Every so often it’s good to be reminded of your own fragility. Having gotten a little cocky about my own in-gym abilities and with an obstacle race on the horizon, I joined some friends in a strongman class at the Commando Temple in Deptford. Having never tried lifting and throwing logs and stones, and not really knowing anything about the sport, this definitely counted as a trip into uncharted territory.
The gym itself is tucked away under a railway arch 3 quarters of the way down Deptford high street. It’s split into 3 chambers; one for fighting, one for conditioning, and one with a garage door and a reinforced floor for all the heavy lifting. It’s not long before you realise you’re in the home of real enthusiasts. The walls are adorned with pictures of cartoon superheroes and heroines, legends of the power lifting world, and event posters from competitions that gym members have entered. You enter through the middle chamber, which is decked out with bouldering hand-holds, ropes, pommel horses and a ladder strung out across the roof. We sign an appropriately scary waiver, and are introduced to our trainers for the day; gym owner and head coach Rob and operations manager and strongwoman coach Mayyah.
Rob, an ex-Royal Marine, knows a thing or two about getting the best out of people one way or another. As well as owning the gym, he holds the title of Britain’s strongest hands, which sounds funny until he pins you to the floor with them by way of demonstration. Mayyah is a career sports and exercise professional, and a Britain’s Strongest Woman hopeful.
With everyone’s credentials established, we moved into the warm-up in the fight club section of the gym. It’s fitted with mats, sparring equipment, punch bags and motivational posters. After a run through of what to expect from the day, we move up the scale of solo movements (standing up then lying down with your hands in your pockets is comically frustrating when under timed conditions). We move into partner work, trying to push each other over from a variety of different positions. 20 minutes of this and we’re warmed right through, so we push on to the big stuff.
Our session covered atlas stones (balls of concrete starting at about 7kgs and moving up to about 80kgs), tyre flips (225kg, 350kg and a 512kg monster only done in pairs) and log lifting (45kgs and 65kgs). We were paired up by ability, and Mayyah and Rob moved between us correcting technique and demonstrating as and when needed. Given the intimidating nature of what we were learning, I never felt like I was going to get hurt. Rob, with signature military frankness, does not spare the gory details on how you might get hurt, and you’re never left alone long enough to do so anyway. A personal highlight was watching Mayyah, who stands at a lean 5 foot 5, flip a 350kg tyre like it was made of balsa wood.
After an hour and half of the sort of shenanigans that make you feel like you might never be able to pick anything up again, we were stretching out and checking out our cool new bruises and scrapes from the atlas stones.
The Commando Temple is the antithesis to today’s glossy mainstream gyms. There’s not a treadmill or air-stepper in sight, and no corners to slink off into and play with your phone. Your only option is to commit to the class, and that’s ultimately why its reputation is so good.
A complete rookie (as I was) can come down and join an introductory class, and walk away feeling like they put the ‘earn’ in learn. If strongman isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other options. The gym employs 7 coaches who look after their own area of speciality, from MMA to steel bending to calisthenetics.
As for my own experience, I found picking up and throwing heavy things blissfully therapeutic and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Using a space like the Temple is a great way to break up your regular gym routine as well. So should the mood take you to try and pull off something ever-so-slightly superhuman, you know where to start.
The Commando Temple