I investigate, study, and practice pretty much anything that piques my curiosity. Especially in fitness. If it’s a particularly intriguing modality/system, I’ll probably sign up to attend a certification or seminar. At very least, I have a major problem of buying way too many training-related books. It’s just such a small price to pay to really expand my horizons. At Legitimate Movement, we have a great big wall of certifications to show how much we are invested in learning new things…
But sometimes, life gets in the way.
At the beginning of 2017 I was encountering a pretty heavy onslaught of work, personal life turbulence, and generally just a lot of internal reflection. I badly wanted to travel around to learn some new things, but I’d just bought a house and had a gym to run after moving into a much larger new space. It was starting to look like I wouldn’t have much time for as much travel and learning as I’d normally prefer.
Then I remembered that GMB, a group that I’d up till that point only known about through Facebook, offered an apprenticeship program consisting of, essentially, distance learning. No in-person seminars, but nonetheless full immersion in their training methods over the course of about three months. I applied, and was accepted to start in September 2017.
Their apprenticeship page has a fair amount of information about this unique experience. Still, I have attended so many seminars that seem to have very similar formats and requirements, so anything that deviates from that familiar template might as well be a trip to Mars. Really, all I knew was this recurring thought train I kept having: “This seems expensive… but it’s also three months of pretty steady professional attention and feedback. So it’s got to offer more bang for the buck than a $1000 in-person seminar that only lasts for one weekend.”
I had no idea what I was in for, really. Everything about the GMB apprenticeship ended up surprising me, and ultimately turned every preconception I had about training and the way it could be taught on its head. This would end up being the most difficult and rewarding physical endeavor I’ve ever undertaken, professionally or otherwise. It was alternately frustrating, ecstatic, reflective, exhausting, unrelenting, and enlightening in turn — usually some combination of all of those things. This program gave me the most nuanced and detailed professional feedback I’ve ever received about my movement quality, strengths, and weaknesses.
Suffice to say, the apprenticeship was worth every penny.
Of what did the GMB apprenticeship consist?
You may have noticed that I tend to ramble. So I’ll try to bottom-line this part a bit. In just over three months, the GMB trainer candidates in my group went through all of GMB’s foundational programs: Elements, Integral Strength, Vitamin, and Focused Flexibility. Additionally, we were also doing 20-30 minutes of handstand work per day. For me, all this work came out to at least two hours of training per day, usually more like three hours spread throughout the day, 5-6 days/week. For the entire apprenticeship. That’s a lot. Despite none of the work being of the high-intensity-interval-training sort, it was still a lot of volume.
Also, videos. Since the apprenticeship is all online, I was filling up my phone’s memory on a daily basis to take videos and post for feedback. Beyond that, we were also asked to post in-depth about what we were experiencing during this intense training. So many videos. Which for me might have been the hardest part of all. Years ago I remember being at a friend’s house when they listened to the messages on their answering machine. As one of the messages played I thought, “Wow that person sure sounds timid and nasally,” before realizing that it was, in fact, me. “Do I really sound like that all the time?” I asked. They politely changed the subject. That’s roughly the feeling I got from taping myself so much. It was difficult and humbling to see so much of my movement on a regular basis.
Additionally, there were written assignments to be shared on the GMB trainer forum. And these weren’t simple, either. In addition to giving you direct feedback on your athleticism, the apprenticeship also addressed:
- How to teach these movements and the overall GMB philosophy to others
- How to plan, structure, and promote your own workshops
- How to establish and develop your individual classes as well as your business as a whole
I generally dislike interacting via online forums, but I honestly can’t think of a better way they could’ve done this. Online training, especially if interactive, is an area of fitness that is really only in its infancy. I’m excited about what the future might hold in that regard, but for now the forum aspect is just something we have to live with.
As I’ve witnessed in the apprenticeship group that followed mine, GMB is always updating the trainer experience. So no two apprenticeship cohorts are necessarily going to follow identical programming. But, this is a good thing. GMB is comprised of true professionals guided by an ever-evolving love of what they do. As such, they are open to positive change and honest discussion about how to be better teachers in addition to improving the quality of the subjects they teach.
The current mood of American culture seems to still be inspired by the politics of 2004, when rigidity was championed and “flip-flopping” — AKA, being smart and humble enough to thoughtfully change one’s mind or evolve one’s views — was frowned upon. But now, as then, I get nervous whenever I’m trained by a coach who doesn’t seem open to new ideas. GMB seems to be constantly examining what they’re doing, and I appreciate that.
All in all, it’s a very cerebral experience. You don’t just have to learn and practice the movements, you have to develop a sense of HOW to think about training. They do not require that you develop into a carbon copy of other GMB trainers. Rather, you have to take the more difficult path of investigating within yourself to discover and cultivate your own inner purpose as a professional. Which is very hard, but immensely rewarding.
Okay, enough meandering reflection for now. Let’s do some details.
What I most got out of the experience
Much of what I learned seems like common sense. And indeed, I would say that I “knew” a lot of what we would focus on, conceptually speaking. But, not really. There’s a difference between “knowing” that the ocean is deep vs. climbing into a pressurized metal capsule and traveling into the depths yourself. GMB changed my “common sense” into practical understanding. Here’s the big stuff:
Little details are important. Start at the bottom of a pull up, do your pulling prep to get into position, finish through strong and controlled. This is the kind of thing that anyone who trains basically knows. And then doesn’t do. The biggest one for me in this regard was when we practiced inverted presses. I was repeatedly told to straighten out my back, pull my belly button in, and push hard into the floor to get that extra little bit of end-range force. I “knew” to do that. But I wasn’t doing it. Chris and Ryan sure as hell made sure I started doing those things. Those guys have the patience of saints.
