It’s the hottest day since records began, with highs hitting an unthinkable 40 degrees. My usual plan would be to sit as still as possible, my only exercise being the short walk from desk to fridge/ freezer, before lifting a Ben & Jerry’s Peace Pop to my mouth.
However, I’ve given my word to former Royal Marine commando and Special Forces operator Jason ‘Foxy’ Fox and former UK Special Forces soldier Ollie Ollerton that I’ll join them in a gym in London’s Covent Garden on this roasting July day to complete an SAS training session. And they’re not the types you disobey.
The pair found fame as instructors on Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins, a reality series in which recruits take part in extreme SAS training to determine who has the mental, emotional and physical strength to make the grade. It’s tough. Just ask Wayne Bridge, Wes Nelson and Kerry Katona, who’ve all been reduced to a blubbering mess on the celebrity version of the show. Even the celebrities who've gone on to win the show have found it hard.
The reason for my workout isn’t because I’m planning to pack in journalism and join the forces. It‘s because Jason and Ollie believe we can all benefit from introducing some army skills into our lives. If you say so!
SAS training transforms regular soldiers into the toughest, deadliest warriors in the world. You’ve got to be seriously talented, with 90% of rookie recruits failing to make it through the initial training programme.
Ridiculously, it wasn’t until 2018 that women were even allowed into the SAS and only two have made it so far to the full selection course. But I’m here today to prove a point to myself. “It will show you what you’re actually capable of,” explains Ollie in our pep talk.
With Jason recovering from a leg injury and sitting on the sidelines, former Royal Marine Denny Denholm joins Ollie to put me through my paces. The pair explain that the workout is all about nailing the basics of exercise – the things we’ve all probably been doing in the gym for years. Just like SAS training, apparently.
Listening to their instructions is an integral part of the session. As I’m someone who turned left because it was easier whenever my driving instructor asked me to turn right, this is going to be tough.
“Your mind is always looking for the path of least resistance,” Jason tells me. I feel immediately seen. “It’s always looking to avoid stress,” he continues. “If you allow humans to be lazy, they will be lazy – that’s just the way we’re wired. It’s hard to push yourself through, but we’re there with you every step of the way.”
We start with some jumping jacks, but I’m not allowed to move my arms until instructed. My arms have other ideas and I receive a stern warning. However, I’m soon able to put my A level in dance into practice when told to form an ‘L’ shape with my arms and jump my feet out, repeating on the opposite side.
“It takes some lads months to be able to do that,” says Ollie. Can you believe people told me I’d never use my dance qualification – who’s laughing now?
The three basic exercises we tackle, increasing the intensity, are lunges, press-ups, and lying down pull-ups. “Right foot out, bend, left foot in and run back,” Denny bellows as I lunge for my life. “Keep going,” the pair shout over me.
The authoritative voices make me want to laugh, probably because I’m terrified and my brain doesn’t know how to process it. The photographer, who’s there to capture the session, unexpectedly gets involved.
“Look serious!” he commands. Just what I need – another man telling me what to do! This is followed by press-ups and then holding a plank.
One of my ultimate life goals is to complete a pull-up. I want to one day walk into my gym, do 10 pull-ups, flick my hair dramatically and then walk back out again, all eyes on me, as if I’m the star of a Lynx advert, everyone bamboozled by my capabilities. For now, I’m lying on an exercise mat like a fish that’s been flung from the ocean, holding on to a rolled-up sweat towel as I pull it towards me (all part of the exercise). Doesn’t look quite as impressive, but as the boys had told me, I need to nail the basics.
After a water break, we repeat all the exercises but this time pulsing our way through in one – almost – constant movement. Endurance is a key part of the SAS and recruits might find themselves spending hours upon hours running across difficult terrains such as the Pen y Fan mountain range in Wales. I think about this as I push myself to my limits in the air-conditioned gym – I’ll leave the tough terrain to the tougher women!
Finally, I take part in a “Punisher” to complete the session. I’m asked to envisage being on enemy lines – Ollie and Denny have me sprinting on the spot, squat thrusting and dropping into a press-up position. As I bend my elbows to keep low they yell, “Cover!” I’m also required to keep my head up to look out for any danger. In this case, the danger is my sweat that’s dripping on to the floor causing a possible slip hazard.
“Keep your arms in,” Denny warns. “But they’re double jointed,” I reply. It’s an excuse that usually works pretty well in exercise classes. “You can still keep them in,” he retaliates.
To conclude the session they ask, “Are you safe now?” “Er, no?” I respond, confused. “OK, keep sprinting.”
“I mean, yes, yes, I’m safe now,” I add rapidly. And just like that it’s all over.
What have I learnt about myself? That if I ever find myself taking part in SAS: Who Dares Wins, I back myself to make it to episode two of six. Then I’ll happily kick off my army boots for good and head out for an iced coffee.
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