Pushing back against boring masculinity

I’ve wanted to write about masculinity for a while. I often hesitate about sharing such things because the discourse around it is so volatile. There were two things that got me off my ass.

First was Andrew Tate. Seeing him pop up in my feed, hearing people discuss him as if he says anything even remotely new and unique — it makes me ill. 

Second was a text message. It was from a high-level black belt in the jiu jitsu community I’m a part of. He didn’t even send it to me, but it was shared with me by multiple people who did get it. It was a “holiday” message about how people want us to be weak and docile but we should reject that, and instead be monsters and “learn how to control it.”

I have to say, fuck that noise. I’m so tired of being told how to walk, talk, think, act, and dress. Over my life I’ve dealt with bullshit male criticism over the music I listen to, the food I like, the way I cut my hair, how I laugh, how well I enunciate my words, and even the fact that I enjoy being affectionate with my wife.

What does another person’s private joys have to do with being a man? Nothing. Nothing at all. The people  who invest their energy making others feel bad about who they are are not acting in the capacity of masculinity, but rather as insecure children.

I’m approaching middle age, and I’ve been seeing this hyper-masculine caricature play out for my entire life. And I’m just so damn bored by it. The caricatures never have anything new to say or offer, they just repackage the same old violent, aloof garbage that’s been going on since before you were born.

But Tate isn’t the problem. Neither was Tucker Max before him, or The Game by Neil Strauss. They’re all just symptoms.

The actual problem is boys who need help and guidance, but aren’t getting it from any other source. They don’t have anyone teaching them solid communication skills. Media representations of men focus on muscles, mockery of others, taking whatever we want right when we want it, physical violence, emotional manipulation, fucking as many people as possible, making lots of money and showing it off.

Lost boys flock to this kind of philosophy because it’s simple to understand. Loud, shameless, baselessly chauvinistic, completely lacking in nuance — this is the default mode. Just go with how things have been done for centuries. Misogyny is EASY. This is why the most vulnerable minds just eat it up. When we’re hurting and frightened, we don’t care about real solutions — we just want the pain to stop.

The boys who follow the Andrew Tates of the world are not necessarily bad people, just scared and lazy. They want simple things, quickly. Like sex, money, and power. They aren’t complicated — but they’re young and don’t yet understand the impact of their behaviors, the smallness of their aspirations, or how vulnerable their desperation makes them. Desperate people make bad decisions — that’s just the way it is.

These boys need direction because they feel inadequate, afraid, frustrated, lonely, rejected, or any combination of those. They need someone to tell them it’s okay, and they’re willing to listen to anyone who can make them feel that — even if it’s just a fantasy.

I can’t promise that everything will be okay for you, because it absolutely depends on YOU. I can promise that if you want things to be better, the potential is there. It’s possible. But no, it’s not going to be easy. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Expensive cars won’t solve your problems. Treating women like shit won’t solve them, either. Investing in crypto and using terms like libtard also have nothing to do with masculinity.

If you want your life to be better, you’re going to have to work at it. And the work is not going to be glorious or quick. Most frustrating of all, the work will never be over. You will never reach a point where you have learned it all. This is one of the most frustrating parts of misogyny for me: this idea of “arriving.” If you just fall into line about the cultural standard definition of manhood, you’ll be whole and complete and won’t need any more tune ups, ever.

It’s a racket. They don’t want to “fix” you — they just want you to shut up. Your compliance as a Default Man is more valuable to them than an independently-thinking version of you. A sincere and curious person never stops developing — they are always on a journey. 

I want to stay away from this flawed idea of a “real man.” Instead, I want to encourage you to continuously scrape off such scummy thoughts and spend more time reflecting on what you, the individual, wants your manhood to look like. (Because I’m willing to bet that most — if not all — of what you think of as “manly”)

This is called self-alignment, and it’s where I want to start this little masculinity project of mine. Self-alignment is when your thoughts, words, and actions line up with your values. If, for example, you consider honesty to be a core value, and yet you spend a lot of time lying and deceiving others — your self-alignment is off. Which likely means you will have a low hum of discomfort at all times. You see, self-alignment is a central tenet of a person’s overall happiness. If you cannot get in alignment with your values, you’re imposing misery on yourself.

There are two ways out of this. The first (and easiest) is what people usually do: bend or break their values. They seek out excuses, explanations, and technicalities so they don’t have to examine the rift within themselves.

The second way out is to alter your own behavior to align with your values. This is the harder, less sexy option — because it takes time. The sort of person who takes this route won’t be posting pictures of their expensive cars and clothes. They don’t need to be center stage, making a lot of noise. They care little about seeking approval from strangers, because they can feel in their bones that who they think they are is at least pretty close to who they actually are.

If you want to understand your own self-alignment, write down a short description of how you aspire to be. Now share it, one at a time, with the people you know. Your parents, friends, co-workers, and even former lovers. Ask them if you’ve accurately portrayed yourself, and if your lifestyle seems to reflect that you’re headed towards your own stated goals. Here’s the real challenge: you can’t question, comment, or complain about anything they say in response. In fact, tell them from the start that you won’t. 

See, if you have to explain who you are to someone who already knows you, that means you haven’t actually demonstrated those values. If someone who knows you well raises an eyebrow at your self-assessment, you are likely wrong about yourself.

This is a tough exercise. If you’re doing it right, chances are high that you’ll either feel angry/defensive at some of the responses — or you’ll feel incredibly humbled. Maybe even shocked.

If you’re in the angry/defensive phase, that’s fine. But just sit with it a bit. Don’t lash out. Roll it around in your brain, and don’t let yourself get away with criticism of that other person — even within your own thoughts. Keep rolling it around until humility sets in.

Once you feel that humility, or if you felt it from the start of the exercise, you have created fertile ground to start asking questions and making a plan for how to become more aligned. As I said, there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Your journey is your own. But there are some first steps that any frustrated male can take if they truly want to improve their lives in a lasting way. 

Some of those steps are: improving your communication, empathizing with others, recognizing and reducing selfish impulses, and being willing to listen and practice. The answer is not “keep doing what you’re doing,” and it’s definitely not “double down.”

Trust me on this. I spent decades letting my anger get the better of me. I partied a lot, had plenty of meaningless sex, constructed a life full of low-grade pleasures. As my hair started graying in earnest, I had nothing to show for my efforts. Just a whole lot of former friends and lovers who got sick of my bullshit and understandably sought out better people to be around.

I got left behind. Chances are if you choose an eternal boyhood you’ll find it quite lacking, too.

