I’ve always been proud to tell people that I’m self-coached. Two elite powerlifting totals and a natural bodybuilding pro card felt like even greater accomplishments when I could add that little tidbit on the end. I did it, all by myself. The training, the nutrition, the accountability- those victories were mine, just mine.
What an arrogant asshole. Can you believe me? Really, wow.
Of course those accomplishments were mine!
Even if I had had a coach, they’d have been mine! That’s the thing about both powerlifting and bodybuilding: anyone can participate, and anyone can do well, with good training and nutrition, to an extent. But some people are genetically just made for a sport, through no doing of their own. Most people will never attain a truly elite lifting status- which is why it is considered elite. Most people will not create a pro-level physique. That’s why the pros get to be pros. Some people just have a genetic advantage in these areas. A person with a natural aptitude who bungles their way along will eventually surpass someone who does everything right- hires an expensive trainer who uses all the most up to date evidence based coaching practices, fuels themselves properly, recovers well- but who doesn’t have the right leverages or insertions, in spite of their doing everything right. Those people become the guy who your coworker’s friend knows who did that thing that got him super jacked in spite of what the research shows, so it must work, right? Anyhow, I was nowhere near bungling my way along, these past four years. I had hours, days, weeks of research conducted, data collected on myself, years of trial and error. My methodologies were solid. I had more than a little natural aptitude. And I accomplished a lot.
But how much more COULD I have accomplished? I wonder this every single day. If my own arrogance hadn’t stood in my way, how much stronger could I have gotten in those early years? How much better of a physique, with a little guidance?
But I also was consumed by doing it. By creating spreadsheets- I spent entire weekends just adjusting numbers in boxes, second guessing myself, analyzing the tiniest little fluctuations in weight, cutting carbs, second guessing how many grams of fat I should eat next week. Doing tedious calculations to make 2% changes that would amount to next to nothing, but I would stick to them religiously. I lost sleep, going over my work from the day again, again, again, obsessively. And yeah, it got me the results I wanted at the time. But I was wracked by the anxiety of knowing that if I fucked things up, it was me to blame. I was plagued by the weight of knowing that I was losing objectivity, and the ability to make sound, rational decisions as fear became the driver.
I will never say that coaching myself for those years was a mistake; I learned more about myself, about my body, than most people ever will have the opportunity to do. The countless spreadsheets in my Google Drive and the filled notebooks I still keep in my old gym bag are full of important and useful data to reflect on. Sleep, food, supplements, mood, cardio, lifting, it’s all there. All stored away in ink and in the cloud and in my mind to tap into, informing my decisions to ensure my continued success.
But last year, the day after I competed for the first time as a 132, earning my second elite total (despite having a less than stellar meet), I hired my first coach. I didn’t even waffle about it, it wasn’t a hard decision at all. I knew I would hire him the day of the meet, and I knew that he would be an overall positive contributor to the quality of my life as an athlete and as a human.
I had worked with Derek for a few sessions back in 2014, leading up to my second powerlifting meet, just for a few sessions to clean up some of the technical issues I had faced in my first meet- knee collapse in my squat, a weak as shit bench, you know. I was still steadfastly married to the idea that I did not need a coach, just a little coaching here and there. He helped me a ton, and we stayed in contact off and on. He coached my friend Megan and I would come lift with them on occasion, and he handled my meet attempts for me at a meet in in 2016 as well. And when I asked him for to do my bench handoffs at the Metroflex this summer, he jumped in immediately, giving me a few pointers on my warm-ups, and generally just taking on the role of my coach that day. That was the support I needed. And so I hired him right away.
I could have never foreseen just how beneficial that act would be for me.
When I went to talk to him and set up programming, he agreed to take me on as an athlete under one condition: no dieting. None. No talking about dieting. Just lift. Get strong. He asked for a year committment, but with an already planned and looming bodybuilding season coming up, we compromised with seven months.
And I made good on that promise. I got strong as fuck, and technically better on every single lift. I hit my first 300-plus pound squat (though a knee wiggle at the start of the lift meant it didn’t count in the meet), worked my way through a disc herniation, and added nearly 30 pounds to my bench during the time I worked with Derek. But more than that, the no dieting rule, which he held me to, gave me time to work through years of accumulated diet fatigue and the fucked up relationship that three back to back bodybuilding seasons of meticulous tracking had left me with. During that time, I won’t lie, I packed on a few pounds. I struggled for a while. But as I found my balance, some of the weight came back off, and I settled into a place where I was comfortable with my body, feeling strong and sexy, lifting like a beast, and living and happy life without the stresses I had come to associate with being an athlete.
