Gorka Marqeuz has been dancing since he was eleven. Today, he is one of the most successful professional dancers around, starring in Strictly Come Dancing, as well as an exhausting schedule of high-octane shows throughout the whole year.
Marquez is not exhausted by it though. Having discovered the benefits improved fitness and better nutrition had upon his dancing, he now a self-admitted CrossFit addict. We spoke to Gorka as his new collection with WIT dropped, about his childhood in Bilbao, why you should see functional fitness like choreography and his advice for getting back into shape when you’ve let things slide.
The WIT x Gorka Collection is available to buy now at wit-fitness.com
Men’s Health: Let’s start with where you grew up. Where you always active as a child?
Gorka Marquez: I grew up in the north of Spain, in a city called Bilbao, It’s a city that has a mixture of everything. You have mountains for hikes or adventure and then you have the seaside. So you could do anything you feel like. One day you could be on the cost. And the next you can be climbing a 3000-metre mountain if you want to. We get snow, so you can do that sot of stuff.
I always used to spend the whole summer on the coast. We had an apartment in a small seaside town. My mum and dad were always very active, so we’d do a lot of hikes, a lot of swimming and I used to surf and do water sports in the summer. I always loved doing sports, and I played football growing up.
I was going to ask if football was a big thing…
My mum loved football. She’s Portuguese and her dad used to play, not professionally but where they were from had the big team and league. In Portugal, football is as massive as it is in Spain, so I started playing football when I was about six years old. I played until I was 11 or 12 but was dancing at the same time at the end. I had to choose one, as they weren’t things that were helping each other. The risk of injuries in football was a worry. They asked me if I would like to play football or dance? And I had to choose, so I chose dance.
What led you to start dancing?
The first time I went to a dance class, I was 11 years old. I started going to hip hop classes, then a little bit more of ballroom and Latin. My first official competition was when I was 12. It was just a local competition and they asked me if I wanted to take part. I was the youngest person dancing, all the others were 18, 19 and 20. The girl I was dancing with was 18, but she didn’t have a partner. So they asked me if I would like to dance with her.
I did it and we won. What I loved about dancing in that competition was that it was just about me. In football, if I didn’t play well, we might still win. It wasn’t because I was good. In dancing, if I was working hard in practice I could win. It was only me and my partner. So that’s what I loved about it.
Was the athleticism of dancing something you were aware of at that stage?
No, the first few years it it was just fun. I had friends in the dance school and at the weekend we’d have ballroom evenings. I used to go with my parents and my friends from the dance school with their parents, because the parents used to dance. So it was nice. I was just hanging out with friends and dancing. Then when I was 13 or 14, I stated to get more gigs so couldn’t do the normal teenage things, because the weekend was when I could practise the most. I remember my friends going to the cinema but I used to have lessons after lunch. I would spend my whole afternoon in the studio, practising with my dance partner. Then I would go with my mum and dad to the ballroom evenings.
I realise now how much of my teenage years I missed. But at the same time, I found that it was a very positive thing for me. I found it took me away from situations that I know my friends have been through, street problems and things like that. I’m very grateful for that. I had the discipline of dancing without someone having to tell me to do things all the time. It was up to me to be in the right place at the right time and perform.
Are you the sort of person who thrives with that structure to your life?
Yeah, I’m very routine. Not boring, but I like to have a structure to my week. If a meeting moves or rehearsal is changed, I can be flexible, but I do like to plan my day and my week ahead of time. I can move the jigsaw around, but I have to know when I’ll be training or shooting.
When did you start really training outside of your dancing?
I started when I was quite young, to be honest. I think I first went to the gym when I was 16. I just did it to look good, you know? Like every young person it was all about big guns, big chest and stuff like that. But then at 18 I moved to Madrid, and that’s when I really started liking fitness. I moved out of home and was a professional competitor. We had our dance coaches, then we had performance coaching and personal training, which helped us build the endurance to perform and taught us how to structure recovery during competitions. So, I was already into fitness. Then I started getting a lot of injuries and I stopped competing in 2013, when I was 23.
I was teaching and doing shows and that was when I went all in on fitness. I was going to the gym every day, twice a day. I was doing more bodybuilding stuff with and a bit of functional fitness. I remember at that point, I was asked to go to a CrossFit class. I didn’t because everyone said back then that you can get injured and then I wouldn’t be able to dance.
Looking back now, that is one of the things that I regret the most. I love CrossFit. I love everything about it, the community, lifestyle and the training everything. The CrossFit Games are incredible to watch. I could be so much better now if I’d just gone to that class. I wish I could compete but I’m too old.
That’s what the Masters categories are for. You’re never too old. When did you actually start going to CrossFit classes?
2017 was the first time I started to do more functional fitness. I used to go to classes at the studios in London because I was quite busy with the show. I really enjoyed it. Before then, people used to tell me I needed to do more strength work, but I hated going to the gym, doing five reps, waiting for like three minutes and then lifting again.
