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in: Health & Sports, Podcast

• Last updated: March 15, 2021

Podcast #663: How to Achieve Physical Autonomy

Most men want to wake up in the morning knowing their body is ready to handle whatever opportunities and challenges come their way that day, from a real emergency to simply roughhousing with their kids. They want to be able to move without pain and explore the world with confidence. 

My guest today would say that what this desire is pointing to is the achievement of physical autonomy. His name is Ryan Hurst and he’s the head coach at GMB Fitness, which uses bodyweight exercises and skill-based practices to help people get stronger, move better, and never have to doubt themselves physically. Our conversation begins with Ryan’s unique background; we discuss how he did gymnastics growing up and then moved to Japan, where he still resides, to learn martial arts, including aikido, kendo, judo, and jiu-jitsu, and how these experiences influenced his fitness journey and philosophy. Ryan then shares how he defines physical autonomy and the three elements that are required to achieve it. From there we discuss the four animal-inspired movements that create the foundation for balanced athleticism, the basic physical skills people should aim to master, and how to train those skills in ways that don’t require an onerous amount of time.

If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.

Show Highlights

  • How Ryan ended up in Japan studying martial arts (and why he hasn’t left) 
  • The injury that led to a turning point in Ryan’s life 
  • What does it mean to have physical autonomy 
  • The difference between capability and ability 
  • Ryan’s four animal-inspired movements
  • The functional movements Ryan encourages all of his clients to pursue
  • The 5 P’s of a GMB session 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

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GMB on Twitter

GMB on Instagram

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Most men wanna wake up in the morning knowing their body is ready to handle whatever opportunities and challenges come their way that day, from a real emergency to simply rough housing with their kids. They wanna be able to move without pain and explore the world with confidence. My guest they would say that what this desire is pointing to is the achievement of physical autonomy. His name is Ryan Hurst. He’s the head coach at GMB Fitness, which uses body-weight exercises and skill-based practices to help people get stronger, move better and never have to doubt themselves physically. Our conversation begins with Ryan’s unique background. We discuss how you did gymnastics growing up and then moved to Japan where he still resides to learn martial arts, including Aikido, Kendo, Judo, and Jiu Jitsu and how these experiences influenced his fitness journey and philosophy. Ryan then shares how he defines physical autonomy, and the three elements that are required to achieve it. And from there, we discuss the four animal-inspired movements that create the foundation for balance athleticism, the basic physical skills people should aim to master and how to train those skills in ways that don’t require an onerous amount of time. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/physicalautonomy.

Alright, Ryan Hurst, welcome to the show.

Ryan Hurst: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Thank you.

Brett McKay: You are the Head Coach at GMB fitness. GMB is short for Gold Medal Bodies, and it’s a place where you guys use body movement exercises, gymnastic movements to help people get strong, regular people. People who’ve never done a hand stand in their life before, you can help them get there if that’s what their goal is. And if people have read the website, you’ve done a series of articles about gymnastic rings on artofmanliness.com a couple of years ago. How did you get started with that. And so today I’d like to talk or more delve deeper into your philosophy of fitness, but before we do, let’s talk about your background, ’cause I think it will explain where you’re coming from with GMB. As a kid, you were a gymnast. How young were you when you got started, and how serious did you get with that stuff?

Ryan Hurst: Absolutely. Yeah, so lots to talk about. I got started with gymnastics at a very young age, I would say… How old was I? Like third or fourth grade if you’re in the United States, so I guess… I don’t know if they’re fourth grade, how old is that? Like…

Brett McKay: 10.

Ryan Hurst: Maybe 10 years.

Brett McKay: Nine, 10? Yeah.

Ryan Hurst: Yeah, about 10 years old. Very serious into it. I ended up on the competition team. Competed until I was 18 years old, and I actually was thinking about going to college for gymnastics. I ended up, though, getting into martial art as well, so when I was… And I apologize, I don’t remember the exact age, but let’s say… I don’t know how it is in the United States now, but in junior high, the beginning of high school, I started doing martial art. But I continued with my gymnastics, so basically I was just doing gymnastics and I would immediately go to my martial art. Really into that. But with gymnastics, that was my main thing, and again, pretty much every weekend it was gymnastics and Boy Scouts camping, that sort of thing. So growing up, not a whole lot of studying, to be honest, it was mainly my gymnastics and my martial arts. So yeah.

Brett McKay: And with the gymnastics… So you mentioned martial art, which martial art did you do in middle school, high school?

Ryan Hurst: I actually started out in Aikido. Also did a little bit of judo at the time when I was doing that, but it was mainly just Aikido. Yeah.

Brett McKay: And like most kids, a lot of kids take a karate class, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class a few times for a couple of years, and that’s it, that’s the extent the martial art. You decided to actually moved to Japan, and that’s where you live today, moved to Japan to continue your study of martial art. Why? What was going on there?

