May 30, 2024

School teacher bids to go from classroom to Class 1 Mr Britain

THREE weeks ago PE teacher Matt Griggs was gearing up for a simple summer cut. Come Monday, however, he hopes to return to the classroom after the half-term break as Class 1 NABBA Mr Britain.

"It was the Tuesday before the Sunday of the show [NABBA South East]. Before that I didn’t have any clue I was going to compete, he says. "I thought about it overnight and decided to just do it and see how it goes. So by that Wednesday I'd signed up for it."

Griggs, from Thurrock in Essex, went on to win Class 1 and qualified for the NABBA British finals in Bradford on Saturday.

He said: "From then I was like, if it’s going to be the finals, there’s going to be some good athletes, so I need to dig a bit more and get into better shape."

The past two weeks he has been doing exactly that, cutting his carbs to 50g a day in a bid to bring through his trademark chest striations and deeper cuts in his glutes. Luckily for him, the past week has been half-term, making it easier to manage than facing a classroom of inquisitive teenagers.

A teacher from the age of 18 and a career that has taken in countries from Kuwait to Poland, Griggs is one of the few who combine it with competitive bodybuilding. He has always been into sport. A promising goalkeeper with Colchester United at the age of 12, Griggs also had trials with several top clubs, including Chelsea.

A dislocated shoulder and changing interests put paid to any path to the Premier League. But his focus changed when a physio told him he needed to fill out more. Griggs began pumping iron and the rest is history.

As for combining bodybuilding and teaching, Griggs sees it as a positive. "There is a fantastic rapport you can build with some quite-difficult students," he said. "Boys who are 14, 15, 16, start to become quite conscious about how they look. I developed quite good rapport with students that are quite difficult to manage, because they’re interested in what I do.

My social media is on lockdown – but kids accessed my coach's!

"It’s quite funny because my social media is on lockdown because of safeguarding and all that kind of stuff. I don’t have any students follow me or anything like that. But when I used to have a coach, I used the hashtag 'coached by teambenbo'. So the students used to go on my coach’s account. And my coach, for example, would post like a competition that I had done at the weekend.

"I’d go to school and the students would say tell me what they had seen. So it’s actually quite a nice thing. But I do get questions such as what’s your training split? How do you get as big as you are? Then the obvious question that I get asked all the time is, do I take steroids? 

"But it’s nice having that interest in something other than what you are doing in school. I’ve worked in different schools and played sport against different schools and there’s not many teachers who are bodybuilders. So it' i's a very unique thing."

How bodybuilding's structure is a saviour to many

The discipline which appears to help so many who turn to bodybuilding is also something Griggs relies on.

"This is how I manage things with teaching and bodybuilding," he said. "I’m very structured and very organised and very routine. I love routine. That that just helps with everything regarding time management. I know that I wake up and I’ve got to eat at this time. Then I have to eat at 11am because that’s when break time is. I have to eat at 1pm because that’s when lunchtime is.

"Then I have to eat after school because I'm just about to go to the gym etc. Having that routine, that structure, I thrive on that. When I don’t have that, like in the holiday time, a six-week holiday, I struggle."

There is also the inevitable banter, something which adds to the rapport Griggs has been able to build with students.

"You always want to be quite big as a bodybuilder. But then when you start prepping, you start leaning up and you do get smaller," he said. "And then the students are like, 'sir, are you still training...'."

But there is also a serious side. Most people in prep are stressed, tired and have what we bodybuilders refer to as 'prep brain'. This manifests itself as an inability to function at your normal level.

Most people would not dream of juggling that with a classroom full of teenagers. Griggs, on the other hand, manages it with style.

He said: "It’s having that structure, having that discipline to go to bed and get that rest and recovery. It is extremely important. The most important thing is that I don’t let what I’m doing in my personal life affect my teaching life.

"I’m very conscious of that. I’m aware of my responsibilities as a teacher and I want to give my students everything I can. And if that is ever affected, then I would look very seriously what I’m doing.

"So having that discipline and that routine, having that structure, is absolutely fundamental to everything. If I didn’t have that it would be extremely difficult to manage those situations.

"But don’t get me wrong, there are certain times where you might get a late night, just because you can’t sleep. And that overspill does lead to maybe being a touch more sensitive, a touch more tired, for example.

Being open and honest with students helps – they're human too

"But you just have to manage it and be adaptable. Just being open and honest with the students as well because they are human beings. For example, if I’ve been ill and I’ve got low energy, I’d say, 'look guys, I’m really sorry, but my energy is quite low today'. And and generally they understand if you seem to be human. They respect it.

"There is that element of it, the human side. They see I’m a teacher, but I’m not just a teacher. I also have other things I do outside of school. And when you start to build that rapport with them and they take an interest in something you’re doing, it’s reciprocated.

"I always take an interest in what they’re doing. For example, if they like training, I always make a big effort to have a conversation about how their training is going. I ask what they’re doing, what they’re trying to achieve. Is their diet good enough? They ask whether they can show me their diet. That's another question I get asked quite a bit.

"At William Edwards School, we’ve got a fantastic facility which is well equipped with weights and pin-loaded machines. We take the students there and, for me, it’s a passion. I take them through certain principles of training methods and hopefully it’s enjoyable to them. And that’s what ultimately my job is as a teacher, to enthuse students to lead a healthy lifestyle."

Come on Mr Griggs!

For now, all that is left is to polish his own physique ahead of Saturday's NABBA British finals, to ensure he is at his best in his bid to bring home that title. He won the PCA First Timers British finals in his debut season as a competitive bodybuilder. This would no doubt trump that achievement.

"I'm at a level now where I'm pretty happy and believe I'm going to be competitive at the weekend. It just depends who turns up, doesn't it?" he said. "I just enjoy it and I'll just go there with the thought that I've done the best I can in the time frame I've allowed myself and we'll see how it goes."

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