Don’t Be an Idiot

by Amanda Sheppard | October 12, 2022

amanda sheppard starting a deadlift

I hold a beast, an angel, and a madman in me, and my enquiry is as to their working, and my problem is their subjugation and victory, down throw and upheaval, and my effort is their self-expression.”  – Dylan Thomas

I have learned many things over the course of my career as a strength coach, which is just under a decade. Some were harder lessons than the others, but one thing I have come to freely admit is that “I don’t know what I don’t know.” I have written before on my education; however, since my change in direction from college strength coach to SSC at Starting Strength Gyms, my mind continues to wander constantly.

I have been an SSC for about 2 years now, I have just received a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification (I hope saying that carries a little more weight than being CF Level 1), and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a broader demographic spectrum than I was just 3 years ago. I have listened to many podcasts and read some books that have opened my mind to information on business, medical conditions, acute and chronic injuries, etc. I may have picked up a few important things in that time, but the topics will always warrant constant reminders.

If you’re a person that can read something once and retain that information until the end of time, I sure do admire you. There’s probably a lack of sleep that accompanies this burden of information, which I certainly don’t envy. I already don’t sleep well some nights if I decide to drink three whiskeys instead of the single night cap that I promised myself. I say this because it doesn’t matter the amount that I read or listen to others speak, I will never be a specialist in any one of those topics I listed above. Some people hang onto the negative connotation of “Jack of All Trades, Master of None,” but I am ready to admit that it’s okay to have surface-level knowledge of things that interest me, and then allow myself to develop that area of expertise when the situation warrants it. There will be times when I can read an article or chapter of a book that will open my mind to whatever question is in front of me. And this can and should involve relying on individuals that are specialists in that topic.


The beast in me is a bit freer, and growing up with a competitive nature helped serve its purpose. After college I had to find a way to control that part me in some way, and lifting a barbell just seemed like the appropriate path. One of the best aspects of the coaching theory is personal experience. If you are to truly understand “When one teaches, two learn,” you must value your own moments under the bar, pushing a prowler, eating your bodyweight in grams of protein, doing a bodyweight chin up, programming a heavy set of deadlifts and not giving up on it because it’s not moving very fast. All these examples give you the opportunity to learn things you wouldn’t if you were content with yourself. Call on the beast in this moment and be objective in your pursuits so that when you are programming your own clients you aren’t guessing about what this situation will feel like to them. You will know exactly how to navigate those waters.

Being a beast doesn’t mean that you are stubborn, or you only do what you would do in this situation. I encourage you to reach out to the beasts beside you to learn a new approach to your training. Hire a coach to program for you for a period, if you can afford it. I am speaking to the coaches reading this article too, not just the clients. Have them share new ideas on how they would attack your stalled press or how to program a 4-day split because you’ve never done it, or what could help get you to 200g of protein. Admitting that you’re trying someone else’s tactics doesn’t negate your abilities; on the contrary, it fills your arsenal. So now, when your next lifter stalls repeatedly on the press, you have another way to attack it.

Also, give it your best shot to eat like a beast in full pursuit of bettering your health even if counting macros and weighing everything that goes into your mouth isn’t your idea of a good time. Stan Efferding, Layne Norton, and Mike Israetel are all examples of people that have great information on how to jump start nutrition and achieve the best version of a beast. Not everyone has to eat 5,000-6,000 calories a day, but most people don’t realize that they eat maybe half the protein they’re supposed to eat. Find your challenge and ask questions along the way to better your approach.

Working at a Starting Strength Gym, I’ve realized there are different versions of being a beast for each one of my clients. You may have the lifter who has heard of Starting Strength and walks through the door knowing what to expect. Or you may have people whose sons or daughters told them they need to be stronger as they age, or the woman who has tried every popular exercise brand but can’t seem to get the results she is looking for, or even clients who tried something on their own, but they’re worried they’ll get hurt or won’t push themselves outside their comfort zone. Three years in, I’ve run into all kinds, and each time we can find a way for them to achieve their inner beast, and realize that it’s not a bad thing to call on it when you need to.


