It is not possible to play professional basketball forever. Heck, most of us can only dream of keeping up with professional basketball players in a pickup game. But even the pros have to stop at some point. Baltimore-raised Gerard Burley, aka Coach G, played professional basketball in Italy before returning to the States to earn a master’s degree in sports and exercise and eventually open one of DC’s most popular fitness studios: Sweat. We spoke to the athlete and coach about the professional game, therapy and cookies. It turns out that cookies are encouraged.
InsideHook: Your path to owning and operating a gym and becoming a fitness trainer was not a straight line. Most people who work in this world think of themselves as athletes. You actually played professional basketball in Italy before moving to DC. How much of those basketball years are useful for your studies?
Gerard Burley: mine [pro basketball] years have been fun, competitive, humbling and empowering, so I think I incorporate all of that into our learning style and the vibe of the Sweat DC program. The thing I remember most is being an immigrant for the first time and in a space where everyone spoke the language and I didn’t. Most times I didn’t know what my coach or my teammates were talking about, which made the gregarious G very shy and self-conscious. This experience has made me extremely compassionate towards people in general, but especially towards those dealing with English as a second or third language.
Do you ever miss playing abroad? Is there anything like this in DC?
Do I miss you? Every day! Basketball was my second love after butter pecan ice cream of course. We got to wake up every day and play a game with a group of the coolest teammates. Also, I got to travel and experience real Italy versus expat life. I think the biggest thing I enjoyed was having dinner at my teammate’s grandmother’s house and feeling very included, like part of the family. My Roman teammates honestly culturally reminded me of my family and black people in general. It showed me that we have more in common than we differ.
Your classes are unlike any other classes I have attended and definitely unlike anything you would see in a Peloton class. Are you making an effort to recruit people who might not otherwise step foot in the gym?
Well, thank you for saying that. I’d rather create the wave than ride it. Honestly, we just embrace the differences and lean into the authenticity. Working at Sweat requires you to do the work and unlearn to find your most confident, authentic self. By having a team that embodies this, we can enable our clients, who we call Sweat Stars, to find their most confident version of themselves. Our “come as you are” attitude allows many people who don’t feel welcome or confident elsewhere to feel at home at Sweat.
Are you as busy as you were before the pandemic? Not necessarily in terms of classes or clients, but the perception of being busy?
To be real with you, my relationship with work before the pandemic was a very unhealthy period, so through the delay of the pandemic and with a lot of therapy, I made some changes in my life to make it more sustainable. With that said, I’m a con artist at heart and I love what I do and who I work with, so I still hit it pretty hard.
You are open to your therapy social media channels. When you started working in fitness more than a decade ago, did you think mental health would normalize so much?
I don’t even think I knew what mental health was when I started, so there’s no way – but I’m so happy to see the change. I had an emotional and physical breakdown from burnout that almost took me off this planet, so I thank God every day for my therapist who literally saved my life. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did, so I’m passionate about mentoring and training fitness professionals to give them tools to navigate work and real life. I also know that everyone goes through something and I hope to contribute to making this industry more human-centered as a holistic vessel. Trainers are healers, but healers also need healers.
I know you love cookies. Are “healthy” cookies ever good, or if you’re going to eat a cookie, should you just eat a cookie?
Just eat the cookie. Full sugar, full fat, full deliciousness! I usually find that when people are trying to make a change, they focus on the extraordinary things in their lives and ignore the big issues. Honestly, the name of the game is calories in and calories out. Processed meals tend to pack in a bunch of extra calories but have low nutritional value, so your body craves nutrients and tells you “feed me more,” which causes people to overeat. I tell people to drink half their body weight in ounces of water, eat three to four whole, unprocessed meals a day, and then if you’re still craving it, eat the cookie. Water and real food usually do all the average person needs to meet their goals and stay healthy.
how are your knees Reverse?
[Laughs] Now it’s the hip. My knees hurt a bit, but my hip is the latest casualty of the many sports and I’m about to turn 40. My mind drifted to more longevity training. I have a chiropractor, a trainer, a massage therapist, a physical therapist, and a physical therapist, so I’m working on being mobile for the next 40 to 50 years.
Is burley your real last name? It either seems too good to be true or you were destined to work in the gym.
Oh yeah honey, I come from a long line of nasty Burleys. We Burleys are made to live big and bold, so Burley is not a physical thing. It’s a way of life.
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