Today’s Expert Interview is with Ryan Hurst, a great man and co-founder of Gold Medal Bodies.
With experience in gymnastics, martial arts, and yoga, both in America and in other part of the world, Ryan has a rich life experience and an impressive record in fitness and athleticism, and he’s here to share with us some of the wisdom he collected along his journey.
Among other awesome things, Ryan will talk to us about his favorite teaching method, how he dedicated over three months solely to learn how to do one advanced trick, and his unique way of balancing work and family. There’s no way you won’t learn a ton of stuff from this guy, so skip the interview at your own risk.
Oh, and by the way, I’ve included a bunch of links leading to various pages in Gold Medal Bodies website and here in my website, so go ahead and explore.
GMB is one of the biggest names in the world of bodyweight fitness today, how did it all start?
We were coming back from a seminar for another organization. I was supposed to be teaching one thing, but I started messing around during one of the breaks with handstands, and everybody said “teach me how to do that!”
So on the ride to the airport, Jarlo and I came up with the idea for GMB – to get away from only teaching physical attributes like strength and endurance and instead focus on developing those through learning to perform actual skills. We realized that we had an advantage in having practiced martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, etc., that a lot of people who just begin with strength training don’t have.
When I returned to Japan, I got Andy involved in planning things out, and we released our first program, Rings One, about three months later.
You fell in love with martial arts at one point of your life and moved to Japan, talk to us about that.
Well, I’d been a gymnast all throughout school and loved it, but a training injury wrecked my knee, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to compete at a high level again. Through a series of different coincidences, I got an opportunity to study in Japan.
I spent my first two years living with a master swordsman in Niigata, which was definitely one of my formative experiences. After that, I studied a few different arts and ended up in Osaka, practicing Judo with the regional police team. I got pretty serious about Judo, but again suffered some injuries that made it impossible to compete.
Since then, I’ve focused on learning how to train myself and others to perform at a high level without the risk of injury.
Honestly, there’s a lot of things I could say about the experiences I’ve had in the twenty + years I’ve spent in Japan, but the biggest thing is that I’ve had to learn to see things from different perspectives when I teach. There’s no one way to do things, and the people I teach are coming from a variety of backgrounds, so I have to be able to teach effectively regardless.
Did you observe any differences in fitness culture between America, Japan, Australia, and other places you’ve been to?
I’d say that, even in America, the way we define fitness at GMB is a lot different from how most people probably would.
American fitness culture has a history that includes Jack Lalanne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Fonda, long distance running, Billy Blanks and TaeBo… all these people and ideas that have shaped our views on what it means to be fit. And what you’ll notice is that many of these influences are attached to a product: more recently, we have P90X and CrossFit and yoga classes.
Americans value appearance and convenience, so if a fitness model says “You can have six pack abs in seven minutes a day!” well, that’s something a lot of people will buy. We think fitness means muscles and spray tan. I’m kind of joking, but the audience on a site like this isn’t typical – you have an educated, experienced group of people here who can see past that. But the interesting thing is that, in Japan for example, having a lot of muscle still isn’t considered very attractive. To many people here, it looks barbaric and unsophisticated.
So every fitness culture differs from place to place because of history and also values, but over time, there’s always going to be groups emerging like your readers as ASoA who have a more evolved understanding of training and what fitness really means.
Gymnastics sits at the heart of many GMB programs, what makes gymnastics so special?
Gymnastics is where I personally started. It got me strong and flexible and gave me a ton of skills. And while I definitely appreciated that at the time, I came to appreciate it even more when I was learning martial arts and I already had a lot of advantages over my peers. I still had to learn the techniques and strategies, but my body wasn’t a limit.
Developing balance and spatial awareness as well as strength really makes gymnastics special. Of course, a lot of other activities can develop these things – especially dance and martial arts – but in gymnastics, the sport is defined by a very narrow set of demands, so athletes get to focus on developing strength and skill instead of worrying about music, or an opponent, or ball-handling, or teamwork, or any of the other things a lot of other sports require.
So, as far as sports go, it’s almost pure physical potential. So those movements are all there, and if you’re looking to build strength and control, you don’t have to add anything.
On the other hand, gymnastics forces young people (sometimes quite literally) to push their bodies far beyond the point most children do, and most gymnasts are doing this during formative years when their joints are still flexible, and they can adapt quickly and permanently.
And for adults who are past that growth stage, they can build their strength and skills, but the body won’t adapt as quickly or by the same training methods. So we learned very quickly that the way I learned as a ten year old isn’t the best way for someone in their twenties or thirties to train. The exercises are often the same, but the methods and protocols have to change.
What sets skill-based training apart from other forms of training?
So, if you’re training to be able to do stuff, then skill-based training is the most efficient route. Lifting for maximal strength doesn’t necessarily make you better at running an obstacle race. Running for endurance doesn’t necessarily make you better at playing a game of soccer. They can contribute, but the carryover isn’t direct. You’ll still need to practice climbing obstacles or kicking balls.
Whatever you practice is what you get good at. If more strength is the only thing you need, then lifting is the most efficient way to get that.
But what if you want to get stronger so you can participate in a variety of activities – like going surfing, or taking a hike with some friends, or chasing your dog around the park, or playing recreational sports, or practicing a martial art, etc. Is lifting more weight going to make you significantly better at those things? Maybe not.
And that’s where skill-based training comes in. It can get you strong, but it also makes you better at real activities you care about.
You spent 3 months mastering the one-arm hand stand, what was that like?
I had one thing to think about every day, and I just did that. I didn’t have to care about other skills or whether I was going to “lose my gainz,” hahaha. I wasn’t thinking about endurance. I just had one goal: learn to do this skill I’ve always wished I could do.
