that while he wasn’t quite a couch potato he was well on his way, but he now trains three times a week and has cut his weight dramatically and his cholesterol too.
“I have been having private medicals for the past five years, and at my last appointment my doctor said that if she did not know better she would think she was examining the wrong person,” said Mr Saville, a factory general manager in Llanwern.
“I have cut my weight from above 17st to below 15st and am really happy with where I am physically now.
“BMF is to thank for that. You never know what you will be doing when you turn up. Be it commando crawling around in the mud, taking part in tug of war, or carrying a tyre over your shoulder. There is no repetitiveness.
“Nathan and the rest of the instructors are fantastic too. People need not worry about some intimidating figure screaming at you, it’s more like civvy street with a military element - you get the best of both worlds. And you just have to let the enthusiasm of the instructors motivate you.
“I recommend it to anyone.”
One of the Tredegar House group’s success stories is former staff sergeant Andrew Perkins.
After leaving the army in 2005, Mr Perkins admitted "pure laziness" led to him piling on the pounds.
He reached a massive 18 stone 10lbs, having been lean and in shape throughout his 24 years in the army.
He was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
But it was when he started suffering from chest pains that the Rogerstone resident decided he needed to do something about it.
He joined British Military Fitness in January 2011 and within nine months, amazingly, he was told his diabetes had been reversed. He was also five stone lighter, weighing in at 13st 9lbs.
A change in his diet had helped but it was his four-times weekly sessions at Tredegar House which had made the real difference.
It had taken an angiogram to make the break through, but such was the turnaround that he began working towards being an instructor to give something back.
Mr Perkins said: "The classes are fantastic. The military style of training obviously appeals to me due to my background but also it’s the camaraderie - you don’t want to let the people around you down, it’s about team building,” the systems engineer added.
"I just feel so much better in myself now."
An adventurous Cwmbran fundraiser is another who has benefited from the extreme nature of BMF.
Last summer, Colin Wilmott began preparing for an epic Christmas-time assault on Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Southern and Western hemisphere, and the highest mountain outside the Himalayas.
Mr Wilmott is no stranger to the rigours of challenging fundraising expeditions.
He has raised no less than £20,000 for charity over the past five years – even being named Breast Cancer Campaign’s UK Fundraiser of the year in 2009, after raising a staggering £14,000 walking the challenging East Highland Way in Scotland.
And the 56-year-old former local government worker can also count Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu among his past conquests.
But, ahead of his latest trek, Mr Wilmott was told he would have to be at the peak of his physical fitness.
So he turned to Mr Gibbons and others at Tredegar House.
The Croesyceiliog resident said BMF had proved invaluable in his preparation.
“It will be a big step up from what I have done before but I feel like I am ready,” he added.
BMF prices vary from £20 to £42 per month (depending on location and membership).
For more information see www.britmilfit.com or go along to one of the venues and sign up with a park instructor.