John’s Blog: My First Coach – Lessons to Last a Lifetime

by on September 8, 2016

jb-2016-09-06-1I had the pleasure of training with the guy in this pic this weekend. Who is he? His name is Mike Matson. He is one of my best and longest tenured friends, and he was also my first coach in bodybuilding.

Mike and I met in the early 90’s. I was in college at Wilmington College in Southern Ohio, and he was working for John Parillo at the time in Cincinnati. John was a really popular coach at the time and of course had his own supplement line. Many pros were coming to his center such as Franco Santoriello back then to go through his extremely torturous training sessions, and the even more diabolical fascial stretching that John was known for bringing to the industry. Mike was his number one guy that worked for him.

Free Coaching

I was preparing for the teenage Mr. Cincinnati contest in 1992, and I had saved up enough money to buy John’s manuals on nutrition and training. I followed the manuals to a T the best I could with the money I had. I was your typical broke college kid, but I got by. Back then teenage classes were quite common. There was always a 13-17 age class, and an 18-19 class. The winners of each class would then face off in a posedown to determine the overall winner. As I prepared for the show I frequently would call into Parillo Performance and ask for help. If you had purchased John’s products, you were allowed to do this and you could essentially get free coaching! Imagine that nowadays! Well of course I was very deeply entrenched in learning everything I could back then and when I called in I frequently spoke to Mike. I knew I was sort of pushing the envelope with all the questions I was asking but Mike always helped me. I told him my name and made sure he knew I would be competing in Cincy at the show. Well it turned out Mike was also a judge on that panel.

The Contest – A Night I will Never Forget

If memory serves me correctly the contest was held on April 4th 1992. I remember this because my birthday was the following weekend and I would be turning 20. There were 9 or 10 guys in my class. I remember hearing people talk about one kid who had won all 4 shows he competed in. Another kid had placed 2nd or 3rd at Teen nationals the previous year. My goal was simply to win a trophy by making the top 5. I had brought many of my fraternity brothers from college to see me and I wanted to do them proud, especially my training partner Brent Adams aka “Beef”. He was always pushing me hard in the gym.

I don’t remember one thing from callouts, or where I stood. I had no concept of getting moved to the middle etc back then. I do recall asking my friends if they thought I would make the top 5. Beef told me Hell Yea, you might win. I thought no way. He’s just saying that. That night they started counting down the places. They announced 5th, then 4th, and then I thought Ok awesome I am in 3rd. Well I wasn’t. I was elated. Here I was going to get 2nd place! Then they announced second and it wasn’t me. I was so deflated. I turned around to walk back and get dressed assuming I was out of the top 5, then they announced 1st, and it was ME. NO WAY. I was truly shocked. I walked out in disbelief. My grandmother came running down the center aisle and she was crying her eyes out in joy. Seeing her so happy put me on cloud nine. I tried my hardest to always make her proud, no matter what sport I was doing.

So I am celebrating with my frat brothers, and my grandmother and Mike walks up to me and introduced himself. I immediately apologized for calling and asking so many questions. To my surprise he told me I had a lot of potential and to give him a call soon.

The Deal

Of course I called him the next week reminding him who I was, in fear he had already forgot me, and he invited me to come in that Saturday to talk. I went to the Performance center and we chatted, and he expressed a lot of belief in me. I asked him if he would be willing to help me in the future and he agreed. He didn’t want any money and never accepted a dollar from me. What he did ask though, was that I give EVERYTHING I had. I needed to shut up, learn, and train my ass off. That was the deal. I give it 100% or bust.

I started training there every Saturday and the workouts were some of the craziest of my life. I have never puked during a workout to this day but every single time we did legs I would be over a trash can dry heaving. I remember doing Squats in the Smith machine until my legs were numb, hell my feet even hurt from the reps, and Mike just kept pushing me rep after rep after rep. There was no quitting. I stopped a set when he told me to stop.

Mike believed in an ultra-strict diet too. I remember walking in the gym one day chewing gum and he asked me to see the box. He read the ingredients and asked me how the gum was going to make me a better bodybuilder. Of course I had to spit it out, LOL! The preferred pre-workout meal was a can of tuna and brown rice mixed together once I got there. No gum allowed.

Mike didn’t just push me hard though. He was creative.

He taught me to THINK.

Nowadays thinking is almost blasphemy in bodybuilding. If you think, you are somehow making things too complicated. I remember Mike having me put on inversion boots and hanging upside down doing reverse squats for hamstrings. Then he would have me do these things.

Yes, I learned those from Mike in 1992! My hamstrings became one of my freakiest bodyparts and I know much of that was from what Mike taught me.

Life Lessons

Mike taught me more about training and diet then anybody, but he also impressed me something else far more valuable. Mike ALWAYS pressed on me the need to further my education and to treat bodybuilding as my hobby. In other words, get a real job, and if bodybuilding becomes a way to support yourself great, but DO NOT count on it. To this day I tell all the young guys I work with the same exact thing. Mike hammered that message into me more than any other message he taught me.

He also impressed upon me the need to commit myself 100% to any goals I had, and to see them through with as much effort as humanly possible. Quitting is never an option.

I ended up competing that same year 6 months later with an additional 15 lbs of muscle. Nothing like training insane and eating perfect at 20 years old! I won the overall at the show I did with Mike’s guidance. He was proud of me and told me so. The following year, I got a little lazy. I started cheating on my diet here and there, and when I competed I won my class at a show but then lost the overall to a middleweight. I was happy of course, I mean hey, I WON! I was out in the parking lot with some friends and my girlfriend feeling pretty good about myself. Mike walked out there and pretty much point blank said “I know you didn’t do what you needed to do. You did not pay your dues for this show, and it showed. You are better than that”. He was not proud of my accomplishment at all. To him I lost because I didn’t do all the things I know to be right. Well I couldn’t argue with him. He was right. I hung my head in humiliation. Even in a somewhat winning position, Mike taught me the true victory was me giving it everything I had. This is a lesson I try to teach now, but it is sometimes counter cultural to what is going on with social media these days.

That was the LAST time I ever cheated on my diet pre-contest again. That experience was so profound for me. I’ll say it again, Mike wanted to teach me that when it is all said and done, you need to be able to say you did everything within your power to win.

Needless to say the next show I did, I followed through and Mike was once again proud of me. This meant the world to me.

A Dream Fulfilled

Eventually I moved to Columbus Ohio to finish my degree and I didn’t see Mike as much, but we kept in touch and to this day we still train together and talk often.

Earlier this year I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to compete at the Arnold Classic, and Mike of course came to see me. Now you have to know Mike to really appreciate this. Mike is very very tough guy. I am not saying emotionless, but just a tough soldier. When he saw me up there battling, in my condition, he knew I had given it everything I had to be ready and he admitted he teared up a bit. This meant the world to me. I did Mike right. The guy who he gave and gave and gave to, asking for nothing in return, just represented HIM and his influence and teachings on one of the biggest stages in bodybuilding.

Mike if you are able to ready this (Mike’s not into social media), just know that I love you and I appreciate everything you did for me. You were the person through the years that always believed in me, and I needed that. Thank you.

Your friend,


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