Ryan Hurst: Yeah. So I’m actually not the kind of person who just dips their toe into a thing. I kinda go full in and just jump in the deep end. And so when I… I went to university in the United States, to college in the United States for a couple of years. And during that time, I just continued with my martial art and really got into it, and my martial art instructor was like, “Hey, if you really wanna take this to next level, you should think about Japan.” And so very fortunate thing is that they started offering Japanese classes at my college, but the college I was at though didn’t offer an exchange student program. So what I did was I ended up finding an exchange program through a different university that I could do, and I ended up going to Japan. And in the beginning, it was just kind as an exchange program, but the excuse… Well, that was the excuse. But really what I wanted to do is to study my martial art, and so I went over to Japan, came over to Japan, and I started doing Kendo.

And so Kendo where I was, was really well known in terms of the instructor there is phenomenal, and he worked with the police as well as the Japan Self-Defense Force teaching Kendo. And I just ended up doing that every single day, my instructor took a liking to me. I ended up doing what’s called a uchi-deshi which is where you actually move and live, move in with your instructor, live with them. I ended up staying, and so six-month exchange program turned into a year plus and now what? 26 years now here in Japan, but I was doing Kendo and judo at the same time. So I got to train with the police and the Self-Defense Force where I was at university up north. And thanks to that, when I moved down to Osaka, I continued to train with the Osaka Police here, and that was my thing. And so I did judo, and that was it. And I ended up working at a martial art complex within a shrine, and so I worked there for eight years as the interpreter and translator.

And thanks to the fact that I was working at a martial art complex and working with all these other instructors, I ended up continuing my study of Aikido, but I actually did, like I told you, I did Jiu Jitsu at the time, Shorinji Kempo, Judo, Kendo, iaido, and yeah, for eight years. And so during that time, I had some really good opportunities to learn from some fabulous instructors, and that’s all I did really was just continue to study my martial art or I should say martial arts. And yeah, that’s about it. So again… Yeah, pretty deep into it.

Brett McKay: Yeah, were you still doing any gymnastics at this time, or was it just all martial arts all the time?

Ryan Hurst: I was not. I actually, at age 18, after I graduated from high school, I stopped doing gymnastics, and… I did get into… Actually, I continued with moving my body, obviously when I was doing my martial art, and so I was doing another training and for judo outside of judo, because I was on the judo team here. And so they would have us do quite a bit of extra-curricular training. I actually got into a lot of yoga, to be honest, because I knew I needed to continue with my flexibility, and I just liked the particular style of yoga that I was doing over here, it was applicable to the martial art I was doing. I continued with that, and I ended up getting certified in yoga.

And then I also got into some other fitness programs, if you will, and I ended up being involved with a fitness organization and worked my way up to becoming the program director of that particular fitness organization. So while I was at the martial arts complex, I was also doing that with his fitness organization, and I actually ended up… After eight years, I quit the martial art complex and I ended up going out on my own, just teaching that particular fitness organization. I would travel around the world, certifying people in that particular fitness organization. So yeah, so at the same time I was doing my martial art, I was also really deep into my study of fitness and different kinds of fitness and making sure that basically I had an education on that as well.

Brett McKay: Well, in your About page, it says you had an injury in you’re martial arts career that caused you to re-evaluate your priorities. What happened? And then what shift happened after that injury?

Ryan Hurst: So this is interesting because that was a turning point in my life, and thanks to that, it really changed the way I looked at everything. And so basically, I was thrown in judo and I had my shoulder, basically just was dislocated. And I tore the ligaments in my shoulder, and a SLAP tear. I ended up having to have surgery for it to repair everything, and it really changed the way I looked at everything. Obviously, I had to make some adjustments to my martial art. I was done because of that, in terms of competing. So I was 31 at the time. Yeah, I was about 31 years old at the time, actually a little bit older anyway. But at the time… And then basically it was like, “Okay, I need to start doing things differently now.” And after my rehabilitation and me getting back into stuff and looking at what I needed to do in order to make some changes so that I could continue to at least continue training in this martial art and the multiple martial arts I was doing at the time. It was great because the fitness organization, I was actually with… One of my closest friends, Jarlo Ilano, who’s also in this fitness organization.

And I was actually overseas helping to assist to teach a particular seminar, and during the break, I was kind of messing around with some of the gymnastic moves that I used to do. And so to kinda come full circle here was, I hadn’t done any gymnastics until that time that I really messed up my shoulder because I realized, “You know what, these are some of the movements that I’m very comfortable with, I grew up with. I know what’s going on in these movements. I think they can really help me.” And I was just kind of messing around with these moves during the break, as I mentioned, and a lot of people were coming up to me, saying, “Hey, can you teach me that and yadda, yadda, yadda?” These are things that we weren’t covering in that particular fitness organization, so this is different. So this was just me, again, just messing around. Well, later on, Jarlo, who I mentioned, was like, “Hey man, you should be teaching that stuff.”

