A Very Important Letter To My 14 Year Old Self

September 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

I'm convinced that had I started barbell training in my teens instead of starting at an over-the-hill-age of 30 that I would be an absolute monster with chimpanzee strength.

A goddamn living legend.

Anonymous Reddit users would be worshiping the keyboard I type on instead of questioning my method(s) (which is basically, add more weight to the bar each training session, and lift it), or offering ridiculously unqualified “critiques” of my form.

This is me in grade 8, 20 years ago, months before entering high school and "lifting weights" in the weight room.

If I had started squatting, bench pressing, deadlifting and overhead pressing in my teen years in the high school dungeon weightroom, and trained consistently until now, my power levels would be so high that it would most definitely shatter a Saiyan scouter from Dragon Ball Z.

Instead, I ended up spending a lot of time screwing around with unfocused, pumping up and flexing in the mirror workouts before taking strength training seriously in 2010 at the ripe old age of 30.

Fast forward to today and I am left playing catch up with a mirror “John Phung” from a parallel universe who focused on getting strong at an early age instead of aimlessly lifting weights.

I would imagine an encounter with a mirror "John Phung" would be like this. Except it wouldn't be such an even match.

Despite my current 1RM (which, at the time of writing are as followed: Squat: 585 lb, Bench Press: 420 lb, Deadlift: 585 lb and Overhead Press: 290 lb), I am 100% sure that the parallel universe John Phung is warming up with my maxes. I am left 'mirin his overwhelming physical strength, and live in regret everyday, wondering where I would be had I started serious, structured and focused strength training sooner.

I will continue to train, adding weight to the bar and becoming stronger. This is a slow process, and unfortunately I do not think I will ever catch up to the mirror John Phung lifting in a parallel universe.

However, I have devised a plan in order to make huge leaps in strength in this current universe. And no, it's not sterons.

I have written a letter, to my past self, with guidance and instructions on becoming STRONG based on my current knowledge and experience. It doesn't contain a step-by-step, paint by the numbers training program to follow from age 14 all the way to 34, because there's value in discovering things for yourself. I just want to get him (or me) on the right path. Once my past self reads this letter, he will (hopefully) take action on my advice, train, and become in-comprehensively strong. The John Phung you see today will be puny and weak in comparison to the alternate John Phung...if my plan works.

Yes, I know what you nerds are thinking. This will violate the temporal prime directive and alter the current timeline. But if that's what it takes to make significant leaps in strength, then so be it.

Dear John,

It's me, you.

This is future John Phung from 21st century in the year 2014.

I am writing to tell you that despite being exposed to weight training at an early age, I only started training serious at age 30.

Currently, at age 34, our current maxes are:

While I'm sure this will seem impressive to you, let me assure you, it is not. There are individuals out there much smaller and stronger than I am (in the past and present). But you have the potential to become much stronger than I...imagine if you (or I) had started training seriously at your age. Your strength would surely eclipse mine.

We have screwed around too much in the weight room and have nothing to show for it. This letter will provide you guide on what to do and what not to do. Read this carefully, and apply the knowledge you will gain in the future to your current training:

