The journey has been long. Someone seasoned with training experience would know body composition is difficult. At some points through the journey, you believe you’re as strong or shredded as you’ll ever be. You keep moving forward and finding new ways to challenge yourself and set higher goals, though.
In the short form, it's taken me about 9 years to get where I am today; The last 3 years to really comprehend what I am doing in the gym and make effecient/effective choices and the last 7 months to expedite my growth to unprecedented levels.
As I walk you through this journey, I hope to convey to you the different levels of expertise and understanding you can start implementing. Know that training is a consistent learning curve with new information coming out daily and though growth is bound to happen by simply putting in the work, my goal, and the goal of trainers, is to find the best ways to approach the gym through body, mind and spirit.
Where to start …I know! It began when everything in my little world wasn’t working out for me. Obsessed with baseball and going to college in Elgin, Illinois USA, my coach was promised a 6’4” 210lbs 94mph throwing right-handed pitcher that would lead his team to victory. Instead, he received a 6’4” 170lbs 82mph throwing right-hander that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn door (there was a little exaggeration from my previous coach about my abilities as a baseball player.) Safe to say, I didn’t get the starting role I desired and, in fact, got demoted to the junior varsity team where we played a total of 4 games that year. Did I mention I received a $34,000 scholarship based on that glowing review of my abilities from my previous coach? Fell a little short of those expectations.
This is where I began working out. Stuck in Illinois - where you can see your dog run away for 3-days - I didn’t have much else to do but study, practice and work out. My coach was obsessed with CrossFit at the time and he put us on a strength-building routine, that was the first time I was put onto a program with a goal in mind. Prior to that, all my coaches just moved us around for the sake of moving us around.
Most people in the gym don’t have a goal in mind OR they have too many goals in mind. The full effect of this lesson wouldn’t really hit home until years later for me, but it was the first time someone else had set a path for me and one that was aimed at accomplishing my goals.
Different plans achieve different goals. Don’t just move around for the sake of moving around.
This was also the first time I actually started seeing growth in my body. I remember looking in the mirror one day and having to double-take when I realized how big my legs had gotten.
As good as it was to be on a plan, I was repeating the same things over and over again for months, with no change in variation and minimizing my growth potential (another thing I wouldn’t realize until I started learning more about training.)
Fast forward after college. I had done the best I could in building muscle, even lifting 500lbs on my deadlift my junior year. I had to maintain a certain level of flexibility in my upper body and, as a result, had an underdeveloped upper body compared to my lower body.
I was now in the real world and I wanted the aesthetic appeal of more muscles and bigger size. I begin working out as the traditional gym-goer would: too many days spent in the gym, overload of pre-workout, and a nauseating sense of trying to outdo myself every time I went to the gym.
I was training 5-days a week for maybe 2-3hours at a time. No thought about time under tension, rest intervals, proper nutrition, partying on the weekends, switching workouts up every day, repeating poor mesocycles, etc, etc.
Frustrated with the results I wasn’t getting, I looked to update my program, and who else to ask better than Google. I came across a basic article about building muscle and it suggested I simply do 4x4 sets and looked to add weight each week. It was small in comparison to volume and reps than I was used to doing, but I decided to give it a try.
The results were FANTASTIC. For the first time, I was recording weights, implementing progressive overload and focusing on the form and function of each exercise. Check out these gains.
I was adding weight consistently and seeing the results physically. That’s when I fell in love with strength training and was convinced it was the only way for me.
If you aren’t recording your weights, you don’t really have a sense of where you’re going. The scary part is that everyone knows this and still doesn’t keep a ledger. I know trainers that don’t keep a ledger of their clients or their own workouts. They just have a sense of their 1RPM and make educated decisions on which weight they should use for that day. That’s no Bueno in the world of gains.
At this point, I was seeing positive progress and loving it. It was around this time that I also decided to make a go at it for training others. Still an infant in the world of workout knowledge, I was leaning into powerlifting and focusing more on compound movements through my 4x4 programming and would get others to do the same.
Just like any business, I had a lot of learning to do if I was to get better and make my programming more inclusive for everyone. I was hungry though, and I dedicated myself to learning and bettering my craft.
I won’t lie to you. There were things I was doing with my clients that I look back on at think, “Why in the living hell would I have done that/thought that would work for them?” I can probably think back 6 months ago and still say that’s true.
Life is a series of trials and errors that help us determine the most effective paths. We have to be willing to see what works and what doesn’t. Especially in the health and fitness industry, it seems like something new comes out every month about a workout technique or research study about how bad exercise “x” is just for it to be contradicted 6 months later. There is ALWAYS something better or worse out there.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish I had known these things earlier as it would have aided my training tremendously and who knows where I would be right now. Different modalities and exercises elicit different results, so as you find your groove, you have to determine what you really want from the gym. Going through different phases will promote slumps and peaks of motivation.
Something that got me out of a slump only a little while ago was the discovery of strength sensei Charles Poliquin. This man has been around since the 70’s, making a name for himself as the world’s best strength coach and I had never heard of him until now! He helped me think of training differently and being inclusive of nutrition, supplementation, sleep, time on electronics, focus, business, and much more. This man is like Stephen Hawkins of working out - total intellectual. This led me to my next big discovery:
Now, you may say, but Daniel, how have you never clued into this fact? I had been aware that nutrition was important, but I would say things such as, make sure you aren’t eating junk food, making sure you’re eating on a consistent schedule, watch out for the weekends, and so on. I believed I ate healthily and I would eat more if I was trying to put on weight and eat less if I wasn’t.
I attempted to count calories and be on top of my macros but it didn’t seem to work for me. I would get overwhelmed and bored because I didn't want to count everything I made or ate.
Charles Poliquin led me to understand the body's reactions to different foods, macros, and how that affected the whole training process. And boy, did it help my training process.
I got rid of my late afternoon crashes, felt more energetic, more focused, clear, I started seeing quicker results from my training and took the time to understand what I best adapted to when it came to training. Taking into consideration my likes, dislikes, how my body reacted, and what would be proven to give me the greatest results.
I combined all of this information and began packaging it towards my own clients, and they saw results! Some greater than they have ever seen!
So after a total of 9 years, I am now just arriving at a place where my training has culminated to a peak. I feel stronger, healthier, confident, I am more muscular, accomplishing more goals, prioritizing less, learning more, educating others - even other trainers - and still have room to grow.
This isn’t the end. Not by a long shot. I believe I can bring down a couple of my PBs and gain more aesthetic desires at the same time. I keep an open mind, and who knows, maybe I’ll be looking back 6 months from now and say, “what was I doing then?!”
The goal is just to keep learning, keep trying, and keep seeking new information. Find out what works best for you and have scientific backing as to why that is the case because if you don’t know why something is working, then it may not be the true reason why you’re feeling better and there could be a better method out there for you.
This last lesson is all about moving forward. Though people may ask me how long it took to get to the position I am now, I am wondering how long it will take me to reach the goals I want. All we have to do is keep things simple and move forward.
The path may seem long and daunting but things will compound over time and you will see the culmination of your efforts. Stay true to yourself and consistent in the times that seem the toughest and I guarantee you will get where you want to. Better yet, you will learn new lessons about yourself and be a better person for it.