Letting go of the decision-making process freed my mind up for so many other things. I became a very active participant in my teacher’s union- taking on a leadership role in some committee work and going to conferences. I became a better teacher, as I was able to dedicate more time to being creative in my planning with less time spend analyzing and deciding. It was so freeing to walk into the gym and know that what was on my spreadsheet had been created, just for me, by someone who knew my strength, and my abilities, and that what was written there was absolutely possible, not just some algorithm or a guess. It made me confident, even when the work was murderously difficult, to know that Derek wrote it there, specifically for me. He convinced my to give Strongman a try, just for fun, and compete in my first sanctioned event in October, where I placed second in the lightweight class after about 5 weeks of body and soul crushing training (pays to be just regular strong, the rest can be learned if you have a good base).
And it turned out, it was unbelievably motivating to hear my coach say, simply, “good job.” I lived to make my coach happy. It was such a change, from having lifted alone for years, no teammates, no coach to cheer for me, or to really give a single fuck. And every Sunday, I would go to his house for team lifting, and I would spend hours in the gym talking and laughing and lifting and not wanting to kill a single person (unlike literally any other time I’ve had to talk inside of a gym.)
Not to discount y’all. You’ve been the best cheerleaders and confidants, but a real life person who was proud of me? I had never felt it before. And I loved it.
We closed out our time together- I pre-planned separation, with bodybuilding requiring different things than Derek was able to provide- by cancelling a December meet that I had prepped for, at the last-minute due to the aforementioned disc herniation- a dumb injury I had sustained at the end of October trying to prove something to myself about deficit RDLs like a jackass. My recovery was pretty speedy, thanks to Derek and a team of other professionals I hired to take me out of my intense misery, but it wasn’t fast enough or complete enough to go through with a meet that was a just-for-fun meet. We chose to focus, instead, on my January meet, the LA Fit Expo, and to hit that healthy and strong. I showed up as good as I could, hit some PRs, took last place (lol I should have seen that coming- fit expos are not for people who are pretty strong, the promoters are looking for the FREAKS to show up and cause a scene. Natural bodybuilders are not the target powerlifter demographic), cried, took a hit on my Wilks, and wrapped up a still very, very successful powerlifting season. I told him I’d be back for more in a few months.
Almost immediately, I started with my new coach. Months before, I had applied with 3DMJ for contest prep coaching. They were my first, second, and third choices. There was no backup choice. The team is the top name in natural bodybuilding, and I had used so much of their free and readily available information to run my own preps. I’ve linked to their resources on SRS many times- and if you don’t follow them on Youtube, Facebook, their blog, all of the coaches’ Instagrams, and listen to their podcast, you’re missing out on some of the best information you can get your hands on for free.I felt like I had won the lottery when they approved my application, and then placed me on Brad’s coaching roster for the season.
When you apply, you don’t get to pick which of their coaches you work with- they decide based on who has rom on their roster, and which coach you’ll work best with from there. It felt right to be placed with Brad, because I had met him in July 2016, backstage at the Mayhem in the morning. I was killing time making friends, and I recognized him, and he (to my shock) recognized me. I literally wrote about this encounter, because it meant so much to me! Later in the evening, as I was freaking out backstage about to go up and compete for the overall and pro title, he DMed me to tell me to calm down, I already had this:
So it just felt RIGHT to be working with him, and he remembered it as well, and said the same when we did our Skype consultation.
I’ve been working with him for 12 weeks now, and he’s given me a lot of freedom based on the fact that I simply know how my body goes. For the first five weeks, I was eating intuitively, tracking, but not with any specific macro goals to hit daily, and it has been amazing to have my coach ask so many questions, my input and experiences, before making decisions. Losing autonomy was perhaps my biggest fear in entering into a coaching relationship, and Brad has absolutely not let that happen, while also not allowing me to steer myself off a cliff.
This has been by far the easiest, most productive year as an athlete I’ve ever had, thanks to Derek and Brad. Derek helped me get my head on straight and build some ridiculous quads, always keeping my bodybuilding goals in mind as he programmed me to get strong as hell, and without him, I wouldn’t have been in anywhere near as good of shape as I was to begin this diet. Despite being heavier than I’ve ever started a contest prep (138), I was also at a much better body composition. I came to Brad really early, 28 weeks prior to the first show in a long season, so we’ve been able to take things slow. Having his objective eye, positive feedback, and decision-making has made such a drastic difference in my stress and anxiety levels surrounding this season. I’m not losing sleep over spreadsheets anymore! Now I plug in my data, and I have time to read a book before I go to sleep- incredible, truly.
I honestly believe that this will be my best season on stage yet, and all because I turned 30, told my ego to take a seat, and let go of a little control. No world-class athlete has done everything themselves, and why should I have ever thought I was so damn special.