And that is really the start of where GMB came about, and that was looking at, “How can we look at this particular movement that I was doing when I grew up, also looking at martial art and teach it in a way that’s going to be good for people who actually weren’t gymnasts, who just wanna be able to move better, to feel better in their bodies, who might have taken a long break from exercising, and maybe they don’t like the gym, and maybe they’re doing something else in their life and they want a different way to move and to get strong?” That’s really kind of where that came about, and so in the very beginning of GMB, it wasn’t this grandiose idea of we wanna change the world or anything. It was just simply like, “Hey, let’s teach some fun stuff.” And so that injury really changed the way that I looked at my own body, but also how approaching other people and how I could help other people who might have also had injuries or had not trained for a while and kinda bring some fun back into the way they train rather than just thinking, “You gotta get under the bar. It’s gotta be bench press. It’s gotta be shoulder press,” or something like that, which I think those are very, very good movements. I think those are wonderful, but all we’re trying to do, especially now, is show that there are some other ways to do this. And it’s all about really your why. Why are you doing this?

And for us, I’m kind of jumping into where we are right now at GMB. But it’s for us right now, “What’s you why?” Why are you doing this? And what do you need for your why?” That’s just the most important thing. And while GMB did start off with that gymnastic flavor, and of course, the influence of martial art there, in the very beginning, it was about skills. And we looked at rings and we looked at parallettes, and we looked at tumbling and things like that. But over the years at GMB and we’re going on 10 years right now, it’s morphed into mainly looking at just the method. And so yes, we do use skills, we do use things like locomotion, where we’re rolling around on the ground and doing these funky animal-type movements and some other strength movements looking at also hand stands. But the thing is, is it’s beyond the skills. It’s looking at, “Okay,” what I said earlier. “How can I help you for what you need in your life? That’s all that matters.”

And so how can you be a better person for the people that depend on you, and doing it in a way that you’re going to be able to really, really put the ego aside and say, “What’s good for me, and what is good enough? And I think this is something that people can get caught up in, and the fact that people think that they need to be perfect or something in terms of skill work. But really, what is good enough for you to be able to continue to do the things in your life that you wanna do? Focus more on that rather than chasing skills or thinking that you need to look a particular way, or thinking that you need to be able to nail a particular skill.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s unpack some of this stuff you’ve been talking about. You’re kind of hitting on the philosophy of GMB, the big picture, this idea of being able to do the things you wanna do, be useful in the world around you. One of the goals that you have there at GMB is helping people develop their physical autonomy.

Ryan Hurst: Yes. Yes.

Brett McKay: So let’s break that down. For you, what components… What goes into helping people increase their physical autonomy? What does physical autonomy look like?

Ryan Hurst: Yeah. It’s interesting, a lot of people, we say that and people are kind of like, “Okay, so what does that mean?” [chuckle] And so, if we really kinda look at it in this way, let’s ask or think about this way, “I wish I could do X.” And really, this comes back to feeling a certain way, so how do you wanna feel in your body? A lot of people don’t actually really think about that. They think about, “Oh, I wish I looked this way, I wish… ” Or something they could do that. Okay, and that’s great. What I wanna do though is really take a look at, “Okay, what do we need to do in order to help you to move towards that?” And the physical autonomy to me is simply being able to do the things comfortably without fear and without pain, and continue to do those things, whether that be a particular sport that you’re doing, whether it be being able to go rucking, hiking. That’s one of my most favorite things. And I do that a lot. I wanna be able to hike long distances, long distances under load comfortably. It doesn’t mean that a trek itself is not gonna be tough, but what I mean is like I wanna know that I have not just the capability to do something, but the ability to do something and that’s what we’re after.

And so, physical autonomy is going to be different for everyone. Maybe it’s just a matter of being able to squat down and play with your dog, play with your kids, be a jungle gym for your kids. That’s great. A lot of people really don’t think about that, and so physical autonomy to us is looking at your strength. Strength, what sort of strength do you need ’cause there’s different kinds of strength, of course, and we’re just talking about the physical right now. The mental side of it is another topic in itself, but if we just look at the physical strength, what do you need in order to do the things that you wanna do? Do you have good enough flexibility to be able to do what you wanna do without fear of being injured or getting injured? Do you have the control? This is one thing a lot of fitness organizations don’t think about, is that control component, the body control. Is your body able to move in the way that you want it to move? And the other thing about physical autonomy is looking at exploration. Are you able to explore certain movements beyond what you’re just doing right now?

Brett McKay: Well, let’s go back to this idea you just mentioned there. There’s a difference between capability and ability. Can you flesh that out a little bit. Cause I thought that was interesting.

