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Dan Stephenson
How I Became a Competitive Powerlifter and Performance Coach

Dan Stephensons Stats When We Talked with Him πŸ’ͺ

United States
31 years
170 cm
(5 ‘7)
100 kg
(220 lbs)

Follow Dan on Instagram and YouTube

πŸ‘‹ Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training

Hey guys! My name is Dan Stephenson and I am 31 years old. I was born in Ipswich, England, and now reside in Redmond, WA, and work as a Performance Coach out of a large private gym.

My wife and I share the same career and passion for the fitness industry and work together at the same facility. We both began competing in powerlifting 7 years ago. Although she is much more competitive than I am in the sport, I do take some credit for her success as her primary coach ????.

I began training at age 12 and was mostly focused on hypertrophy and aesthetics initially before I began chasing numbers in the squat, bench, and deadlift.

Like a lot of lifters, I was drawn to the bodybuilding physiques in the magazines and always wanted to obtain that superhero-like mystique of being jacked, lean, and athletic. Which is also why I’m a big fan of cosplay.

I become enthralled with strength and performance as I got older and realized I was not one for putting on a banana hammock, oiling up, and flexing on stage (no offense to those that do, much respect!).

My personal best lifts are 640lb squat with knee wraps, 407lb bench press, and a 635lb deadlift at 216lb bodyweight in competition.

Outside of lifting, I prefer to be outdoors for my aerobic conditioning training. Living in the Pacific Northwest, there are a plethora of great trails to explore.

I enjoy traveling the world and have summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, journeyed through Salkantay Trek to Machu Pichu in Peru, and climbed the rock-faced walls on Raleigh Beach in Thailand, to name a few adventures.

⏱ Describe a typical day of training

I split my week into four primary strength workouts

A typical day of training for me begins around late morning to noon, after training my morning clients and getting in a couple of meals.

I split my week into four primary strength workouts, two for upper body and two for lower body.

I give myself 72 hours rest between training the same muscle groups. This breaks down to be a lower body on Mondays and Thursdays, and upper body on Tuesdays and Fridays.

I will have 1-2 additional training days that are primarily conditioning based or miniature strength workouts depending on what phase of training I am in on my competition schedule.

Each primary session generally last about 90 minutes, sometimes longer as I prepare for a competition.

The additional training days vary between 20 min to hours if I am out hiking. That leaves me with 1-2 rest days per week, where I might do some recovery focused modalities or nothing at all

I follow a conjugate approach to training in which I train two heavy sessions per week (one upper, one lower) and two lighter speed or repetition focused days (one upper, one lower).

On the heavy days, also known as Max Effort (ME), I will build up to a top set of 1-5 reps in a primary lift (usually a variation of a squat, bench, or deadlift) that will vary week to week in a monthly rotation.

Once the top set is achieved, I will have 1-2 primary accessories that are targeted at training weak links and are performed heavy but sub-maximal and for slightly higher repetitions (5-10 usually).

Following the primary accessories, I will have lighter assistance exercises that are also targeted on building up weaker muscle groups and done typically in a higher rep fashion (12+).

The lighter, speed or repetition focused days are similar in the flow of the heavier ME day except the primary lift is done either with an emphasis on rate of force development, also known as Dynamic Effort (DE), or for volume, also known as Repetition Effort (RE).

The DE days are generally done in a fashion of 8-12 sets of 1-3 reps of light to moderate weights with accommodative resistance (bands and/or chains) with short rest periods (30-60 sec).

The RE days are more typical of what you might see in most gyms in which sets are generally 6-12 reps with moderate loads.

πŸ‘Š How do you keep going and push harder?

It is not always about what you can do, but what you can recover from.

I enjoy it. Training has always been a passion of mine even when I played sports through school. I enjoyed the training process more than I enjoyed playing sports.

Having a competition, sport, or a date on the calendar that you must perform on has always been a great push for my training.

Motivation is fleeting. If you are relying on motivation to get you to the gym each day than you are going to have a difficult time.

What keeps me going and training hard is having a passion for what I do. It is also my career.

I am a coach and I must practice what I preach, and I owe to my athletes and clients to be as knowledgeable as I can be to provide them with the best services that I can offer. It also helps that my wife is in the same field as I am and shares the same passion.

Through intelligent training we have both been able to stay consistent and injury free. It is not always about what you can do, but what you can recover from.