  • Listen to your elders, especially if they have more experience and/or they're stronger than you are. Including me.
  • Don't waste money on bodybuilding supplements. In the future, a lot of the crap sold will prove to be ineffective. I started taking bodybuilding supplements AFTER squatting 400 lb, benching 300 lb, deadlifting 500 lb and overhead pressing 200 lb. Beat that, if you can.
  • Focus on the fundamentals. For the lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press, all with full range of motion. Incorporate paused and non-paused reps, along with belted and non-belted lifts. And none of this half rep stuff you see everyone else doing. The fundamentals have built strong men in the past, present and future. Everything else is mostly noise.
  • Success comes from focused, sustained effort to a measurable goal.
  • Egg yolks are fine! Don't waste Mom's money by throwing out the yolk.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Better sleep = better recovery.
  • Getting strong boils down to this: add more weight to the bar, and lift it. There will be a lot of different methods, systems, programs and templates in the future describing different ways to get stronger. The one thing they have in common is that they all prescribe adding weight to the bar, sooner or later.
  • Understand intensity, volume, and frequency, and figure out how to manipulate them to continually make progress.
  • Success leaves clues. Look for patterns, common denominators.
  • There will come a time where something called the "Internet" will grow in popularity. It's like a series of tubes connecting computers together all over the world. No, it will not be a fad like some people think. It will become a gather place for a variety of topics, including strength training. But be wary of "forums" and "Reddit". There will be a lot of self-proclaimed anonymous experts who think they know it all, but in actuality, do not. Listen to those who walk the talk, not those who talk (or type) the most.
  • In those bodybuilding magazines you have, keep an eye out for a guy named “Anthony Clark”. Notice his grip in the bench press. Practice this inside a power rack. You will figure out and master the “reverse grip bench press”. Don't worry about what other people say about it. They are morons.
  • Also, pay attention to Ed Coan, Kirk Karwaski, Fred Hatfield, and other top powerlifters, along with articles written by Marty Gallahger.
  • Stop buying Muscle & Fitness, Flex, and other bodybuilding magazines. Look for “Powerlifting USA”.
  • Focus on lifting with a belt, wrist wraps and weightlifting shoes (if you can find them. If not, just wear dress shoes for now – something with a hard, flat sole with an elevated heel. Don't squat in running shoes).
  • Track your training and document your progress. Track your personal records (major lifts, variations and rep ranges from 1 to 10), and your daily training. You should keep this written in a paper notebook instead of a computer. Those floppy disks will be obsolete soon and replaced with other devices. Paper will still be around, even in the 21st century.
  • Learn critical thinking. Pick up the book “How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life” by Thomas Gilovich (this should be available in your time. Check the library), and “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time” by Michael Shermer, which will come out in 1997. It'll help you cut through the bullshit, which really piles up in the fitness industry over time.
  • Buy the soundtrack Conan The Barbarian on LP record format. Copy it to cassette and listen to it on a Walkman during your workouts. The cassette will die off, but vinyl records will still exist in the future for some reason. Oh yeah, don't buy too many VHS tapes either, that's going to go the way of the dinosaur too.
  • If it hurts, don't do it. In other words, if you feel an injury is going to happen, don't "man up" and try to push through the pain. It's not worth it. Better to fight again another day than to spend many days nursing an injury and growing weak.
  • Study the top lifters in the world in powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. You may have to go to the library and find some books about these topics.
  • Test things out for yourself. See if it works, based on your efforts, rather than blindly believing in what's written in a magazine or elsewhere.
  • Don't buy clothes that are too tight. You won't grow any taller, but you will exceed 200 lb.
  • You might want to save those baggy rapper-wannabee jeans you have. They may fit more appropriately in the future.
  • Train your neck. You have a big head, and a thick neck will “even things out”. It also looks more intimidating.
  • Deadlift with a “hook grip”. It will hurt at first, but man up and get used to it. I'm sure it hurts less than a bicep tear.
  • Pause your warm ups at the bottom position. It's an easy way to sneak in paused work into a training session.
  • Star Trek will be cool in 2009, so don't be ashamed in watching Star Trek on TV. Star Wars is still cool today.
  • Don't take sex advice from a virgin. On the same note, don't take lifting advice from some dude who clearly doesn't lift. Some people just want to feel smart.
  • Don't bother wearing gloves to lift weights. People in the future will make fun of you asking if it matches your purse!
  • You can hit a body-part/perform a lift more than once a week, contrary to what's written in magazines.
  • Set aside the “Weider Principles”. Instead, know this:
    • GAS Principle (General Adaptations Syndrome)
    • SAID Principle(Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands)
    • Progressive Overload
  • The core lifts will develop your core. If you want to get an even stronger midsection, do this: L-sit chin ups/pull ups, ab wheel roll-outs, dragon flags and weighted sit ups.
  • Squat depth: if you're having problems squatting low (I'm talking calves touching hamstrings), do this: squat all the way down, with your feet flat on the floor, and just sit there. You know, just like how your Viet friends squat when they're taking a smoke break or eating noodles. Hold it there as long as you can, taking breaks when you have to. You can distract yourself from any discomfort by playing video games at the same time.
  • Find a powerlifting competition (they're called “meets” for some reason). Enter it, and compete. Get out of your comfort zone. Don't be a fucken pussy.
  • Don't be afraid to fail. Fail forward. But fail safely.

That's it for now.

More instructions will follow, along with winning lottery numbers.


Future John Phung

P.S. Poop before you squat or deadlift.



Now, all I need to do is get a DeLorean DMC-12, invent a flux capacitor and time circuits, obtain some plutonium (or Mr. Fusion + garbage), assemble it into a time machine, drive it 88 MPH into the past, send this letter to myself in the past, and I'm set to become a muscle sphere with a 2500+ lb total.

John Phung

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Ever since I started taking strength training seriously, I was bitten by the Iron Bug. Then it burrowed under my skin and laid eggs in my heart. Now those eggs are hatching and I... the feeling is indescribable.

Quick Stats
Height: 5'4" on non-squat days
Weight: 200 lb 210 lb ~220 lb (FOREVER BULK BRAH)


  • Texas Method: March 4, 2011 - April 28, 2013
  • Smolov Jr for Bench Press: June 4 - 22, 2012
  • Starting Strength: Nov 29, 2010 - March 4, 2011