So a couple of weeks ago I went on a Body Type Nutrition fitness retreat in Marbella in Spain. BTN is run by a very cool guy called Ben Coomber. He’s basically a coach (and BTN is his online coaching company) and he also owns a few different health-related businesses. I first heard about him through his podcast Ben Coomber Radio which if you’re into keeping fit and healthy, both mind and body, it’s worth checking out as it’s very good. Anyway, I signed myself up to the retreat as soon as I heard about it as I knew it was exactly the kind of thing I’d enjoy doing: learning about strength training, techniques in the gym, nutrition, mobility and also there was an epic obstacle course (the biggest in Europe) which we would get to have a go on.
The gym was insane. It pretty much had everything. It was very CrossFit focused but also had a boxing ring with boxing equipment, machines squat racks and weights, kettle bells, Bosu balls, resistance bands, monkey bars…just everything really. The guy that owned the gym (Mike) is a 51 unbelievably fit legend. He runs a CrossFit class most mornings at the gym (which by the way is just outside our cabins so we heard it going on every morning – it was like our alarm), has done triathlons and cycling events and is basically a machine. Originally from the UK, he’s been in Marbella for 11 years and has never looked back. But it was Ben that was running the show and planning the week (we were all grateful for this as Mike was literally the drill sergeant from hell).
There were, in total, about 16 of us. So a nice small group of like-minded people. Some people were personal trainers hoping to further their knowledge and coaching abilities and some were like me, just interested in fitness. It was not a beginner’s retreat though – everyone was fit, strong and knew their stuff. I was the only runner though.
Unfortunately when I arrived in Spain around midday I was still feeling so very hung-over from the wedding the night before (having had only 3 hours sleep). I felt very unwell and actually really cold despite the 30 degrees C temperature. After meeting everyone I pretty much just went to bed to, for want of a better description, sweat it out. I missed dinner (you know I’m not well when I miss meal times) but honestly I felt so ill I just had to sleep. I was so worried I wouldn’t be up for anything the next day so prayed a good long sleep would help. Thankfully when I woke up the next morning I felt almost fully better.
For our first proper day we checked out the obstacle course. The obstacle course is split into two sections: an endurance section and a combat section. The endurance section included things like climbing over walls, swinging across ditches, balancing across beams, running with a heavy sandbag on your shoulder across floats on water…etc. The combat section was basically a strength based area – one huge circuits set. You had to go from exercise to exercise completing the necessary reps. The weights were different for females and males and there was a ‘step down’ weight if you couldn’t do the proper one – but this was more reps.
There were sit-ups, pull-ups, pushing and pulling weights, battle ropes, climbing a rope, sledge hammering a tyre, flipping a huge tyre, pressing logs, tossing atlas stones over your shoulder, bench pressing logs, monkey bars… Honestly it went on and on. So we got to go through each of the combat zone exercises to get familiar with them. We were going to do the obstacle course for real on Wednesday so we could practice before then.
I loved doing all of this. It was just so much fun doing really random strength-based exercises that I’d never done before. Getting dusty and sweaty in the sun chucking heavy things around didn’t feel like exercise to me.
Later on we also did a mobility workshop which was really interesting. Simon and Carl showed us some great ways to warm up before lifting weights in the gym. Normally I just go on a machine for 4-5 minutes and then start lifting weights, but they showed us some great simple exercises to get us limbered up and ready in a more functional and specific way.
We did most of the workshops in the studio and then could practise the different techniques. Both Carl and Simon were great teachers and clearly knew their stuff. You never felt stupid either for asking what seemed like basic questions. They were very ‘hands on’ as well – helping us get into the correct positions and guiding each of to good technique.
After this we did a shoulder press session. This was so good as it’s an exercise I often do in the gym so to have some eyeball my technique and give me specific cues was fantastic! I also found I could lift heavier than I had kept to at the gym as I felt safer having spotters around me. But it’s given me confidence now to be more bold in the gym.
That evening Mike mentioned that he was going to be doing a run in the morning if anyone fancied joining. Well obviously my ears pricked up! A few of us were keen so we were told to meet at 7am to be ready to go in the morning. The next morning at 7am he took the small group of us from Ben’s group and Mike’s usual group down to the obstacle course for a ‘warm-up’.
Now when Mike said warm-up what he really meant was a 45 minute circuit session of the combat zone. We paired off and had to do each exercise for about 2 minutes before moving on. I paired with the only other woman, who was a regular of Mike’s classes. She was a MACHINE. I like to think I held my own – farmer walking two 30kg weights up through a slalom of hanging tyres (three times!), climbing up a rope to the top, pulling down weights on a pull system etc. I felt very comfortable pushing myself – a competitive element had also sparked off in me and a fear that Mike and his gang would think we were weak. My hands were destroyed though by the end as so many of the exercises required pulling or holding heavy things that tore into your skin.
Then we packed into a car and headed to some Spanish hills for the “10-12k run”. I say run but really it was run to every steep hill Mike could find, then struggle up it and carry on running. Luckily the sun wasn’t quite out to burn down on us. I had stupidly left my water in the car, not thinking I would need it as it wasn’t that hot yet. So I was very much dependent on one of Mike’s crew who had a Camelbak. He was lovely though and kept me nicely hydrated. The run though was INSANE.
Two guys from our group really struggled and we had to keep waiting for them. They hadn’t run more than 5k in a few years and the elevation gains were relentless. I relatively comfortable (well, I was dying but in a manageable way) as this was my territory being a runner. Mike was unforgiving and would yell at the slower runners to hurry up “you slugs!”.
By 3 miles I wondered how we could really do 12k and prayed that Mike was just giving a rough estimate. In the end though it was 6.6 miles. Luckily the last mile was pretty much downhill so I could pick up some speed and open my stride but I could feel my body weakening and tiring. When I saw the cars I couldn’t have been more happy.
But we survived! We felt like champions at the end, though exhausted and a little broken.
When we got back to the gym at around 10am (we had started at 7am!) we went straight for breakfast. It was fairly amusing that everyone else was just out sunbathing and hanging around while we came back covered in dust and sweat and completely destroyed. For breakfast I wolfed down porridge and boiled eggs – I was starving.
And the day had barely begun! For the rest of the day we tested out the endurance section of the obstacle course which I found a bit more tricky. Not necessarily in terms of physically doing it but in terms of genuine fear. One of the obstacles was climbing up a high rope wall and clambering over it to the other side to climb back down. I found this really nerve-wracking and when I got to the top I just basically lay clinging to the narrow beam not being able to get my leg to swing over for fear of losing my grip and falling. After lots of encouragement from the group though I was able to get over it and down. Another tough obstacle was using a rope to swing over a ditch and landing on the other side. I wouldn’t have been scared until I saw a couple of people either let go too early and fall awkwardly into the ditch or hit the side as they swung. Luckily though I made it across.
After finishing we then had lunch and got ready for some more workshops. This time it was squats and deadlifts.
I was really looking forward to this but I was also feeling quite fatigued now! Eating lots of food did help though of course. And we did have some down time between sessions where we could nap or sit in the sun.
Simon was really helpful during the squats session as he watched my technique and advised I raise my heels slightly to help with my form. This felt so much better! Deadlifts were good too. It was just so handy to have qualified trainers to watch and help you. It was like having a personal trainer for the week.
I’ll leave my recap there as I still have a lot to talk about. Hope you’re enjoying it so far – it was a fantastically varied and tough week
Have you ever been to a fitness retreat?
Have you heard of Ben Coomber?
Have you ever done an obstacle course?