CrossFit in Spain Growing Strong as Translation Remains Key Hurdle

May 1, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Wodshots Photography
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In 2011, Spaniard Natalia Diez was in Miami, FL where she had moved, and it was here that she first set foot in a CrossFit gym.

 “I saw some guys doing butterfly pull-ups,” said Diez, who is now Spain’s CrossFit country manager. “And I remember doing it for the first time and being like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” 

But the 40-year-old Diez was hooked, and within five months she had completed her CrossFit Level 1 certificate. Diez said this was the beginning of what has become a life-long love affair with the sport. 

“From there I was basically obsessed with CrossFit and I stayed in the US for about a year and took some coaching courses, some gymnastics courses because I wanted to know everything I could about CrossFit. I was looking for something and I found it.”

Diez then moved back to Spain, but at that point there were only four boxes in the entire country. So she did what any highly motivated person would do, and started building CrossFit in her country from the ground up. She was based out of Madrid and within a few years she was working full-time as a coach, leaving her job managing a Gold’s Gym.

By 2016 she was officially working with CrossFit, getting her coveted “red shirt”, coaching and teaching Level 1 and 2 courses. Her resume with CrossFit includes everything from judging and coaching to teaching and of course, competing. 

In August of 2019, Diez helped CrossFit Front Garden come to fruition, and it became the first affiliate located within an oncology unit in a hospital (which she still runs to this day). Through this journey, she has seen CrossFit in Spain go from nowhere, to an established methodology which just broke 600 affiliates this month and has already added 41 in 2022 alone.

“The rate of growth (of CrossFit) in Spain has been crazy in the last nine months,” said Diez, who now lives in Palma, a city on the Spanish island of Mallorca.”We are having from nine to 11 affiliates open every month.” 

“People outside of CrossFit are realizing that we take care of people, and I think that goes a long way when someone first comes into a box.”

Diez said this growth comes down to a number of factors, and at the foundation is making sure every single affiliate in Spain feels as if they have the support of CrossFit. She said this encompasses everything from birthday calls to regular training, for free of course. 

“We’re working on educating them every month on something new, we cover training education, business education. So this week for example we worked on conflict resolution within the box, so not just with clients but conflicts within the team. How to proceed with that from the legal to personal part.” 

CrossFit’s trajectory in Europe seems to have been supercharged coming out of the pandemic. France now has the second most number of boxes in the world, behind only the US, and Ollie Mansbridge, the country manager for the UK, said they are seeing growth all the way from London to Scandinavia.

Europe’s emergence from the pandemic has been nearly as swift as the US, as vaccine and travel restrictions have dropped almost as quickly as they were administered. Polls are showing people are craving human interaction again, as well as a renewed sense and purpose around fitness as a lifestyle and a means for staying healthy. 

Diez said CrossFit plays perfectly into this as it combines working out with community in a setting where people feel challenged but not intimidated. She said one demographic switch she has seen coming out of the pandemic is a lot of people coming to fitness for the first time in their lives, in their 30s and 40s, with no sports or athletic backgrounds. She said this also applies to people in smaller towns where fitness hasn’t always necessarily been a priority. 

“People are realizing outside of CrossFit that we take care of people, and I think that goes a long way when someone first comes into a box … and it’s really crazy because if you would have asked me a year ago, I would have said the opposite, people were trying to open affiliates in big cities, but now we are seeing affiliates open in small towns and do really well right away.” 

Of course, Diez said the biggest hurdle when it comes to Spain’s CrossFit future is a simple, but incredibly complex one.

“Only about 20 percent of the population in Spain can speak English, and only about 20 percent of that say they read English…this is the hurdle we face everyday.”

“I’ve been translating for a long time and I’m always trying to fight for this. So think about when CrossFit shares something interesting with the world, but you don’t understand it because of the language barrier.” 

Diez said training people to translate is a difficult task as well because CrossFit is a highly technical sport that has a lot of minutia and details that need to be exact. And of course, if people can’t read or even listen to English at a certain capacity, CrossFit’s message only gets to them through Diez and her team of translators. 

“We translate as much as we can, but only about 20 percent of the population here in Spain can speak English, and only about 20 percent of that say they read English. Which means there are not a lot of people here who understand English. And so this is the hurdle we face everyday.” 

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