Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Every rep counts

Por: | 27 de mayo de 2016

Rob Martin Squat Cleans with an audience.  Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (11)
Any El Pais reader who practices the fitness regime and sport of CrossFit will know about "The Open", "Regionals" and "The Games". They are yearly international events to find the fittest people in the world.  The process started with "The Open" which is exactly that, anyone could enter, and many thousands of people from around the world did. It was over five weeks, every week there was a new qualifying test to do which was announced on the Thursday night, giving you until Monday evening to complete it and record your score. You either did the test in a CrossFit affiliate (such as CrossFit Mallorca in Son Bugadelles Santa Ponsa in Mallorca where I train and where these photographs were taken over the course of the Open) or you could do it independently and video it. There were some astonishing entries from competitors around the globe, including athletes with disabilities, beginners who are giving it a go despite being many kilos overweight, or suffering from some debilitating disease, elderly people, and of course the elite athletes that personify the sport. My personal favourite was a young man in Romania, Barni Böjte, who executed the various workouts which made up the qualifying entries at his family's farm. His videos (which you can see on the website featured chickens, dogs, and the interior of a barn. There's really no barrier to it: even I took part. Sport hasn't been a serious part of my life since I was a child, so, it came as quite a surprise to me (and to anyone who knows me) how much I have been caught up into the world of CrossFit. Looking at it dispassionately I can see the appeal: it's a community, it has its own language (AMRAP, WOD, EMOM), its stars and legends, and even its own clothes range: there's a world that has built up around the practice which was developed by its founder Coach Greg Glassman over several decades. Glassman was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way: "increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains". He then created a programme specifically designed to improve fitness and health.

Cathy Clarke's handstand push ups, no pasa nada. Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (8)
CrossFit is "constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity". By functional movements they mean body movements that you would do in your everyday life, like sit down on a chair or reach up to put something on a shelf, or carry your food shopping. These are the core movements of life. These movements reflect aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity it leads to dramatic gains in fitness. The community that has spontaneously arisen when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective, and has given birth to a global network of CrossFit affiliates that now number over 11,000. It harnesses the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sports. Overall, the aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness supported by measurable, observable and repeatable results. The programme aims to prepare you for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable, too. The specialty is not to specialise, and instead prepare for the unexpected.

Sandra and Megan mid squat cleans and still smiling. Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (13)
Although CrossFit challenges the world’s fittest, the programme is designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual, regardless of experience. Trainers will scale the weight load and exercise intensity, but they won’t change the programme. The needs of Olympic athletes and ourselves and our grandparents differ by degree, not by kind. This is why I can turn up at 7am every morning and train alongside people who are much, much fitter than me, we will do the same workout within the same time frame, but we will work at different intensities and weights. So for example a typical Workout of the Day (WOD) could be an AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) in twenty minutes. You might be asked to complete 10 burpees, 15 wall balls and 20 kettle bell swings, but the weights of the wall balls could be 4, 6, 9 kilos, or more, and the kettle bells could be anything from 6 to 32 kilos. And the repetitions might be scaled as well, you might find yourself being told to reduce the reps on some workouts. It all depends on the WOD, which changes daily.  You don't have to attend an affiliate to take part in CrossFit, there are suggestion on the website everyday for your training, and many helpful videos and articles. I personally wouldn't have achieved anything without the motivation, encouragement, and support I get from attending my local "box" (that's what they call the place we train, although some people might train in garages, or on the beach, or in car parks). All of the CrossFit Mallorca trainers and the other members are friendly, fun and becoming more and more like family to me every day, in fact I see some of them more than I do my own family some days.

This has led to me travelling to Madrid for this coming weekend to photograph the CrossFit Regionals. Athletes from around Europe and Africa will gather at the Caja Magica over the next three days to "throw down" and battle it out to find who should go to Carson, to the final test to find the fittest of them all. Only five teams, five men and five women can go.... It's a growing sport in Spain, and there are a few potentials who might stand a chance of going through, pitting themselves against the more dominant Northern European athletes. Many of them come to Mallorca to prepare and train in the spring and summer months in order to be ready for the extremes of temperature in California in July. 

These photos illustrate some of the different types of elements we were tested on during The Open 2016. Over the weeks we were asked to do muscle ups, handstand push ups, rowing, deadlifts, burpees, toes to bar, chest to bar, squat cleans and other seemingly impossible things, but everyone has done something, not just the fittest in the gym, but even I was able to put a score on the board. It didn't matter that I was not that fast, or that good, as at least I wasn't on the sofa watching the telly and drinking wine, I've been trying to do something for my body, which has also had a very powerful effect on many other aspects of my life. From dentists, to hairdressers, to engineers, to maintenance people, to mums, to dads, to teenagers, to professional athletes, to grandparents, we're all there, all trying, all sweating, not giving up. It's never too late to start, I was diagnosed last year with an L4/L5 hernia in my back and told that I would have to have an operation. I decided that I didn't want to take that option, and instead I took myself and my poor old body to the gym, found myself something I wanted to do, and made a commitment. Now I am more than 10 kilos lighter and last week I "deadlifted" 100 kilos, I might even send my doctor a photo! 

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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