Ryan Hurst: Sure, so capability, if we look at… If you look at capability, we’re looking at the base skills. So we’re looking at having a foundation of a particular movement, a particular way that you wanna move. You can look at it as a way, for example, do you have the necessary strength, flexibility and control to squat down? Super simple, right? And a lot of people are saying, “Oh yeah, I’m strong enough to do a body weight squat.” Okay, great. Do you have the necessary flexibility and range of motion in your ankles and your hips to be able to do that while under load? And so that’s something to look at there. And so if you don’t, then what you do is you need to focus on getting that particular range of flexibility. Once you have that, then you look at honing that skill and the ability to move beyond that and look at sophisticating the movement.

And so now you have the capabilities and the strength, the flexibility and that control, you can start moving and maybe start working on shrimp squats or a pistol squat or something else that is going to be able to do it in a way like I mentioned earlier, where it’s not that you’re gonna necessarily be able to nail that skill right away. But because you have built those capabilities, you now have the ability to start training those particular skills. And so a lot of people kinda just try to do those skills without having that proper base, and so that base is where you need to make sure that you have that and that it’s good enough to be able to start working on the ability to train other progressions and skills, like I mentioned.

Brett McKay: And something you mentioned regarding to have the ability to do skills is being able to do them without fear, and one skill I think is a good example of this is the hand stand.

Ryan Hurst: For the hand stand, if you’re looking at just doing a hand stand, there’s a lot of… The ways that I would really look at it, to be honest, is the two main things for me are safety and addressing the fear factor. And so this is where people actually get caught up and that is they just start working on walking up the wall or they kick up and they put their feet on the wall, and that’s great. And then they go away, they come away from the wall and they start to do a hand stand and realize that they keep toppling over, and it’s also really scary. And so my main thing… And from the very beginning is, “Okay, let’s address those.” And the way that I do that is we focus on the bail. “Can you safely bail out of a hand stand?” The way to do that is you work on your cart wheel. If you can do a cartwheel, you can bail out of a hand stand. The better you get at your cartwheel, the better off you’re gonna be able to bail, therefore, the fear of being upside down is not going to be there as much as it was before, because you understand you have the ability to bail out of the hand stand.

And so this is a huge, huge factor that a lot of people don’t take into consideration when they’re training particular skills, skills, any skill comes down to having the first work in a capability, but then having the ability to perform that movement safely and addressing fear. I think really that’s kind of that way with everything in life though, right? [chuckle]

Brett McKay: Well, so let’s talk about this idea of increasing physical autonomy. There’s three components, not the only, it is not exclusive, but strength, flexibility, control, exploration. And a lot of times when people wanna train for those three things, they do it separately. If you’re gonna strength train, you’re gonna do a push-up or you’re gonna do a bench press or squat. Flexibility, you’re gonna do yoga, have a yoga day. And the control, you might have like a skill day where you practice these things. But at GMB, you guys try to do all these things at once, and you think it’s probably… It’s more efficient that way. How do you train for all three components all at once, strength, flexibility, control and exploration?

Ryan Hurst: Absolutely, yeah. So I wanna be clear that we’re actually… The focus is not on all three at once. We’re focusing just on one or maybe two of those components. There’s always going to be those three components within anything you do, and so like they say, “Goals are like arms. You can’t have more than two.” And so trying to focus on too many things all at once is not really going to be the most productive way to do things. So let’s say, for example, that we’re looking at strength. And so you know that you need to work on your strength. You want to work on your strength. You want to increase your barbell squat. Now, barbell squats are actually not something that we cover in GMB, but I’m using this as an example because we can all have an image of a barbell squat. Now, we know that in order to get super duper strong, we’re gonna have to load up that bar and work towards increasing the amount of load we place on ourself while we’re doing that, great, but what we notice is that we are having trouble with our hips in the flexibility. And I’m gonna change this a little bit. Let’s look at mobility, okay?

Another different topic, flexibility, mobility, a little bit different, but basically let’s look at mobility. And while we’re moving, we find that our hip flexibility is having some issues. So then what we can do is, even before we start doing those particular barbell squats, we can work on our hip flexibility, whatever is good for us that day. And it can look very different, we can be looking at using some movements like in GMB we call it the monkey. And basically it’s like you do a squat on the floor and you place your hands down and you traverse side to side. What you’re doing is it’s working as a prep movement, a warm-up, if you will, but as well, it’s helping with a range of motion in order to get you deeper into that squat position. It’s also helping with the ankle mobility. And as well, like I mentioned, as a warm-up, it’s getting you ready to put load on yourself for that movement.

This is one way that you can work on this while working on your strength at the same time. So as well, like anything, you’re not just going to jump up and slam a bunch of 45s on that bar and start squatting. What you’re gonna do is you’re gonna start off with maybe a bar that’s unloaded, maybe start off with lighter weight, and that can be the control portion of the movement. And what you’re just trying to do is perform the most beautiful squat that you possibly can do. Yes, it’s a warm-up, you’re working towards adding more weight. But the thing is, is the focus should always be on quality repetitions and making them beautiful. This is something I like to talk about, and that is, make it pretty. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just make it pretty. If you can focus on making it pretty, that means that you’re focusing on the quality of the movement and you’re very aware of what’s going on within that movement. That is how you can be working on control, yet you’re also working on strength at the same time.

