Bournemouth Echo Newspaper
I’ve just gone feral.
Or as one dictionary describes it: ‘existing in a wild or natural state, especially after domestication’.
Our lives are so crammed with technology and sterility we’ve forgotten what it’s like to experience nature.
I’m not talking about a gentle stroll through the woods in your wellies. I mean really using all five senses to really connect with it.
And that’s how I found myself literally crawling through rabbit and horse manure with fitness coach Michael Cohen of Wild Forest Gym.
To call Michael an outdoors person is an understatement.
“The outdoors to me is like a natural calling,” he said. “It’s a second home. It naturally is somewhere I like to spend time, the weather doesn’t matter. What is important is just being outdoors, being part of the natural environment and doing something functional.”
It’s the reason he set up Wild Forest Gym which offers group and one-to-one training sessions in forests all across the country, including the New Forest.
Rather than a boot camp it’s described as a functional natural movement outdoor fitness training programme that uses the elements of the forest environment to increase your five core elements to fitness: endurance, strength, speed, flexibility and coordination on both physical and mind levels.
It was a beautiful sunny morning near Brockenhurst when we trained, gazed upon by cattle and ponies. After a warm-up it wasn’t long before Michael was gently coaxing me out of my comfort zone doing bear crawls, crab stances, log lifting, climbing, running, jumping and balancing.
I swung from feeling like an athlete to a forest savage to a six-year-old child as I navigated low branches, huge fallen trees and rivers. Naturally, there were times when my instinct was not to touch slimy, worm-ridden wood, or wade through a mucky bog.
“People dodge things in life all the time,” he explained. “It would have been easier to face up to that mud rather than walk all the way around it. You probably didn’t want to get your trainers dirty, but you can just sling them in a washing machine.”
He had a point.
And he had plenty of other analogies up his sleeve, too, such as if you can conquer climbing a tree, you can cope more easily with climbing the ranks in the workplace. Or if your core abs is strong, then you can have core mental strength, as well as in other areas of your life. They go hand-in-hand.
Wild Forest Gym trains their participants for the unknown and unknowable aspects to their sports and day to day life because in the forest you never know when the next tree root or hidden hole will trip you up.
“I’m not saying gyms are bad places, but they in themselves have a comfort zone with their soft matting, warmth and music,” said Michael who has a background in personal training and complementary therapy. “They also have TV screens and music. Why plug yourself into another computer when you can reconnect with yourself and nature around you?”
The training given is tailored to the individual and, as I found out, I felt like I did a good workout without feeling completely beaten into submission. My muscles certainly ached the next day but my mind felt as it does after a yoga session.
Many of Wild Forest Gym’s clients include people training for obstacle course events (such as Tough Mudder, Tough Guy & Spartan Race) and endurance races but private group training days and corporate team building events are also held in the New Forest. Barefoot running is also in their remit, and Michael chooses to run barefoot in the forest where possible.
“The outdoors is not a job for me, it’s part of me.
While my ‘feral’ state lasted 90 minutes, it was long enough to get a glimpse of my wild woman. And I quite liked her.