I started powerlifting in 2016. I thought I knew how to bench, squat, and deadlift properly, but I didn’t. I had no idea how much damage I had done. When I met Coach Garrett Denham in October 2019, at Metroflex Gym in Fort Worth, Texas, everything changed. He stressed the importance of technique, form, and the ability to move well. I did a lot of isolation work on stabilizer muscles before I ever touched a bar. I felt weak and frustrated, but he kept reassuring me, and I kept going. We were laying a much-needed groundwork for future gains.
Four months later, I was warming up on bench press. With only 200 pounds on the bar, I unracked and started the set, excited about getting to my training weight. I was 3 reps in, and the bar was about 6 inches off my chest when I felt a distinct pop in my right shoulder. The bar came down on top of me and I couldn’t budge it. Garrett was standing to the side watching and instinctively dove toward the bench, grabbed the bar, and pulled it off me. Garrett’s a big and very strong guy, a fact for which I was exremely thankful.
“What the fuck happened?!?” he exclaimed. All I could do was shake my head, “I don’t know.” When I sat up and the pain hit, I knew something was seriously wrong. My wife, Amy, drove me home where I scarfed down a bazillion milligrams of ibuprofen while she located a highly recommended orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Guevara. I saw him the next day.
A few weeks later, Dr. Guevara spent 4 hours repairing my shoulder. I suffered a 3-tendon tear in my rotator cuff; two tendons were torn away and one was hanging by a thread. He had to detach and reattach my bicep tendon and install seven anchors to patch it all back together. Recovery and therapy were painful and grueling. I continued to train and Garrett programmed around my limitations. After 6 months, Dr. Guevara green lighted me to start lifting normally but admonished me to start slowly. I’ve been back under the bar only a few weeks as of this writing. Progress has been slow and steady by design, and while my shoulder has been sore and tired at times, I’ve been pain free – until this past weekend.
Last Friday, Garrett was at a meet. I had my programming and went to work. My bicep and front deltoid hurt, even after a careful warmup. The pain was mild: 2 out of 10, but it was pain, not soreness. I completed the workout and decided to reassess things Monday morning.
My thoughts ran wild all weekend: “I’ve re-injured my shoulder, probably a small tear. No way I am going through another surgery. The pain was unreal and, I’m still paying off the last one. I can’t afford to be laid up for 6 weeks with my right arm in a brace. I’m done. I’ll warm up Monday and see how it goes and if it’s not completely pain free, I’ll tell him.” I was pissed off, anxious, stressed out, sad, and an overall joy to be around.
Monday morning arrived, and I was encouraged by the fact that the pain had lessened. I decided to hear what Garrett had to say before making any decisions. He walked in and we made small talk. After he settled, I told him there was something he needed to know and described my symptoms as best I could.
He listened and when I finished, he manipulated my arm and shoulder assessing mobility, range of motion, and pain. He told me to place my right hand behind my head and hold my elbow out to the side. While in that position, he grabbed and squeezed my pec tendon hard between his fingers and thumb. He repeated this with my bicep tendon. In both instances it hurt like hell! After he squeezed and pulled on each tendon, he reached back under my arm, and lightly squeezed both tendons a few times saying, “There… that’s better.”
He then explained, “I was loosening things up. Your pec and bicep tendons, and your anterior and medial deltoid are extremely tight. All your physical therapy on your right side has blown up the anterior and medial heads of your deltoid. There’s a lot of muscle on the front and top, your rear delt is lagging, and everything in there is tight. Your right shoulder sits higher than your left. I noticed that when I walked in. It’s because everything is pulled up tight on that side. Blood flow is restricted to that area, so it doesn’t recover from training like it should. You keep training it, it stays tight, it can’t fully recover, so it starts to hurt. Tight muscles are also brittle, which we don’t want.”
Then we walked over to the squat rack where he secured a band to the overhead bar and had me do a specific shoulder stretch. It hurt but in a good way. When done, my shoulder was sore, but it didn’t hurt, and my mobility and range of motion had dramatically improved. I couldn’t believe the difference. We worked lats that day, after which my shoulder felt tired and sore but pain free.
I walked into the gym that morning prepared to tell Garrett that my powerlifting days were over. I believed that if I kept going, I would need more surgery. I was certain I had retorn something. None of that was true. I created the entire story in my head based on false and limiting beliefs born out of fear, anxiety, and my inability to view the situation objectively. Garrett saw things from an entirely different vantage point, one grounded in knowledge and facts.
THIS IS WHY YOU HIRE A COACH – in sports, yoga, chess, career, life, etc. – and not just any coach, but one who is trained, experienced, and knowledgeable! You need someone who can look at your situation, ask the right questions, provide relevant insights and valuable tools to help you see things as they are, not as you believe them to be. A coach can’t do the work for you, but they can help clear the path, offer reassurance, and hold you accountable.
How many times do we create stories in our heads that are not grounded in reality? Whether it’s our careers, families, communities, our very lives, how many times have we acted (or failed to act) because the baseless fears and anxieties that existed only in our minds held us back? What limits do we place on ourselves in the name of “practicality” and “common sense?”
Our past experiences affect and shape our lives. Past pain can cloud our present mind and limit future growth. Sometimes we can’t see this because we are too close to the situation. Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge this truth because we believe doing so would somehow mean we are weak or less than. In either case, we find ourselves stuck, desperately wanting to move forward but unable to do so.
This is the value good coaches bring to the table. They listen, ask questions, assess, provide input, feedback, help you clearly see the things standing between you and where you want to be, and hold you accountable to your action plan. Coaches aren’t problem solvers; we are people movers. The goal isn’t to constantly push you forward; it’s to get you unstuck and moving under your own power.