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thedrifter
01-29-08, 04:39 PM
Fighting fit: Royal Marines' commando training

Only two women have ever passed the Royal Marines' fearsome commando training. So how did Susie Rushton fare?

After 32 weeks of blood, sweat and mud – also known as training – the commandos who pass out of the training corps in Exmouth have a level of fitness most of us can only dream of.

"By the end, they'll be about the same standard as an international athlete," says the documentary film-maker Chris Terrill, my guide on this mission. Terrill was awarded an honorary "green beret" after living and training at Lympstone with a cohort of Marines for the ITV series Commando: On the Front Line.

Terrill, 55 and frighteningly lean, with bulging pectoral muscles, was shoulder-to-shoulder with the recruits for 5am runs, relentless circuits of pull-ups, push-ups and squats, and finally, the four "commando tests", including the 30-miler – an eight-hour speed-march across Dartmoor carrying a 30lb pack.

The Royal Marines are amphibious infantry who specialise in Arctic and mountain warfare but are capable of fighting on any terrain. The overused term "boot camp" doesn't really do the training justice. So demanding is the regime at Lympstone that recruits consume 4,000 calories a day in four meals and snacks – and still lose weight.

By the final weeks of training, Terrill says, he was supplementing that with doses of Nurofen to ease the pain from blisters, scrapes, bruises, pulled calf muscles, a ruptured bicep tendon and a dislocated finger. More than half the recruits drop out before the end of training; in 1987, Prince Edward asked to be excused from commando training after a mere 10 weeks.

The Royal Marines' reputation as the elite regiment of the British forces is founded on a physical training schedule that transforms 19-year-olds (the average age at Lympstone) into nimble yet muscular men. Runs are as important as upper-body strength, which is built up with monkey bars, pull-ups and climbing ropes and walls. "You'd compare their fitness to that of a decathlete," says Colour Sergeant Dave Silvester, one of the squad of PTIs (physical training instructors). "The Institute of Naval Medicine did a study for us and told us that we're looking for quite a peculiar physique. Usually, runners don't have good upper-body strength, and upper-body gymnasts aren't great at running. We look to create endurance-based strength athletes."

I'm not unfit, but I'm no decathlete. And today I've got to complete the commando assault course, one of the four final tests trainees must pass.

Terrill had warned me that the most important transformations made at Lympstone are psychological rather than physical. "I do a lot of sport anyway," he says, "But here with the commandos, I had to gain battle fitness – and that is a state of mind."

Achieving battle fitness means learning how to continue to run, climb and crawl even when you've got an injury – a notion not encouraged by those who train sportsmen and women. "It's about self-belief," Terrill says. "I had a mindset that I couldn't deal with pain, but progressively they changed that."

Lympstone is a compact base of just 97 acres, with low-rise dorms where recruits catch a few hours of sleep after folding their uniforms into perfect rectangles each night. They're taught how to live every minute as a commando, and are even given training in how to shower properly (there really is a Marine way to do everything). I'm let off that particular demo – and the ritual hair crop – but I am issued with the camo-print shirt and trousers.

Once kitted out in the standard garb, two things keep happening: the leather boots (about four times heavier than regular trainers) shred my feet, and I get a bollocking every 10 minutes for putting my hands in my pockets. (And, yes, women can be commandos – it's just that only two have ever passed the tests.) The cotton trousers and shirt aren't exactly sports-technical fabrics; once the rain soaks in, you're cold and wet all day.

First, we go to the gym where one cohort is doing "command and response" gym circuits based on calisthenics. For these hour-long drills, they sprint in formation, with five PTIs barking at them to get their knees up higher. "They're learning to mentally control their bodies," Silvester says. "Right now, they want to stop, bend over and breathe hard. But we're showing them how the brain can beat the body. It's about controlling their movement even when they are fatigued – and when they are out on operations, that could make a life-or-death difference."

