Michael Dean Johnson is a Certified Fitness Professional at Philosophy Fitness and a proud member of Team MuscleTech. The certified trainer and fitness model, who has also been featured on MTV’s reality show Are You The One? and Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, took time out of his busy schedule to chat with MuscleTech about becoming a #GirlDad, how Stoicism has impacted his life and training, and why he believes that fitness should be for everyone.
Q. Congrats on the big announcement! We saw on social media that you’re going to become a father in April 2021. What does becoming a #GirlDad mean to you?
A: “How do I feel about being a #GirlDad? You know, I’d be happy with a boy or a girl. If I did have a little boy, when he was one I’d be like, ‘Why aren’t you paying taxes yet? Come on!’ And a girl, I’d be like, ‘No, no, no. Don’t do anything.’ (Laughing) So, I am excited about that. I love kids, and I’ve always loved kids. In high school, I was a kindergarten TA teacher all four years. So, I love little kids.
I don’t think life will change for me that much – well, of course I mean my life will change big time, but I’ll still keep up my fitness. Someone was asking me, I used to do bodybuilding competitions, and they said, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re probably going to have a Dad bod now.’ I replied, ‘The opposite! Now I have a whole new market of people I can connect with about how not to have a Dad bod.’ So, I’ll definitely try to incorporate that as the years go on.”
Q. You grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, were active during your childhood, and have said that your fitness journey really began once you started wrestling competitively at 10 years old. What has wrestling taught you about life that you’ve been able to carry with you still to this day?
A: “Yeah, so there’s a quote by a famous wrestler named Dan Gable, he was a big-time wrestler in the sixties, and he said, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.’
Wrestling is its own kind of beast because you have team sports and you have individual sports. So, wrestling of course is mostly an individual sport. You know, you don’t ever lose a match because your teammate did something; it’s all on you.
We always say in wrestling, ‘The match was won long before it ever started,’ because it’s all about the hours that you put in, the training that you put in before. So, I believe these lessons transfer over really well in life. Let’s take a job interview for example, if you’re prepared for your job interview – of course it matters how you perform, but you do the work ahead of time.
Wrestling is intense, it’s fast-paced, you’ve gotta be disciplined, you’ve gotta be ready, and life is the same thing. Life is gonna throw crazy things at you. You mess up and you lose (snaps fingers) just like that. So, you’ve gotta be on your toes, you’ve gotta be prepared, and disciplined, of course.”
Q. After graduating high school, you switched your attention from wrestling to bodybuilding and weightlifting. Was that a natural transition for you or were there a lot of ups and downs along the way?
A: “It was actually a very natural transition because wrestling in itself is so intense. I got offers to wrestle in college. I decided I wanted to have somewhat of a college experience, and party. So, I went to the University of Tennessee, and they don’t have a wrestling program there. And I went there with the intention of partying, and I just had this hole missing from me, and I didn’t even know that it was fitness at the time, but I loved training my body. I loved how I felt, and at a young age, it was something that I could control about my life. Everything is always controlled for you, so my fitness, my exercise, and training my body was something I could control.
And so when I realized that, ‘Hey, I’m missing something. I really love fitness.’ I just started going to the gym. I literally had no clue what I was doing. I mean, I had seen people work out here and there, so I was trying different stuff. But I was just so into it though that a bodybuilder came up to me and asked, ‘Have you ever though about training for a bodybuilding competition?’ I was like, ‘Can you even do that? I thought you had to be a professional.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, there’s a show in 8 weeks. I’ll kind of coach you into it if you want to do it. I think you’ve got potential.’ So I said, ‘Sure.’ And that’s how it started. I kind of naturally walked into it. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot. I learned a lot about fitness.
I was doing that for about two years, and then another bodybuilder said, ‘You’ve kind of got a knack for this. Have you thought about becoming a certified trainer?’ He told me where to enroll in classes and I got my first certification after I just turned 18, which was AAAI/ISMA.”
Q. You wrestled for the Tennessee National Team and then had three first place finishes and one overall victory out of 4 men’s physique competitions. So, when you set your mind to something is your goal always to be the best at that particular thing whether it’s wrestling, or physique competitions, or even becoming a husband, and now a soon-to-be father? Is your goal always to be the best at everything you do?
