How Ryan Hurst Uses skill-based calisthenics for physical fitness & everyday life

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
June 13, 2014

Over the last week, we have had over 50 people join our 12 Week Calisthenics Trick Challenge. I am super excited that we’ll all be learning and progressing in a single calisthenic trick. To conclude our “Gold Medal Bodies,” Week here at SOA I have a special interview with the co-founder Ryan Hurst. I think you’ll find this interview enlightening and down-to-earth.


Ryan, can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you started Gold Medal Bodies?

I gave a detailed account of my history here, but the gist of it is that I was a competitive gymnast throughout my childhood years and continued into my teens until I was sidelined by a knee injury. That base of gymnastics training and my great coach, Mark Folger, gave me a great foundation for the rest of my physical training throughout my life. After the knee injury I decided to go full-on into martial arts training and I headed to Japan to study at university and train with my wonderful martial arts teachers outside of the college. I continued with martial arts, yoga and everything else I could find to do with physical fitness. It’s been a life-long passion of mine and will continue to be.

As for starting GMB, it really began when I was teaching other styles of training and playing around with different skills that I had done in gymnastics. I was able to teach my students and clients various ways to achieve these skills, and my friends encouraged me to do this in a more formal format. That’s basically how GMB began. I’m both amazed and happy to see how much we’ve grown in the last four years!

On your site you state that “GMB Teaches Skills that Develop Physical Mastery for Real Life.” Can you elaborate on this?

SONY DSCYes. For me, having been immersed in the fitness training industry for so long, I’ve seen a lot of fads come and go and a lot of different approaches to training. There are a lot of good things, but also a lot of things that don’t necessarily help people as much as they could in the rest of their daily lives. Training for physique can be very empowering, but training to move well can offer so much more, and that’s what I like to focus on.

And it’s not about being “functional”. That word has been used so much it doesn’t mean much of anything more. What is functional? I have a friend whose wife is in a wheelchair, and he often needs to pick her up in awkward positions where he can’t get his hips in the classic “good lifting” position. He has to use his arms more. So for him, biceps curls are very functional!

So for us at GMB, it’s about analyzing what skills and movements will help most people do most of the things they need to do in their normal everyday lives. We then encourage them to think critically about both those movements and the ones that are more specific to them.

I feel very lucky to have worked with so many clients both in person and online throughout the years. Seeing their success is extremely gratifying.

What is one of the biggest pitfalls people experience when wanting to get better at skill-based calisthenics? How can they overcome it?

BentArmStand-RyI would have to say that the biggest pitfall is a lack of patience. That “I want it now!” attitude is so common now, and it’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want things to happen immediately?! But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way, and especially not with skill-based calisthenics. There are just so many different things to take care of, from the wrist strength and flexibility that allow you to spend the time practicing on your hands, to the shoulder and back flexibility that enable you to get into certain positions, and then the actual learning of the skills themselves. You simply have to cultivate patience if you want to get anywhere with this stuff!

Ironically, overcoming this natural impatience takes some time to get over. At GMB we work on this by making our programs not only effective, but also not so damn boring to do! You can work on the fundamentals necessary to sustain progress, but they don’t have to be mind-numbingly repetitive and boring. They can be effective and fun at the same time, and in that way they make the process more engaging and make people less likely to want to jump ahead too quickly or even dropping out totally.

There seems to be a huge wave of interest in YouTube sensations such as Hannibal for King, Hit Richards, Al Kavadlo and others. Why do you think this is and where do you see the future of “Calisthenic Competitions” going?

I think it’s because the “normal” activities of lifting weights or building showy muscle don’t hold as much interest for people after they’ve been at it a while. They are great activities, don’t get me wrong, but maybe people tend to get burned out on it. When you see charismatic guys like Al Kavadlo and Hannibal doing amazing things with their bodies though, that’s what gets people excited! I think it’s great and I love watching all of those videos too.

Knee health score 3

I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but there are some videos of guys and girls in an outdoor park (in Ukraine, I believe) doing some crazy strength skills. That kind of stuff is just great and it just, quite rightly, makes people go “wow!” For some people it also makes them think “man, I should work out like that!”