I’m a flawed man, with a trail of mistakes that I’ve been slowly coming to terms with for years. I want to be better, and I hope that in sharing my experiences I can help others to be better, too. I have no illusions that I can develop a following with this sort of approach, because I think humans will always have a majority preference for a quick solution over an effective one that takes work. But if there are even just a small handful of basically good-hearted young men who are interested in an alternative to the same old nonsense that the misogynists have been promoting forever — I’m trying to figure that out, too.

Let’s talk. Let’s figure this out.

Strength has a greater purpose

On June 9th, 2020, StrongFirst posted an image on social media that said “The StrongFirst team agrees that racism is wrong.” Beneath that was the text:

Concerning the latest events, the one thing that everyone on the StrongFirst team agrees on is that racism is wrong. On all related issues our team members have diverse and strong opinions—and StrongFirst is not going to force a company stance to represent them.

StrongFirst does not engage in political activism and virtue signaling. We choose to exercise our political rights as individuals, not as a company.

StrongFirst could have done much better than this.

The tone and language of their post indicates that they are indeed taking a position on the issue at hand. That position is: “StrongFirst supports the status quo.” They also are under the mistaken impression that taking action against racial injustice is either political in nature or is something that people just pretend to support in order to seem virtuous.

Beyond that, the post shows that StrongFirst lacks a complete picture of life and health, pretending that racial discrimination isn’t a core aspect of that.

Last and most importantly, the post rendered the StrongFirst motto “strength has a greater purpose” completely meaningless. Although they point to this motto often in their seminars and written materials, they do not believe they have any responsibility to help lead their community or unite them in any way.

StrongFirst supports the status quo

We are all part of a larger culture, and from time to time will be called upon to participate in that culture. If you don’t like it, tough. Get over yourself. You exist, so you are part of all this.

No person and no company is an island. One of the most basic realities of decision making is that not making a decision IS a decision. In this case, the choice of no action means they are siding with the status quo. 

“Racism is wrong” shouldn’t even be up for debate and it’s not even what the current conversation is about. The current conversation is about whether society is going to tolerate continued manifestations of racism, most especially the blatant violence against blacks.

On that, StrongFirst could not reach a consensus. Think about that. They could only agree that “racism is wrong.”

Topics on which they could not fully agree:

  • The constant killing of black people is worth our attention and has to stop, now.
  • The justice system should not punish black people to a greater degree than it does white people.
  • Changes need to be made to StrongFirst and our broader culture. This is a time to reexamine our behavior at every level.

They could not make a statement beyond “racism is wrong” because the company ultimately supports the status quo. “Racism is wrong” is a passive message that does nothing to change the realities blacks in America still face every day. Almost no one (save for the most extreme and fervent white supremacists) would argue with the statement, “racism is wrong,” yet most of us engage in some form of racism, whether we like it or not. The key is taking an active stance in righting those wrongs, in doing the hard work necessary to fight racism head on.  

Co-opting diversity

When StrongFirst states that the leadership agrees racism is wrong but is diverse in all other ways, that likely means that there are at least some folks there who also believe that killing George Floyd was fine. Or believe that racism is bad but systemic racism is a myth.

Cognitive dissonance is a central part of the human experience, and there are few places it rears its head quite like racism. StrongFirst was careful in its selection of words, as demonstrated by including the word “diverse” in their statement. That was no mistake. 

Every softcore racist I know on Facebook and Instagram has posted about how “we need to respect ALL human beings” and how “I’m all about love and equality,” while also often pointing out the criminality (and thus deserved fate) of the murdered, defending the cops, condemning the protests… but never saying something as simple as “the killing has to stop” or asking what they can do. The corporate version of saying “all lives matter” is to say this is too political and they’re not going to take a side.

Inventing politics 

Plenty of businesses have put out short statements that were MUCH stronger than StrongFirst. They didn’t get political or wade into complex territory. I would ask the StrongFirst team to read some of these statements and tell everyone which parts they could not agree on or were “too political.”

Agatsu blew them out of the water with their statement. The USPA were very thoughtful in their response. Mark Fisher Fitness had several great posts. NASCAR immediately started examining things and making changes. StrongFirst’s closest rival, RKC, used nearly the same number of words in their statement — and still did it better! Oh, and let’s not forget that even Jazzercise was stronger than StrongFirst on this.

This is not a political issue. Much of the discussion that follows can become political because it involves legislation or judicial decisions. But at its core, it’s not political — it’s ethical. Period. 

  • Do you think it’s wrong to actively kill black people more often, based on different standards than white people? 
  • Do you think the various inequalities that pervade our culture are real or a myth? 
  • Do you think something should be done to change that? 

These are the kinds of questions being asked, and they’re not political. Many of the answers are clear and factual, such as the reality of broadly different health outcomes for black people. Also, there are democrats, republicans, independents, and non-voters who are on both sides of this issue. It’s not party-specific. It’s human.

Denying authenticity 

Most telling was the use of the pejorative “virtue signaling,” which was by far the worst part of the statement. Virtue signaling is when someone is just expressing loud and conspicuous approval or disgust at an idea. So, based on how they’re using the term, they think that going as far as saying “killing black people is wrong” is something people primarily say for the sake of making themselves seem virtuous. They don’t think people actually believe it. 

Automatically assuming people are pushing StrongFirst for a statement because those people want to make themselves look good and feel better is incredibly dark and cynical. People are rightfully angry about the state of race in this country and the world. They aren’t pretending to be angry just to act like they’re better than you. They are concerned about very real issues and you are brushing them off as fakers.

If that was not the case, they would not have used the words they did. StrongFirst stated quite clearly that they do not engage in politics or virtue signaling, meaning they think anything beyond “racism is bad” is in one or both of those categories.

For the record, stating your beliefs or asking other people to state theirs is not virtue signaling. It’s just basic discussion, and it helps lead to a better understanding of the kind of teacher and leader you are. Which is incredibly important in the fitness industry.

This issue has been going on for centuries and aggressive change is needed RIGHT NOW. The status quo isn’t working and we need more people and groups to pitch in. We are the most successful species because we have the ability to evolve faster than any other animal, via culture and communication. We don’t have to wait for biology to shift us — we can discuss and debate and change NOW, in our lifetime! Knowing that, having that ability, and choosing not to use it is abhorrent to all but the most mentally and emotionally stagnant because it’s simply inhuman. 

Acting like it’s a great big unfair inconvenience to be asked to make a statement is pretty weak when people are being killed and you’re in a position to make a positive difference, even a relatively small one.