Frankly, this one might be the most “feminine” of the three you hold inside you. The angel is nurturing, caring, compassionate – an empath, if you will. Every coach will come across a lifter who, if pushed too hard, will either be done with you or with strength training all together, and you don’t want that. It’s been stated emphatically that if you can train then you should train. However, there is nuance here, and if you aren’t prepared to handle nuance and you are just going to shove a 9-12-month long NLP with GOMAD down every lifter’s throat, then you won’t last very long as a coach. The best way to determine how to work with clients in different demographics is to do just that – work with them, find what they can tolerate, and talk to coaches that have experience with that population if you don’t. Don't think that you must turn away every inquiry from an individual in a population you’ve never worked with before, but you must learn how.

I speak from experience here: I had never worked with a pregnant woman prior to summer of 2020. I worked with this lifter in person through the first trimester and then she became an online client of mine through the rest of her pregnancy. And by that, I mean she lifted the actual day before she had her second child, took six weeks off, when cleared continued training with me, and is still my client today. She took a chance on me, and together we determined what worked and what didn’t. She probably wouldn’t tell you I am an angel, but I have my moments.

There will also come a time when you don’t have the answer, and you will reach out to those who can help. When I worked with a woman experiencing pelvic floor issues and incontinence, I couldn’t relate to her issues. However, what I could do was direct her to SSC Rori Alter, who is trained to deal with women’s health issues as they relate to strength training. I was also able to have a lengthy conversation with SSC Shelley Wells who was gracious enough to share her experience and give me advice on how to proceed.

Holding onto the angel part of you doesn’t mean that you go soft, and let every injury or discomfort result in a deload to bodyweight squats and mobility work till they feel better. It does mean that adjusting variables like load, range of motion, and exercise selection as necessary will help your lifters trust that you have their best interests at heart, and that the goal is always progress, not perfection. Ask questions, consult with professionals, read their articles, listen to their podcasts and presentations, and learn some general approaches. Then, when the situation is outside your scope of practice, you know who to contact.


Aristotle says, “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” To some maybe this seems overreaching, but isn’t that the point of all of this? Overload and overreach produce a significant-enough stress to cause an adaptation. The madman inside of me wants to learn more, wants to know more, and maybe it’ll come in time. However, there’s a side to all this that has been left to those with much more experience and knowledge than I have, and that is the business side.

I would like to think I am a good coach, and I can make you stronger, keep you strong, and help you through things that come up from time to time. However, there’s always been one thing that bothered me, and that is the minimal amount of financial intelligence and business savvy that I possess. I think anyone willing to take a risk as big as creating a business or starting a franchise must have that little bit of madness inside of them. I see that as a great characteristic to have, but I don’t need to be a CPA or a financial adviser to understand what that world is all about.

How to Open a Starting Strength Gym is a great podcast from the minds behind the franchise gym company, how to open one, and a look into Starting Strength Gyms as a company. Working at Starting Strength Beaverton for owners Derrick and Jen Smith allows me to take the next step in a career that started as just wanting to coach. The expertise and experience they have allows me to nourish the side of my brain that didn’t quite wake up to my alarm. When you watch people move with such ease through their professional lives, you ask yourself, “How can I do the same?”

What I have come to understand is that just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is. Having a team with individual madmen, if you will, allows for the perfect roster to handle what comes up. If you’re a baseball lover, you will understand that if you bring in a starting pitcher to close, you didn’t use that player’s strengths to your advantage and you risk costing your team the game. Which leads me to my last point:

Don’t Be an Idiot

I started earlier by saying that “I don’t know what I don’t know,” and maybe I admit that far too often. Nevertheless, I would rather admit to not knowing and call on the beast, angel, or madman, than turn into the idiot who thinks he can know everything and ends up knowing nothing. Open your network as much as you can, ask questions, listen to others speak, and pay attention whenever you are given the opportunity. Not knowing is a different scenario entirely than being a confirmed idiot, because at that point you’ve probably opened your mouth and removed all doubt.

I realize that this isn’t the traditional how-to article, or explaining an integral part of the model, so don’t sue me if you’re bored. But for those who’ve read this far, the message is simple: don’t be an idiot. Have a beast, an angel, and a madman inside of you always. You don’t have to call on all of them at once, or even for an extended period. But the intelligent thing to do is to allow your efforts in whatever it is that you are doing now to determine the expression.  

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