And as well you’re hitting that flexibility component because you understand that you do need to work on increasing the range of motion in your hips, and therefore the movement that the example I was using, the monkey movement before your squats in order to do that. Then afterwards you can continue to work on your hip mobility and flexibility if need be. So while we are looking at all these components and while some people say, “Oh yeah, I stretch before or I stretch afterwards,” our main thing, to be honest, in taking these three movements is looking at… And I know this is a overused phrase, but the biggest bang for your buck. And so what are the things that we can be doing? One movement per se, for example, the monkey that can give you these benefits without having you to do a 20-minute foam roller warm-up before you go in and do an hour-long workout, and then afterwards 20 minutes of flexibility or something like that.

Because let’s be honest, the majority of us out there, we’re grown ass adults, we don’t have eight hours a day to train. We’re not professional athletes. I’m not a professional athlete. Yes, this is my job, but my job is to work out, if you will. But the thing is is still, I only do that maybe an hour a day, and so what we’re after is looking at, “What are the key components that are focusing on the strength, flexibility and control that are gonna help us towards our why, towards our goal?” That is what we’re after. And GMB, we’re not about trying to work out more. We’re actually trying to work out less and finding the exact things by using assessments. We use a AAA framework. We assess the situation. We address our issues, and then we apply that necessary protocol that’s gonna help us to move towards our goals faster and more efficiently so that we can move away from doing all this exercise and do the stuff that we really wanna be doing in our lives, like paddleboarding, hiking, playing with our kids or whatever it is out there. So kind of a long answer there, but hopefully that was an example of that, for strength, flexibility and control.

Brett McKay: So that was an example of using GMB as, it sounds kinda like, a supplement to maybe your barbell guide.

Ryan Hurst: Absolutely, and that’s kind of how we look at it. Yeah, it’s a supplement, to be perfectly honest. It can be a complete stand-alone. It is a curriculum. We have a curriculum that you can follow and work through. The thing is, though, it can be used as a supplement, and like I mentioned there, that’s just one example of how you can look at just the flexibility component and apply that within a particular workout protocol that you’re currently doing. But again, the goal for us really is, “How can we help you for whatever it is you’re doing?” That’s the main thing. I’m not a guru, and we’re not gurus. We want you to be you’re own guru. You’re grown up. You don’t need somebody to tell you what’s important or what you should want. What you should do is figure out exactly what’s good for you. What do you want? Okay, great. Once you have assessed that and know what you need and what you want, then you can start addressing those issues. And that’s where you can look at, “Okay, do I need more strength? Do I need more flexibility? Do I need more control?” Okay. If this therefore, let’s take a look at this. And that’s really how we like to look at things. Again, we wanna help you with your why and just really enjoy your life more. It’s all that’s about.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s… You gave us an example of, you can say your why is you wanna do, better your barbell squat.

Ryan Hurst: Yeah.

Brett McKay: But let’s say there’s someone who… Like, they don’t have a fitness practice, and they’re coming to you, they just wanna use body movements, body weight exercises, maybe some gymnastic movements to cover all three components. What would that look like for that person?

Ryan Hurst: Yeah, if I could take a person and just from the start, and they come to me and they’re like, “Hey, Ryan, listen. I just wanna feel better. I just wanna be able to get a little stronger, improve my flexibility and just move better.” I’m like, “Cool, I got that covered.” And I would start off with our Elements program, and our Elements program is basically you’re gonna be using four movements: The bear, the frogger, the monkey, and the crab. And people are gonna look at that and they’re gonna go like, “Those are super easy, right?” Well, yeah, they look easy, but it’s like one of those things as I mentioned earlier, when you’re bringing awareness to what you’re doing, when you’re able to try and focus on making these movements pretty, making them beautiful, what’s gonna happen is I ask people to slow down. And this is really, really where you start to learn that you might not have that strength that you thought you had while in motion.

Being under the bar, doing bench press is a lot different than moving around and doing these particular movements or any sort of movement and motion. Same with flexibility, by slowing things down, you’re more aware of what’s going on and you notice that you might need more flexibility in this particular area. And so Elements is looking at this and really trying to help you to build up that foundation, so you have the capabilities to start working on other skills, for example, moving beyond, start looking at shrimp squat, single-leg squats. Start looking at single-arm push-up type movement, looking at, for example, bar work, ring work pulling exercises and moving beyond. Maybe going upside down, doing hand stands. And then the thing is, again, it’s not jumping up and just trying those skills, it’s really building that base and looking at, “Do you have the strength, flexibility and control in your body while in motion?” And that’s a whole other ball game right there compared to gym training, if you will.