In the first 15 weeks, the recruits learn close-quarter combat: "Punches, strikes, kicks and locks; we don't have time to train them in any complicated martial arts," Silvester says. Initially swimming, rather than running, is used to build up the cardiovascular system, although as the weeks progress they do three-, four- and five-mile runs in boots and kit, working on the pace of a 10-minute mile.

Then we head off to the assault course. It starts with a death slide, then the 6ft wall, and then rope challenges with names like "the chasm". It's supposed to take 13 minutes. I scrape it in an hour.

I'd been warned not to eat much before the assault course: the rigours of the test can make you vomit. Then, as we're being briefed on the death slide – which starts from a rickety-looking 70ft tower – there's a delay. "We've just got to wait for the ambulance to turn up," Silvester says cheerfully, "as a precaution."

After the slide – which is actually quite fun – he decides we're a too dry, so he bellows at us to do push-ups in the mud, then sprints, then forward rolls, then more push-ups. No motivation is required: follow instructions, or risk a "beasting" (a humiliating dressing-down).

Then the obstacles. Struggling to haul myself over the 6ft wall, I can see what they mean about upper-body strength. For a weedy-armed girl, tests like the monkey bars – where, if you let go, you're straight into a tank of muddy water – are agonising. More manageable are the balance-testing obstacles where we slide along ropes, although I wonder how quickly I would have done it if I wasn't being barked at by a 6ft 3in PTI. By the time I'm crawling through the final waterlogged tunnels, my hands are numb with cold. It's then that I realise – it's all about telling yourself to just keep going.

"By the end of the training, I could deal with pain," Terrill says afterwards. "The training team do push you, but they also encourage you. The sense of fraternity is important. I thought I couldn't do the monkey bars, but when you've got a dozen of your mates behind you telling you can do it – that makes a difference."

Of course, however much the Royal Marines present signing up as a chance to see the world, hone your physique and make the closest friends you'll ever find, that isn't really the point. Terrill, who went to the front line in Afghanistan for the conclusion of his documentary, found that culmination of all his training "terrifying and fantastic".

Sleeping in a dorm, being shouted, going to war – these are aspects of being a commando I can live without. But it is possible to apply parts of their training to a fitness regime away from war zones.

"Not many people do circuits at the gym today," Silvester says. "But if you do resistance work [with weights] in a proper circuit format, it works your whole body, upper and lower, and your heart." To start with, he recommends 20 chest presses, 20 pull-downs, 20 curls and leg presses and five minutes on the bike – then repeat the whole circuit three or four times. OK, perhaps that's a bit optimistic.

But, he adds: "If you go for a run in the park, do some jumping over benches, do pull-ups or press-ups in the kids' playground, zigzag in and out of obstacles and balance on a beam – that's a mini assault-course. When you use obstacles, you challenge yourself and you're not thinking about the running – you're enjoying yourself."

By doing endurance-based work, as the Royal Marines do, you target your heart and lungs, pumping more blood around your body and helping your lungs bring in oxygen better. Silvester recommends combining that with strength-based work. "If people want to lose weight, they tend to stick with a cardiovascular system and only lose a couple of pounds. But if you work on your musculature, you give yourself a bigger engine."


Chris Terrill, whose Marine training far exceeded my rather lame half-day taster, says he saw big changes in his body. "As a runner, I was slim. Here, I was gaining shape and definition, and it wasn't because I was in front of the gym mirror lifting weights. It makes you feel terrific."

But it is the emphasis on mental preparation that is most impressive – and vital in a war zone. Such is the Marines' self-belief that two young officers, Ben Gaffney and Orlando Rogers, recently rowed across the Atlantic although neither trained anywhere but on the rowing machines at Lympstone. "They get much closer to a sense of their own physical being here, but they also learn an extraordinary sense of can-do," Terrill says.