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Take your de-loads seriously, get good sleep, be reasonable with your expectations, and become a student of the game. There is always something or someone to learn from.

πŸ† How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Right now, I am lucky to be able to train. Upon writing this, we are amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the gyms are closed.

Thankfully, I have been slowly building up a home gym in my garage which allows me to train almost as normal.

As for the future, I plan to continue to compete in powerlifting and see how far I can progress. I plan to continue to my career in coaching and continue to learn from experience, peers, clients, books, podcasts, seminars, etc.

I’d like to continue traveling the world and experience other cultures.

πŸ€• How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?

As mentioned earlier, intelligent training has kept me injury free and allowing me to continue training. I might get a tweak here and there but nothing that has been a major setback.

I put a lot of focus on my sleep. I try to get at least 8 hours a night and keep to a similar sleep/wake time even on the weekends.

One of the biggest blessings about the β€œstay-at-home” order is the ability to get even more sleep. I find myself averaging 9 hours a night currently and can tell a difference both physically and mentally.

In addition to focusing on getting regular, quality sleep, I am also a big fan of regular sauna use and cold-water immersion/cold showers.

I generally utilize them both separately on a regular basis and when will sometimes use hot/cold contrast therapy closer to a competition as I feel it works better than either done individually.

One thing to be careful with when implementing recovery techniques is that they are not to be overdone or they can lose their novel stimulus to promote the recovery adaptation you might be seeking.

It is also important to consider when in a training cycle you utilize such tools as the inflammatory response to exercise is a factor that drives the adaptation from training.

If you are always trying to blunt the inflammation, you could potentially be limiting your progress.

I am also a big fan of regular bodywork such as massage. I prefer shiatsu as it tends to be less invasive and does not interfere with upcoming training sessions as deep tissue can do.

🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?

My diet is basic, and I do not follow any diet specifically. My diet mostly resembles Stan Efferding’s Vertical Diet in which I eat a lot of same foods that are suggested to cover your micronutrient consumption and I tend to eat a fair amount of steak and rice.

I will typically do a limited fast of 12-14 hours at least once per week in a small effort to work on metabolic flexibility.

πŸ‘ What has inspired and motivated you?

I love training and I love learning. There have been a lot of books and individuals that have been an inspiration or influencing in my training. Some of the top books that have been the most influential to me are the following:

  • Science and Practice of Strength Training – Vladimir M Zatsiorsky
  • Triphasic Training – Cal Dietz
  • Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods – Christian Thibaudeau

Some of the most influential podcasts that I follow:

  • Westside Barbell Podcast
  • Beyond the Platform/ Coaches’ Corner – Tony Montgomery
  • Just Fly Performance Podcast – Joel Smith

Here are only some of the most influential people in the industry that I learn from (and their Instagram handles):

  • Matt Wenning (@realmattwenning)
  • Louie Simmons (@westsidebarbellofficial)
  • Josh Bryant (@jailhousestrong)
  • Joe Defranco (@defrancosgym)
  • Christian Thibaudeau (@thibarmy)
  • Joel Jamieson (@coachjoeljamieson)
  • John Rusin (@drjohnrusin)
  • Charles Poliquin (rest in peace)
  • Tasha Whelan (@ironwolf03)

In no particular order and definitely not an exhaustive list by any means. It is challenging to keep that to a short list as I prefer to learn from a wide variety of sources and feel that you can learn something from anybody if you are listening.

✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?

Building strength and muscle takes time.

Be patient. People often overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in five, or even ten years.

Building strength and muscle takes time. Be consistent with your training AND your recovery. You can have the best training plan in the world, but it will not work well for you if you are not eating and sleeping adequately for your goals.

Make sure you audit your training plan often, assess and adjust as needed. A good training plan will only work for so long.

You body should adapt to your training, and your needs will eventually change. Make sure your training is achieving the desired outcome, if not, change it!

🀝 Are you taking on clients right now?

I am currently taking on new clients. Currently, only online training but once we can open the gyms, I will be accepting new clients in person as well.

I prefer to have clients to be able to commit to at least 12 weeks of training with me but not required.

Regardless of if you work with me or not, I do consider it important to look for a coach that is both educated and experienced, preferably in the sport or training goals that you are looking to train for.

πŸ“ Where can we learn more about you?

My best contact would be through Instagram at @idealstrength. I also have a website at and a YouTube channel (MyTrainerDan), which is mostly exercise demo videos for clients.

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