They made the collective decision to disregard what should otherwise be pretty clear ethical behavior.

StrongFirst is uninterested in a complete picture of health

Health is not just about physical wellbeing. Ethics, compassion, nutrition, right thinking, recovery, happiness, strength, and fitness are all very tightly related. Neglecting one hurts everything else, and issues of racial injustice directly affect the ability of individuals and groups to become healthy and stay that way.

An athlete’s relationship with their coach and fitness community is incredibly intimate and personal. Coaches who only provide instructions on movements, count reps, then call it a day rarely keep clients for long. Conversation, interaction, mental and emotional support, welcoming community — these are the kinds of things that make the difference between a real-life coach and impersonal methods like an app, book, video, or one-size-fits-all online program.

Striving to support ethical companies and individuals is a noble goal. When the product/service being provided involves physical training, development of my cognition, or is going into my body via food or medicine — I’d like it to come from a place of solid ethics. For instance, I would prefer to not eat factory farmed meat whenever possible.

Being prodded for some thoughts can, at the very least, be considered a reasonable investigation of product efficacy by the consumer. I think it’s important to know whether a person or group I’m associated with are the types who are okay with people being murdered based on the color of their skin.

In short: as a provider of health services, your ethics offer insight into your product. These issues are all about health as an individual and society.

Smarter, better informed people than I have written in great detail about health inequality. If you are a company even tangentially connected to health, it’s worthwhile to pause for a second to consider whether you are basically part of the problem or part of the solution in this regard.

You can’t just claim to be concerned with healthy living and strength when it’s convenient for you. StrongFirst’s statement implies that the state of things doesn’t concern them, when in fact, it concerns us all.

I do not expect StrongFirst to get into every possible aspect of health at their seminars or in their written materials. But at the very least, it’s reasonable to expect them to not completely dismiss key elements of health outright. Speaking and behaving ethically, treating your fellow human beings equitably, and making sure everyone feels welcome are central elements of happy and healthy living.

Change, too, is important and healthy. 

StrongFirst has changed their certification manuals many times over the years, carefully refining them into incredibly clear and concise powerhouses of kettlebell and strength knowledge. But has anyone at StrongFirst ever said, “I sometimes feel like we don’t get many black people at our seminars. Is there something about our approach that might make certain groups steer clear of us?” Or “What can we do to be more inclusive?” Or how about, “What can we do to improve our language to get the attention of a broader group of people?” If so, were those questions truly heard and acted upon?

These sorts of questions are healthy. Improving your vocabulary and how you speak as a whole is not submitting to what many see as “pansy-ass liberal ideas” about political correctness. It’s just showing you are capable of growing and learning. Perhaps sometimes political correctness does go off the rails, but far more often, it’s just that we are stubborn creatures who reflexively reject any need to make personal change. 

We bristle the moment we hear something with which we disagree, and we won’t even give it a moment’s consideration. I think this is one of humankind’s most unhealthy habits. And it’s perfectly reasonable for people to want to know if their coaches are like that, whatever it is they are teaching.

Strength has a greater purpose

There is no greater purpose to strength than to stand up for what is right. Refusing to defend the weak, the marginalized, the victimized, the oppressed — means StrongFirst has lost credibility when it comes to speaking of higher purpose. They can continue to talk about strength as relates to muscles and moving weight, but their own stated philosophy has collapsed. 

I can’t imagine what other greater purpose they imagine there to be. Money? Control? Abs? Fear? Domination? 

How bad do things have to get to compel you into action? What is more worthy as an application of strength than this?

Would you use your strength if the curtain came down and the opponents started clearly stating that the goal is genocide or a return to slavery? Or is that still too “political” for you?

When called upon to use your strength in a way that could contribute to the greatest positive change in our lifetime, your core reaction was to pass on it. I hope you never forget that.

The strength obtained via StrongFirst methodology is apparently intended primarily for show. You can learn how to press a kettlebell really well from them, but don’t expect to learn how to apply that strength in any meaningful way. That part is just posturing.

Basically, they are getting defensive about being called to task on their own motto.


StrongFirst really dropped the ball with their statement on current events.

They spoke up only to clarify that they are keeping with the status quo. They have misunderstood the issues and their impact on individual and societal health. Most disappointingly, they are a fitness company that is built on the idea of strength having a greater purpose, but they will not elaborate on what that purpose could be and they certainly won’t be a part of something real and meaningful. 

I wish StrongFirst had said more. I really wanted them to walk the walk.

I still think they have some of the best hardstyle kettlebell material out there, and I don’t think their whole business should be torn down just because they made a social media post that is poorly worded at best, morally anemic at worst. But at the very least, they did tremendous damage to their overall philosophy and ethical authority with their statement.

Maybe it won’t affect them noticeably, and they’ll get the same attendance levels at seminars with no financial impact (doubtful, but possible). But that still wouldn’t make them right. They’ll still be the strong folks who collectively decided to stay on the sidelines during the biggest fight for racial equality this generation has seen.

It’s a mistake to hide in your “courage corner” in a time like this. I want StrongFirst, its coaches, and its athletes to manifest that “strength has a greater purpose” motto. I want all of us to get past this most fundamental point: that something needs to be done, and we need participation from as many people as possible.

Society doesn’t need any more people of strength being apathetic. We don’t need more people and organizations who lack the emotional capacity to process the challenges of a dynamic world. We need people who are capable of taking their courage into the real world and applying it.

[For additional resources/points of discussion, click here.]

Quick resources on race

For most of my life I’ve been the type who would say he supported equal rights. However, the intensity with which I offered such support was calibrated in large part by what information was actually making it in front of my eyes. And the truth is that the American education system as well as the media machine do not put adequate emphasis on injustice against black people. They only hit the major points, but even that often is influence by a desire not to inflame too much.

This latest eruption of protests and social media discussion have brought forth a flood of stories and history of which I was not aware. Even more shocking than the stories themselves is the persistent question, “WHY DIDN’T I ALREADY KNOW THIS?”

That’s a question to be answered by people smarter and more capable than myself. For my part, I just want to share links to those things that I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks. Maybe you didn’t know some of these, either. Hopefully they’ll soften your heart a little bit. Take a breath, set your politics aside, and consider what you really think about these.

Clever/real rebuttals on many of the common complaints about the protests

Tulsa massacre

Civil Rights photos were rendered in black and white to make them look older than they were.