And to be honest, I definitely didn’t master it in that time. I got a very solid, consistent hold, but in the couple of years since then, I’ve still refined my handstands and my one-arm. It just hasn’t been my primary focus since then, so I’ve done it now and again as part of my skill work while developing other things.
Coach Steve Atlas played a major role in your mastery of the one hand stand, how important is having a coach as opposed to just reading random material online?
I knew I could just work at it and figure it out by myself, but I didn’t want to waste a lot of time and energy by dicking around with things that might not work. Jarlo had attended one of Steve’s workshops and said he both a) could do a solid OAHS, and b) understood how to train people. That seemed like the combination I needed, so I got in touch.
Having a coach is great, because, again, you don’t have to think about other things. Steve would tell me what to do, and I’d do it. If I had questions, I’d ask.
In coaching others, the one thing I never understand is why somebody will pay a coach and then turn around and second guess what the coach is telling them to do. If you want to coach yourself, don’t hire a professional. But if you do want to be 100% sure that you’re following the right path and not have to worry about everything else, then coaching is great.
I loved having a coach help me with the specific goals I had, but I wouldn’t want someone trying to become my personal guru. It’s really important to understand what you want when you work with a coach. Since I knew exactly what I wanted from my time with Steve, I was able to make really fast progress.
What movements would you like to master in the future?
I’ve been playing a lot with Parkour lately, and the Tapp brothers have helped me out a lot. Also learning from Ryan and Amos at APEX Movement. I play around with different things and sometimes an idea will lead me in a certain direction for a while, but I’m not fixated on any particular movements right now.
The focus lately is on expressing myself with a variety of movements and just having fun smoothing things out and getting better and better all the time.
I think a lot of us get so focused on “the next progression” and getting to higher and higher levels of various skills that we don’t take enough time to really experience and play with the things we’ve already learned. And it’s not like we don’t know we can continue to perfect our existing skillset… so right now, I’m not in a rush to move on. I’m just playing and polishing.
How do you stay motivated to pursue your fitness goals, and how can beginners stay motivated after that initial jolt of excitement when deciding to start exercising?
Motivation is hard. I tend to think it’s usually the wrong way to look at why you do something or don’t do it.
I think the more useful perspective is understanding the relative value. If training is more valuable to you than watching TV, it’s easy to be motivated. Unfortunately, TV has a lot more value than most people want to admit: it’s an easy way to fill time when you’re tired of thinking all day, your friends keep posting about it on Facebook, etc. Also, that payoff is immediate.
Working out is hard. You usually don’t want to do it with a lot of people around, because you might be self-conscious. The payoff can take a long time. Plus, if you’re new to it, you simply don’t know what you’re doing, so it’s confusing, and that’s a source of stress.
So you have to realign your values, and that’s hard, but you can gradually shift them.
Find places you like walking. Think of outdoor activities you can do with friends and family. Build your own culture of movement to support your development. Replace the culture of screens and passivity with one that encourages you to get into the real world and interact with people and nature.
That’s one way to do it.
But if you’re waiting for inspiration, you’re just going to be disappointed. Create habits and gradually begin shifting your personal culture to support a higher value on physical development.
Having a wife and two children, how do you manage to balance family time and business time all while maintaining an awesome physique?
I don’t know really. Some guy on YouTube recently said my physique isn’t impressive, so maybe I don’t know what I’m taking about. I don’t give a lot of thought to physique anyway. To me, if my body does the things I ask it to do, I’m happy. I’m not trying to score a date, because my wife and kids keep me plenty busy.
Balancing time between different areas is always tough, because my family, my business, and my health are all important to me. But I think one of the the things that holds people back here is that they make arbitrary separations between different aspects of live.
Sure, when I was working on the OAHS, I wasn’t typing with the other hand and singing songs with my daughter at the same time. I’m not suggesting that you just try to mix everything together, but the lines can also be a bit porous. I can do a good bit of work – email and such – at home while my kids are getting ready for school. I can go out with my kids and play with them and encourage them to try things that maybe other kids’ dads aren’t doing. Lately, my son loves climbing on everything, so we go out and do Parkour together, though to him, it’s just playing.
Little things make the biggest differences, and for me, my life is much simpler and easier to balance when I don’t shut my family out of my physical life, and I don’t shut my body out of my work life, etc.
Beyond that, it’s just a matter of priorities, because I only get the same 24 hours as anyone else… I’m lucky that it’s my job to work out too, because realistically, there’s no way I’d be able to practice at this level if I had to work for someone else. I’d have to make more of a tradeoff.
If you had to name your three favorite bodyweight exercises, what would they be?
I’ll probably always love handstands. They’re so good for the shoulder, and there’s just so much fun you can have with developing that skill further.
Since I’ve gotten into Parkour, I especially appreciate jumps lately. We’ve always loved to use jumps for leg strength and power, but over the past few months, I’ve also begun to look at them as a skill in their own right and learning how to make them nicer and more efficient for various tasks like jumping onto a rail or over an obstacle.
Last, I’d said pull-ups are probably my favorite. They’re so basic and fundamental that they really apply to almost any movement where you have to push or pull with the hands. The coordination of the arms, back, and shoulders, builds lots of strength, and it’s a great complement to the handstand.
There you go, everyone. How cool was that? Ryan’s responses were so deep and personal, this interview felt like a journey through his life. It’s really inspiring when people talk about things they feel passionate about, and that was certainly the case here. Thank you Ryan!
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Here’s to amazing movement… GMB style! 🙂