Brett McKay: Well, okay. Talk about those four movements again. So you mentioned, what? Bear, crab? Can you like… What do those look like for those who aren’t familiar?

Ryan Hurst: Yeah, absolutely. So the easiest way I can maybe describe the bear would be, if people have seen the downward-facing dog in yoga. So basically what it is is you’re on your hands and knees, and you have your hands and your feet on the ground. You just push your butt up into the air, so it looks like it’s an A position. Then from that position, you just start walking. So one had one forward, one foot forward. One hand forward, one foot forward. You’re just walking around. Again, super easy in terms of how it looks, but once you start bringing that awareness, you start seeing stuff. And we don’t stop there, of course. We start working on sophisticating the movement. The method of this is not just to do more bear, okay? The thing is that, okay, you do it in a way to bring awareness, in order to get stronger, in order to improve flexibility, in order to improve that control so that we can then sophisticate the movement, start working towards progressions of that bear, working towards doing that motion, doing that particular movement with what looks like push-ups.

The other movement is the monkey. The monkey is where you’re in a squat position. You have your hands out in front of you, and you place your hands then to the side and then you pull your legs over. So you’re traversing left and right, and you’re going in and out of this squat by loading the arms. And your arms are supporting yourself as you move your hips over. And so that’s the monkey that also you start moving in and working towards things, eventually getting towards the cart wheel, which is a natural progression for that particular movement. The next movement will be the frogger. This is kind of a throw-back. I kinda age myself, but if you remember that video game called Frogger, and the little froggy jumping from the log to the log, what you do is similar to the monkey, but in a squat position. Your hands are out in front, and you front-load. And so rather than going side to side, you’re traversing forward and backward and loading the arms, pulling the hips and the feet forward. This is the basic frogger moving towards being able to place more balance onto your arms, working on things, gradually moving into the hand stand.

The last movement will be the crab movement. And basically, this is where you’re sitting on the ground with your hands behind you and feet in front of you shoulder-width apart, and you simply pull your hips up off of the ground and you walk around. So it’s the exact opposite of the bear. And so rather than being face down, now you’re face up. So from here, walking around, there’s some other movements, you’re working on that. And what we do is we combine all of these movements, looking at transitions. So it’s not just, again, about doing that particular movement. It’s eventually about taking these movements, putting them into combinations of movements. This is very important. You’re training on that control on a higher level, sophisticating the movement, and it’s a whole lot of fun by the way, so this is also another component. And so moving in and out of these movements with control is gonna be a direct carryover for the other stuff that you’re doing in your life. A great example, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so that’s kinda my thing now, I’ve been doing that for quite a while now, purple belt in that. And so these are a direct correlation to a lot of things. You look at it as solo grappling if you will.

Brett McKay: Well, I know from experience, the frog and the monkey, if you are super tight in your hips…

Ryan Hurst: Oh yeah, you’re gonna feel that.

Brett McKay: They… It’s super… It’s unpleasant at first ’cause yeah, it looks easy, but then you get down there and do it and you’re like, “Oh, that does not feel good. I haven’t done… I haven’t moved those muscles in a long time.”

Ryan Hurst: And that’s a good point that you just said. You haven’t moved those muscles in a long time. We do other exercise, if you will, but there’s certain things that we haven’t addressed. And so just simply by doing the frogger or simply by doing the monkey, lot of stuff can come out of that in a good way to bring awareness and let you know, “Oh, this is something I do need to pay attention to,” because I don’t wanna see people getting injured doing certain activities that they should be able to do naturally. And so, unfortunately, the way things are in the world, we see a lot of this. Sitting, sitting a lot, not being as active as we were growing up, families, jobs, we get busy. So what are some things that we can do that are gonna help us and we can do it in a way that’s gonna be productive, not just for the other things going on in our life, but also if you wanna be able to train better barbell squats or whatever it is. That’s really what we’re looking at.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about… You mentioned, okay, people sit at their desk all day, they’re super stiff, they go from their desk at the office… Well, I guess now people… A lot of people are desk in their home office to the sofa. For those people who are just super incredibly stiff, what’s a good movement progression to help them loosen up? What of those… Of those four elemental things that you mentioned, what do you think are some… Are all of them good? And besides those, are there any additional movements people… You think people could do to get some more bang for their buck?