Wage theft

Brief history of racial terrorism in America

Use of prison labor for profit (AKA the slavery loophole)

Companies that utilize prison labor

Seneca Village

Ruby Bridges

Antiracism resources

Google docs with tons of resources for petitioning and donation.

“I’m the Marine who stood at attention for 3 hours in 100 degree heat in full dress uniform until I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Do me the honor of reading this message I’ve spent the last two days preparing.”

Striving for a better coaching attitude

Recently there was an article in The Atlantic about Ido Portal. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a great article.

Ido has floated on my training periphery for several years. I’ve heard some really enthusiastic support for him and his style, in equal measure with less-than-flattering stories about him. I listen to such things but try not to attach to them, because my only exposure to him has been random videos and secondhand reports. He does share some great movement tips, and I learned what would become one of my favorite movements from him — the diagonal stretch.

I had no opinion about Portal as a person or coach… up until reading this article.

Of all the things he said, one thing jumped out at me most of all — if only because it was repeated in various forms several times: Ido does not want to spend much (if any) time training people who are not already absolute die-hards about movement.

I can understand this. As a trainer myself, I would always rather have a client who is hardcore invested than a lukewarm one. Always. I would, in fact, rather be receiving a lower training rate with a client who is a hard-working, thoughtful, curious type than one who doesn’t really care all that much, but pays me well. It is more enriching for myself and my clients when this is the case.

But also, that’s so very much the easy way out. One of the coaches I used to work with was the same as Portal — he wanted to have athletes walk into the gym already hungry, already basically knowledgeable and clear in their understanding and intent.

That’s making a career out of doing the easy part. I don’t think most people need to know how to do a one-arm pull-up. Most people need help with basics. And many coaches avoid spending much time on the basics because the truth is that that part is harder to convey that the elite work.

Teaching the basics to a true newbie is frustrating. It’s hard. It feels impossible. And this is precisely why you’ll never see much in the way of a popular, widely-read feature piece about teaching squat mechanics to office workers. It’s challenging work. It can be monotonous. Which means it’s challenging to write about in any sort of way that people would want to read.

So, I get it. There is more visible glory in thinking like Portal and those like him. In turning life into a competition, in focusing on the “elites.” There’s good money there, for less frustrating work. I’m not making an ethical judgment on the choice.

What I personally would like to see in the “movement community” (or however one might think of it), though, is something more welcoming. Something compassionate without getting comically touchy-feely. All of my favorite teachers I’ve met in the fitness community — people like Dave Whitley, Dan John, Shawn Mozen and Sara-Clare at Agatsu, and of course Ryan Hurst and everyone at GMB — do indeed have great information. But more importantly, they really know how to teach. That is, they know how to deftly and cleverly speak the languages of all levels. They are smart and accessible and PATIENT.

These are the qualities I wish to emulate as a coach, and to refine and shape into my own style.

I mean honestly, do we really need more dudebros taking selfies of their deadlift PR, sneering at how little weight you’re benching, and mocking running/cardio? Do we really need MORE gyms and coaches who are not particularly welcoming?

Ido Portal has some fantastic things to teach us. And right now, he’s arguably the person with the tallest podium and loudest microphone within the movement community. So he’s getting the message out there, and that’s fantastic. But I don’t just want to talk to the athletes who are already “there.” I don’t want to make people feel bad for training differently, for needing a little more help and guidance, for only being able to show up one time a week (if that).

I don’t want to sneer at, mock, or belittle anybody. If I can help it, I don’t want anyone I encounter to feel “less than.”

I do understand that I can’t possibly reach literally everyone. Nor do I think I am talented/mature enough to perfectly succeed at the above stated goals. But I firmly believe I can reach more people if I put in the extra time to reach out to those people who are lukewarm, anxious, and/or confused about how to train well. I can practice communication and kindness in the exact same way that I train my handstand. I don’t want to just coach those who’ve already “got it.” That feels self-limiting to me. I want to reach as many people as I can, by being a better me — not just by expecting a better them.

Isn’t training for self-betterment really what all of this is about? The emotional and philosophical can and should be trained just like our physical bodies.

We need more teachers sharing the types of content that Ido is putting out there, absolutely. But the movement community — and gym culture as a whole — could use much less of an elitist attitude. The cocky, experienced person at the gym rolling their eyes at the newbies, telling them why they shouldn’t be there, making fun of overweight individuals (or even taking photos/videos to mock them with later), is such a cliche at this point. It has a chilling effect on we as a culture making forward progress in fitness. (The Atlantic article even starts with the word “bro.”)

I need work in this area, too. I’m not perfect. It starts with a coach being willing to say: I’m going to do my best to not be an asshole, and to patiently help anyone who comes to me no matter what level they’re at. If you want to work with me, I’ll give you my best. If I can’t do that for whatever reason, I’ll refer you to someone who can. But I’m pretty exhausted by the strutting and bullying and exclusion aspects of this industry. We should do better. I should do better.

I wrote all of the above pretty soon after the article came out. But then it’s just sat there. Something about my response didn’t feel right, and I think I know what it is.

Even though I am not a fan of the “only want to train die-hard athletes” mentality put forth in that article, I want to draw a clear line between the big-name teachers and the gyms that follow or borrow from the associated philosophy. The “face” of a particular method may be disagreeable in some ways, but gyms associated with that person can be fantastic.

I’ve been nothing but impressed by Ido Portal associated gyms. It all depends on who is running the gym, of course. I’ve also been blown away by some of his disciples. Roye Goldschmidt is a particular favorite of mine to follow, not least of which because he’s a tall guy and still doing all that impressive stuff. He’s an inspiration to me and my fellow tall guys. (Though I can’t speak to his teaching style, as I’m just an internet fanboy.)

So my comments are in no way meant to disparage the material or the gyms that teach it. On the contrary, I want more coaches and gyms to teach it to more people — not less! And definitely not just those with a ton of money and time. That slice of the population gets smaller all the time.

On Depression and Training

About a month ago, at the Agatsu affiliate summit, the most important things I learned came from a place I least expected. On the schedule were gymnastics rings, strength training and programming, kettlebells, clubs, and maces. Oh, and social media marketing.

Really, that’s what I thought about it — “Oh and that too, I guess.” I’m not particularly passionate about social media, and it doesn’t take much for me to drift away from it for large chunks of time. And yet I have a business and overall career that is very social, very personal and involved. I need to know this stuff.