A: “Yes and No. And this is where I kind of play into the philosophy-fitness thing. I am a bit of a perfectionist, I do want to be the best that I can be, but not to the point of killing myself over it, or feeling bad. I think that you should be the best that you can be, and everyone’s different. So, what’s great for someone, like someone who struggles at school, if your best is a ‘B,’ you should be proud that you got a ‘B.’ You shouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, no. I didn’t get an ‘A.’’ If that’s your best, then be happy.
Where people start to really doubt themselves is when they don’t see an end in sight. When they say, ‘I need an ‘A,’ I need an ‘A+.’ Then you are always chasing something, but you’re actually never happy. So, shoot for the best, and if you truly put in all the hard work that you can, then you did your best.
I mean, it’s great to have first place finishes and everything, and of course that’s what you go for, but I’ve gotten second place and yeah, it rubs me in my core a little bit, but I know, ‘Hey, I did do my best. And that’s what I’m here for.’”
Q. We read a blog you wrote on your website www.philosophy-fitness.com that talked about one of your favorite ancient Stoic practices being welcoming voluntary discomfort. What exactly is voluntary discomfort and how did it come across your radar and become such a big part of your life?
A: “I really focus on this one, and I wish I could get more people into it. We live in the 21st century world where everyone wants to have everything as nice as possible. And Stoicism talks about how that’s actually one of the worst things you can do for yourself. Pampering yourself can be very detrimental to your happiness.
So, voluntary discomfort, how they describe it since it is thousands of years old, is if you have access to fresh bread everyday, fresh food, purposefully buy stale bread for days on end. You’ll hate it, it’ll be disgusting, but then when you taste the fresh bread again, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, it tastes so good.’
Voluntary discomfort is forcing yourself to go through hardship. And for the record, don’t cut off one of your toes because that’s discomforting. That’s absurd. Don’t do that, but purposely wake up early everyday. If you get to sleep until 8, wake up at 6 and do something productive. You’re gonna be tired, you’re gonna be cranky, but on the days you get to sleep in it’s gonna be really nice. You’re gonna be in a great mood. So, purposely put yourself through these mild discomforts so that when you do get the opportunity to have the good things, you really appreciate it. And then on the flip side, when something goes bad, you know, ‘I’ve done this before. I’ve done this a hundred times.’
If you have stale bread every single day, and then life hurts you and you don’t have money to buy good bread, well, it’s not a big deal because you’ve done it one hundred times. Whereas the pampered person, when their life goes sour, their life is over. And you’re like, ‘Really? Because they didn’t have fresh bread? That’s that big of a deal for you? You’re alive. You have good health.’ So, that’s what that’s all about.”
Q: But how do you put that Stoic practice into action in a family unit? When it’s not just you, but there’s someone else involved who maybe doesn’t want to eat stale bread, let’s say your wife for example?
A: “You can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. I mean, a family should be a unit and you’re not going to convince anyone to do anything overnight. It works really well with a partner as far as doing things for the other person. Like, we love to watch movies so often times I’ll watch a movie that I don’t want to watch because it makes her happy, and that’s just kind of obvious, but when I do get to watch what I want, I love it. I’m super into the movie. So, that’s a silly example.
But think of it as you paying it forward for yourself. And you’ve gotta do it without complaining. That’s a big one. If you do it, but you’re dragging your feet, it’s gonna make the other person miserable and it’s not going to have the effect.
So, yeah, it can be watching movies that you don’t want to watch. It can be going to their favorite restaurant. Not just, ‘I do mine. You do yours. I do mine.’ Go everyday for a week to their favorite restaurant. Then you do your thing once. You’ll become more patient, you’ll become more loving, more graceful, it just brings out the good parts of you when you put yourself through that discomfort.”
Q. You’ve competed in men’s physique competitions, are a published fitness model, have been on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and were on the MTV reality show, Are You the One? Do you have to talk yourself up before a competition, a shoot, or an appearance on a TV show? And if so, what’s that like for you? How do you keep moving forward and not let nerves get in the way?
A: “Voluntary discomfort. I get nervous before I do any public speaking. I mean, I’ve been on Bravo like 17 times, but I’d say maybe the first 14 times I was nervous. I got a little more used to it towards the end. But I definitely have to talk myself up.
