Gaz Bench, on what drives him…
Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in the August of 1980, with a promising start weight of 10lbs 6oz, I guess I had been destined to carry the nickname ‘big Gaz’ from day one.
Although born in Shrewsbury, I would see 22 years go by before this town became my home. I grew up 35 miles west of there in a small mid Wales town called Newtown. As a kid you could say I always had an attraction to danger and risk, and would always find myself getting into mischief and hanging around with what my dear mother would describe as ‘the wrong sort.’ It was because of this that I was sent to a tiny high school of just 400 students 15 miles away from my local school, across the road to a farming community in the Welsh valleys, called Llanfair Caereinion. Here I was considered less likely to get into trouble, and as a result my grades were good.
From a strict upbringing with my father I had learned from a young age to be tough and discovered early on I could not wait to leave home. As soon as I turned 16 I started taking the necessary steps to be able to pack my bags. I can’t say that I ever had much of a fascination with the military but after visiting the HM Forces careers office at the age of 16 my attraction to danger and risk locked it’s sights on the Royal Marines Commandos. Not only did this look tough and also bags of fun, I was enticed at the course of entry being the longest and hardest in the entire Western world, with a failure rate of 70%. I knew this was for me!
As a young boy, other than swimming, which had been a part of my life from a very young age, I had never really been that interested or that involved with other sports. On school sport’s day I would dig deep for highly inventive believable stories and excuses as to why I couldn’t take part; much to the frustration of my games teacher, who very much wanted to take advantage of the biggest boy, yet youngest boy of his year. It wasn’t until my 15th Birthday when I was given some Argos special concrete York weights, bar and bench that I first developed an interest in training. This was before my interest in the Marines, so I never really had a goal or an idea as to what I was doing, but all the same I started lifting. I didn’t have internet at that age and so my research was done mostly in the library. I would take out books on weight training, buy what magazines I could and my family helped with buying books and videos for Birthday and Christmas presents. I was hooked!
After my decision to join the Royal Marines I was given what I realised to be a detrimental and crucial part to my training, a goal! I had to run certain distances within a set time, perform bodyweight exercises, such as press-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and burpies, and also have to hit target reps within a set time. This was just the fuel I needed and I got straight into hard training.
Thankfully for me, the Marines provide you with set programs planned over a series of weeks leading up to your start date at CTCRM (the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines).
When you find a passion, such as training, and link that in with a goal on a path towards something you feel passionately about achieving, you obtain a drive that won’t see you quit and will push you to new limits you never thought possible.
Training for the Marines never seemed to be enough and I always felt there was room for improvement. I constantly psyched myself out with thoughts of not succeeding, that my fitness would let me down, as I was always training by myself and never had anyone to compare myself with. Whether I’d be out on the hills running, or in the garage lifting weights, as a guide I would base a good workout or a run on whether I was sick or not, thinking if I threw up I would surely be pushing myself! I was never a member of a gymuntil I eventually joined the marines, as I just didn’t have the knowledge as to how much a gym could really benefit me, and so I did all my training from home. Having the knowledge I have today, I would never consider training for anything competitive and not use a gym, as there is no better way to condition yourself than through the use of machines designed to strengthen every part of your body so that you can reach your peaks.
Upon joining the Marines I made another discovery. I was pleasantly surprised at my fitness level throughout training. My determination not to fail to such a goal as achieving the coveted Green Beret did me well and I excelled as a recruit. However, my discovery was just how far you can truly push your body when you train with someone other than simply on your own. Having someone next to you also trying to achieve the same goal drives you to a level you never thought possible, to a point where you learn to vomit on the run and keep pace, to be so physically drained from sleep deprivation that you fall asleep into the man in front of you on a troop run, wake up as you hit him and keep going and hold the pace; another crucial lesson learnt and why I now always choose to train with a partner, preferably someone in better shape than me, to give me that drive. I also love to train as a trio, as the competitive edge rises, you have thebanter between three people that’s generally a little louder and get’s you going in the gym.
From having joined the Marines, and being one of only thirteen original recruits remaining out of a starting head count of sixty five to complete training, I was drafted to my unit and eventually had my first operational deployment. When you’re home in the UK your fitness level is pretty much taken care of by the Marines, sports day every Wednesdays and Fridays, with running every day and hitting the gym every day. The kit you get covers everything and sport is a massive part of everyday life and everyone takes part. This can be very different when you’re away from the gym, living in a tent in the desert, but you can always find a way to train. When you have to, you can use the tried and tested method of, ‘if it moves, we can lift it.’
We would use filled water bottles for shoulder fly’s to exhaustion, squats with your mate on your back, press-ups with sand bags on your back, running with weight in a rucksack, anything we could find to use we would. It’s possible in any environment, you just need to get creative and you’ll always stay on top of your fitness.
After leaving the Marines I started driving articulated vehicles as a self employed driver and spent the next couple of years driving long distances through the long nights and seeing home only a couple of days a week. This period of my life was one of the hardest at maintaining my fitness. Never home, I joined my local Fitness First, which gave me access to many of the 365 clubs worldwide, and I would always try and make a point of including a training session on my route if there was a Fitness First along the way. It was never simple, and trying to get a 40ft rig into the closest possible car park without destroying something, just so I get my shoulder session done, was no easy task. If I couldn’t make it to a gym you would often see me running around the truck stop car park of a night. I would get odd looks for sure, but again you do what you can, when you can, using whatever you have available to you.
After a couple of years of driving I decided I should make better use of my passion for fitness and go back to school to become a qualified personal trainer. Upon qualifying, I started working for Fitness First, and it was then my fitness really took off. Being surrounded by other fitness enthusiasts was a great learning curve and provided great motivation. Most of the training techniques I use today came from the experience gained working amongst other fitness professionals, which is where I realised having someone knowledgeable in exercise and fitness is an invaluable tool to achieving your goals.
Years on, I now intend to take my fitness and ability, my experience gained over the years from various fitness professionals, various career choices, qualifications gained, choice sports and a recently completed Close Protection course, and use all I have learnt to help protect my VIP.
In reflection, it takes time, effort and discipline to get great results, even with a trainer, but having that knowledge with you is an invaluable part to your training. Not only do you have on hand help to answer any question or query that you may have, but you also have a professional there who knows how to get the best out of your ability. They will give you not only correction throughout your movements to ensure you avoid injury, but also give you the motivation needed to push you through your barriers and keep you improving over and over again.