Trying to learn about it in the past has actually made me more jaded. Because there are so many “tricks.” The ways to get people more involved online always stunk of get-rich-quick mentality. The kinds of people writing articles and consulting on anything related to building an audience/brand/whatever are the same kinds of people who, if they were in the same industry as I, would be writing articles about getting “beach body ready!” and hocking multi-level marketing scheme nutrition supplements.

I didn’t want to trick anyone into giving me money, or likes, or follows. If I was going to bother doing it, I want to do it well. And right. I don’t want to build a following based on schemes, ever. I want to talk to real people, in my actual voice. I want to find the people who want to find me and what I have to say/teach/share. I don’t want to be a personality, a face, or a brand. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage in an age where people are all about the pomp, flair, and shortcuts. Especially on social media.

Taylor is different. Not the least of which because she uses the word FUCK as punctuation. She is brash and direct, and it got everyone’s attention at the summit. There was no sugar coating anything. No “tricks.” Just a whole lot of honesty about what it means to communicate authentically as a business in this day and age.

“How many of you hate social media?” she asked. Everyone raised their hand. “Well, you’re going to hate closing your business a whole lot more.”

…Okay. Fine. We’re listening.

Most of us aren’t very good with communication. We hide from it the same way most people say that they need to exercise more… while thinking in the same moment that they will be changing absolutely zero about their exercise routine anytime soon.

The kinds of questions she asked the group were confronting, and generated a lot of discussion. I took more notes during her sessions than any of the fitness stuff that I’d been looking forward to.

On the first day, she asked us for our general thoughts about social media and online engagement. Most especially, what did we dislike? What kept us from being more involved? When we were engaging, how did it makes us feel?

I scribbled down a whole lot of thoughts while waiting my turn. There are many reasons that I’m not more involved online. Even on any of the countless blogs I’ve had over the years — one of the only online activities that I always enjoy — I’m inconsistent in posting.

Of the many things I wrote, several were short and predictable. Not enough time. Uncertainty what kind of content to post. But there were a couple that were higher on my list.

First and foremost… does the world really need another white guy’s opinion? On almost anything? I mean, really. I hear about it every day. White males have the biggest mic in virtually every conversation. Especially in fitness.

There are people who would disagree, and would argue that white guys still should be able to speak up and whatnot. And sure, that’s true. But why? Why bother? There are so many white guys talking that we even step on each other’s toes constantly. The big battles happening at the top of almost every level of politics, art, and industry take place almost entirely between white guys. Just constantly shouting and waving their dicks at each other.

No, I don’t think that the world needs another white guy talking from that particular podium. And as I get older, I take that to heart a little more. I sit a little further back from the mic every day. Even when I want to write something just for fun in my personal notebook, or share a funny thought with friends, I hesitate. Who cares? Why bother?

Naturally, this bleeds into my (un)willingness to open up too much online. I even catch myself slowly removing past-me from the internet a piece at a time, hiding old facebook posts even when they’re about nothing in particular, making sure old accounts like myspace and ebay and livejournal are closed up or deleted. (Side note: I am SO GLAD that the social aspect of the internet didn’t really catch on until I was finishing up college.)

I didn’t say all this when addressing the group, though. I just said: does the world really need another white guy talking?

And Taylor said, “Do you really think that’s all you have to offer?”

I mumbled or maybe even said no, but yeah, really, I do think that. But, I didn’t really want to get into that. Maybe in part because one of my other answers as to why I don’t involve too much with social media.

I wrote this, and read some version of it aloud: “I have a history of depression, and that can drag me down from sharing. I do enjoy and appreciate being part of a community, but I feel pained to ask for it — which is what talking on social media feels like. It’s like I’m the new kid sitting alone at recess, asking people to like me. Also I can be more easily wounded by criticism than I’d like to be, so I try not to invite it.”

She said: “Could you talk about your depression? Could you share that?”

I said: “Sure, yeah.”

But I thought: FUCK NO.

I don’t want to talk about depression. I don’t want to talk about my feelings. I don’t want to share hard stories. And no, I definitely don’t want to cry any more or have any more anxiety attacks or nervous breakdowns. Talking about it all invites it in.

I recognize my good fortune in life as a whole. I know all the possible negative responses and trolling comments that people might unleash for somebody like me talking about mental illness. And I just don’t want to do it. I’m not interested in doing it and I wouldn’t be ready for it even if I was interested.

As anyone who has been depressed and pulled themselves through it, one of the most powerful coping mechanisms is to just be careful not to stare it too closely in the eye. Or it will see you looking and will pull you back in with a vengeance. It grows with attention.

I don’t want to talk about all those kinds of details. I’m not quite there yet.


I am also a coach. I left a really solid, well-paying career in the corporate world to work for peanuts (relatively speaking) teaching strength training, movement, and overall physical fitness. Because I really believe in this stuff.

But even with a lot of passion, it can be hard to promote fitness. People know it’s important to move, and yet they don’t. Not really. And that’s because they “know” it in the same way that they know that eating fast food or binge drinking is bad — in that they understand the dangers and just don’t really care. The point isn’t reaching them, for whatever reason. Or in some cases it is, and they’ve just decided that the consequences are acceptable.

When it comes to exercise, the message (most) people are trying to convey is: I would rather have a shorter lifespan — with lower quality of life in the meantime — than exercise thoughtfully and well.

Or more succinctly: I would rather die than exercise.

This is what our culture is saying. This is where we are, mentally and emotionally.

I want to change that. Any way I can. We have to do better, as individuals and as teachers.

So no, I don’t think the world needs another white guy talking, from that particular perspective. But I do think the world needs more honest talk about mental illness — and specific to my interests, about how much physical fitness can help make things better.

I believe we all suffer from mental illness, it’s just a matter of what kind, how many, and severity. Even (maybe especially) those who are adamant that they don’t have anything lurking within. Those are often the ones who are ticking time bombs.

I believe this to be true because I do not think we are behaving in the ways that match our biological history. That confuses and harms us, both physically and mentally, in some obvious ways and in many ways we don’t even think about or notice. We need to not sit at desks all day. We need to move. We need to be challenged, frightened, laughing, sweating, jumping, running, rolling, climbing. We need to be having more and better sex. (And we need to generally not be so uptight about it.) We need to do more things we love. We need to be stimulated, constantly, and in a wide variety of ways.

Worse still, technology is changing faster than we are evolving. And we will never catch up — things are changing too fast. We are beyond a slippery slope. Culturally, we are plummeting.

There’s not much we can do to stop the overall scenario — it’s got too much momentum. Technology is going to continue to outpace our evolution, and society will drift still further from our natural preferences and behaviors. The forces behind that are too big to stop, though I sincerely applaud the people working to prove me wrong.

