I have always been inspired by gymnasts, who seem to defy gravity. When I started strengthening my own body, the first methods I used were based on gymnastics bodyweight movements: handstand pushups, pistol squats, jumps, dives, rolls, and pullups.
However, it was always difficult to program a good bodyweight routine, and I spent years making progress then stalling, revising my approach, moving forward, stalling, etc. Most resources assume that if you’re going to use the same movements as gymnasts, you must train as intensely as gymnasts, regardless of your goals. The programs were either too demanding, required too much time, or were absurdly complicated. It was a frustrating process, and the simplicity of barbell training was very tempting.
So when I found Gold Medal Bodies, I got really excited. They specifically addressed the fact that, while gymnasts take these training methods to extremes for their sport, the movements and programs themselves don’t need to be so difficult for the average person. In fact, Gold Medal Bodies (GMB) emphasized that they don’t provide gymnastic training but rather draw from gymnastics (as well as yoga and martial arts).
Their attitude towards training also mirrored my own: useful, holistic, comprehensive, not self-destructive, and fun. They really stress integrity of movement and body control, and consolidating strength exercises into applicable skills. Generally, I think they are one of the best things to happen to training. I downloaded their free handstand tutorial and in 1 week found myself finally getting a solid handstand, after 3 years of shaky results.
I was determined to try out GMB’s main training programs, and after mentioning it in my book, The Warrior Spirit Principles of Holistic Health, they offered me my choice of program, so here is the review after my first two weeks.
What You Get
GMB divides their training into levels, with each level having three realms: Rings, Floor, and Parallettes (at the moment, only Parallettes goes beyond Level 1). I chose Floor 1 because it puts an emphasis on hand balancing (to master my handstand), includes some leg work, and can be done anywhere with no equipment. All of the programs are decidedly minimalist: Rings 1 only requires a pair of hanging rings and a place to hang them, and Parallettes 1 & 2 require a pair of parallettes (miniature parallel bars), which are portable.
The download came with an introduction, a document on the fundamentals, a program manual explaining the training protocols and programming, the daily workouts themselves as printable worksheets, and tons of videos showing all the movements. This is not like most weight training routines with 3-7 movements. You will learn a lot of new things. There is a movement library with all the exercises, as well as compilation videos showing all the movements for each workout in one sequence, which was really helpful. There are also videos explaining the warmup and the stretches.
Additionally, there are supplementary modules for special skills, like the planche and v-sit. I haven’t started those yet because I have enough to do with the core program, but they are available.
The program itself is divided into four phases: Strength building, Skill Building, Flow Acquisition, and Flow Mastery. The first phase develops the strength so you can learn the skills properly. Once you’ve learned the individual skills, you start learning how to chain them together, in order to learn how to adapt to different kinds of movements on the fly. Once you’ve learned the sequences of the flow (sort of like a karate form or kata), then you spend time mastering it to refine body control.
It took me a while to figure out where everything was, but that’s only because there was so much of it. They make every effort to ensure that you know exactly what to do and how to do it.
If you still have questions (which I did), you have access to the trainers via the web portal. My question was answered promptly. They make themselves reachable.
- Comprehensive: The GMB programs include a really amazing warmup that is gently invigorating. The workout movements challenge you in all areas, from strength, to conditioning, to balance. Every workout includes a flexibility training portion at the end. It covers all bases.
- Keeps Things Simple: One of the biggest strengths of GMB is that they don’t try to be everything to everyone. That attitude is reflected in the F1 program. This is not a HIIT program, a size building program, or a strongman program. It is specifically a skills based strength and mobility program with an emphasis on body control. They pick a few key movements and you are expected to master just those. Later, you can try something else, but by keeping things simple and focused, you can see progress quickly and avoid the distractions inherent in trying to do too much at once.
- Structured: In bodyweight training, structure is key because sometimes progress can be blurry or hard to measure. This program is VERY structured. You know exactly what you’re aiming for, how to get there, and what it looks like.
- Focus on Mobility: A focus on strength is missing from modern training methods, and you spend the first 5 weeks building your strength in the GMB program. That said, strength without mobility cannot be easily applied, and mobility/flexibility training tends to be given short shrift by many people. GMB places a huge emphasis on it. The warmup is pure mobility drills, and every day includes flexibility training in the form of stretches. Doing these regularly has completely eliminated tightness in my hips and lower back that have plagued me all through high school cross country, college martial arts, two years of CrossFit, and the last year of my own programming. The warmup is also among the best I’ve ever seen in terms of preparing your joints and body for exertion.
- Ample rest: Every third day is a rest day, either in the form of an easy flexibility workout, or complete rest.
- Challenging: The workouts are simple, but they are still hard enough to be enjoyable and spur growth. They involve new and unusual movements that challenge your body control and simple strength.
- Approachable: GMB has managed to find some really great progressions to make movements more accessible to more people. Many other resources I’ve seen make jumps that, to a gymnast, seem small but which are actually really extreme. GMB’s progressions immediately struck me as well thought-out and accessible to all.
