The road to success for the Army’s fittest woman

Staff Sergeant Charlotte Spence joined the Army in 2006 and wanted to follow her grandfather into the Royal Military Police. With no particular sporting background, she soon realised that there were many opportunities for everyone to take part in sport in the Army and after completing her Physical Training Instructor (PTI) course she transferred to the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC). More recently she took part in the British Army Warrior Fitness (BAWF) and was crowned as the Army’s fittest woman.

I grew up in the Lake District in the small village of Coniston attending the John Ruskin School. I never really played any particular sport in my youth but was interested in becoming a police officer and studied Law at Oldham Sixth Form College. My grandfather, an ex-military policeman, told me all about military life, I joined the Air Cadets which led to my early career in the Royal Military Police.

“British Army Warrior Fitness is a competition that is not about the strongest or the fastest, but the competitor who has the best all-round physical characteristics”. Staff Sergeant Charlotte Spence, Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC)

Initially posted to Germany I soon found myself on an operational tour in Afghanistan where I needed to be fit for my role. I never really enjoyed any kind of physical activity at school, even hiding from PE on occasions but the Army really encouraged me to keep fit and provided me with lots of opportunities. I discovered that fitness provided me with a personal escape and enjoyment as well as furthering my opportunities within the military.

In 2014 I transferred to the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) where is was able to combine my passion for fitness with my day job. I was also able to help soldiers with exercise rehabilitation after injury and encouraging others to fully realise their own sporting potential.

Since joining the Army I have been involved in running, triathlon, cycling and I even completed a marathon in 3hrs 35mins which I was very happy about. That helped me regain my fitness after having my baby however I didn’t attempt to be too competitive at any of these events, I just loved taking part.

I then suffered stress fractures of the shins and had to dramatically alter my focus away from running. It was then that my colleague Alex Rees introduced me to a different training regime that included a series of exercises that provided a massive variation in movements and skills. I worked hard over the last two years training with a team from my local gym and together we competed in a number of competitions in the UK and were lucky enough to be able to travel to Madison, Wisconsin, USA to compete at international level which was a great experience. That put me in a great place to compete in the British Army Warrior Fitness (BAWF) competition.

“British Army Warrior Fitness is a competition that is not about the strongest or the fastest, but the competitor who has the best all-round physical characteristics”. 

The BAWF not about 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. It 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 how PT was being delivered to soldiers. Up to that point a soldier’s training regime consisted mainly of group and collective PT with the emphasis on long distance runs and Loaded marches affectionately called tabs. A typical weekly timetable would include a run, a tab and perhaps one circuit session that would usually have an individual instructor’s hallmark over it.

“Being crowned as the Army’s fittest woman is a real achievement, we have so many superbly fit soldiers and to be at the top is such an achievement”. Staff Sergeant Charlotte Spence, Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC)

The RAPTC along with scientists from various universities developed how physical training was delivered in the Army and the testing methods used to indicate a soldier’s progress. The collaboration resulted in a highly innovative approach to personal fitness. Gone was the outdated personal fitness assessment of a run followed by press ups and sit ups and replaced by the Role Fitness Test that sits under the Physical Employment Standards and the Soldier Conditioning Review.

We now have a system where we can evaluate a soldier to see whether they have all-round fitness: strong, fast, powerful and 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 competition was fantastic and being crowned as the Army’s fittest woman is a real achievement, we have so many superbly fit soldiers and to be at the top is such an achievement. I would recommend that everyone develops their all-round physical characteristics of upper, lower and core body strengths combined with agility, speed and stamina it really something anyone can do at all levels and gymnasiums are now very well equipped to introduce people to the various movements needed.

“Being crowned as the Army’s fittest woman is a real achievement, we have so many superbly fit soldiers and to be at the top is such an achievement”.

You don’t need to make huge sacrifices to be fit. I believe that I am very normal when it comes to food and lifestyle. I never shy away from having a glass of wine or chocolate if I want it and I often put family first. I feel the emphasis should be enjoying what you do and in turn you will work harder to be better at it. 

This year I have finished my BSc Hons Degree in Sport and Exercise Science, faced the challenge of Covid-19, home schooling and training and competing with the team in a number of competitions nationally and internationally. I have also been selected for the Army Weightlifting team which will be a new focus for my training. Right now, I am planning to enjoy some family time and, while I will continue to train, I am looking forward to some normality after a busy season.

The Army has supported my sporting aspirations throughout my journey. As a working mum I have relied heavily on my hugely supportive family and partner; without them I would never have been able to achieve what I have. I don’t believe achievements are made on your own, it’s definitely a team effort, and those in my wider team deserve just as much credit as me.