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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

Searching for an out-of-the-ordinary challenge, personal trainer Eliza Dulson enlisted on a Special Forces-inspired training course. What she got was more than just a military-style boot camp.

It’s 2030hrs on Sunday night and I’m being driven home from Sydney Domestic Airport. During the past 72 hours Hard Corps has opened my eyes to a fitness training experience I never knew existed – and will never forget.

I came across Hard Corps in late November 2012 when I was looking for a training challenge worthy of sinking my teeth into. Like other personal trainers and fitness professionals, I’m always on the lookout for the next event to attend that will push my boundaries and give my own training some direction. A friend suggested that I look into attending one of the Special Forces-inspired courses, as he had recently undertaken the challenge and hadn’t stopped raving about it.

After doing a little research I decided to ‘enlist’ and sign up for the next course. I was forwarded the application forms and spent the next day organising the administration involved for attendance. After gaining medical clearance from a doctor, I sent my application back to Hard Corps HQ marked ‘Attention – Selection Staff’ and eagerly awaited a reply. The joining process follows the application process for a Special Forces Selection Course. The next day the ‘13 Week Hard Corps Readiness Program’ appeared in my inbox and my training journey began.

Something you need to know about Hard Corps is that it’s selective. To attend a course you must complete an entry test. The ‘Barrier Test’ requires a cadence push up, cadence chin up, beep test, 3.2km run and 400m clean skinned swim test, all of which must be attempted in a 24-hour period. You have to upload your results and video proof via the Hard Corps website. If you are deemed to be fit enough, you’re in. I loved the idea that you had to prove yourself just to advance to the next stage. As a fitness professional I considered myself to have a good level of fitness before I began the readiness program, which is designed to facilitate the level of all-round fitness required to pass the ‘Barrier Test’. Nothing makes you question whether you’ve been staying on top of your game like the prospect of being tested, but after 13 weeks of training I was confident that I could pass muster. I duly completed the entry test as per the programming, yet was still nervous. I waited with anticipation to see if I had become one of the few to be accepted onto the next course (course numbers are capped to increase intensity and tempo). Then, four weeks out from the course start date, I was contacted. I was in. ‘Load List and Joining Instructions to follow’ I was informed.

“I suddenly had an understanding of what it was like to be an unconditioned client signing up to join a new fitness training group or class. A position I was very unfamiliar with.”

The ‘Load List’ soon arrived, and detailed all the essential items I needed to bring with me to attend the course. Over the next few weeks I compiled the items required and had my pack and my day bag ready to go a few days before the course was due to start. I was nervous – really nervous. I suddenly had an understanding of what it was like to be an unconditioned client signing up to join a new fitness training group or class. A position I was very unfamiliar with.

The joining instructions stipulated that I needed to be at the Sydney Domestic Airport bus terminal on Friday at 1200hrs. Friday came around quicker than usual, and I was dropped off at the airport, anxiously clutching my bags and wondering what lay in store.

Hard Corps began. I now stood alongside the thirty odd other men and women from around Australia who were attending the course. There was polite chit chat and introductions, people putting their minds at ease and trying to relax before… well, we weren’t quite sure what.

After some course administration we were politely reminded to leave our names and civilian lives at the bus door. It was candidate numbers from this point onwards. As promised to the Hard Corps staff members, I won’t give too much away about the specifics of the physical training we experienced. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who wants to attend and, secondly, Hard Corps is steeped in a mystery and anonymity derived from its Special Forces origins.

The Duty Staff (DS) are current or former Special Forces members (the team raises awareness and funding for the Commando Welfare Trust and Legacy). As such, they are experts in exploiting your psyche and squeezing the most out of you. They are very mentally strong characters, who speak in phonetic alphabet and are willing to carry out tasks and complete objectives regardless of season, weather or terrain. They speak of integrity and accountability and are quick to remind you that everyone who attends the course is a ‘volunteer’ and free to leave if they wish. Although this last reminder seemed reassuring, I couldn’t help thinking that such words are only necessary when things are going to get tough. And they did.

The course was an amazing learning experience for me, as an individual and as a personal trainer. Everything is meticulously thought out and nothing happens on the course without reason (which should also be the case with all training sessions conducted by personal trainers!). The Hard Corps DS are masters of bodyweight training sessions and I now have myriad new training material and ideas for use with boot camp and outdoor training clients. Before I attended Hard Corps I had no idea what a ‘Kit Check’ was… now I do. Let me just say, there is definitely a reason why you need to be able to swim 400m in the ‘Barrier test’.

I walked away from the course with skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. During the low tempo periods you are instructed on basic survival, camping, navigation and other practical skills. During the high tempo periods you are pushed to your mental and physical limits, there is nowhere to hide and you quickly learn that the body runs out of steam long before the mind does.

From a personal training perspective it is invigorating to be on the receiving end. Having a training goal and knowing that no matter how fit, fast or strong I become, I can still be snatched from my comfort zone at zero dark thirty hours and sent out into the blackness for ‘another round’. I also feel I have a much better understanding of the vulnerability that new clients may feel when embarking on a fitness training program.

I leave this event as a member of ‘The Corps’, the membership group who have successfully completed the event and have access to weekly workouts, fitness training competitions and pop up training sessions in the dark of the night. I have new strategies to get the most out of my clients as well as great teamwork-based workouts and team building activities for my groups. Most importantly I have a newfound appreciation and perspective on how easy things are in everyday life – and how hard things can get!

If you are interested in experiencing an authentic taste of what it’s like to be a soldier undertaking a Special Forces Selection Course, go to or call 1800 ENLIST.


Eliza Dulson
Eliza is a personal trainer who runs an outdoor training business based on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. She specialises in small group training and is an active member of the Sydney triathlon scene.

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