My Trip to the Asylum

I’m not a big fan of getting up early, especially not on weekends, and definitely not on my birthday. But there I was dragging myself out of my comfy bed at 7 am on the last Sunday of August. Why? Well, a few weeks earlier I had won a raffle prize—a free pass to Asylum Fitness’ Outdoor Fitness Class. The morning was a bit grey with a light drizzle, but I fixed myself a strong coffee and headed out to see what this class was all about. 

Forty-five minutes later I was standing in the parking lot at Carolina Beach State Park, introducing myself to the other participants and wondering what I had signed up for…I was clearly one of only a few people over 40, and one of the least buff. Uh-oh. However, I was delighted that half of the group were women. It's always a bonus to NOT be the only woman, at least in my opinion. I certainly enjoy being around male energy, but I love the dynamic women bring to group activities—we might (generally) be smaller, but we’re innovative and often hilariously funny. And there were dogs!!! Anytime I get to hang with four-legged creatures I’m a happy girl, so if you’ve been looking for a class where you can bring your fur-buddy, definitely check out this one. 

Just before 9 am, Mark Smith, Asylum Fitness owner and personal trainer, bounded up to our group, made sure everyone was introduced, and gave us a brief orientation of what we could expect from the day. After that we headed up the trail. A mile or so later we were standing on the shore of the Cape Fear River and getting paired up for our first exercises, something Mark calls Zen Archer; basically a slow-motion Matrix style fight where you try to avoid your opponent’s attacks by bending and twisting your body, but without moving from your spot. Although Mark kept telling us not to talk, my partner and I burned as many calories laughing as we did warming up. The rest of the day my laughing was more rueful. 

We followed this warm-up with a few rounds of ‘Bear Crawling’ up the sand hill we had walked down to get to the river. Have you crawled up a sand hill on all fours lately? No? You should go do it, and then come back and tell me all about it. I thought I’d smoke that particular challenge, but after the second time around, I was praying for a direct lightning hit. By the end of the day, I would have a fiery hatred for that hill.

From hill climbs, we moved on to standing on logs and trying to push each other off, climbing trees, hanging from branches upside down and traveling along those branches like baby sloths. Maybe that was just me though, the students who regularly train with Mark were flying along their branches with no problems. Did I mention that we also ran up that damn hill quite a few more times as we transitioned to our next activity. I seriously hate that hill. Through all of this Mark was bouncing around encouraging us to push our limits, giving guidance on efficient movement techniques and making sure we were all doing okay mentally, and physically.  

Looks like dancing....but Queen of the Log is deadly serious! 

Look! It's a Baby Sloth!!!! 

Our workout also included group activities like a land based version of Sharks and Minnows (on that blasted hill again), buddy-carries up the aforementioned hill, and a group free-for-all wrestling match. I know it sounds weird but it was really fun. Basically, think of all the nutty stuff you did as a kid and that will give you a decent idea of what we did. 

Buddy Carries, on that damn hill

While initially I had been worried about being able to keep up with the regular participants, thinking my age and small stature would be limiting factors in strength based activities, I soon discovered that flexibility and a solid ability to ground myself were just as important. I sent up silent thanks to my former Aikido Sensei and all my Yoga teachers for giving me that base. As far as age being a limiter, one of my favorite people in the class was a gentleman in his late 50s, or maybe early 60s, who not only ran circles around me (literally) but also had some of the best tree climbing skills I’ve ever seen! Turns out, that was Mark’s father. He has been a life-long athlete/gym rat, and is now a devoted fan of the Primal lifestyle. 

Mark Smith, just hanging around, like he does. 

Mark Smith, just hanging around, like he does. 

Around two hours after we had met up, we were back in the parking lot- sweaty, dirty, completely caked in sand, hungry, and laughing. When Mark asked, I had to admit that I had had a great time, and was very happy to have started my birthday off with his class—and to have lived through it. 

All joking, and kvetching aside, I was intrigued by the class and sat down with Mark recently to learn more about his approach to movement and fitness. As a Primal enthusiast I could clearly discern the focus on functional strength, as well as the inclusion of playfulness and time spent in nature. Throw in the tribal aspect of developing a group of ‘regulars’ and his classes are tailor-made for someone like me. 

Although Mark isn’t affiliated with one specific training school or style, he has spent years focusing on functional movement, strength, flexibility and as he put it, Warrior training. He has studied with Ido Portal in Ireland, and Gray Cook, both of whom are well respected functional movement trainers and authors. Additionally, Mark has worked with Rafe Kelley, a west coast based movement coach and Parkour advocate, who’s company Evolve Move Play, focuses on reconnecting people with play-based natural movement. In fact Mark considers Rafe to be his biggest influence in the past year, and is bringing him to Wilmington for a special workshop. 

But don’t let all of this play and fun fool you. Mark is an accredited Personal Trainer, well-versed in helping people achieve their health and fitness goals. He is also a former teacher, and brings that love of educating to his work with his clients. His enthusiasm for his students’ successes is limitless. For more information on Mark’s classes and trainings, visit his website Asylum Fitness. His Outdoor Fitness class is currently offered once a month, but he offers a variety of other classes and one-on-one training as well. 

In general, I prefer to get my daily movement through yoga and walking, but I definitely enjoyed my experience with Asylum Fitness, and will be signing up for a future Outdoor Class. I know I’ll get a great whole body workout, and a killer ab work out laughing at myself! 

Have you done a class like this? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love to hear about your experiences. 


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