About Mark: "Mark Toorock is the founder of Primal Fitness and American Parkour. He has been fortunate enough to both live abroad and travel to many countries, meeting and training with people all over the world. Mark has set his rusty, 16 year old second degree black belt aside for the time being, focusing on other forms of movement such as CrossFit, parkour, and rock climbing. Mark was CrossFit Level 2 certified in 2007, is a MoveNat Level 2 certified coach, and recently attended the CrossFit mobility certification. At 45 my goal is to get faster, stronger and move better until age 65 where I hope to gently taper off. Each year on my birthday I hike a mountain and run the last mile, this is my benchmark."
Mark was kind enough to answer questions for us in the latest installment of our Featured CrossFit Talk.
What kind of athletics did you participate in before CrossFit? How did you start CrossFit?
As a child I was the least athletic person I knew. In three years of little league, I did not hit the ball a single time. Yes, the mothers all went “ohhh” too when I got up to bat. Even though I played youth soccer up until high school, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I took up martial arts and I started to have any interest in fitness and human performance. During my martial arts training, I found my love of coaching and teaching movement. I found that through teaching martial arts specifically to kids that I could help them become stronger not only physically but in character as well. In 2002, I was introduced to the then-fledgling discipline of parkour. In 2006, through my good friend Jesse Woody, I learned about CrossFit. It seems like before I knew it, Jesse and I were opening Primal Fitness as the world’s first Parkour gym and CrossFit affiliate #70.
What made you become a CrossFit instructor?
CrossFit is the perfect counterpart to Parkour training. While parkour focuses mainly on moving through space and over obstacles, CrossFit excels in strength and conditioning. The people I met in the early days of CrossFit, including Nicole Carroll, Greg Amundson, Coach Glassman, and others, were incredibly inspiring sources of seemingly endless practicable knowledge and experience. They motivated me to learn the ways of CrossFit so that I could share my passion with others and help build what I consider more complete athletes.
From an instructor's perspective, tell us one thing you think CrossFitter's should do more of and one thing they should do less of.
One of my favorite things about CrossFit is its ability to incorporate other disciplines like gymnastics. I feel that most CrossFitters would benefit from more movement-based training such as the work lead by Ido Portal. To be direct, I feel that many CrossFitters should shift their emphasis from the whiteboard to their form. In my observations, many people misinterpret the role of the clock in the workout; there is no point in doing a movement faster if you are not doing it correctly.
What is your favorite CrossFit workout and why?
I feel that Primal Fitness’ trademark is “FUNctiontal fitness.” We challenge our athletes constantly with multiplanar, functional movements both with and without equipment/weight. For example, we play a game where two opponents standing eight feet apart try to knock each other off balance by throwing a medicine ball in a catch-meets-push-hands game where the loser is granted bonus fitness in the form of burpees or plank. You may find yourself throwing a sandbag over a barrier only to chase it, throw it back, and repeat. It is these elements combined with virtuosity in weightlifting that comprise my favorite workouts in the gym, and for me, outside is even better!
How big of a role do you feel diet plays in your ability to perform at a high level? What foods do you eat a lot of? What foods do you avoid?
These are the things which affect your performance: quantity and quality of sleep, quantity and quality of food, quantity and quality of exercise, attitude and determination. I feel that food is much simpler than many people would have you believe. The old CrossFit manifesto says it well, but I will shorten it to this: Eat moderate portions of lean proteins from local, ethical, and sustainable sources accompanied by a variety of vegetables and healthy fats.
What is your favorite article of gear or clothing you use when training?
Bare feet. I have done several 8+ mile hikes in bare feet. I feel this contributes to my overall balance and proprioception in ways that shoe-bound feet will never understand. Zero-drop shoes are a good step towards this, but should be approached as anything new, in small doses until you are adjusted.
Describe your weekly workout schedule. How many days off do you take?
I try to actively train in a variety of disciplines including CrossFit, parkour, rock climbing, yoga/mobility, and outdoor training/rock scrambling. As great as this sounds I probably only get to work out 2-3 times a week. For people going hard in CrossFit, especially here in DC, I don't recommend more than 3 on 1 off, as most people in the city have many other stressors in life and not enough rest.
Please offer some advice to someone thinking about trying CrossFit that hasn't taken the plunge.
Every CrossFit gym I have been to is a caring community run by people genuinely interested in the wellbeing of others. While CrossFit deserves its tagline “Forging Elite Fitness,” what that doesn’t tell you is that all of the coaches and communities are incredibly welcoming and comprised of people who started out just like you. At Primal Fitness, we specialize in scaling workouts, there are two important factors for every athlete, where you are now, and where you want to go. The only place that you can ever start is where you are now.