Ryan Hurst: Yeah, absolutely. Again, those four movements are great. To be honest though, if you are sitting down a lot, then… And by the way, I don’t think that’s bad, because we do need to work. I’m not saying that, “Sitting down is going to kill you and you’re a bad person for doing it.” No, no, no, no. We gotta work, this is just the way it is, but just stand up and walk around a bit. I think, really, keep it simple. It’s, yes, there’s movements out there that we can be looking at, specific prescription, if you will, for particular areas of the body that are gonna help you. But if we’re just looking at, okay, we’ve been sitting, lying down on our sofa, whatnot, then just get up and walk around a little bit. And it doesn’t need to be far, it’d be great if you could go out and take a walk, I think everyone should be walking every single day, but the thing is, it can just be a matter of standing up and just stretching towards the ceiling, just like my dog used to… My dog, unfortunately, died a couple weeks ago, but she would do that where she would just stretch.

So just think of it that way. We know what we need to be doing. And this is what’s interesting, is we get caught up in thinking that, “Well, I don’t know what to do, so I’m not going to do it.” Yeah, you know what to do. Just stand up and kinda stretch your body around. Walk around and put your arms out to the side. So just little things like that. I think if you just start with that, that’s gonna be a great thing to do.

Brett McKay: So it’s easy. It’s not as hard as… People think that it’s harder than it needs to be.

Ryan Hurst: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Just keep it simple. As I get older, I’m 48 years old right now, this is kind of what I’m trying to do with all of my life, is, How simple can I make this. And I don’t wanna hack anything, I’m not talking about hacks. What I’m just saying is, “How can I make it so that I’m actually going to do this thing?” And then when I do the thing, I do the thing. And so that’s what I’m after. An example would be, if you’re learning a language. Learning a language could just look so intimidating ’cause there’s so much you need to learn. Okay, well, great. Let’s not look at everything. Let’s just look at something that you can focus on right now, and something that you can do every single day, just a little bit, that is going to keep you engaged, that you’re gonna be looking forward to, and that you know that you’re going to do. Doing that, you’re going to be creating a habit over time. Find something that you enjoy and just do a little bit of that each day.

Brett McKay: So I know you’re not overly prescriptive at GMB, you’re always looking at what people’s goals are, but are there some basic skills you hope people can acquire, after they’ve worked with you for a while.

Ryan Hurst: Oh yeah.

Brett McKay: What are some things that you think… You hope people are able to do effectively efficiently after they’ve been working with you for a while?

Ryan Hurst: I wanna see people move comfortably on the ground. And so, to me, what this looks like is, can you go from standing to the floor and back up bear comfortably. The other thing is, is moving around on the floor. So for example, just using the bear, monkey, frogger or crab. If you can do that, hey, good. You’re great. That’s a great place to be because that shows that you do have the autonomy there, the physical autonomy, that’s gonna carry over for a lot of other things.

Do you have the ability to squat down? So this also goes back down to going from standing to the floor. Do you have the ability to squat down in a way where there’s no pain? Do you have the ability to balance on a single leg? Do you have the ability to pull yourself up? In other words, can you do a chin-up? Do you have the ability to do an inverted press? And so think about that bear movement that we had, but think about doing that sort of like a handstand push-up, but you’re not completely inverted, your feet are on the ground. And so it’s carryover for overhead pressing, of being able to carry loads, but basically bending your arms and doing these inverted presses. As well, do you have the ability to twist your body in motion in comfort, with comfort? Twisting is also something that, unfortunately, a lot of fitness places out there don’t address, but think about how many times during the day you have to twist to put your seatbelt on, or you twist to pick something up. Having the ability to control your body in motion while twisting is huge. And so a movement that I like to use for this is…

We have, for example, the swipe, that we have. But also just looking at some basic mobility and flexibility movements that we have, but yeah, it just really comes down to getting… From standing to the floor, back up, moving around on the floor by using the bear, monkey, frogger or crab, being able to perform the Spider Man, which is like a push-up in motion, being able to do a chin-up, being able to invert a press, single-leg balance, as well as a single-leg squat if you could, would be fabulous. Basically, that’s just a lunge. So those, I think, are the basic requirements, if you will… I don’t wanna say requirements, but that is something that I would love to see everyone be able to do, because from there, you can sophisticate and that is where the real magic starts to happen.

Brett McKay: Pretty much do anything. And then how long does a… How often are people doing this? Like, I’m not gonna call it s… Is it a workout? How often are people doing this?

Ryan Hurst: We don’t say workout. Yeah, sorry to interrupt you, yes. I like to say session, and so this is the difference here. And so this is huge, this is really what separates us from the places out there. Most people… Let me quickly, quickly touch on this and maybe this will help. So we have what’s called the five Ps. This is how we do our workouts, our sessions, okay? We start off with the prep. The prep is the warm-up. We’re looking at what we’re doing, what we’re going to be doing in that workout, in that session that day, and then we reverse engineer it, and say, “Okay, these are the prep, the joint mobility movements that we need in order to make sure that we’re good and ready to start practicing,” which is the next portion of the session, “practicing our skill. So let’s come back to the handstand. And so let’s say that today our session is going to be focusing on a handstand. Great, okay.