So, next time I get a twinge while jogging – on a nice dry day, in comfy trainers, thousands of miles from Helmand Province, thank you very much – I'll remember the four-part ethos of the Royal Marine Commandos – courage, determination, unselfishness and cheerfulness in the face of adversity. Even if that adversity is just a stitch.


Commando: On the Front Line is out on DVD

Military manoeuvres

By Eve Middleton

Israeli Defence Force
Train under the tuition of the IDF's Krav Maga experts. The first rule of this technique of self-defence and combat is that there are no rules. The emphasis in training is on an intense aerobic workout focusing on the execution of strikes at full force.

French Foreign Legion
The FFL run everywhere, even under the desert sun. Be warned – these guys coined the idea that "pain is just weakness leaving the body".

The Gurkhas
If you're into detox, you'll thrive on this cardiovascular training at altitude; it takes place in the Himalayan stronghold of Pokhara, on a diet of lentils, rice and vegetables.

US Marines
The Marine Corps came up with a new programme this year. Training focuses on martial arts, wrestling and boxing, plus bayonet, knife and baton combat and "blood res-triction chokes". Pacifists should avoid this one.

Videos...
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-wellbeing/healthy-living/fighting-fit-royal-marines-commando-training-775046.html?service=Print

Ghengis
02-05-08, 06:34 PM
All the above is only the start of life as a Royal Marine Commando - its the benchmark you have to maintain as once you have completed the above training life gets harder - especially if you are in for the long haul (22 years) and you get older - even after training there is still a high loss rate due to injuries in continuation training on exercises and operations. So anyone who thinks they can relax once they have completed training is in for a BIG disappointment

:cool:

ricky30091
02-07-08, 02:56 PM
Just reading that brought back memories of training 36 years ago; oops, I've let my age out!!
It's not necessarily harder, after training, but different. From being beasted to having to think for yourself and think about your buddies, in the face of imminent danger.
I think it's harder when we have to go back to CTCRM for junior/senior command course/s. Having 'let yourself go' a bit and then having to fall back on-line for the same rigours of training, albeit a little softer.
Oh, to be younger, but I wouldn't have changed my career path for anything.
Had fun on exercise with USMC in Camp Lejeune 1973; anyone remember?

sparkie
02-07-08, 03:10 PM
Had a few heart issues a couple of years out. The Dr. said I had an oversized heart, and asked if I worked out. I told him I was in the Marines and he said that figures.
Is this a big unknown problem or what? After reading about the Royal Marines. I wonder if they have issues like that.

ricky30091
02-07-08, 03:39 PM
Yes Sparkie, we've all got really big hearts!
Whether it's a medical problem I don't know; will publish on www.onceamarinealwaysamarine.com (http://www.onceamarinealwaysamarine.com)
Take care
Ricky

yorkiemalone
02-07-08, 04:40 PM
Thanks Drifter for putting this into your web site.......

I was directed here by Ricky... who does not like us no more and has left us in England to live with you in USA.
OK Ricky??

I went through training in 1965, spending Nov to March on Dartmoor, and the only sleeping equipment was two blankets.

The training is hard........ yes..... but we are not soooper humans ( we like to think we are when talking to the girls!!) but just ordinary blokes who have pushed themselve that bit further.

It has to be hard to carry out the tasks that we were required to do, and the young lads still do.
and as one of the old sayings go
If you can't take a joke..... you shouldn't have joined.

Big Heart........ I cant say that I have had anyone say anything about it, but as Ricky says he has posted it on our site so i'ts a case of watch this space

Look after yourselves....... no one else will

See ya

Yorkie

PS...... Ricky sometimes has to come home to England .... just for a cup of tea!!

ricky30091
02-07-08, 05:33 PM
You had blankets?

