We’re excited to introduce Stronger By Science’s new Director of Education, Eric Trexler.
Eric is a natural pro bodybuilder, prolific researcher (he just finished his PhD with more than 30 publications), and has a lot of coaching experience. I also consider him to be one of my best friends. He’s a really good, really bright dude.
With Eric on board, we’ll be branching out to provide you with more articles on training and programming for physique sports, nutrition, and supplementation (in addition to my continued focus on strength sports, of course). An official Stronger By Science podcast, hosted by Eric and I, is also in the works.
In addition to the new content, Eric will also begin taking coaching clients in a few months and is currently working with our team of Stronger By Science coaches to take our coaching program to the next level.
Make sure you’re subscribed to the newsletter to be the first to know about new articles, the podcast, and coaching slots.
Though we’ve got a lot of great content with Eric in the pipeline, we wanted to kick things off with this Q&A so you all can get to know a little more about him. If you’d like, you can also connect with Eric on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Here’s my Q&A with Stronger By Science’s new Director of Education, Eric Trexler…
What got you into fitness? How long have you been “in the industry?”
I grew up in Ohio, which legally obligated me to love football. But I also grew up short and kind of slow. When I was 12 years old, I started training like crazy to get better at football. A couple years later, I started wrestling, and that introduced me to the world of nutrition and body composition. A few concussions later, I got into coaching, powerlifting, and natural bodybuilding, and that got me into research. So I guess I just started doing fitness-related things that I enjoyed at the age of 12, kept doing them in a progressive manner, and 15 years later, here I am. I’m not exactly sure when I officially crossed over from being a kid that likes fitness to being “in the industry,” but it was somewhere within that 15-year span.
What was your research on?
While I was in graduate school, my laboratory had a few lines of research going on. We’re probably most widely known for our research on dietary supplements, body composition, and the role of body composition in athletics. Bodybuilding got me into research, so I used to view all of my studies as bodybuilding studies, whether or not they actually were. For instance, we did a study profiling fat-free mass index in college football players. The study answered some pretty cool, football-specific questions. But in the back of my mind, I was always wondering what the implications were for bodybuilding. In this case, how big could a natural bodybuilder realistically hope to become? I kind of viewed all of my studies from the perspective of a bodybuilder or powerlifter.
Eventually, I got lucky and was able to do some bodybuilding studies that were actually about bodybuilding. We published a few studies about metabolic adaptation to weight loss, weight regain after competitions, and the whole host of side effects that physique athletes experience during contest prep.
What’s your academic background?
I did a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science Education, a Master’s Degree in Exercise and Sport Science, and I recently finished my PhD in Human Movement Science at UNC Chapel Hill. That degree is kind of a misnomer; it’s a broad interdisciplinary program through the UNC School of Medicine, and the name sounds like it’s quite focused on biomechanics or motor learning. While those were certainly aspects of the curriculum, my work was mostly in the realm of exercise physiology and sports nutrition. Throughout grad school I was fortunate to work with a lot of talented collaborators, and we published thirty-something research papers, a couple of book chapters, and a bunch of abstracts in the process.
What’s your training background?
As I mentioned, I started training consistently at the age of 12 for football. Then I started being consistently interested in my nutrition around age 14 for wrestling. Ironically, I started to enjoy the training for these sports more than the sports themselves. So, I started competing in powerlifting and bodybuilding in college. I’m definitely a bodybuilder who uses powerlifting as a tool (not the other way around), so my training is mostly oriented toward physique-related goals. I came very close to a pro card in natural bodybuilding in 2013, and that contest preparation process got me interested in doing research on the physiological effects of the weight loss and weight regain associated with bodybuilding. Grad school kept me busy for a while, but I finally got back on stage in 2017, when I got my pro card and made my pro debut.
What’s your coaching background?
After my wrestling career ended, I really wanted to stay involved with the sport, and I really wanted to follow my passion for strength and conditioning. I started helping out with a high school wrestling strength and conditioning program, which was a natural fit. I was given incrementally more responsibilities each year, and eventually helped out with the football program as well. Then I moved away for graduate school, and I realized I had to be very selective with commitments outside of the lab. At that point, I started coaching a Special Olympics powerlifting team. I’ve been with that team on and off for about six years now (depending on my tremendously variable research schedule), and it has completely reshaped my coaching toolbox.
I always wanted to coach physique athletes, but I held off during college and grad school. I wanted to make sure that I had truly earned my future clients’ confidence before taking anyone on. It might seem a little excessive, but I wanted to coach myself to a pro card, get my PhD, and actually run some studies on bodybuilders before taking that plunge. But that checklist is all checked off, so I’m excited about taking on some clients in the coming months!
What of your research are you the proudest of?
Bodybuilding is what got me interested in research, so I am very proud of our series of studies on physique athletes. Bodybuilding research is always an uphill battle; it’s logistically difficult and remarkably hard to fund. That makes it even more rewarding when you are able to put a project together, and I think our work has really helped physique athletes (and non-competitors, as well) manage their weight more effectively. Throughout my career, I have given plenty of lectures where people are absolutely bored to tears. But I’ve also given talks on our bodybuilding research from South Carolina to Florida to Finland, and people have been extremely enthusiastic about where this line of research has gone and where it should go in the future. For a long time, there was pretty minimal bodybuilding research available. There’s been a flurry of activity in this area in the last few years; we certainly didn’t start that trend, but it’s been awesome to be part of it.
Why did you decide to give up a career in academia to work here at Stronger By Science?
There are two answers to this question. The straightforward answer is that I had some options on both sides of the fence, and I was pretty torn. So, I simplified the question by asking myself, “How do you actually want to spend your day?” I’m thankful for the skills and experiences that academia has afforded me, but in academia there’s a constant struggle between doing the project you want to do and the project that other academics will value. In my area of research, there’s also a disconnect between the researchers and the people who actually implement their findings. As researchers, we initiate a project, collect the data, and publish it, but we rarely get to see the end result: Happy people benefiting from it in the real world. By going the Stronger By Science route, I can focus my day-to-day efforts on projects that really excite me and bring value to the clients and the audience. I can also have a lot more direct interaction with the people who are putting my work into action, which is quite rewarding.
The convoluted answer is that I see myself as out of academia, but not out of academics. My email address doesn’t end in “.edu,” and I don’t report to a dean or lecture twice a week in a tweed jacket. But Stronger By Science gives me the opportunity to do academically rigorous work, share that work widely, and collaborate with really talented people. Some of those collaborations will still be with scientists working on research projects intended for peer-reviewed journals, but the overwhelming majority of my work will be published through openly available, non-academic platforms that reach way more readers. I am using the skill set that academia gave me to do academic work in a non-academic setting.
Connect with Eric
We’ll have new articles by Eric on Stronger By Science very soon, and he will begin taking coaching clients in the coming months.