Push Up to Help Veterans Who Are Down with Will Downes-Hall

Will Downes-Hall has been doing 22 push ups a day, every day for over 300 days to raise awareness and end veteran suicide.  To Will, the plight of the men and women who pledged to defend their country and now find themselves in need of help isn’t one he can ignore.  Find out how he’s doing his part and how you can get involved or seek his help!

Will, I’m glad to talk to you finally! This issue hits close to home for me as I’ve lost several friends who served with me in the U.S. Marines, guys who made it out of war but got home and couldn’t handle the transition back. I couldn’t handle my old job in a cubicle when I got back and it’s by God’s grace that I made it through.

 It’s great to be interviewed by you and an honour to be featured on your awesome site! I knew you were a Marine veteran but had no idea of the difficulties you endured on returning home. I see now why you’ve supported my journey as you have. Thank you for that.

Well, having read your story from our initial email, I know that this is something close to your heart.

After suffering from depression on and off between 2010 and now due to a few tough years (marriage breakup, business failure and several relationship failures) it got me thinking what I could do to help others, not just veterans, to realise they aren’t alone in their suffering. So I started the hashtag #letscheckonafriend with the simple premise of just a quick call or a text, or even a smile to a shop assistant or total stranger, to let them know they aren’t alone. Too many people are suffering in silence.

We’re going to be running this story on Memorial Day here in the States. Have you come into contact with many veterans through doing this and being part of the Garage Gym Life community who you’ve been able to connect with the help they need?

Actually, not that many in person. I’ve been contacted by veterans from the USA more than the UK. I think over here it’s not as well publicised as over with you guys, although the stats are very similar for our veterans. We have the British tradition of the “Stiff Upper Lip” and it’s difficult for us to talk about our challenges. Happily, that is beginning to change slowly. And the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have done a fantastic job of raising awareness of mental health issues with their Heads Together campaign.
In the future I’m hoping to get more social media things going and actually connect with and help people who can’t see a way to help themselves.

Will Downes-Hall thinks the Garage Gym Life brand is awesome and wears our shirts when he does push ups!How long have you been working out?

My brother and I got our first weights set in our bedroom when we were 13. We trained to supplement playing rugby and athletics; I sprinted and he threw heavy things. He was a forward and I was a back! We actually opened our own gym in our home town about fifteen years ago. It lasted ten years til the recession hit. We set it up to give people who couldn’t afford a monthly payment somewhere to train. They just paid a small fee per session. It was called Grunter’s Garage, and became well known in the locality for being an honest place with a good atmosphere. It was a sad day when we finally had to close the doors.

How did you start the push up challenge?

I first saw an old friend from when I was a bodyguard doing the #22pushupchallenge  on Facebook and commented that it looked a great thing to do. And I asked him to nominate me. He did and the next day I uploaded Day One at the gym I train at. After 22 days I felt I hadn’t really challenged myself so I just carried on. That’s when it changed to #44pushupsfor22kill. Not only doubling the amount of push-ups but also because the biggest cause of death in men under the age of 45 in the U.K. is suicide, hence the number 44. Plus I was 44 at the time.
Soon after, Gary Rotbauer started #30forstrongminds to raise awareness of mental health issues in the civilian population, and asked if I’d help spread the word. Of course I would! So that’s when 44 turned into 52; 22+30=52!

Doing that many pushups can get tedious, do you ever vary the types of pushups you do just for variety’s sake? (dive bombers, Hindu pushups, side to side pushups, spiderman pushups etc.?)

Ha ha! Yes, I guess they get a bit tedious, especially for those who have to watch a minute’s worth of me bobbing up and down! When I first started on the challenge I did vary the push-ups, and did some fairly extreme sets! But now I’m on 52 reps there’s not much time to squeeze that many push-ups into a minute video! So, no I don’t vary them now.

 I’m sure that pushups and running aren’t all that you do. What does the rest of your current fitness routine look like? Do you do this in a commercial gym or at home?

