It’s funny – we get questions about Ryan’s jeans all the time (often with atrocious punctuation).
My normal inclination is to ignore it as a distraction, but when I stopped to think about it a few weeks ago, I realized that it touches on a lot of important issues. The fact that we naturally end up wearing what we wear, and the fact that people find it so remarkable – both are proof that it intersects with something fundamental.
You want to be able and ready, not just good at working out.
We don’t train to be good at push-ups, pull-ups, or bear crawls. We do these things to be stronger, more robust, able-bodied humans.
People practice all this stuff adjacent to the stuff they really wanna do, but doing a pistol squat in special shoes and special pants after ten minutes of joint mobilization isn’t the same as being able to climb up onto a platform to reach something when you’re out in your street clothes. The former is working out. The latter is Physical Autonomy.
This is not really an article about jeans. It’s about being able to do the things you want to be able to do – anytime, anywhere.
Life Won’t Wait for You to Warm Up
Ryan, Jarlo, and I have all spent most of our lives practicing martial arts. You can’t do something for 20, 30, or more years and not have it impact your thinking, so you can imagine that martial arts training and philosophy have had a big influence on GMB.
You might not have an interest in martial arts, but stick with me here, because this is important.
In a lot of martial arts, the logic goes like this:
You don’t have the opportunity to prepare yourself when you’re attacked in real life. You don’t get to change clothes and warm up in a self defense situation. Therefore, you should train to defend yourself without a warmup.
In a couple of ways, I disagree. Firstly, TV and movies have given us an unrealistic view of how violence works and what we can actually do to keep ourselves safe. That’s a topic for a different article. Secondly, training should be safe and focused on progressively improving your skills. Warming up and using the proper gear is part of that.
However, the underlying logic holds.
Life doesn’t wait for us to be ready. The world is dangerous and unpredictable. You can’t fully prepare for every possible scenario, so you have to develop the ability to improvise under less-than-ideal circumstances.
Most of the heavy things you actually need to lift will not be shaped like a barbell, and you may not be wearing your track shoes when the time comes that life demands you sprint. The true application of your workouts will come when you’re wearing your regular clothes in your regular environment. You don’t always get to warm up and change clothes before exerting yourself.
To us, this isn’t an either/or scenario, and the confusion falls away once we realize that our training time has to include (at least) two very different types of practice: training and testing.
Applied Movement and “Aliveness”
In most martial arts, this is why they have competitions. You spend your training time in the dojo working on your techniques, perfecting your body mechanics, and building your physical attributes. Then you test your skills by competing against unknown opponents in “asymmetrical” combat.
Training vs Testing. Two sides of the same coin.
Not all martial arts or self-defense systems have competitions. However, most that don’t include some form of modulated intensity, increasing the pressure and difficulty to apply the techniques against an opponent who’s trying to thwart your efforts, or even possibly to hurt you.
In many “Reality Based Self Defense” systems, this is called aliveness, and the idea is exactly to strike a balance between safe learning and application under pressure.
In GMB, this is part of our AAA model.
Assessment tells you where you’re at and what you need to spend your time working on. “Addressment” is our made-up word for the process of strengthening those weak links and increasing capacity at the bottlenecks.
Application means ensuring we can actually use our strength, flexibility, and control in our lives and activities.
For us, those activities might include playing with our kids, taking a hike in the mountains, running up the stairs to catch a train, jumping over a puddle, climbing onto the roof to clean the gutters… and sometimes even filming an exercise tutorial for GMB’s YouTube channel – and more often than not, when these things come up, we just so happen to be wearing jeans.
We believe that both training and testing are necessary in fitness, just as in martial art.
And yes, we also like to think we can move as needed if a hypothetical Bad Guy happens to emerge from a dark alley.
“Hold on. This is all BS. None of the movements I see in GMB videos are even slightly practical.”
I get it. Your daily life might not be described as “action packed.”
If you’re like most people, the majority of your movements fall into a handful of buckets: standing, sitting, walking, or lying down.
And I have two things to say to that:
- That’s a boring way to live.
- Imagine how much more fun your life could be if you developed the option for a greater variety of experiences.
There’s very few people in this world whose daily activities consist of only sitting and walking, but most of us move in a surprising variety of ways throughout the day. We simply don’t notice them because they’re so typical. And when we encounter movements and ranges where our bodies or clothing feel restrictive, we tend to accept it as a fact of life and carry on without much notice.