What I DO think we can change imminently is our own individual relationship with nature, our bodies, our minds, and our overall physical fitness. Doing so can contribute to not just a longer life, but a better quality of life. Not just a little bit better — EXPONENTIALLY BETTER. I believe a regular practice of mindful movement improves every minute of every day. You’ll sleep better. Food will taste better. Your relationships will be better, not to mention your sex life.

Becoming physically fit is the best overall investment a person can make with their time. It’s the only investment that’s a sure thing. It has saved my life a thousand times over. It has brought me so much happiness and peace.

I am a trainer who consistently talks about the value of positive self-talk, being kind to oneself and others, communicating clearly and honestly.

So this is me being honest. My passion is teaching people movement, sharing what I’ve learned about how physical fitness is good for you. The industry in which I work, as enthusiastic as everyone is, has done a poor job at really convincing a larger number of people to exercise thoughtfully, regularly, and well. Me included.

I don’t think we’re going to bring many people over with promises about abs, getting “beach body ready,” or just generally putting pressure on and finger wagging at people.

But I do think we can bring some people over if we talk about how exercise can make every aspect of your entire life better. If we can get back towards a lifestyle of activity, if we can feed our minds and bodies with the best and most necessary parts of life that evolution has built us for, perhaps we can heal some of our mental illness.

I don’t want to talk about my feelings. I want to talk about this: how movement can help strengthen your body and mind.

Want to talk?

The 6th P

There’s been a recurring phrase I hear in the gym, and it never ceases to amaze and excite me. In the midst of a workout one of the athletes will say that a movement hurts or is otherwise uncomfortable, or that it’s too easy, or any of the many other indications that they don’t wish to be doing what they’re doing.

I’ll advise them on alternative ways to do things. And based on their response, it’s safe to assume that they are somewhat surprised by my suggestions.

It might be that I’ll suggest a different movement entirely for their non-dominant side, or have them only work an uninjured side. This immediately triggers that innate OCD we all have that wants to “balance things out.” I tell them don’t worry about it; it’s okay to work each side with different movements or even leave out an injured side entirely.

They’ll say, “I can do that? That’s okay?”

Or maybe they’re not injured, but just plain don’t like working a muscle group in a certain way. Holding weight overhead makes them anxious, perhaps. I’ll show them how to work their shoulders using just bodyweight. No, you don’t absolutely need to do a barbell press.

“I can do that?”

A client comes to me to train for a marathon. Typically I reduce their weekly mileage considerably, and add in strength training to help rebuild their broken bodies.

“I can do that? Are you sure?”

Yes, I’m sure. You can do anything you want for your personal fitness. You don’t just have to do endless hours of the thing — whatever “the thing” is for you. You don’t have to deadlift in exactly the same way all the time. You don’t have to run endless miles in order to run races. You don’t have to use a barbell to be strong.

The answer is not singularly and indisputably found in CrossFit, kettlebells, endurance, dancing, gymnastics, or anywhere else. Because there is no one answer. There is no infallible system. There isn’t even a single set of “ideal” movements that fit everyone.

There is lots of room in this fitness thing. You can do whatever you want.

Over at GMB, you’ll hear a lot about the 5P framework: Prep, Practice, Push, Play, Ponder. (Read more about the 5P framework here.) But there’s a very important P that I think is missing from this framework: Permission. As in, you have permission to do anything you want to do with your physical fitness that you like. And nobody, of any level of knowledge or experience, can tell you that it’s “wrong.”

Now, before we get into the nitty gritty of what this means, let me add a couple of disclaimers. Doing whatever you like does not necessarily mean you will be doing the most effective form of exercise for your goals. Permission does not mean you will be maximally efficient, or even the slightest bit happier with what you’re doing. You may be wasting your time if you’re just horsing around in a directionless way.


But in your wild experimentations, you might also be doing something innovative. You may be on the verge of a breakthrough, if only a personal one.

And even if the movement/training plan was almost entirely ineffective from a traditional exercise standpoint… so what? Did you have a good time? Did you pass the time in a way more constructive than scrolling facebook on the phone? Did you learn anything?

Then no, you were not wasting your time. You have permission to have any goal you want. Or no goal at all. Or both.

Yes, you can do that.

Most people who walk into a gym can be timid or cautious to a fault, sticking only to familiar machines/movements, not asking questions. It takes a lot of courage to try a new kind of class, or even just to walk in the door of a new gym, much less ask a trainer for advice. So if you’ve done that, ever, give yourself a pat on the back. In doing so, you gave yourself permission to try something new. And you are better for it, even if it ended up not being your cup of tea.

You gave yourself a little bit of permission. And that’s progress in itself.

But even those who have been trying new things for a long time seem to shy away from giving themselves full and open permission. I’ve seen athletes who have been handling kettlebells for a decade or more, but have never actually looked at the kettlebell and said, “What else can I do with this thing?” They’ve never tried to press it by holding it bottoms-up, or cupped by the bottom. They’ve never tried juggling. Never used the handles as parallettes.

Sure, there are the fundamental movements that can get you the most “bang for the buck,” but is that actually what you want? Do you even like doing all those “essential” movements? Are you having fun? Are you learning anything?

Again, you can do whatever you want. Doesn’t matter how ridiculous. It doesn’t even have to have a point. If you want to do it, do it. You have permission if only because you don’t actually NEED it.

Permission is an amorphous thing, which might be why it doesn’t get discussed in fitness very much. It means only that you can do whatever you want. It doesn’t ask anything too specific of you, and in exchange it does not promise any particular results. But through permission, you might just find enlightenment.

All that said, as a trainer I do have some suggestions on how to best approach permission.

SAFETY. Make sure that what you’re trying is relatively safe for your current level. If you’re curious about trying a backflip, it’d be best to figure out how to do so somewhere soft, with supervision, before trying it alone in a concrete parking lot.

MINDFULNESS. Be thoughtful and patient. Pay attention. Read: leave your ego at the door. Trying something new or unusual is going to typically be more challenging than doing the same things you’ve always done. It’s worth being more attentive and taking your time. Be present.

CURIOSITY. Ask a lot of questions, of yourself and others. Be open to playing around with what you’re working on. If you’re doing it safely and mindfully, such play will help. No, there is not only one “ideal” way to squat — unless of course you want to increase your opportunity for injury in every other squat-related position. (One of my favorite training quotes: “You will always regret not training the position you got injured in.” – Dr. Andreo Spina https://gmb.io/resilience/) Stagger your feet. Change your center of gravity. Alter your speed. Ask “how else?” and “why?” a lot. Some of it will work. Some of it won’t. Just keep doing it.