Zulu 36
02-07-08, 05:34 PM
Just reading that brought back memories of training 36 years ago; oops, I've let my age out!!
It's not necessarily harder, after training, but different. From being beasted to having to think for yourself and think about your buddies, in the face of imminent danger.
I think it's harder when we have to go back to CTCRM for junior/senior command course/s. Having 'let yourself go' a bit and then having to fall back on-line for the same rigours of training, albeit a little softer.
Oh, to be younger, but I wouldn't have changed my career path for anything.
Had fun on exercise with USMC in Camp Lejeune 1973; anyone remember?


I was at Lejeune in 1973 when the Royals were there. I didn't have direct contact with any of you guys, unfortunately. I do recall that a couple of Royal Marines got into a bit of trouble with a couple of US Marines (as a team, not competitors) toward the end of the visit. The details have become hazy with time and alcohol. :beer:

ricky30091
02-07-08, 05:40 PM
Hi Zulu,
It was one of the funniest things ever.
We had just loaded onto our transport (?) home when one of ours was notably missing. We looked back at the PX, where we'd been having a few drinks, when Wings was noticed taking on about 30 of you guys. We all off-loaded and got stuck in, which was short-lived as the sheriff and deputies rode into town and sent us packing.
All in good fun, what?!!

Zulu 36
02-07-08, 05:51 PM
Hi Zulu,
It was one of the funniest things ever.
We had just loaded onto our transport (?) home when one of ours was notably missing. We looked back at the PX, where we'd been having a few drinks, when Wings was noticed taking on about 30 of you guys. We all off-loaded and got stuck in, which was short-lived as the sheriff and deputies rode into town and sent us packing.
All in good fun, what?!!

Ah, yes. Good fun had by all I was told. :marine:

I was in MPs at that time, but I wasn't at Mainside. I guess the problem was resolved fairly quickly before those of us at Monford Point were sent over to join in.

I did see your Commando SgtMaj once. Scary-serious looking man, made me nervous just to be near him, and I didn't work for him.

ricky30091
02-07-08, 05:57 PM
Yes Zulu,
I'd forgot to mention that it was 40 Cdo RM and we arrived on HMS Bulwark, going down to Viequas (?) and Roosevelt Roads before a run ashore in San Juan which is another story.

SlingerDun
02-07-08, 06:59 PM
I stumbled into an RM perimeter at the GoDown in Hong Kong. Call sign: Johnnie Walker Black 12... password: To the Queen!

--->Dave

ricky30091
02-12-08, 12:32 PM
Hiya Dave,
I never managed Hong Kong but have, on many occassions, used the same callsign and password.
Take care.
Ricky

Eric Hood
02-12-08, 04:47 PM
Hello fellow Leathernecks!
Former and current U.S. Marines can join the Royal Marines association, for associate membership. You get a really nice card with a mug shot on it. Might even be good for a pint!!
Semper Fi,
Eric

ricky30091
02-12-08, 05:34 PM
Hiya Eric,
Long time since we emailed.
Glad to see you're flying our RMA flag.
The more USMC join the easier it will be for us to have a RMA in USA.
I'm hoping this will happen as I would like to accompany USMC in parades and such like.
I was hoping this had been put out before but obviously not.
Maybe this is the wrong thread also?
Hope all is well with you in NJ.
Take care
Ricky

Eric Hood
02-12-08, 07:15 PM
Hi,
I don't think, most Marines know about it. I saw it in Leatherneck or Marine Corps Gazette last year and jumped at it. I remember, that the Royal Marines were held in very high regard, when I was on active duty. I still think they are great.
More people need to know, they can join.
Do you know the web site for the Royal Marines? I found one last year, now I can't. It was site like this one, but done in England.
Good Luck,
Eric:usmc:

ricky30091
02-13-08, 10:46 AM
www.onceamarinealwaysamarine.com (http://www.onceamarinealwaysamarine.com)
Everyone is welcome.

ricky30091
02-13-08, 11:07 AM
Sorry: www.onceamarinealwaysamarine.co.uk (http://www.onceamarinealwaysamarine.co.uk)