What I love about CrossFit is it’s very similar to my world. When you’re doing the workouts, the way you move makes me feel like I’m dancing sometimes. If I have to do a burpee box jumps, I learned to treat it like choreography, because you’re using your whole body. You need the strength for a power clean, you need to be agile for box jumps or pull-ups, and you need the endurance for long workouts. With dancing you have to be strong to be able lift a girl over head, but then you have to do a backflip and a slide. You have to be athletic.
I started doing proper CrossFit during the first lockdown. We had our daughter Mia in 2018 And that’s when we built our gym at home. We have all the cardio machines, a squat rack, and dumbbells so my training became a lot more functional at that point. So, the first lockdown is when I got really into CrossFit. Today, it’s all I do.
How much has your functional training benefitted your dancing?
I’ve had a few people from the show come with me to CrossFit and they immediately understand why I’ve been going on about it. Our show is two-hours long, and we do 50 minutes, have a break and then another 40 minutes. The opening number is nine-minutes long, so for that entire time we don’t leave the stage and we don’t stop. Then you have maybe 30 seconds to get changed and you’re back on. I was wearing my WHOOP and in the first 40 minutes my strain was at 17. My heart rate peaks at maybe will 175 to 178, but my constant heart rate is more like 135 to 140 the whole time.
How many calories do you burn through in a normal day dancing?
Well yesterday we were in rehearsals, which is not that intense because you dance for a bit and then stop. Yesterday it was 3090 calories. I understand the importance of good food for recovery, so every break I get in some carb and electrolytes. But it’s true within the world of dance, there is misconception about eating. I see some of the girls who have been dancing for four hours and haven’t eaten more than a bowl of salad. Every single break, I’m going to need a piece of fruit, or I have a bagel or rice cakes just keep like fuelling my body to recover.
Do you notice the impact on your performance?
When you start to see all the hours that we do, the intensity at which we rehearse and perform, it’s not hard to see that we are athletes. You need to train yourself as an athlete. From the moment you wake up and what you put in your body, to how you recover and sleep after. Now, when I get into the studio I will do some mobility for 15 to 20 minutes. If I miss it, 100% before bed I have to do 30 minutes of mobility.
Is there a particular area of your body that you that you pay special attention to?
I tend to get injuries in my lower back, so I always pay attention my hips, glutes, lower back and then the shoulders. I keep my hips like nice and open and my shoulders because with all the lifts and tricks that we do it is very easy to get rotator cuff injuries.
How long are you away at the moment? You must spend quite a lot of time away from your wife and daughter.
I left Manchester on Thursday and I’m going to be down in London for the next three weeks. The next time I will see Gemma [Atkinson] will be the 26th of April. When I’m on the road, it depends on the days off and if I can manage to go home maybe once a week to see them for a day or something like that. But yeah, that’s the downside of my job – it takes out a lot of family time, especially with my daughter and the age she is now. I just feel like I’m missing the best time because she’s so funny.
But I had eight days off before this tour, so we flew to Spain and I told everyone that I was not contactable about anything. If I didn’t switch off, I wouldn’t be able to switch off until Christmas, because I only have five days off before the next tour. It was a bit tricky, as it was when we launched the range with WIT but I told them just to blame me and that you couldn’t contact me!
How long have you been working with WIT
We started in the first lockdown. I had the idea of creating this collection with them. We wanted to create something for fitness, but for outside of training that you can wear whenever. My idea is it’s a hoodie that you can wear if you want to go into the gym, but after the training you can wear it going out and look cool. It means you don’t have to go to the gym with a bag full of clothes.
Do you have any other goals you’re working towards?
It is quite difficult with my schedule, but I have always wanted to do a CrossFit competition, even as a team or something. One of the things that I’ve always wanted to do is a triathlon or an Ironman. I’ve been saying that for years and I haven’t done it yet. But I want to do something that you push your body to the limits. It’s not even just for the fact that I can say I’ve done it – for me, the process of training is what excites me. It’s more the months of the training and seeing the evolution of my body’s capabilities.
Finally, what would be your advice to someone who wants to get back into fitness?
The most difficult thing is day one. It’s the same with everything. I feel like when I’m not dancing for like few months, day one is horrendous. You just put the first stone in and then just keep putting them in. It doesn’t happen overnight, work one step at a time and be consistent. Keep putting in the stones.
You need to find something that you love to do and a nutrition plan you like sticking to. If you’re doing something you don’t like, you will do it for a period of time then quit. If you’re restricting what you’re eating too much, you might hold out for a week. But then you can’t be bothered after that because it’s not fun.
People ask me how I stay motivated with my training, with all the touring and travelling. The thing is, I love CrossFit, so for me that’s my escape time. It’s when I disconnect, forget about work, dancing problems, whatever. I just go for an hour, switch my mind off and then I feel better. Find something that you love and it’s easy to be consistent.
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