JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Three years ago, when Army Capt. Johnny Dotson was a first lieutenant, he was approached by someone at the Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri) main post gym and encouraged to look into becoming a competitive body builder. Though he had never thought of competing, Dotson took the stranger’s suggestion and began the research that propelled him into the competition lifestyle.
Since then, Dotson has won 23 trophies and medals and successfully defended the his 2017 world title in the men's athletic (physique) class at the 2018 Drug Free Athletic Coalition, or DFAC, World Championships in Miami, Florida, last month. The competition is considered the pinnacle of natural bodybuilding.
Dotson is a student at the Army Medical Department Center & School, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, in the Master of Social Work graduate program, where he serves as the assistant class leader.
He frequently scores 300 on the biannual Army physical fitness test and most recently scored a 316 on the extended scale. As his program director, Col. Nathan Keller, Army MSW program director, said, “Dotson’s APFT scores are not surprising for someone who has won two back-to-back world titles.”
Dotson has served in the Army for 10 years, previously as a company executive officer and company commander before being accepted into the highly competitive MSW program. Dotson believes social work is a perfect fit for him because he understands that Soldiers come into the Army as a unique package.
“Soldiers have a human element. I get that,” Dotson said. “I feel I am well equipped to execute the mission of the Social Work Corps.”
For an Army captain, competing in the DFAC is a natural fit.
“I've been competing in the DFAC for less than three years,” Dotson said. “I began preparing for this competition in June 2018. Preparation included dieting, high-intensity cardio and intense strength training five to six days a week.”
Dotson received professional coaching from Ryan Sullivan, who specializes in training physique competitors. All this to spend an intense 20 minutes on stage is time well spent in his eyes. The professional men's athletic category included athletes from the United States, England, Canada and Cayman Islands.
Dotson competes in male physique competitions, which emphasizes an ascetic look and is different from traditional bodybuilding. Competitors in the men's athletic class, traditionally the physique category, are judged on three elements: muscularity, symmetry and presentation. Dotson’s natural charisma connecting with the audience and judges allowed him to excel in presentation round.
Run purely for the good of the natural athletes, the DFAC is not about making profit. Their aim is the development of natural bodybuilding as a sport. Every athlete finalist is polygraphed, and all class winners are subjected to urinalysis. The DFAC adheres to stringent drug testing and adheres to World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, regulations.
Dotson believes his training will also help him prepare for new Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, that began fielding in October and will be fully implemented by October 2020.
“I feel that a lot of what I do for my competition career can translate to the new Army Combat Fitness Test,” Dotson said. “For example, one of the ACFT exercises is similar to a dead lift, and that’s something that I stick to.”
He believes the cardio on the running event on the ACFT should not be an issue, since he does a lot of cardio training.
“A lot of things I do for power training the off season, along with cutting and shredding during the competition season, I feel translates to the new ACFT,” Dotson added.
Dotson will soon complete classroom studies and enter the clinical portion of his master’s degree. He plans to continue competing, striking a balancing with his Army career. He also encourages others to try bodybuilding.
“My advice to others is the same exact thing I was told back at Fort Leonard Wood, ‘you should try to compete,’” Dotson said. “It teaches discipline, commitment, and gives Soldiers something to focus on outside of the Army. You can add something else to your toolkit. Give it a shot.”