But life is dynamic and varied, and just like the example of being able to defend yourself without notice, we must be prepared to improvise when we step on the proverbial banana peels life leaves in our paths: the icy patch at the bottom of the front stairs, the bus swerving to avoid a cyclist, etc…
When you’re loading cases of mayo and hand sanitizer into your glorified station wagon in the Costco parking lot and see one of those ginormous shopping carts rolling down the slope toward a kid intent on eating his $.99 hot dog, how quickly can you hurdle your own cart, sprint the twenty paces, and slow the runaway cart? Can you do it without tweaking your ankle or wrenching your shoulder?
None of these should require you to do a cartwheel or a split, but you might need to move in unexpected ways or to stretch in atypical directions. Without having spent some time developing your range of motion and control in transitional movements, these scenaria may pose a greater risk of twisting your ankle or breaking your neck.
That’s why we teach how to fall safely. Not because you should be falling all the time; because you never know when it might save you from injury.
We spend time exploring uncommon and challenging movements so we can improvise masterfully in normal situations.
This is what we mean when we say Physical Autonomy means always being up for whatever life throws at you.
Perception and Perversion
There’s this old debate in the fitness world about training for aesthetics vs training for performance.
In reality, it’s not a clear divide; It’s a continuum (and often a bit of a straw man). A lot of things billed as functional really aren’t. Likewise, how many “strong” people have you met who’ve injured themselves either in the gym or doing extremely mundane activities like moving a sofa?
But there’s a bigger issue at play…
Fitspo Porn is Hurting You
There’s a lot of legitimately creepy fetishism happening with the way Fitness Experts are expected to dress and look and act, and it’s not only unreasonable, it sets an unhealthy example for the people we’re supposedly “inspiring” with our beautifully spray-tanned six packs.
View this post on Instagram
The idea that every human needs to move and look like like a person whose literal profession is to train their bodies is flat-out stupid.
Trying to follow Mark Wahlberg’s daily routine won’t turn you into a jacked millionaire famous actor. Wearing Tom Brady’s pajamas won’t make you a pro quarterback. Doing a random workout or routine you see on the internet won’t make you move or look like the person you see doing that routine.
And that’s OK.
If Ryan walked into your office and tried to do your job, he’d have a hard time. If an InstaFit celeb tried to do the things you do as well as you do, they’d have a hard time.
Nobody can be good at everything. We all make choices in life, and we have to prioritize the things that are truly important to us. Ryan, and Jarlo, and I prioritize making programs and providing a certain experience for our clients. We don’t work out nearly as much as we used to, because our priorities have shifted from performing in our various activities to performing in our actual job of making GMB programs the most fun and effective training you can do for a broad base of physical skill.
You have your own priorities, and you’re probably very good at one or two things. At everything else, fitness included, you’ll probably end up somewhere in the mediocre range.
Our friend Steve Kamb says the only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday.
We sometimes wear jeans in videos. We also wear shirts.
Not only is the obsession with oiled six packs and shaved pecs a distraction from what really matters in your training, it’s unsubtly a bit gross. It’s reductive objectification, and it sexualizes something that should be about playing your own game rather than worrying about how you appear to others.
Is appearance important in modern society? Without a doubt.
Is a six pack an important indicator of fitness? No. And if, like us, you’ve already contributed to the gene pool, your fitness goals probably have more to do with taking care of your family than they do with looking super hot to attract more mates. Even in an evolutionary context, physique only gets you so far.
Maps vs Territory… Examples vs Methods
While Jarlo does actually (sometimes) do heavy squats in jeans and flip-flops, what we show in our videos and programs usually isn’t what we’re currently working on. We’ve been doing most of these movements for decades.
And when you think about it, wouldn’t you prefer that someone teaching a thing have as much experience with that thing as possible?
When Korzybski wrote that “the map is not the territory,” he meant to highlight the fact that representations (like a word or phrase) are not the same as the things they represent. In our context, you might say that the indicators of fitness are not the same as the attributes of fitness.
For us at GMB, it’s just as often that the reverse will be true: someone will see a video of us demonstrating the outcome of training and assume that the actual training method is just to try and mimic what they see in the video. It’s easy to see Ryan doing a movement flow and assume that doing movement flows is how you get to be strong and agile like Ryan.
Actually, you get there by doing a small number of very basic things.
Here’s another example:
Here Jarlo demonstrates how we use flexibility as a tool to be able to move the way we want – and need – to. It’s not about being able to do fancy tricks, but about being able to the things that are important to you.
See how Focused Flexibility (the program Jarlo references in this clip) can help you on that path:
Posted by GMB Fitness on Sunday, April 17, 2016
In this case, you might see the territory – Jarlo crawling around in some weird positions – and confuse it with a map, a training method. And indeed, we’ve gotten hundreds of requests to teach the “flow” in this video. But it’s not a flow. It’s not training. Jarlo made this up on the spot at a seminar to demonstrate how you might move if you have the range of motion to do so.
