The group slip down the gravel path and bunny hop up the high wooden steps, then hurtle back down the sandy slope via thick rough ropes. Sacks of sand are slung around their necks as they squat, twist, squat, twist their way along the path and then run back up the hill. I’m amazed to learn this is the warm up; I am even more astounded to see that throughout this every one of them is smiling and laughing.
At the back of this cheery chainmail of keep-fitters stands one man, hands on hips and chin defiantly raised. He’s shouting. ‘Put that sandbag down, for fuck’s sake, that ones for girls. Come on boy, get moving!’ This is Mike and this is his gym in La Cala.
Mike’s Gym is like no other place. It’s a children’s playground for grownups that aren’t scared of hard work. It’s an assault course made from life’s toughest stuff – ropes, concrete tunnels, wooden railway sleepers, iron wheelbarrows and monster truck tyres. This is not for decoration, these items are here to be pulled, pushed, lifted, thrown and dragged. I feel like I have lost a kilo just watching his students work their way around the course.
Tentatively I ask a toned tanned mum of two how long she has been doing this. ‘Too long,’ she laughs, as she throws a small tyre up and down over her head and between her legs. ‘I come every morning, have done for the last year, I’m addicted. Sometimes we do this, or we meet on the beach for a workout, or do stuff in the water. It’s great fun.’ Then she’s off again, pushing the iron wheelbarrow up the hill.
As a self-confessed shirkaholic I’m dubious about the word ‘fun’, but she’s right, everyone is still grinning – even those that are no longer breathing. ‘Someone’s sloping off back there,’ Mike hollers, and for a moment I think he’s talking to me. He isn’t, a young lad has had the audacity to sit down. ‘Get here and do it like you mean it!’
They haven’t finished yet. A woman is bench pressing a railway sleeper and a man saunters past me carrying a log in each hand as if he’s on his way back from the supermarket. Mike points to more logs and shouts, ‘come on ladies, grab one and pretend it’s a Prada bag.’ They only need to be told once. I look above my head as another woman swings effortlessly on the monkey bars, trying not to laugh as the guys below her make monkey noises and try to grab her feet.
‘Excuse me,’ says a tall sweaty man beside me, pointing at the tyre I’m sitting on. I get up and he picks it up and chucks it across to his friend as if it were a Frisbee. I stand in the shade and look out at the arid mountains and huge expanse of sky. The terrain is wild, tough and impressive…much like the people surrounding me. The gym’s land is beautifully landscaped, although the only pansies at Mike’s Gym are the ones planted in the rubber tyres, and even they manage to look like they mean business.
Things are winding down now. After an hour of grunting, sweating and swearing (and that’s just me attempting to climb the steep stairs back up to the gym) his students slope off to dry off on the deckchairs in the sun and grab a smoothie at the gym’s kitchens. Finally I get the chance to talk to the man himself about what makes him tick.
Mike is every bit a London boy, born and bred in Peckham he comes from a long line of market vendors (which explains his perfect patter and booming tones). A big lover of all things sporty, his office is a testament to his hobbies and glows gold from his dozens of awards and trophies. Along with football and motocross, Mike’s biggest passion is jet skiing. He trained and competed in races at the London Docks from a young age, and it was this love of jet ski racing that brought him to Spain in 1998 when he came to the Costa del Sol on a stag do.
‘There was a big group of us, about twelve blokes,’ he explains. ‘We drove down from the UK with our jet skis, we couldn’t bear to be parted from them for long, and had a brilliant holiday. Then one day the guy that ran the jet ski hire in Marbella needed a hand and I volunteered and didn’t go back home all summer.’
Mike’s talent, drive and innate business skills meant that eventually he took over the jet ski hire company. This was during the big tourist boom and the beginning of a new millennia. The rich and flash, with their holiday homes in Spain, kept their jet skis with Mike during the winter months and at one point he had nearly seventy to store. So he bought some land in La Cala mountainside and built, what was in effect, a large shed to house them in.
‘See that,’ he says to me pointing at the beams. ‘I had massive shelves of jet skis three tiers high. I built myself a little gym in here, just for me, and then mates started to use it. Then the recession hit and no one was jet skiing anymore.’ That was just four years ago and the beginning of Mike’s Gym. ‘I started with a small gym, then grew it and put in a boxing ring and swimming pool. Then I had the idea for the assault course.’ I ask him if he built it himself, and he looks at me as if the idea of anyone else doing the heavy lifting were complete craziness.. ‘Of course I built it all myself! Then we put in the chalets and started running Boot Camps. People can stay for a week, get fit, have their diet assessed and chill out.’ The gym also houses a smart kitchen, yoga area, patio and chill out room full of sports magazines.
I notice a poster on the walls proclaiming that ‘Abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen.’ I thought to lose weight you had to exercise like crazy? ‘Not at all,’ he explains. ‘Eighty per cent of weight loss is about your diet, the rest is about toning and sculpting. We offer nutritional support through Designer Diets here too.’ What a relief, avoiding chocolate sounds a lot less painful than slinging car tyres around in the sun. ‘But this place ain’t about working out to look good,’ he adds. ‘It’s about keeping fit. It’s about getting your heart pumping, your lungs working, feeling alive. You have to keep moving and push your body.’
Mike’s Gym is popular with everyone. At the morning’s group alone there were Brits, Russians and Dutch men and women, their ages raging from early twenties to late fifties. Mike’s chalets have housed everyone from TOWIE celebs to championship boxers. Is there anyone that doesn’t benefit from his enthusiastic approach to keeping fit?
‘You know who loves it the most here?’ he asks, his eyes glancing at the millions of photos plastered over his walls. ‘Kids! Children come here and they go mad for it. In fact I have to get them to put things down and be careful. But that’s how it should be, that eagerness to get moving. We run courses for the over fives and they have tantrums at the end because they don’t want to go home.’
Looking at the happy, healthy people surrounding us I am warming to the idea of getting my arse in gear, but unfortunately it’s time for us to leave. As we pass more people filing into the gym Mike shouts out after me, ‘next time, you’re coming here without them heels on. Give me six weeks and I’ll have you ready for your bikini and fit for life.’ Well that’s certainly a promise a girl can’t refuse.
To view all images please view the slideshow at the top of the page.