Staff Sergeants Charlotte Spence and Alex Rees have earned the right to proudly call themselves the British Army’s fittest soldiers for they have gone further, faster, higher and longer than any other soldier in this year’s British Army Warrior Fitness challenge.
British Army Warrior Fitness (BAWF) is a competition that sets out not to find the strongest or the fastest, but the competitor who has the best all-round physical characteristics of upper, lower and core body strengths combined with agility, speed and stamina; in short the fittest soldier athlete.
Soldiers were going to gyms off camp and developing their own functional fitness training schedules. A lot of them started to adapt these as they fitted in well with the military style of fitness requirements Staff Sergeant Crook, Royal Army Physical Training Corps
Organised by the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, BAWF is very much a modern competitive approach to today’s means of physical conditioning, yet it can trace its roots back a decade ago to when the RAPTC dramatically overhauled the means by which physical training was being delivered to troops. Up to that point a soldier’s training regime consisted mainly of group and collective PT with the emphasis on long distance runs and tabs. A typical weekly PT timetable would include; a run, a loaded march or tab and perhaps one circuit session that would usually have an individual instructor’s hallmark over it.
During this period the popularity of functional fitness was coursing through gymnasia the length and breadth of the country accelerated by the development and rapid expansion of popular operators. It sought to develop individual’s all-round fitness and health, not simply body build or increase aerobic levels. Staff Sergeant Crook of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps explained, “Soldiers were going to gyms off camp and developing their own functional fitness training schedules. A lot of them started to adapt these as they fitted in well with the military style of fitness requirements. It was functional movement patterns such as pushing, pulling, weights, aerobic exercises, rope climbing, and gymnastics movements all performed at relative and high intensity over varying time frames.”
We also have the capability to customise the review to reflect the type of physical loading on the body for soldiers in particular roles. In essence it tests the soldier as to whether they are fit to fight in whatever role they play. Staff Sergeant Crook, Royal Army Physical Training Corps
The RAPTC recognised this and put their heads together with a few university scientists to develop how both physical training was to be conducted in the Army and the testing parameters to indicate a soldier’s progress. The collaboration resulted in a highly innovative approach to personal fitness within the ranks. Gone was the outdated PFA (Personal Fitness Assessment) of a run followed by press ups and sit ups; and, via a couple of renditions, has been replaced with the Role Fitness Test that sits under the Physical Employment Standards of the British Army and the Soldier Conditioning Review. “The old PFA simply tested whether you could run and your muscular endurance in upper body and abdominal areas. We now have a system where we can evaluate as a soldier athlete to see whether they have all-round fitness: strong, fast, powerful, have good aerobic and anaerobic capacity. We also have the capability to customise the review to reflect the type of physical loading on the body for soldiers in particular roles. In essence it tests the soldier as to whether they are fit to fight in whatever role they play.”
The advent of high profile fitness and conditioning companies bathed this style of training in the limelight and these brands turned fitness training and body conditioning into a world-wide competitive sport. Soldiers bought into this, and of course loved the competitive element. The RAPTC took this genre of competition and redesigned it to complement the Army’s recently introduced new physical training system. BAWF has been written to mimic movement patterns and styles used by soldiers. Some workouts reflect well known military operations and battles. “We looked at the physical components of a particular operation and wrote a workout based on that - for instance, one week may be Monte Casino, the next perhaps Mount Longdon. The workouts would be based on the physical traits of those particular battles; so, if it were in mountainous terrain the workout would be tempered towards leg work. Alternatively, if the battle involved carrying heavy loads, then it would be mostly focused on upper and core body strength.”
Due to the pandemic, this year’s BAWF competition has been open solely for individuals unlike previous years when regiments, corps and units would field teams. This year’s finals, held at the Army Training Regiment in Winchester, saw the ten fittest women and men in the Army who had won through the numerous regional competitions go head to head for a shot at the most coveted of titles – ‘The British Army’s Fittest Female and Male Soldier’.