These types of body control and skill development training are a step in the right direction in my opinion, and I think it will continue to be more and more popular as time goes on.

What’s the best nutritional advice you can give to someone that is trying to increase skill-based strength?

I’d give exactly the same nutritional advice that I’d give to anyone doing anything: eat lots of good food.

People get too hung up on the details of nutrition (and training too) while completely refusing to handle the basics. The vast majority of your needs can be met by simply eating good foods. I’m not going to say what those are, because you already know. If you want to eat paleo, do that. If you want to do IIFYM, do that. Basically, find an approach that works for your temperament and lifestyle and follow that.

There’s no magical supplement that will make you able to achieve muscle-ups faster. There’s no magic amount of protein you need.
Just make sure you’re eating enough quality food. Your body needs nutrition to recover and get stronger, but you have to also be eating things you enjoy so you can keep enjoying it and not give up. There’s more to eating than fuel, so just focus on the basics.

Where do you receive your inspiration from and what are some of your goals?

My biggest inspiration is my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I also spend a few minutes a week checking out videos on YouTube and looking at people who are doing cool stuff, but there’s frankly not much that blows my mind anymore.

I’m not trying to sound jaded or anything either. It’s just that all this stuff has been around for such a long time, and I’m not new to “movement art” or “physical practice”. I’m constantly impressed by what people can achieve with dedication and effort, but my own inspiration is now much less about what I see in others and more about how I can be a better person and, most importantly, a better father.

Full Single Arm Lever-RyI’m inspired to do things that will keep my body healthy for decades to come, so I can care for my family and live to see my grandkids. That means playing with my kids and setting a good example of health so that they learn to love being physically active. It means being strong so that I can pick them up and carry them to bed, and fast so that I can catch them if they fall. It means being able to kick a hole in the wall if the house is on fire. That capability isn’t “just in case”. It’s always there in the background, and it makes my wife feel safe and my kids feel proud when I pick them up from school.

I don’t want to be the kind of dad my kids would be ashamed of.

I can’t do the kind of workouts I used to do in gymnastics and martial arts, because I can’t afford the risk of injury that comes with performing at that level of intensity on a regular basis. Instead, I focus on doing things that will keep me strong and capable, like continually improving my shoulder strength and mobility (since I’ve had some major injuries there), and exploring different “project” goals that are fun and challenging.

Last year, I worked really hard on my hand-balancing to get a solid one-arm handstand. The year before that, I spent a lot of time on acrobatics, because I’d never focused on that before. Right now, I’m not chasing a particular goal, but I’ve been tightening up my planche a bit and also refining some different ways to practice handstands.

How do you balance helping others achieve their goals while striving for your own personal excellence?

SONY DSCFor me, it’s not really a conflict.

Since I’m not an athlete, I don’t have to compete with other people, so there’s no objective standard I have to meet with regards to my training. My training goes through phases, just like it does for my clients; sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter. I think a lot of people have this idea that “if you’re talking, you’re not training,” but that’s kind of silly because you shouldn’t be training all the time anyway. It’s not sustainable. And helping others learn is one of the reasons I do this anyway, so it’s not a distraction for me. I love teaching, so that’s actually motivation for me to train, because that experience makes me a better teacher.

One thing I’ve found is that, as I’ve gotten better and better at teaching, I’m a lot more efficient. Novice coaches love to give people complicated programs with special protocols and dozens of “unique” and exciting exercises, but that’s just showing off. It doesn’t help people reach their actual goals, it just makes the coach feel like they are a hotshot.

Now that I’ve been doing this so long and have worked with so many people, I can help them more efficiently by just choosing the right things to focus on and leaving everything else out. It’s simpler for me and more effective for them, and it lets us all keep moving forward without getting caught up in less important details.

Details are important, but not all of them all of the time.

Doing both teaching and training, it’s like a feedback loop that’s made me better at deciding which details matter most in a particular situation.

Find out more about Ryan’s work at:

Check out GMB on Facebook.

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