10 Tips to Help You Succeed as a Contest Prep Coach

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This is somewhat of an embarrassing article for me. However, I have been asked by a lot of people starting out in the coaching world how to become successful, and how to do it quickly.

So, who am I and why should you listen to me?

My name is Russell Taylor. I entered the coaching scene in 2014. Approximately 12-18 months later I am considered as one of the most rapidly expanding coaches to come along in recent years. I was asked for tips on how I did it.

Much of this comes down to being yourself, but I’m going to list some key points and give a back story on how I rapidly gained prominence in the field.

Tip #1 – Master Dieting First Before Teaching

Man with Six Pack AbsAcquire practical knowledge. Learn how to diet first.

The reason I originally started my journey in 2011 was because I was obese. I started learning how to lose weight by unintentionally using something akin to P90X: subconsciously counting calories and working out 6 days a week.

I learned how to get very lean during this time. I also realized I could speed up the process by cutting calories harder. I lost a large amount of weight in 100-150 days, going from 189lb to 145lb.

Looking back a year later, I realized that this was at the expense of my general health. Hormonally, I was broken. I hardly even took in a gram of essential fatty acids during this time, as I did not know they existed.

However, my approach was so extreme that it would not have helped. I also made myself sick at one point after a single binge. Luckily, I vowed to myself I would not do this again, and never have.

However, what I did learn during this period was how to diet to a really low body fat level and how easily it can lead to an eating disorder.

Tip #2 – Surround Yourself With Peers and Good Information

I came to realize what I was doing was flawed and very inefficient.

I started to follow peers with degrees in the relevant fields. Some good, some not so good. It took me a good few years to find peers in the field who were consistently right most of time. I started to follow these people and read their work.

Lyles McDonald’s website was very inspirational at the time. I also picked up on Ian McCarthy’s YouTube channel, which had some real gems, such as an interview with Alan Aragon. And of course, a roundtable discussion with a clever, newly-graduated guy at the time: Eric Helms. After looking into these guys in greater detail, I became a fan and continued to follow their work.

I spent the next 2 years debating health and fitness on Facebook. The whole time, I was forging my knowledge in the fire of debate. In these debates I created bonds with people who later became big names and company owners in their own right, such as Daniel Yeh from Citadel Nutrition.

I started studying data on training and dieting through peer reviewed journals as well. All this time, I was unknowingly forming a reputation and learning my craft.

I would honestly suggest: do not hound the peers you respect. Being part of the same circles is enough to be recognized, but no one likes a brown nose. There is a big danger of fan boys trying too hard or looking uneducated by asking constantly to be spoon fed. You do not always have to comment on a thread which involves a peer.

Only post if you have something of quality to contribute. Learn to sit back and learn when you do not. Desperation is not a good fragrance for a coach to wear. Luckily, I did just this anyway because I’m a pretty humble guy who knows these people are busy and paid professionals in their own right.

Figure Competitor

But an athlete is a different animal. They are all about winning at nearly all costs. How do you find someone like that? It is not about money. It is about winning!

Tip #3 – Establish a Social Media Presence

I was approached to help run a group around PEDS in sport where I would fill in the dietary and training theory holes in a coach’s knowledge. Yes, a dubious position to be associated with, but it is an unavoidable part of bodybuilding.

I also got to debate with Jason Blaha at this point. Little did I know, this would prove beneficial later by writing an intermediate version of his program and doing cross-promotion for each other. This was more about sharing good info than having a plan to make money.

For a certain period of time, I basically just helped people transform by PM. In the meantime, John Hollywood (who used his own page as a social media platform) became a very successful coach. Little did I know, I had appeared on his radar.

He approached me, and asked if I was interested in co-founding TNF. I later changed the name to Hollywood’s TNF for marketing reasons. Obviously, John did not put his name on it as it was a joint venture. However, I swallowed my pride and used his name as it had a much better media outreach than mine. I think it is important that some time as a coach you need to know when to do this.

All of this built me a social media presence and a platform I could potentially advertise from. I would advise, if you have enough of a following, to start your own group. Do not copy someone else’s name as you will look like a guy with no original thought.