PURPOSE. What is the meaning behind your exploration? You have permission to do any movement, for any reason. But it is helpful to know the WHY. If only because it will imbue your EVERYTHING with greater quality and appreciation. It will also give you more realistic expectations. For instance, if you really want to run an obstacle course race and you want to see if you can do it without any specific training — that’s actually okay. As long as you understand the risks, and don’t necessarily expect to win. But if you don’t have the awareness that such a plan increases the difficulty of the race, and the possibility of injury, then you’re going to be DOUBLY hurt by your own unmet expectations.

I have a 6-day work week, involving early mornings every one of those days. So by the time I get to day 6, I’m usually pretty tired. The end of day 6 is not the day for me to plan my most intense workout of the week. Typically, if I work out at all on that day, I want it to be fun. It doesn’t even have to relate to whatever my primary training goals are — any movement at all on day 6 is a victory. Giving myself this permission for a weekly playdate completely altered how I approach my training, and brought a lot of joy back to my week. I needed to give myself permission to go easier on myself.

Sometimes I give myself permission to make minor deviations, based on what my body is telling me on a given day. My primary training for the past 3 months has been the GMB parallettes 1 program. It’s great. But it’s hard, and there are particular movements that I need to practice more. So I have, on several occasions, repeated a week instead of moving on. Or I’ve taken an entire week off from it. It’s called auto-regulation, and giving myself permission to listen to my body more openly has greatly improved just about every area of my training.

You don’t have to follow everything in a training plan, absolutely. (Though if you are being given a plan by a personal coach, incline towards trusting it. You have permission to not listen to your coach, certainly, but be aware that you’re probably going to drive them crazy and not make progress on your goals at the speed you like. Permission is double sided like that.)

There are times when my workouts get really weird. Thanks to Max Shank, I’ve recently been trying to do a get up with a jump box:

Bonus fun thing: the caption in that video is about this same topic!

Whenever someone (cool) posts a video like that, there are always (boring) people who ask “why?”

In response I might say:

Are we really so dull of a species that everything must be purposeful and maximally efficient to matter?

You’re assuming from the outset that “it’s fun for me” and “I was curious” are not good reasons to try something. When they are arguably the only real reasons. Or at least the only ones that will truly enhance one’s life as a whole.

You can do a workout that just involves 5 minutes of continuous repetition of one dance move. Or see how far you can crawl in one hour. I’m currently trying to get 100 jumps per day in. Doesn’t matter what kind. (Spoiler alert: it’s hard, especially if you try to get them all in as short of a time as possible.)

I guess what I’m saying here is: get weird. It’s okay. You can do that.

I know this is a lot of rambling. But, it’s my site and I can do what I want. Best thing I’ve done for my enjoyment of writing is to give myself permission, as well.

Crawlspace workout

This past January, on a Monday night at around 8 PM, I was pulling into my driveway after a long day of work. My house has a small carport with a storage closet where my bikes and some yard tools live. So I was not expecting to see a sheet of fast-flowing water pouring out from beneath the door. But I immediately knew what it was: the cold temperatures had caused a pipe to burst.

While I was grateful that this had only been going for a short time and was occurring somewhere that I could see clearly (as opposed to under the house), I was tired and frustrated and may have thrown a little bit of a temper tantrum before trying to figure things out. Not looking forward to hanging around outside or in a crawlspace on a Monday night in 16-degree weather.

Plumbing issues are not my strong point. Which is to say that I was pacing around frantically, googling how to shut off the main water line in my house. Several pages informed me that the main water shut off should be near the entrance to the crawl space. Mine was not.

My crawl space is vast and low. It is filled with pipes and wires and columns, many of which look mismatched and randomly placed from years of changes and repairs. Once I realized the internet was not going to be much help in this case, I set out to find the shutoff valve as fast as possible.

And in so doing, I ended up having a fantastic time. I’ve been training with GMB methods and programs for well over a year now, and as a result was able to maneuver around beneath the house with grace and ease. Locomotion work with the Elements program in particular was most helpful of all. I stepped and dove and crawled and rolled around all these obstacles, all the while feeling like a spy dodging motion-sensor lasers. I found the valve — which ended up being in the furthest possible corner — and shut it off. Then I sat in the dirt and smiled.

This was my favorite practical application of my training, thus far. It’s the kind of thing I think about when people ask me why I train so often/hard. I want to be able to find joy in my body and mindset even in a crisis moment. I want to feel safe climbing a tall ladder to paint a high wall, because I know my balance is solid and that even if something went wrong I can respond to it quickly and well. Or worse still, if something completely out of my control like a car wreck occurs, I want to know that I’ve done what I could to make myself resilient so that I might continue living happily in this beautiful world.

I train not just to be prepared for the worst, but to make every moment better. For me, solid physical fundamentals is not a vanity thing, much less a chore. Rather, it’s a chance to enhance everything. Even a late night in a cold crawlspace.

My GMB apprenticeship experience

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.

Bonus stuff!

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
  • Mindset
  • Recovery

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.”

Bottom line

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.

Thursday morning thoughts about purpose

Five years doesn’t seem like all that long to be in a particular career. But in the fitness industry, where many trainers only stick with it for as little as 1-3 years, five years can seem ancient. I have immense respect for those who have made it 10 years, 20, or more.

Though at that point it can be hard to tell if it’s really just that they’ve lost the last of their marbles. Which is why so much incredibly good stuff comes from the fringe-lurking fitness veterans — you’ve got to be pretty insane to be willing to push the boundaries of an industry that is still utterly obsessed with cardio and working out till you puke.

When I talk with industry friends about the way new trainers tend to fall off, the discussion usually focuses on burnout. And it’s true that trainers do tend to be overworked and underpaid. But it also has a lot to do with purpose.

Modern capitalist society revolves around efficiency. Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing process revolutionized the way we work. Not just with products, but service. I think of this most often with doctors. I remember my pediatrician, Dr. Green, quite well from my childhood. He remembered my name, spoke to me like a friend, and asked me sincere questions about my interests.

Maybe I’m looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but I feel like many careers used to be about being driven by purpose. Now, doctors are driven by necessity to move quicker, see more patients for briefer periods. It seems almost foreign to imagine just sitting with a doctor and having a heart-to-heart. Many of them just don’t have that kind of time. Teachers, similarly, don’t get as much of a chance to connect with their students and teach them how to think and why. Instead, they focus on bare facts because of standardized testing.