Another part of Stoicism is thinking rationally. If I’m going to go out on a TV show, I can be really nervous and mess up – my biggest fear is messing up. So, if I let that fear in I’m going to mess up. Or I can say, ‘I’m nervous, but it’s OK to be nervous. Just go out there and have fun.’ It’s like if you’re playing sports and there’s a big game. If you let the fear in, it will control you. Often times, fear itself is much worse than actually messing up. I always tell myself the time is going to pass either way. Either I’m going to do it this way, or this way, but time is always moving forward. It’s always going to happen.”
Q. When you’ve shared inspiration with clients and try to motivate them, has anyone ever been like, ‘Yeah, that’s easy for you to say, Michael Dean. You’re a model. I can work out my whole life and never look like you.’ What do you say to people who have that mindset?
A: “Yeah, and I do get that a lot. And it is true. Some people are more genetically gifted. Everyone’s got their own talents, and that’s kind of what I say. I’m never going to be a world-class singer, but I love to sing in the shower and I should continue to do it. Not everyone is going to be a bodybuilder, but fitness in itself is more about physical attributes and that’s what we focus on most of the time.
But it should be about how you feel physically. So, if they say that to me, I’ll say, ‘Well, how do you feel when you walk up stairs? Maybe you don’t look as great as you want, but you can walk up five flights of stairs and you’re not out of breath anymore. That’s pretty usefully in daily life. You wake up and are energetic all day, how does that make you feel?’ So, I try to focus on, ‘Yeah, maybe you’re focusing on one small aspect of fitness or life that you’re working towards that’s not going 100 hundred percent, but how has that helped everything else?’ Look at the big picture.”
Q. You’re someone who uses your social media account for positivity. Why is it so important to you to make sure that you’re putting positivity out there?
A: “Yeah, so, let’s use politics for example. Of course, I have a political opinion and it is so difficult for me to not put it on social media, but I don’t put it out there because ultimately I do want the world to get better. And I want for me to have a positive effect on the world. So, even if I think what I’m going to say is positive about my political views, someone out there is going to see it poorly.
And so I’ve found that with certain things, you really have to think about what is going to have a positive effect. Truly letting the positivity come from within has a much more positive effect in the long-term. It truly has to come from your persona. If you tell people positive things, it’s very surface level. But if you are radiating positive energy, people see it, and everyone is seeing everyone nowadays and people can see through you. So, if you really want to put it out there, it’s gotta come from within.”
Q. How are you able to use the lessons you’ve learned along the way and get them across to clients you’re training through your online coaching at Philosophy Fitness?
A: “Definitely forcing people to read certain literature on their own. Again, you can tell someone something, but people absorb things in different ways. From what I’ve seen for the most part, they absorb it from watching over people. Again, they’ll see through the superficial stuff. So, either they need to watch you or watch someone else who intrinsically motivates them, so motivates them from the inside.
Or I’ll assign homework for them. I’ll literally tell you, ‘I’m giving you homework. I want you to read this article, I want you to watch this video on stretching, and I want you to do this workout.’ I assign homework, and I’m like, ‘You’ve gotta do this. Stop complaining to me until you do this.’ It’s kind of forcing them to do their own version of voluntary discomfort.”
Q. What does being a MuscleTech Athlete mean to you?
A: “I’ve used MuscleTech products pretty much since I’ve wrestled. So, while I was in high school. So, becoming a MuscleTech Athlete was like the dream come true. Truly is. I love it. I think MuscleTech produces this, ‘Fitness Can Be For Everyone’ attitude and I love that because it truly can be for everyone. So, I think MuscleTech and I go hand-in-hand. It makes me really, really happy to be a part of the team and see everyone else who’s motivating and working on their goals.”
Q: What are your favorite MuscleTech products?
A: “So, I’ve got two products that are my favorite for two reasons. One, what I think is their most valuable product, the best thing in my opinion MuscleTech has put out, is Clear Muscle. I tell people it’s like a super amino. They’re the only people who have ever come out with a truly good product that works with building muscle for a good price point. Most companies have something like this and it’s like $200. MuscleTech is like, ‘Here’s the good stuff, here it is at a good price. We want everyone to have it.’ So Clear Muscle is the best product that I think that they have out there. It’s a great price, and I’ve taken it pretty much since it came out, very consistently.
And two is the Vapor One Pre-Workout, which is now called Shatter Elite. It’s super strong. Most pre-workouts, you take for a month and then you don’t feel them anymore. I, to this day, don’t even take a full scoop because then I’d be doing like back flips in the gym. So, that one makes me feel good. I just love that product.