So we’re gonna be prepping by using wrist prep, looking at prepping the shoulders, prepping the lower back, for example, okay? The prep can be actually very quick. It’s not like 20 minutes or 30 minutes. It can be like five minutes. We’re in there, boom, boom, boom, great. I wanna get you to the practice section of the session as quickly as possible, making sure that you’re good and ready to do it, though. The practice session is where we’re going to live. This is the majority of our time. So we do not focus on repetitions in GMB. We focus on time. It’s all time-based. So for example, the wrist prep, we set the timer that we have for one minute. During that time, you do as many quality repetitions as you can for that particular wrist prep. When we’re looking at practice, let’s say that we have 15-minute block. During that 15-minute block, you’re going to work on that handstand. You’re going to perform a single attempt, whatever level that is. You might only be walking up the wall.

You do one of those. You come off the wall. You take a short break, make sure you’re good and ready, then you try to do another attempt. It could be that you’re only focusing on your cartwheel, the bail portion of it. You do a cartwheel. You step back, and you say, “Okay, how did that feel? What do I need to do for my next repetition, my next attempt, in order to make sure that I can get this skill?” During practice, you always wanna focus on performing your skills at the highest level possible, and you want to do that when you’re fresh. So that’s why this doesn’t come later on in the session. Again, 15 minutes, let’s say that you have that, so you’re working and you’re doing… You might be able to do a handstand. So you do a handstand and you hold that handstand and you come out of it, walk away, shake things out. When you’re good and ready, you do another attempt. After that, we might have play in that session.

Play could be where, in terms of a handstand, let’s say you’re working on that full handstand. You have a full handstand, and you can hold it for like three seconds. That’s your highest level that you can do. Play could be going to the wall and going up against the wall, and then doing different shapes. So you’re moving your legs in different ways, and you’re just kinda messing around. We are exploring. This is where a lot of people miss out, I think, because we need more exploration in our life. We need more play, but play needs to happen at a lower level. You do not play, you do not explore at the highest possible level that you can do. And so, again, exploration is where you’re taking a movement you’re comfortable with and just messing around and looking for other options. The next portion of our session is push. This is typically where the majority of everyone lives. This is a workout.

The reason it’s called push is, this is literally where I want you to push yourself. This is where you look at using movements that are gonna help build strength, also further improve control and flexibility, but mainly looking at strength in order to make that skill better for your next session. So you’re looking at a movement that’s going to be quite a few regressions from your highest level of the skill. So let’s say, for example, working on the handstand, you can do a full handstand. You mess around on the wall when doing these leg shapes or whatever you’re doing during play. Push could be where you go to the wall, and you just try and hold your handstand with the most beautiful form possible for a minute. That’s a killer. That’s really tough to do. Making sure you have scapular elevation, making sure that your index finger is facing forward, elbow pitch is facing in against scapular elevation, core compression, make sure your legs are straight, toes are pointed. So you have all these points in there that you’re hitting.

So that’s the push component of that. We finish off then with ponder. Ponder is the last P. That’s where you take a step back, and you say, “Okay, what went well in that session? Cool, this, this, this.” Then you think about, “Okay, what is the main thing I need to focus on for my next session?” And then you focus on that. So again, when you’re working on your session, we look at these five Ps and we go through that. We focus on practicing skills, the highest level possible, and then we look at getting stronger with those skills by pushing ourself, but we use a level that’s a little lower. To give another example quickly for people, if we’re looking at, for example, like a pistol squat. During the practice portion of it, you might be doing a full pistol squat, but when you go to the push, you might actually only be using lunges or a movement that is at a lower level. But the thing is, is you’re doing time under attention.

We like to say time under attention compared to time under tension because when you’re performing these movements, when you’re pushing yourself, you’re still focusing on high-quality form even though you’re performing these movements at a lower level, but you’re doing it for time. So it might be a circuit where you’re doing 45 seconds with one movement, then you move on to the next movement, three to five movements during that circuit, but again, very high-quality movements. At any time, that form starts to break down, then you move down a regression of that movement, but continue to getting quality reps so that you can produce volume, getting stronger for that particular skill. So lots of stuff I just threw at you, but that’s kinda how we do it.

Brett McKay: Well, Ryan, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work and GMB?

Ryan Hurst: Yeah, very simple, gmb.io. You can also go into Google, whatever you like to use, just type in GMB Fitness, likewise Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, we’re all over the place.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Ryan Hurst, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Ryan Hurst: Thank you so much, sir.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Ryan Hurst. He’s the Head Coach at GMB Fitness. You can find out more information about GMB at gmb.io. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/physical autonomy where you can find links to resources, and we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast. Check at our website at artofmanliness.com where you find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad free episodes of The AOM Podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code manliness at check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you start enjoying ad-free episodes of The AOM Podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple podcast or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you, please consider sharing the show with a friend or a family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thanks for the continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you not only to listen to The AOM Podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

 

 

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