Very often, what we’re sharing are completely improvised examples of what you can do once you’ve done the training.
The training itself almost always looks very different, just like how roads don’t actually look like maps. You don’t learn to move the way Ryan does or Jarlo or any of our trainers by just trying to do the movements you see them performing.
We can do these things because we’ve invested time in developing the strength, flexibility, and control to do them. We’ve explored our capabilities and developed a certain amount of mastery around them. We know where we’re competent, and we know the edges of that competence. Within those boundaries, we can improvise with confidence. And since we also understand our limits, we can avoid a lot of common injuries, even as we push our boundaries.
We created our programs as maps, because simply describing the territory for you isn’t the same as you actually walking the path.
When you see Ryan doing some fluid, improvised movement combo in jeans, you have to understand that this (usually) isn’t a video of him actually training. When I show some beginner leg exercises in jeans and a sweater…
…I’m able to do those exercises (a couple of which I’d never tried before) easily because I’ve spent many years developing the ability to move my body freely in a variety of different ways.
Much of what you see us do in videos is trivial for us to perform casually because we’ve put in the work. Ryan can do fancy stuff because he’s got forty years of training experience. If you really want to move like him, you’re not going to get there by simply trying to break down his improvised movements and mimicking the results. Just like playing football won’t give you the body of a linebacker.
The map is not the territory.
Luckily, you don’t need forty years of training to be able to do most of what Ryan can do. When we started GMB, we put our heads together to distill the most effective parts of our combined experience while leaving out the unnecessary stuff that adds years of training time in something you may not be interested in.
If you wanna do Kung Fu or Capoeira or BJJ or Yoga or gymnastics, please do those things. GMB can accelerate your progress by supplementing your skill development with progressive work on your physical attributes. We love martial arts and have learned tons from the different styles of training we’ve explored through the years.
But if you just wanna live with more physical confidence and fewer limitations, our programs distill the fundamental practices of many movement disciplines into a much more direct curriculum without the cultural baggage.
Should You Work Out in Jeans?
Maybe. Maybe not.
We don’t think it’s that important of a question. Wear what you like.
But what is important is that you understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
- Fantasy is believing what you see on TV (or the internet).
- Reality is putting in the work so you can improvise in the real world (training and testing).
Either way, you’re a grown-ass adult, and we think it’s time you stop dressing like your mom is still buying your school clothes at JC Penny’s.
Upgrade Your Life with Clothes You Can Actually Move In
Let’s stop just a second to appreciate life in the 21st century.
Sure, all the paleo bros wanna go back to the caves and eat raw bison with sharpened sticks. And I fully believe that there’s a lot about modern life that’s problematic. We wear shoes that hurt our feet. We eat foods that cause disease. We ruin our eyesight and posture by sitting and staring at glowing screens for several hours a day.
But in return, we get ubiquitous access to all the world’s accumulated knowledge. We get geographical freedom to live just about anywhere on the globe. We get spicy chicken sandwiches, beer on tap, and a thousand songs in our pockets.
And, if we so choose, we get to wear clothes that both look good and allow freedom of movement with comfort.
Here’s some of our favorites:
- Jarlo says, “Revtown has been the best jeans for my big legs I’ve ever had that also look good.” Get $15 off
- In a lot of our videos, Ryan’s wearing Prana Jeans.
- I wear Betabrand jeans, which are sadly no longer made for men. BUT… Ladies, I’ve heard excellent things about their women’s jeans. Get $15 off
- We also have some thoughts about shoes.
- We’ve got your T-shirt and hoodie needs covered at the GMB Swag shop.
Though Ryan loves the Prana Jeans he bought a few years ago, they were kinda dicks when we got in touch to try and organize a coupon for you. So please don’t go out of your way to support them; Revtown seems like good people, and there’s probably plenty of other companies with good people making great clothes.
The choice is yours. You can buy and wear clothes that let you live how you wanna live, or you can let your clothes determine what’s possible for your body to do.
If you’re ready to join us in breaking free of the cult of Instagram fitness, we’re here to help.
It’s your life: Wear what you like. Move how you like.
You shouldn’t have to wear special clothes to do the things you can do. And though we also have shorts and sweats and other clothes we wear while working out, we don’t believe in the strict division between “training” and “life” – it’s all part of the same whole.
Check out our programs to build an integrated, individual movement practice that expands what you can do in the real world.