Saturday, September 22, 2018

The FitBrit challenge has now been running for six years and has become a staple of the UK gym challenge scene. For a four-month period in 2013, men and women up and down the country were sweating their way through the new challenge at Fitness First gyms in a bid to get to the grand final.

For the first five FitBrits, the timed eight-move test remained largely the same, but this time the moves were significantly tweaked to make it more demanding and factor in some of the innovative new equipment you can find in Fitness First gyms. Out went the box jumps, bunny hops, squats and overhead presses of old, and in came kettlebell push presses and swings, ViPR thread the needles and steelbell slams.

This year’s final took place at the Fitness First’s cavernous Basingstoke branch. The staff there set up three rows of the eight FitBrit stations, creating a competitive head-to-head-to-head vibe for the challengers taking on the timed test one final time.

Ready to row

All the finalists turned up looking like they meant business. Although most could be seen giving the kettlebells a few test swings before things got under way, we also spotted one guy standing in a corner roaring like an angry beast to get himself in the right frame of mind for the challenge. It was a sight both stirring and slightly unnerving.

The first heat kicked off at 11am and right from the outset it was clear the competitors weren’t going to leave anything on the course. In heat two, Danny Blake from Bath went out like the clappers on the row and stayed streets ahead of his rivals – until the treadmill, recognised as the most vicious of all the challenge’s many tests. He burned out and had to stop – an instant disqualification. 

Despite the DNF, Blake said he’d still had a blast. ‘I love Tough Mudder and other multi-obstacle challenges like this. I’ll be back next year and I’ll pace myself better.’  

French force

Jodi Hooper brought a big support group from Dorset who moved with her from station to station, cheering her on. With the help of intense competition from Lindsey Campbell in the lane to her right, Hooper reached the 800m mark on the treadmill in an impressive 11min 51sec (Campbell was just seven seconds behind). ‘The atmosphere here today was awesome – it really drives you to have everyone yelling at you to move it,’ Hooper said.

But it was the final women’s heat that produced the 2013 women’s champion. Nikki French, who trains at the Bournemouth club and came second in 2012, munched through the moves as if they were warm-up stretches. She finished more than 30 seconds ahead of her nearest rival Christine Harding, having put in a mind-blowing time of 11min flat. ‘I just wanted to beat my qualifying time of 11min 9sec,’ French said. ‘So I’m really happy – the new challenge is good fun.’

Marine life

In the men’s category the intensity was equally high. After taking fifth place in 2012, Nuno Barreto put in an excellent time of 11min 44sec which landed him in third place, but it was Mark Bernhardt and AJ Orchard who stole the show. Bernhardt, a huge tank of a man who trains at Basingstoke, comprehensively punished each of the first seven stages before hammering his way through the 1km treadmill run for a time of 11min 27sec. 

But in an awesome display of power, Orchard – a super-fit Marine with a terrifying warm-up routine of heavy-bag kicks – stormed through the challenge as if his life depended on it. And he stopped the treadmill only 11min 18sec after he started the row – a phenomenal achievement that earned him the crown.

‘You have to get in the right head zone to do well in the FitBrit,’ says Orchard. ‘I was in Afghanistan and you have to get yourself psyched up to go out on patrol every day so I applied the same logic here. Five minutes before I started I got angry and aggressive so I could really smash it.’

All the finalists were obviously exhausted after their magnificent efforts in the final. But at the same time, they all had that hungry look in their eyes that said they’d be back next year to have another crack at the UK’s best gym challenge – and they were ready to go even harder. 

Thanks to Wiggle for the prizes and Maximuscle for the challenge nutrition.

Top five men’s times

1 AJ Orchard 11min 18sec

2 Mark Bernhardt 11min 27sec

3 Nuno Barreto 11min 44sec

4 Yannick Agathine 12min 1sec

5 Vladimir Penev 12min 10sec

Top five women’s times

1 Nikki French 11min 0sec

2 Christine Harding 11min 32sec

3 Marianne Starnes 11min 45sec

4 Charlotte Wilkinson 11min 45sec

5 Jodi Hooper 11min 51sec