“We never truly know our limits.” – Military Fitness

It’s 10:07am on a bright Wednesday morning and I’m exactly 7 minutes late for military fitness training. It’s absolutely not my fault. It’s one of seemingly hundreds of bank holidays in Lisbon and public transport has shut down because the city is celebrating the Festival of Sardines (not joking).

It’s easy to spot our trainer António. He’s standing at the top of the stairs outside Cidade Universitária with his legs shoulder length apart. His massive cartoon arms are crossed over his chest and he looks very much like he’s spent time in the military. He also looks very unimpressed.

“Sorry I’m late!” I gasp as I reach the top of the stairs. “It was the sardines!” He looks at me with mild contempt. “We’ll just have to work extra hard today.” He says. “Let’s go.” And that’s when I realise I’m in for a world of hell. 

Onya the Photographer (also late vis-a-vis Sardine Festival) and I follow António to a green space just outside the majestic university science building, totally deserted due to the bank holiday celebrations. António pulls a steady stream of intimidating equipment out of the boot of his car: kettlebells, ropes, a big heavy stick thing, an exercise mat and a medicine ball. 

“Okay! Ready?” António says. He points to two lamp posts about 20 meters apart. “Start sprinting!” I begin to run between the two posts, António stands omnipresent in that same unmoving stance. “High knees!” He barks and I switch pace accordingly. “Now kick backs!” His style is no-nonsense and uncompromising: a habit, I later learn, that he picked up as a lieutenant in the Portuguese military.

It’s hot today and sweat trickles down my face. António calls a halt to my sprints and while I catch my breath explains: “We’ll start easy – then we’ll go hard, then we’ll go harder.” His attitude has softened since we met on the stairs. His original contempt is slowly dissipating and a hint of humour begins to shine through. 

The ‘easy’ workout consists of 3 forward lunges each leg, 4 burpees, bear walk, 20 star jumps, then a sprint from one side of the park to the other, repeated 4 times. “In a normal class we do this 6 times” he tells me, “but you were late.” All is not yet forgiven. 

The easy workout does not do what it says on the tin, and after four rigorous rounds I feel apprehensive about the next stage of the class. “Next we’ll do 45 seconds with 15 seconds rest,” António tells me. 

  • Press ups
  • Battle ropes
  • Squat with this heavy stick thing
  • Overhead stretches with heavy stick thing
  • Medicine ball sit-ups
  • Kettlebell swings 

“We’ll go for five rounds.” António says. After round three I’m near the point of collapse but it’s impossible to stop for breath when António is lying on the grass next to my face bellowing encouragement. After round five he says “Are you ready to go really hard?” No. I think to myself. Absolutely not. 

As he starts planning out the next torture session I notice how very joyful he seems. “You look so happy!” I say. His response: “I just love what I do!” 

What he really means is he loves making people sweat. Here’s the grand finale of our excruciating 45 minute military fitness session:

  • Low squats with no rest 
  • Shuttle sprints
  • Reverse plank kick-outs (a totally innovative torture method)
  • Jump squats
  • Bicycle sit-ups
  • Leg press

For the leg press exercise António instructs me to put my legs up and then lies on top of them. The exercise was made much more difficult because I couldn’t stop laughing. If my legs had vocal chords they would be screaming. 

But it’s not quite over. For the final torture method, the final nail in my fitness coffin he picks up my legs like I’m a wheelbarrow and starts running around the grass so I have to use my arms and abs to stay upright. There’s no doubt about it. The man is sick. And once he finally puts my legs down and I face plant to the floor I get the opportunity to find out why.

“I’ve been a military instructor for about 4.5 years,” António tells me. We’re sitting on the steps outside the science building and he’s all sunshine and smiles now. “I’ve always been into fitness since I was 17 or 18 – I’m 40 now. I believe that exercise should be part of everyone’s life. It makes you healthy and feel better about yourself.”

Prior to university where he studied events and team building, António was in the military for over four years. “I was a lieutenant,” he explains. “The military used to be compulsory in Portugal so people from all cultures and classes were in the army and my mission was to unify them.” António was training a range of people, from athletes to amateurs to people who had barely been to a gym before. 

“Military training and life in the army is very challenging – it’s very hard,” António says. “They take you out of your comfort zone as much as possible. As soon as you think it’ll get better, it gets worse.” António says the fitness and training techniques in the army are designed to keep you on your toes at all times.

“Every day is harder than the last. It’s never enough. You can always be better, do more, and that’s how you get to know yourself. If you don’t go out of your comfort zone and push yourself to do better then you’ll never know yourself. Actually I believe we die without knowing our limits. You can try and push yourself but you can always go further. Train harder. Do more.”

If you’re curious to find out just how far your body can go sign up for a military fitness class with Academia Fitness Militar.

Urban Sports Club has tons of outdoor fitness partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area. 


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