One Month Free Trial | Join Now

Get Started
Member Stories

Podcast 122: Bodybuilder Steve Cook on Finding Solace in the Gym, Optimal vs. Practical

May 4, 2021

Bodybuilder and fitness personality Steve Cook joins the WHOOP Podcast to discuss following your passions to find your niche, committing to your goals, and picking yourself up after life knocks you down.

By Will Ahmed

Listen, review, subscribe.

Steve Cook is one of the most recognizable people in the fitness space. He took a lifelong interest in working out and staying active and turned that into a successful career on stage and creating content online.

This episode is about following your passions, finding your identity, and committing to your goals. Steve explains how he found solace in the gym after his football career stopped and his marriage ended. He says those trying times resulted in a change of direction in his life that allowed him to get to where he is today.

Steve also shares his thoughts on nutrition, how he uses WHOOP in his daily life, and why practical is often more attainable than optimal.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!


Bodybuilder Steve Cook Podcast Show Notes:

2:47 – Finding Your Identity. “My college [football] career didn’t pan out, and my marriage [ended]. All of these things, who I was, came to a screeching halt and I had to reevaluate and change directions in life. I had to pivot. It was good because, at the time, I didn’t know who I was. My identity was all these things. Football, being a husband at 21, and now all of a sudden I had to shift and really find out what I was about. It was a crucial, crucial time in my life that allowed me to get to where I am today.”

4:30 – Solace in the Gym. “The gym was my place of refuge. It was this place where I could go in and dedicate myself. … It was a way for me to focus my energy and shift it into more of a fitness lifestyle.”

6:56 – Pursuing Your Goals. “Focus in on what it is that you think you want,” Steve says. “There’s the old saying, ‘Jump into the river and just start swimming.’ You might not know exactly where you want to go, but if you follow your passion, you might not make money at it first and you might have to work at Texas Roadhouse at first, but follow your passion and eventually you’ll find your niche.”

10:32 – Getting Into Fitness Early. Steve explains how his dad, a high school athletic director, got him into fitness at a young age. “I can remember in 6th grade, a girl asked to touch my pecs. I don’t even know if I knew what a pec was at the time,” Steve says. “All of a sudden I thought, ‘Oh, this is nice.’ My dad used to make me do push ups during commercial breaks, and all of a sudden it was paying off! I was getting attention from the opposite sex.”

11:57 – Bodybuilding. Steve shares how he got into bodybuilding and how his active lifestyle from a young age prepared him for success. “I didn’t know I was preparing for a bodybuilding show when I was 10, 11, 12, 13 years old, but I used that to my advantage later on down the line.”

16:59 – Why Bodybuilding Isn’t Practical. “It was a way for me to devote insane amounts of time and learn a lot about my body,” Steve says of bodybuilding. “But it’s not livable. I couldn’t live at 4% body fat year round and sustain that and be healthy.” Steve is usually around 8 or 9% body fat now.

20:27 – Getting COVID. “I went into my COVID test telling them I had COVID and it was because of my WHOOP. I had a 1% recovery. I didn’t know it could get that low. My disturbances in my sleep and my respiratory rate were through the roof, so I went into it and I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got COVID.’ Sure enough, I came back positive.”

22:37 – WHOOP Recovery. “I’ve really had to rely heavily on my WHOOP,” Steve says. “To have my WHOOP back me up [on how recovered or under recovered I am] is really cool because I don’t sit there and second guess myself. I’m a guy that thinks, ‘Oh, you’re not working hard enough or you’re just feeling like that because you don’t want to go do your workout.’ But when you have something that gives you that data that you can look at and say, ‘Oh, I’m not sleeping as well. My recovery is way down.’ It’s been eye opening.”

24:44 – What’s a Good HRV? Heart rate variability is a highly individualized metric. “My HRV is lower on average than a lot of other people,” Steve says.” I thought, ‘Man, what’s going on?’ I’ve been doing a lot more research on that and I’ve found out that everyone’s HRV is going to be different.”

33:00 – The Dark Side of Bodybuilding. “There’s a dark side to everything if you don’t keep it in check, if you don’t keep it in balance,” Steve says, before discussing steroid use in the bodybuilding world. “I had to go one of two directions. I could’ve kept competing and I would’ve had to cross this road and look at what it’s going to take to be the best on that stage. Or, I could change and go more YouTube. That’s the route I ultimately took, to be more health based.”

41:20 – Optimizing for Everyday Life. “We can always talk about things that are optimal in a test tube, but when you put them into practice in real life, they have to be somewhat flexible. You can say, ‘You can do this, eat this many calories.’ But if someone can’t follow that, that’s not optimal for them. I always cringe on January 1st every year when people say, ‘New Year’s Resolution: Eat healthier. I’m only going to eat rice and chicken and broccoli.’ You’re setting yourself up for failure. Let’s talk about ways we can work around that. What are some realistic goals?”

42:40 – Accountability. “I think if there is a hack, it would be to surround yourself with people who are going to hold you accountable. Surround yourself with people that are going to call you out when you’re not doing what you should be doing. We really are the cumulation of the 5 closest people we surround ourselves with.”

48:44 – Greenlights. Steve says he just finished Matthew McConaughy’s new book Greenlights.

51:22 – Enjoying the Journey. “We’re always changing, We’re always wanting more. That’s who we are as people. You have to realize that you’re always going to feel like that. Find that joy in the journey. Find that joy in whatever you’re doing, the struggle. Because no matter what, when you get to that success, even the people that are at their top of the game, they’re not satisfied. They always want more. It’s about finding happiness in that journey.”

Connect with Steve on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.


Share on and

Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.