In the six months since it was launched as a pilot scheme, the Be Military Fit scheme has improved the training pass rate for female candidates from 63 percent to 93 percent in the first attempt.
Around 20,000 women apply to join the British Army every year, a figure which saw a slight increase following changes in rules which allow them to now join frontline infantry regiments.
But senior brass and planners at Capita, the company charged with Army recruitment, were struggling to minimise the number of female candidates who were failing to get through either the initial physical assessment or Phases 1 and 2 of training due to sustaining pelvic, hip flex injuries and leg injuries.
“There was a growing frustration that some female candidates, who we knew would make excellent soldiers, just weren’t getting through,” said a senior Army source last night.
“Since there was never a question of reducing standards, or holding gender-specific assessments, we needed to think out of the box.”
The solution was Be Military Fit, a company co-founded by ex-SAS soldier Bear Grylls which offers free 6 and 12 week physical and mental packages to get candidates who have already passed their Army medicals fighting fit for the real thing.
And it is working, said recruit Eleanor Peace, who spent several months training with BMF before passing her formal assessment and going on to Phase 1 training.
Recruit Eleanor Peace, 23, who is still in training and wants to Join the Army Air Corps
“I’ve always wanted to join the Army. I’m not someone who wants a 9-5 job and the travel opportunities and lifestyle really appeal to me,” said the 23-year old from Huddersfield, who is hoping to join the Army Air Corps after she completes her training.
“I first applied when I was 18, but I only scraped through my assessment and then had several injuries.
“This time, I wanted to do better than scrape through and learn how to avoid those injuries. And I’m doing really well.
“I’m carrying all the lessons from BMF with me even now, in Phase One. It’s definitely tough but I’m enjoying it.”
All candidates given a date for their assessment can apply to use the BMF scheme for free.
After being streamed into beginner, intermediate or advanced groups they are given access to sport psychologists, nutritionists and condition experts who use virtual sessions to take them through the tips and tricks of building up strength, flexibility and core stability so they won’t sustain injuries.
The sessions, which slowly build up in intensity, include at least one run a week, a series of 30-40 minutes workouts and weekly seminars which focus on the mental resilience needed to keep going.
Though the course is designed by fitness guru Tommy Mathews, it is overseen by veterans, and few are more qualified than Kate Lord, who spent 15 years in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps.
She is no stranger to mental battles. As a staff sergeant in 2015, she was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for her battle against sexism in Afghanistan, after she persuaded male members of the Afghan National Army to accept her as a trainer.
“That was just a matter of determination,”’ she said last night. “I turned up every day, regardless of whether they listened to me or not because I was a woman. It took around a month but I think I won them over because they realised I was there to stay.
“That type of mental resilience that is just as applicable to BMF.
“In the past, candidates would see what was required for the assessment, and try to train for it themselves without any real direction
“By giving them direction we’ve increased the first time female pass rate by 30 per cent. Pretty much every female candidate passed at the assessment centre, and for men, the pass rate has risen by seven per cent to 100 per cent, now.”
One of those who has passed is Private Rebecca Bjorkman, who has a degree in animal welfare and wants to work with bomb-detecting dogs in danger zones.
“I loved my job as a kennel supervisor though there was little chance of progression. When, during the pandemic, my boss told me that I should start looking for another job, I decided to join the Army, ’ said South African-born Rebecca, 26.
Like so many, however, Rebecca had no idea about how to start her training.
Private Rebecca Bjorkman, 26, who has completed training and wants to work with bomb-detecting dogs
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“I didn’t do any running, no gym – I’d just go to work and come home,” she said.
“You’re told what you’ll need to do for the assessment centre, but I had no clue about how to train for that.
“I might have chosen to run every day – but that’s not the way. BMF had a completely different approach.
“They’d begin with circuit training and simple things like squat thrusts to build the muscle you need for running.”
The training given to prevent injury was vital, she added.
“I worried about weight training – I almost started running with weights, but one of the instructors reminded me I was only training for the assessment centre, and that a single injury could really send me back, so said I should wait for the right time.”
She added: “I don’t think I would have passed the assessment centre without BMF. I didn’t realise I’d struggle with my upper body. One of the tests is to sit on a floor with your back against the wall and throw a 4 kg weighted ball. I couldn’t throw it all at first.”
BMF helped Rebecca to shave 90 seconds from a 2km run from 11 minutes to 9.30, and she said she used the tips from BMF to get through the more arduous Phase 1 and Phase 2.
”I’m only 5ft 1 inch tall but there’s nothing I cannot push past,” she said.
“I wasn’t the fittest, but I was the second fittest – I was chuffed.”
Former Staff Sgt Kate Lord, now a senior member of Be Military Fit