I also debated in other coaches’ groups, but I showed respect by not pushing services on other people’s platforms. To me, doing so shows disrespect and burns bridges. It is not really a reputation I personally wanted, especially when I wanted to build a community, not a cut-throat business model.

Nowadays there is Instagram, Twitter, etc. which should all be utilized. I was a bit late to the game on those. Over time I was able to be backed by great name such as John, Jason, Tyler and Marc, all of whom I greatly value.

Tip #4 – Establish Proof of Your Skills

Shredded Bodybuilder Flexing ArmMy first step here was to get some before and after pictures done of clients, which will always be a good starting point. I was referred some tough and time-consuming clients from top coaches. For example, usually through no fault of their own, clients with medical issues. Even though I did not realize it at the time, this proved to the larger names that if I could coach these I might know what I am doing!

I even tried coaching people for big discounts, but this was pretty fruitless as it gave them very little adherence because they would not lose much if they quit. So how did I solve this? The only thing I could come up with is that people with the average mentality would quit due to low pricing.

But an athlete is a different animal. They are all about winning at nearly all costs. How do you find someone like that? It is not about money. It is about winning! The issue was, that I was not a proven winner as a coach at the time.

Now I was stuck in limbo. I had some good pictures, but not enough evidence supporting that I could take someone onto stage with good results. As a prep coach, I looked like a risky prospect.

One day whilst battling trolls (as I normally do) I came across a thread with a lady sharing the abuse she received from her past coach. She had great genetics and was talking about quitting competing. Her story touched me.

I never normally approach clients by PM, but I made an exception in this case. I was just honest and said she looked great, and I would do a good job preparing her if she let me. To prove I was not a cut-throat coach looking for a soft target, I said I would do it for free. I explained my history and lack of experience.

After a friendly chat we parted ways. To my surprise, around a month later, she took me up on my offer.

Tip #5 – Do Your Homework and Have a Third Pair of Eyes

Kira was in NPC Bikini for her previous show, and never placed. I did my homework and that show was not tested. Her physique was pretty good and in a tested organization she was near figure level.

I approached 2 peers, Marc Lobliner and John Hollywood, and they said with a few weak point tweaks and competing in a polygraph-using organization, she could make figure grade. In non-tested shows, however, she would get outsized.

We also weighed up possible politics and decided to drop her into OCB Novice and Open Figure. I learned a lot in this prep. I was very lucky to have JOH (John Otis Hollywood) have a look at pictures of her progress every few weeks and keep me on the right path. As a coach (as well as a client) there’s a lot of pressure on your first show and a lot at risk.

Also I made a conscious effort not to bother John to regular as there comes a point when it is no longer friendly pointers but him coaching your client for free. If someone is good enough to help you out do not abuse it and also give credit.

Luckily for me her previous training was poor and she responded well, even adding LBM in prep. Weak points also became much less apparent.

I learned so much from this prep, even with a few minor issues. We still took away a 1st place in Novice and 3rd in Open in a tough line up, and qualified for their championships. We were not a million miles away from an IFPA Pro card. Compared to not placing at all, this was an awesome result. This opened a lot of doors for me in contest prep.

To date, I have not had a person come less than 3rd thanks to clever selections and good planning. I now have started to get Pro cards for clients. Ironically, I train more personal trainers than clients sometimes.

Bodybuilding Competitor

I would honestly suggest: do not hound the peers you respect. Being part of the same circles is enough to be recognized, but no one likes a brown nose.

Tip #6 – Establish a Network

I was lucky enough to make so many friends in the industry that if I am ever in the rare situation where I do not know the answer, I know a friend who does. This is very valuable and a lot of this I just stumbled on. Do not ever be scared to say “I don’t know but I will find out.”

I did, however, get some hate over the years critiquing people with a high opinion of themselves with a guru mentality. If you take this road be prepared to become “hater” for asking for more evidence than a lean selfie.

Tip #7 – Add Value to Your Service

I was a bit slow to get onto this but soon came to realize that the little things count. After speaking to a client, Ahmed, he said I needed to up the game a bit.

