Health - Fighting fit

Don't be put off by Hollywood's interpretation of army training – while it may be muddy, British Military Fitness is good clean fun, says Dave Cumins, the BMF Parks Manager for Brighton and Hove. Jenny Mark-Bell tried it for herself.

When Major Robin Cope came out of service 10 years ago, he struggled to find a satisfactory way to keep fit.  In his exasperation, he founded British Military Fitness. “He didn’t like the gym culture at the time, all lycra and mirrors”, says Brighton Parks Manager and ex Royal Marine Dave Cumins, “and he got the idea of exercising in London parks. The classes really took off and we came to Brighton six years ago.”

The unpretentious and vigorous training programme has proved popular in the area, with 18 classes held per week at three different venues. About 60 people attend each session and classes are structured according to a bib system: beginners start off in blue, progressing through intermediate to advanced fitness.

Each ability is split into groups “so it’s close to personal training without paying for a personal trainer”according to Dave. “People enjoy the team spirit and are more likely to push themselves a bit further for the sake of the group. It’s a very sociable way to get fit: we meet up for drinks, quiz evenings, Christmas parties and so on.”

BMF’s motto is “fun, firm, friendly and fair” and Dave believes that their unique selling point is motivation. “All of the instructors are either ex or serving military personnel so they understand the physical and mental side of training. They’re very good at encouraging people to do their best.” All instructors have completed a physical training qualification either during their military service or afterwards, and can help out with advice on nutrition and healthy living.

The first class a new member signs up for is free, so anyone can come and try it out before they commit. “The word ‘military’ used to strike fear into people’s hearts,” says Dave. “That was before it became well-known, even fashionable.” In Brighton, around 90 per cent of people who sign up for a trial session go on to become a member.

In the spirit of research I sign up for a free trial at Hove Park, recruiting an athletic friend as moral support. My mind is prickling with misgivings as we arrive in darkness.

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 Instructors Sandy and Dan quiz us about our fitness levels. “Poor,” I announce. “Average,” says my friend, rather cleverly we think: this should ensure an easy ride.

Pulling on numbered blue bibs, we are put into ranks and Dan and Sandy start barking orders. Fully stretched and wheezing gently, we split into two teams. Soon we are executing feeble press-ups in the mud at which Dan chuckles with benign jollity. We jog a lot, but a number of the exercises are done in pairs so there is plenty of opportunity to meet people.

I quickly find myself growing quite affectionate towards the rest of the group: this is clearly the motivational part of the training taking effect.

Although the class is intense, it is never boring. Dan threatens us with the ‘Burpee Fairy’ if we seem to be flagging and yells encouragement as we run backwards uphill.

My natural tendency to offer grovelling apologies to anyone who comes within a metre of me is tested to the limit as we run around the park, bumping into each other in the dark. Despite the convivial atmosphere I am almost weeping with happiness when, at the end of the hour, we commence the long jog back to the BMF van.

I am muddy and jelly-legged. Back at the car park minutes later, though, the endorphins have kicked in and I am ready for my next roll in the mud.

Find out more

Membership queries – call the BMF Office on 0207 751 9742 or email

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