Lessons from A Bull – Garage Strength

Lessons from A Bull


Garage Strength
We will miss you DJ!

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You are a young coach and a stud walks in the gym. You can’t believe what is happening. This machine of a human being is snatching more than 90% of people and it’s their first time every snatching, they squat more than most people DREAM of squatting...and it’s their first day of training. You get giddy, you get excited but you are young and in the back of your mind, the little voices are whispering, “don’t fu#k this up, don’t fu$k this up.” What can you do? How can you make sure you don’t ruin this golden opportunity? What lessons do you need to remember?

The Bull

That story isn’t exactly how it went down with DJ Shuttleworth. DJ walked into Garage Strength in 2009/2010, ready to get stronger for football and make a strong impression on the local football world. He was primed and ready to roll. He had a decent senior season on the gridiron but most of our early work together was during preparation for his freshman year at Wilkes.


DJ was a powerhouse when it came to actually one on one strength. If he pushed you, you felt it. BUT, his weight room strength was lacking, he only could clean 225lbs for a couple of reps and I distinctly remember him benching 225lbs for a set of four. He went off to college in good shape but by no means was he a savage.


Over the next four years, he would return to Garage Strength, ready to smash weights every summer and prepare for a big year of football. By his senior season, he was the team captain and one of the best leaders on the field for Wilkes. In the back of my mind, I had a secret plan. By 2012, DJ was able to clean over 350lbs and I felt like his future could be in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. There were a few problems however. How could I keep him in the gym consistently after college? Would he be into weightlifting?


My plan? I would employ him in the summers and then when he graduated from college, he could work full-time at Garage Strength eventually train for Olympic weightlifting. Soon enough, Big Deej was smashing weights and rising up the weightlifting ladder rapidly. Within just 18 months of being in the sport, he placed fourth at the 2015 US Nationals and in training he hit a monster 190k clean and jerk that SET ME OFF!


I remember an elite weightlifting coach looking at DJ in the warm-up area, he eyed him up and down and stood there and looked back at me and said, “This dude is a freaking bull.” I knew I had a serious talent on my hands but it was at that moment when a coach who had developed an Olympian was telling me that this kid was a bull, that tipped me off that I needed to step up my coaching ability!

Working with a freak early on in my career may have stunted my growth as a coach, but looking back at his development, I wouldn’t trade any of the lessons that we learned. Although DJ has moved on from his career at Garage Strength, these FIVE key lessons stick with me.

1. Take it easy with expectations and communicate clearly weekly and monthly.

When DJ hit the 190k in training, I ran my mouth, I thought we were going to take over USA Weightlifting. We had a chip on our shoulders. At the time, the OTC was still running and I felt that many of the athletes at the OTC had a sense of entitlement. Sure, they were machines but maybe they were complacent.


That was my jealous, outsider perception of their situation. I wanted to take them down and I wanted to replace them with a kid that worked 40 hours a week and could still train like an elite athlete. With DJ, I think one of my failures was establishing these massive expectations. I would tell him I believed he could clean and jerk 212. I would tell him I believed he could make a world team. I would let him know how much of a stud he could be...BUT, the problem lied in the fact that my expectations were absurd.

He was young, barely in the sport and barely used to competing by himself on a stage. Instead of giving him these lofty expectations, I should have focused on expectations within each workout and within each training block. Having daily and block-based expectations would have made it easier to chip away at the long term goal.


One of my failures as a human (and successes) is that I am a dreamer. I dream of emotional experiences all day. I work for them, I live for them, I feel them constantly. I imposed my dreams on DJ when I should have been guiding him routinely to conquer those goals.

2. Have a bright assistant coach.

This lesson is more so related to what DJ and I did in the backroom as coaches. I have coached alongside Olympic champs, along with Olympic caliber coaches and all the elite coaches you could imagine. There is one person who can count attempts better than me. DJ Shuttleworth.


DJ LOVES/LOVED trying to screw lifters over on the board. He and I grooved the back with strategy. We would watch lifters warming up constantly and then look for opportunities to steal their 2-minute clocks. As coaches, we always felt like we were 3-4 steps ahead of the next guy. We could see what was needed and how to get the attempts we wanted to smash a victory.

Having a good coach in your corner is incredible, it makes you feel more confident and more powerful in your ability to impact a competition.

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Did we have our screw-ups? For sure! Like that one time DJ and I were wrestling each other all out in the back and forgot that Jake Horst was on the clock...let’s forget that one….

3. Attack weaknesses but glorify strengths.

In the world of weightlifting, I have learned that the mental game is just as important as the physical game. With DJ, his jerk and his snatch catch were consistently inconsistent. I spent tons and tons of time trying to fix those movements and neglected to continue puffing him up for having such a FAT clean.


Had I provided DJ with regular goals that pushed the technical movement of his snatch catch while bolstering his mental prowess with big cleans, I believe DJ would have held confidence over a longer period of time. Instead, I think he burned out mentally from struggling with the technical work while never really supporting him with his massive ability to clean big weights.

By attacking his weaknesses but glorifying his strengths, he may have stayed with a positive mindset over a longer period of time.

4. Take note of consistent lessons to apply to future freaks and athletes.

I do believe DJ was a freak. He could make jumps from 170k to 190k and not think twice. He would take 180k for a single and jump to 195 or 200. He was so confident in his clean and jerk that he opened at 196k in the 2017 American Open final...196k!


He was physically freakish. As I work with more and more athletes, I have seen tendencies that DJ carried that some other freaks also possess. This has helped me tremendously as a coach. If a freak is upon my gym, I have notes and ideas in place to handle their talent and that was taught to me by the lessons from DJ.


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As a coach, DJ also helped me see habits and consistency that he held as an athlete in other athletes that we coached together. He was able to relate old lessons to younger athletes which made their learning curve a bit more rapid!

5. Embrace the great moments.


The last decade of my life has FLOWN by. I have added four kids to my life and grown my businesses a bit but something I have done a decent job with is based around embracing the great moments. DJ and I have had some incredible emotional experiences. We coached Hayley Reichardt to be the youngest female to clean and jerk double bodyweight, we have coached Jordan Wissinger to World teams and Pan Am teams, as well as Jacob Horst. We have coached dozens upon dozens of national champions in weightlifting.

One special moment sticks out clearly to me. The first time DJ clean and jerked 200k. This was in a local meet but that doesn’t matter. DJ knew what the goal was and he was ready to smash the attempt. We skipped his second attempt to get him more rest for 200k. He was prepared, went out and smoked the lift.


Was it a local meet? Yeah for sure. BUT, that didn’t matter. I vividly remember driving home in tears of joy. Laughing to myself on the hour drive home that he just clean and jerked 200k as a 94k lifter. I was giddy and blown away by the energy. That was one of my favorite moments while coaching DJ and something I will always remember.

The Bull

DJ will be missed tremendously at Garage Strength. He grew as an individual with the business, he helped me grow as a coach, he helped me grow as an owner, he helped me grow as a father and I even got to see him become a father! Those moments will be cherished forever. The development of our community and our programming has all been at the foot of DJ Shuttleworth and his lessons at Garage Strength will continue to educate us throughout the remainder of our career.


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Dane Miller

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of elite athletes building comprehensive programs for strength and sports performance. Several times a year he leads a seminar for coaches, trainers, and athletes.

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1 comment

  • Well written Dane. As an og follower and young coach thank you.


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