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What the Royal Marines taught me about fitness

Updated: Oct 16, 2023


Welcoming Mark Ames to Fireside Chats. Mark is the Founder and Director of Pure Performance Personal Training. Mark has overseen many hundreds of amazing health transformations in his time. Prior to this Mark was a Royal Marine Commando, and its the lessons he learned here that have helped so many. Here are his notes:


I am going to be honest. Being a Royal Marine Commando taught me more about health and fitness than all of my personal training courses combined. That’s no criticism of the teaching, rather a nod to the fact that health and fitness is a way of life in the Royal Marines because our lives depended on it.


So, here are a few of the key principles which I learned. They can be implemented into your daily routine:


The training that I received as a Royal Marine Commando was tough with a dropout rate of 75 to 85%. It’s rare that a person drops out because of a physical issue though. It’s mostly mental.


That’s one of the most important things I learned in the Royal Marines. If you want to be truly healthy you need to understand that you are not just a body, you have a heart and mind as well. If any of these three things is lacking, you will struggle.


In the Royal Marines that means being able to keep going even when you are exhausted, tired and cold to the bone. My body may be able to cope with it but without the mental toughness and resilience to keep going, what’s the use?

That’s true of life too. There is a very clear link between our mental/emotional health and our physical health, and vice-versa. Take for example the ACES study which found direct links between the experience of trauma and physical disease.


Action: Do a whole person audit. How are you feeling in your body? Are suffering emotionally? Do you lack mental toughness? If so, work on it.


One of the first things that I learned was that fitness in the corps is a lifestyle, not just a fad. It is something that you need to work on everyday not just when you feel like it, your life may depend on it. This meant that I had to be disciplined and make fitness a priority in my life. It was not always easy but the results were worth it.


Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying you need to live at the gym or that you need to skip time with your kids to go on a five-hour run. That’s not sustainable.


What I am saying is we need to take our health more seriously. It’s often the thing we sacrifice. For example, I regularly work with clients who come to me in a desperate way due to an unsustainable work schedule. It’s fine to work hard at what you do but if that leads you to becoming overweight, stressed up to the eyeballs and ultimately unwell then I have news for you: You need to reconfigure your priorities.


Action: Set a health goal. Next time you face a conflicting decision ask yourself this: Is this getting me closer to or further away from my goal?


Another lesson that the Royal Marine Commandos taught me was that fitness is not just about what you do in the gym, but it’s about how you eat and how you rest. I learned that I needed to fuel my body with the right nutrients and get enough rest to allow my body to grow stronger so I can endure the harsh conditions of training.


That’s true for all of us. Any exercise is a stress on the body and if we aren’t intentional about our recovery, it can be bad for us. A tough workout leads to damaged tissues and cells, depleted nutrient stores and increased waste in the system. These are good things for change, increased strength, losing fat and so on, but we need to allow our body to repair to see the benefits.


Action: Nailed your training schedule? Excellent. Now create a recovery cycle. Get seven to nine hours sleep (if you can). Plan your healthy meals. Get parasympathetic activity into your day (anything that relaxes you).


The Royal Marines taught me so much more, but I will leave you with the Commando values: Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness. How can you apply those to your health journey? The latter is particularly important which is why whenever anyone asks me what type of training is best, I say, the one you enjoy most! If you dread it, you won’t stick to it.


There's more to come from Mark. Check back here soon.

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