Whenever this happens to any industry, I feel like it zombifies the people within it. Further, any perceived gains of increased efficiency are likely never fully realized. Because people are not mindless machines. We need stimulation to keep going, and that doesn’t happen with endless repetition of tasks.

Further still, even if we were able to realize greater efficiency by reducing the scope of a worker’s role to a simple series of rules — who actually cares? If things are getting more efficient but nobody is happy, then what’s the point?

It took me a lot of time to catch on to the fact that this was happening in my own career. It’s why I made such a drastic change from the corporate world to becoming a full-time trainer in my 30s. That was huge for me. But even as a trainer, it’s so easy to fall into habits and patterns. Inertia is a powerful thing.

A dear friend — who is also in the industry — recently told me that when she hears people talk about me it’s most often in the context of, “he seems to be searching for something and hasn’t found it yet.” Which is quite true, though I did feel somewhat defensive when I first heard it. Perhaps because there’s an undertone to that observation that doesn’t sit right with me: the implication that searching is somehow a bad or undesirable thing. On the contrary, searching is invigorating. It’s what makes me feel most alive. The quest for knowledge and purpose is something I hope to never outgrow, because there’s always more to learn and purpose is never achieved with any finality. It can only be pursued, constantly. It’s an enriching thing.

I’ve been searching my entire life, and I hope to never stop. My poor mother has been bombarded by questions since I could talk. Teachers, too. Especially my college professors, who were so patient as my manic mind meandered and sorted ideas on the fly whenever I gave presentations, wrote papers, or engaged in classroom discussions. I’m certain that the majority view of my approach is that I seem like I’m intellectually overcaffeinated and/or generally unsettled. But, I’m okay with that. It keeps me hungry.

On my fridge is a magnet that I got in college. This one was given to me in response to the totally cliche religious-upbringing self-questioning that happens to so many young people when they first leave the sheltered comfort of their family home. It reads, “Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it.”

When I used to run all the time, my body was completely broken and becoming more so. It had to change. So I asked myself a question that ended up launching my fitness career and ultimately providing me a point of focus that I hope to never lose. That question was this: how can I fix myself?

My purpose is an ever-shifting one. Right now, I’d say my purpose is to help people discover the liberation that comes from getting stronger and more mobile. To help them achieve the yummy feeling of increased physical autonomy. To help them know that it’s never too late to start. NEVER. If you’re alive, you can get better. You are always practicing something, so you might as well be practicing forward-moving concepts rather than variations of approaching-death inertia.

I know these thoughts are rather unorganized, but today they feel like they are bursting out of me. Writing helps clear the fog, even when it’s fast and feverish like this. Maybe especially so. Near-term I’d like to write a more formal statement of purpose and maybe even take it to the crazy levels of a full manifesto. I’m still searching, and I’m proud of that. At least I’m chasing something, rather than doing what one might call “sitting and searching,” not actually taking actionable steps towards anything.

How are you doing on your search? Let’s talk. I very much want to engage with more hungry people.

Keep Moving, by Dick Van Dyke

Keep Moving: And Other Truths About Living Well LongerKeep Moving: And Other Truths About Living Well Longer by Dick Van Dyke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Keep Moving came to me accidentally. Jerry Lewis passed away at 91 not too long back, whid led to discussions of other aging comic greats. Turns out, Dick Van Dyke is still kickin’. Hard. Same age Jerry Lewis was, but in a whole lot better shape. While “surfing the net” (do people still say that?), I discovered a book by the man himself with a title that I annoy friends and family with by telling them constantly.

Of course I was going to read it. I bought it for the title and author alone. And because I went into it with no expectations or outside opinions, I especially enjoyed it.

This isn’t a fitness manual, or a how-to or self-help. It’s just a guy, who happens to be pretty legendary in the entertainment business, and might be the most wholesome character and writer in all media, sharing thoughts and anecdotes from all his 91 years. And also giving the best foundational advice on how you can maybe get there, too. More importantly, he spends a lot of time discussing how to make the most of those years.

This is vital. Because really, who wants to keep living that long if life is miserable? Do you want to live a long time and enjoy yourself along the way? Let Dick Van Dyke point you down the right path.

This is an easy read, and it takes a lighthearted approach to a topic we could all stand to reflect on more (and with more levity): aging. As a professional trainer, it’s obviously important to me to get people moving, and keep them moving. My ultimate dream would be to become obsolete, to live in a society where good movement would be so standard that the knowledge of trainers would be unnecessary. Where things like singing, dancing, and laughing too loud in public were common and natural occurrences. But this dream is a long way off, so I am grateful to be a part of making it happen. (And to not have to work in a cubical anymore.)

All that to say: this theme hits me deep. It’s something I believe in strongly enough to build my career around and thus spend more time doing than anything else. Van Dyke’s got it right in the core idea that keeps coming back up: it all comes down to attitude. Your attitude creates a current through which everything must flow. So which way do you want your life to flow?

My only possible complaint is that he doesn’t go far enough. Van Dyke discusses all of the usual “keys” to a long life we hear about: eating thoughtfully, exercising, community, hobbies, keeping the mind active. He stresses that so much about long life, and particularly aging well, are in the individual’s hands. He apparently gives the agency to the person. However, he mentions genetics enough times to properly frustrate me.

Obviously, genetics matter. I’m not denying that. But I also think that we, culturally speaking, lean too heavily on genetics as an excuse for not doing much. Yes, all else being equal, a person with “better” genetics will outperform you. But shouldn’t you at least make an effort to get things to the point of “all else being equal?” — if only to be sure that genetics aren’t actually what’s holding a person back?

Then of course there’s the follow up question: “better” genetics based on whose standard?

What I’m getting at is that yes, Van Dyke is also correct by citing genetics as a contributor to a long life. But also, it muddies the argument for the individual to keep moving. Because some people will look at their own genetics, their own family history, and feel discouraged. When really, whether genetics are a factor or not, the individual still has a responsibility (to themselves) to try their best. We only get this one life.

Other than the genetics quibble, I agree with pretty much everything else the man says. You should keep moving. Exercise. Sleep and recover well, and fully. Participate in community. Be present. Laugh and sing and dance. These are all things that we know are good for us. And yet we continue to not do them with the mindfulness and positivity that we could.

As such, it’s worth repeating the title. Over and over again. Until we take it to heart.

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