Real accountability is powerful. If you’re having to record a video of yourself doing a movement, knowing it will then be picked apart on a message board, you start to pay more attention. You don’t necessarily have to record all your workouts, but it’s important to check in with someone else from time to time. Especially if particular skills/goals are important to you. Dan John has said in person and in writing, on many occasions, that even he still pays for a personal trainer for himself. Hate mobility work but know you need to do it? Have trouble getting to the gym in the first place? Figure out how to make yourself accountable.
Videotaping oneself all the time is humbling. I said this already, but it’s worth repeating. So. Humbling. Right up there with leaving a hand mirror on the floor accidentally, then glancing down at it just as you’re about to get in the shower. No room for an ego after a view like that.
There’s no better way to improve a skill than consistency. For me, this showed most in the handstand. I’ve said that I’ve been working on my handstand for years, and that it just wasn’t getting any better. Turns out the problem is that I was full of shit. Apparently “working on” means “more often than 10 minutes every few months.” Who knew? Once I was working on my handstand for 15-30 minutes/day, it started to improve real fast.
There’s always a higher level. For everything. Don’t let this discourage you — let it raise you up. Since there’s no real peak, then you might as well…
Enjoy the process. If you’re getting frustrated all the time, not enjoying your workouts, complaining about your goals not being reached as fast as you like, you’re missing the point. Training is not a chore. Training is living. It’s attentiveness. You just have to find what kind of training brings you joy, and identify with why you’re doing it. Be present. Feel what you’re doing. Enjoy yourself.
The apprenticeship is particularly strong on that last point. While you do have to meet particular movement standards in order to become a GMB trainer, they are flexible on the timeline and approach each individual thoughtfully. They reminded us, often, to stop taking ourselves so seriously and have a little more fun.
Keep returning to the basics. And slow down. Keep slowing down. More. I’ve played my share of sports and been completely immersed in training for most of my 30s now. I’ve done thousands and thousands of push ups in my life. That was the movement I was least interested in doing, recording, and receiving feedback on. But each time I posted a video of it, I was given feedback. And most of that feedback was simple: slow down. Really, that piece of advice is like 80% of what I was told. Eventually, I was posting videos of me just doing one push up over the course of 30-60 seconds. And was told, essentially, “You’re almost there!”
It started to resemble this scene from Good Will Hunting. Just replace “it’s not your fault” with “slow down” and you’ve got a pretty good overview of my apprenticeship experience.
My push up is better now than it’s ever been.
What was the outcome?
Have a look. First, here’s the video I sent in. GMB asks that trainer candidates send in videos of where they’re at on particular movements. I’ll admit, some part of me feels embarrassed to post this — but part of the process of being a solid athlete is being willing to look honestly at where you’re starting from. So this is where I was at in March 2017.
That was probably my best free-standing handstand till that point.
For comparison, here’s what my handstand looked like at the beginning of 2018, soon after my time in the apprenticeship.
This is what they look like during most of my practice these days. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s an enormous improvement in a very short time. The handstand is but one example of the changes I underwent. At 37 years old, I feel stronger, more agile, and generally more capable than I ever have in my life. I have no chronic pain at all. While my mobility can always be improved, physical limitations due to tight or crampy muscles feels distinctly like a thing of the past.
I couldn’t be happier with my self-image and movement capabilities as I am right now. And much of that I owe to GMB.
I barely paid any attention to the business development aspect of the apprenticeship, initially. I’ve been to so many certifications that quickly breeze through topics like:
- How to get and keep clients
- How to program well
These things are hard to address. Trainers like to train, so they spend most of their time developing that. For professional trainers, the practical realities of running a business produce in them the same kinds of excuses that other people use when talking about training! But the GMB puts some serious thought and work into educating their trainers on how to be better professionals and develop those tougher skills. It was great. They mention it in their description of the apprenticeship, and I touched on it above, as well, but it deserves extra emphasis as a bit of a bonus I wasn’t really expecting to be quite this good.
This was so much more than learning how to do a few cool bodyweight moves.
After completing the apprenticeship, I also had the chance to attend at two-day seminar just for the GMB trainers in Palo Alto, CA in February. It was the best weekend of training advice and meeting like-minded people that I’ve had in my fitness career. And it was free!
Honestly, every penny of the GMB apprenticeship was worth it before I even found out about the free seminar opportunity. After that, it went from being a “pretty good deal” to “an absolute steal.”
Of all the certifications I’ve pursued in my years as a trainer, none have been so rigorous as the GMB apprenticeship. This is clearly not a money grab, or an attempt to build an Empire. Not least of which because you get more value per dollar for your investment than anywhere else, and because it’s challenging enough to weed out the lukewarm folks who just want the piece of paper. You have to care. You have to pay attention and be consistent.
Increasing control, in particular, isn’t just like gaining a new body. It’s more radical than that. Like gaining a new limb. Tentacles, or maybe a prehensile tail. Feeling this much better in my own body in only a few months is something that is absolutely priceless.