I wrote data packs and exclusive routines for clients that would work out bodyfat percentages, track progress, and self-regulate. It seems like a little thing, but it was the accumulation of months of Excel work and many years of knowledge and research to get these to perform as they have. Also it is quite professional to have weekly official log sheets to track progress.

I actually issued these to clients so they could monitor what they were paying for. Normally coaches keep such tools to themselves but I like accountability – clients know I can’t fiddle with the results and this builds trust. A very easy way to add value to a service is an exclusive client group were they can share views and results with people using the same tools, thus building a community. I may have gotten that Idea from JOH.

Tip #8 – Establish Proof of Your Knowledge Over the Entire Net

After getting another 3 shows under my belt I was ready to launch my site. I was dragging my heels on this for ages but I was wrong. A web page does inspire trust in your service. It is also a platform for some branding. I have not fully worked that part out yet, but I have seen a few coaches master this and grow very quickly.

I also started writing articles and a couple of them even went viral. They were unexpectedly shared by my peers such as Aragon, Layne, Blaha, Lobliner, Helms, and the list goes on. I had some of these checked over by them as a favor. You do not want to float poor information out there which you will always be linked to.

Figure Competitor

If you think looks do not count in an industry mainly based on vanity, you are sadly mistaken. There are people who make ten times as much as me based on looks alone.

As more doors opened, I was invited to write for big companies and accomplish one of my lifetime goals and write for Alan Aragon’s research Review (AARR). The AARR embodies the fact that I have come near full circle and get the honour to write for a review that also helped people like me in the first place to gain next-level knowledge. A bit like a student becoming a teacher.

I am no way on the same level as some of the authors included. But with time and being honest with yourself on areas you lack, you can fill in gaps and evolve into a better coach over time.

Tip #9 – Look and Perform the Part

If you think looks do not count in an industry mainly based on vanity, you are sadly mistaken. There are people who make ten times as much as me based on looks alone.

I am no way top tier but I have maybe added 15-20lb to my frame and my powerlifting totals are getting toward mid-table respectable. This will help inspire clients along their journeys.

Tip #10 – Know When to Say No

When a possible client is waving cash at you 4 weeks out and you know they won’t make it, you should decline. Or someone with injuries or a medical condition that need more help than you can give must, in their own interests, be turned away to someone more suitable than yourself.

Sure, it is fine to work with people with certain conditions or eating disorders if they are receiving proper treatment with a professional also. I also turn down a lot of sport-specific goals as I know others can do a better job. As a side effect, you are more respected by these people for doing so. Be comfortable with who you can and cannot work with.

Other Feathers in My Cap I Have yet to Achieve and Possible Future Goals

If you are a contest prep coach it would be a big bonus if you have competed. Empathy about dieting to ultra-low levels and even simple stuff like posing, tanning questions go a long way here. I have the dieting bit under my boat, but I know I would be a better coach if I at least step on stage once. So this and a powerlifting meet is on the cards, even if I go in and just get a high average total.

I wish I also had a degree and an official Personal Trainer certification. Don’t get me wrong: any PT certification will do for online coaching. Most people do not know the difference (ISSN NASM etc. are some are the better ones). Your knowledge should be beyond most of these certifications before launching anyway. I have seen many people lie regarding being registered dieticians and even PT certifications. If you get caught before establishing a cult-like status, this could quickly end you and burn your network before the matter could even get to the legal issues.

Final Thoughts

None of this is compulsory: think of it as more tools in a tool box.

People are attracted to success. This becomes quite apparent when you see people editing logos onto Lamborghinis and pretending to live the dream life. That’s just not me.

One thing is for sure: the bigger the following you have, the more doors will open. But always be humble and never forget where you started. This is just the way I did things; there’s clearly more than one way to skin a cat.

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Name: Russell Taylor

Bio: Russell Taylor is 32 years old and from the UK. He got into coaching professionally in 2014. Since that time Russell Taylor has had a string of top place client male and female finishers in everything from physique to figure, and even competitive powerlifting.