- Scalable: The F1 workouts can be scaled easily. The movement library includes beginner and intermediate versions of all the exercises, and the programming provides ranges of sets and reps, so you can tailor the workout to your level of fitness.
- Based on personal assessment: Knowing when to make things harder is always a tricky part of a training program. Either you move up when you can simply complete a movement, after a certain amount of time regardless of actual progress, or you simply feel it out. GMB, on the other hand, provides a rating system for personal impression. Every workout, you rate your perceived effort, discomfort, and technique from 1-10. When these numbers fall within certain ranges, you move up. Thus, you learn to read yourself, but you still have a solid criteria for knowing when to progress. In my opinion, it’s probably the most innovative and important aspect of the program.
- Teaches theory: Because this is a home-study course and because it is so reliant on personal assessment, GMB goes to great lengths to make sure you understand the rationale behind the programming. They want you to be able to make your own decisions. I’m a huge fan of personally directing your own development, so this scores points with me. READ THE MANUAL!
- You’re Doing GYMNASTICS!: OK, they probably don’t want me to use that term, but the coolest thing about this program is that it teaches you some pretty amazing skills: handstands, bent-arm holds, cartwheels, single leg squats, etc. Way cooler than standing up with a heavy barbell.
Most of the cons are flip sides of the pros; it’s generally a really well-designed program.
- Long: GMB claims to present a gymnastic program for the average person with a day job whose life doesn’t revolve around exercising. To that end, they claim to keep their workouts 20-60 minutes long. I have never spent less than 90 minutes on the F1 workouts except on recovery days. To be fair, I’m using the highest recommended number of sets and reps, so if you went with the minimums, you’d finish much faster, and I get the impression that the next phases actually take much less time than the strength building phase. You also don’t have to actually go to the gym; I just roll out of bed, drink a glass of water, and start. GMB also calls for training 6 days a week, which is 3 more days than most novice barbell programs, but I think people should be active everyday, even if it’s less than convenient, so I have no problem with this.
- Unclear points of progression: Two things that make this a great program–the small jumps in progressions and the personal assessment of progress–can also be potentially problematic. While I love the reliance on personal assessment of one’s progress, I didn’t feel the program was clear on how many reps/sets to add. Also, the lines between progressions are a bit blurry because the jumps are so small. I wasn’t clear if some movements in the video were meant as progressions or a way to ease into the movement. You will need to rely on your own judgement and hold yourself accountable.
- No wiggle room: I love how structure F1 is, but there’s a downside: F1 offers very little in terms of flexibility of training. You either follow the program or you don’t. The program is divided into three phases, with tests at the end of each phase and set time frames. There is no explanation in the manual of what to do if I fail at the testing standards. My impression is that if you fail at them, you probably tried to use progressions that were too difficult for your level. Because the program is so finely-tuned, missing a workout isn’t an option, nor are there any explanations of what do do if you should miss a workout or simply cannot do a movement for whatever reason.
- Starting Options May be Too Hard: Like any training program, F1 is not appropriate for all ability levels. However, some of the movements seemed like they might be impossible to do for people who might otherwise be considered in fair shape. Of course, very simple progressions are provided, but these end up being so simplistic as to seem boring, so I’m not sure how motivating they will be. (GMB does have a Fundamentals Program for those who are really just getting started with exercise).
Based on how great the team is, I’m sure all of the issues I saw with the program could be resolved with a quick e-mail, but I wanted to give a review simply of what you get in the program itself and my impressions.
So far, I love it! The workouts can move a little slow at times compared to the more dynamic workouts I’m used to from CrossFit, parkour, or my experiments with MovNat, but they are much more engaging and comprehensive than any comparable barbell routine. I’ve already seen a ton of progress in my mobility, coordination, and balance, as well as integrity in certain positions that used to be very weak for me. I don’t think my squat or deadlift have increased (though I haven’t tested), but I can already tell I’m gaining strength in more ranges of motion than before, with the result that I’m becoming even more agile, mobile, and adaptable. It’s also nice not being wiped out for the entire day by a workout.
And, of course, Floor 1 is just way more fun than the other programs I’ve done. It combines the expressive movements of gymnastics and yoga with the structure of a barbell program, so I get the best of both worlds. As a fitness program, it blows anything else I’ve seen out of the water because it focuses on cultivating a connection to your body and moving with integrity and intention; it doesn’t just seek to beat you up or make you monster strong with no skill.
It is also a truly innovative program. I think a lot of other programs, including weight-based ones, would benefit by applying the principles in the GMB training methods. Keep an eye out for these guys because they are definitely going to make a big impact on the way people approach movement and relate to their bodies (fitness training seems too narrow an idea for GMB’s approach).
I’ll report in again with shorter posts (sorry) when I get to the skill and flow phases, and of course at the conclusion of the program.