Well, I train at the local 24 hour gym every morning on my way to work. Right now I just hit the weights on a five day split, one body part a day with some abs thrown in each day, and maybe a bit of cardio. I like to do all three powerlifting moves each week, and then plenty of accessory work. Although I’m now 45 I feel the best is yet to come, so I like to push myself as hard as a can each session.

A sense of community is huge in helping with depression. Is that what attracted you to @garage.gym.life on Instagram and made you such a passionate supporter of the brand even though you don’t train primarily at home?

Yes, I feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself is a major tool in dealing with mental health issues and PTSD related problems. Especially with returning servicemen who are used to that comradery within the military. I started following @garagegymlife initially because it was an eye opener for me to see so many people training at home. And to see people making amazing progress in home gyms of all kinds. But then it became something more. I realised how the Internet made it possible to bring all these people together in a global community. I found it inspiring, and wanted to do my bit to help spread the word here in the U.K.

Yes, most people are under the false impression that most fit people work out in commercial gyms or CrossFit boxes; that leads to the equally wrong impression that you can’t make progress if you don’t train in a gym. Don’t worry, we’ll convert you into an active duty member of the Garage Gym Lifestyle yet!

Funnily enough my brother and I used to train in his garage before we opened our gym! It was great. And that’s where the name of our gym came from; Grunter’s Garage!

See? We’ve got to get you out of that commercial gym and into an at home set up! You already train by yourself but we’ll all be your virtual training partners! In fact, you should go train with Kyle Russell or Fayzur Rahman, they’re both in the U.K. with you! And I’ll send you one of our banners for free to hang up in your space when you are ready to have your own set up in the house again.

Although I do train on my own now, I like the environment of a gym with other guys and gals training hard all around me. I’m naturally very shy so it’s also good to get out of my comfort zone and mix with other people.  But never say never! It would be great to have some kit at home for when I can’t get to the gym. If Kyle, Joe and Fayzur want to train I’m always up for it!

But having owned a gym in the past, what would be your first piece of equipment you’d buy if you were going to start up today?

Great question! It would definitely be a squat rack and a bench. Oh, and Olympic weights, of course! If you can do the Big Three you’ll be ok.

As a bodyguard you must have had to work your fitness around the schedules of whomever you were protecting at the moment, what’s your go to fitness routine for when you don’t have access to a lot of equipment?

My go to routine would be a simple push-up and core workout. If I can have a bit of a run too that’s a bonus.

You hashtag several organizations in your posts that are dedicated to preventing veteran suicide and suicide in general. Could you give me their names and some background on how you picked those organizations?

As for how I chose those organisations; I guess I saw a lot of people supporting the large veterans’ organisations but not the smaller ones; some of them just one person doing what they can to raise awareness of mental health issues in their community. So I decided I’d do what I could to publicise them. They include;

How can people follow you and what are some links to places where anyone reading this can get help if they need it?Will Downes-Hall does push ups outdoors every day to combat veteran suicide

 Anyone can follow me on Instagram. I’m @ffoxetrot and all anyone has to do to find some help is email letscheckonafriend@gmail.com and I will reply asap with information of where they can find the help they need. Incidentally, I’m in the process of building a website that will be a resource hub where people will be directed to whatever it is they need to help them deal with their challenges. As for Garage Gym Life; I’m now following a bunch of awesome people, and made some great friends, who are awesome garage athletes. And some of them actually follow me too! What you are doing is simply brilliant for getting like minded people together from all over the world. If it wasn’t for you all these people would still be training on their own. Thanks to Garage Gym Life we all feel part of a worldwide family! Long may it continue!

Where can people donate if they want to help support these worthy causes?

Anyone interested in donating can have a look on my Instagram feed for details of how to donate to these worthy charities or on the websites themselves. Or just message me and I’ll point them in the right direction.


About the author

John Greaves III is a writer based in North Georgia with nearly two decades of experience in training at home. A former amateur kickboxing champion, John now competes recreationally in powerlifting. He takes a physical culture approach to training; believing that strength and health need not be mutually exclusive. In addition to his nonfiction work, John has written two fiction books, A Different Kind of Giant and A Little Lesson in Manners that are available on Amazon.com.