Getwokingham reporter Jon Nurse put through his paces by Wild Forest GymBy Jon Nurse
March 19, 2013
Deep in Swinley Forest one cool, spring afternoon, two men were hard at work.
The first, a slender blond chap, eyed up a chunky log, put his hands around its underside and pulled it up to his waist.
With an encouraging nod from his companion, he hoisted the log into the air and with arms shaking, slowly extended his reach to triumphantly hold the weight high above his head.
The weight lifter was me, and my companion was Michael Cohen, founder and head coach at Wild Forest Gym.
Wild Forest Gym uses elements of the natural environment to help people get fit, and I was put through my paces during a taster session.
Over the course of the 90-minute class I ran, jumped and crawled my way around the landscape, with the aim of becoming a more rounded athlete, both physically and mentally.
The truth is I’ve never cared much for gyms. In 2006 I became engrossed in a brief phase of weight work and a year later I trained for a half marathon across the punishing hills of Sheffield. Yet throughout these fitness-obsessed months I dared not venture into a gym more than a couple of times.
The pricey halls leave little privacy and offer monotonous challenges with a soundtrack of MTV hits bleating on in the background. It’s not for me.
But Wild Forest Gym offered a natural space in which to get fit and I soon found a number of advantages for taking my training to the great outdoors.
My first lesson was in natural running – a technique that uses correct running form to conserve energy and reduce injuries.
Michael and I jogged into the forest and I embraced the stillness of the woodland, the calm of being out of the bustling town centre.
We breathed the fresh air and felt the land’s contours with every slope we scaled. All our senses were engaged.
Michael, 45, is a mountain biker, trail runner and rock climber and as we crunched over twigs and leaves he shared his inspiration of overcoming major spinal injuries as a child.
Warmed up and raring to go, we found a clearing for a series of crawls that worked different muscle groups.
Michael explained training in the woods develops six core elements: fitness, endurance, strength, speed, flexibility and coordination.
“We will prepare you physically, mentally and spiritually,” he said. “So that when you turn the bend and you hit the next obstacle or mud- ploughed trail you can adapt with confidence and self-esteem to whatever you are confronted with.”
Every step, crawl and jump was unique. The terrain is ever-changing and every turn in the forest presented a new stretch of ground.
One of the major advantages for those confident enough to manage their own regimes is that forest training is free, although for those less confident formal training offers plenty of help.
Having a tutor helps to make sure you’re working the correct muscles and Wild Forest Gym is also handy for hardened athletes training for outdoor obstacle races like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and Tough Guy.
Billed as ‘probably the toughest event on the plant’ Tough Mudder is a hardcore 12-mile obstacle course designed by the Special Forces. The Hampshire branch of the event takes place in June so there’s still time to take on the challenge and get out to train.
Wild Gym runs from eight forests around the South of England and offers weekly group classes, one-to-one personal training, one and two-day experience workshops, corporate team building and week-long retreats to Ibiza and Tenerife.
As our session drew to a close we found a line of logs of varying sizes to lift and streamlined some branches to throw to each other and catch. The 90 minutes had passed quickly and time forced me to return to the hustle and bustle of the urban sprawl. I’d savoured our natural landscape for an afternoon, improved my strength and balance – and I ached for days!
n Wild Forest Gym will be running half-day and one-day workshops at Swinley Forest on April 13, May 11 and June 8. A two-day workshop will run on June 1. For more visit www.wildforestgym.com.
A free trial session is available when you book online and all free trial participants get entered into a raffle to win two months’ free membership.