Join Nick & world champion powerlifter Brian Carroll as they discuss:
"Gift of Injury" is now available on Amazon.com. Click HERE to get it.
Brian Carroll: Think of this analogy.
You're walking down the street and you constantly stub your big toe. I can inject it with all kinds of Lidocaine and painkillers and everything, bandage it up, but until we address the gait problem that toe is never going to heal up because you keep picking the scab and stubbing it.
I say it's no different with your back.
If you're constantly causing the injury over and over, it doesn't matter what I shoot into it, it doesn't matter what we do to brace it, doesn't matter what we do until we address the issue and the injury mechanism and take that away -- and then we allow to rebuild athleticism.
Nick Ritchey: Brian embodies the saying, "it's not over until you quit."
Three time World's Strongest Man, Bill Kazmaier, wrote the forward to his new book and says,
"Brian's story is truly inspiring as it demonstrates the power of sound rehabilitation." -Bill Kazmaier
My own mentor and former co-host, Chris Young, before he was taken away early by leukemia, called Brian a "true gentleman," and a lot of other good things back in Mighty Cast episode 107.
Three things about Brian that stand out to me the most are that he has squatted over 1000 pounds in competition over 50 times. He has multiple world records in three different weight classes totaling over 10 times his body weight in power-lifting competitions. And Brian is chock full of wisdom.
In this interview we're going to cover Brian's transformation from the lowest of lows, to the highest of highs. From sitting in his car, considering eating a bullet, to getting pain free and stronger than ever.
We're going to look at his book, the big ideas that you can take away from it, and the details that make a difference.
We'll talk about a 90 year old woman that got to stay in her house because she was able to fix her back pain with some basic power lifting 101.
And we're going to look at how this information has impacted both of our lives and leave you with some takeaways that can change your life for the better, forever, if you implement them.
And now let's get to our guest.
Hey Brian, how are you doing?
Brian: I've been doing well Nick. Thanks for having me. It's been really right at three and a half years…
Kind of hard to believe how fast time has flown.
Hope everything's been well with you.
Nick: Yeah. I don't know if you know, but last time you were my surprise birthday present. My birthday is on the 19th and you were on the show on the 17th.
Brian: Oh really? So he surprised you with that. That's pretty cool.
Nick: Yeah, definitely. I was tickled pink then, and when I saw your new book come out I was I was tickled pink again. So I'm looking forward to getting into that with you a bit today.
Brian: Sounds good man, ready to do it.
Nick: Well, I think we should start off with what happened because I know you were starting the recovery process the last time we talked. You had some videos on YouTube with Dr. McGill. I was watching those and following your progress.
We were all crossing our fingers rooting for you.
But man, you had a hell of an injury, which the book goes into quite a bit.
The book is "The Gift of Injury" by Brian Carroll and Dr. Stu McGill. You had, a crushed L5 and a split sacrum.
For our readers that don't know what that means, we all know what a donut is. A crushed vertebrae is kind of like a crushed donut. If you're were just to step on that thing. And the split sacrum is kind of like if you took a bite out of it.
Brian: Yeah, it's a substantial injury and I wasn't aware that it was that bad until I got up to Canada that day.
But the sacrum is the foundation of your spine.
And if you don't have a strong foundation, you don't have anything. So obviously that was not just going to cause me problems in power-lifting but day to day life, so it had to be addressed.
And in Gift of Injury, we give you the good, the bad the ugly, top bottom of everything we did to beat this injury and then make it back. So I'm looking forward to talking about it.
Nick: Yeah. Definitely.
When you were going to the other doctors they were saying you might never lift again, you might have to have a spinal fusion.
You tried some pain meds but those things have diminishing returns. Obviously you were down in the ruts. You kept looking though for another option and one of your friends helped you out a bit.
Nick: And that was that, right?
Brian: That was it in a nutshell. That's how it started a little over four 1/2 years ago and I haven't looked back since. So it's pretty cool, it sounds like kind of a made up story but that's about how it went.
Nick: Yeah, well it is it is really one of those...
Like a Rocky story because he's kind of down in the dumps and then he gets back to the top. I know in your book you go into more detail.
I don't want to overstep my bounds, but we all have dark thoughts when things are bad and you were sitting there with a gun in your glove compartment…
Brian: Yes, it was a pretty dark time.
And I just left the third doctor in just a couple of days, third surgeon, and it was a whole shenanigans with them of course. And so I was pretty frustrated at that point, because I just wanted some kind of positive direction whether it was surgery or not, or some kind of definitive solution.
So yeah for a couple of minutes, I definitely considered going a different route with the rest of my life, if you will.
But I wisely only let that be thought and not any kind of action. So I ended up becoming a little more headstrong a little more determined after that. And I'm sure a lot of people who have had severe back pain can relate to those dark moments.
Nick: I think anybody who's been just at wits end with pain can pretty much relate to, “If you ain't got your health you ain't got nothing,” right?
You really appreciate your health when it's the worst. You really want it back.
Brian: Your body is a limited resource.
When you think you're in your teens or 20s, or even your 30s like I did, you think, man this athleticism lasts forever. I'll always feel this good, I'll always be this strong, I'll always be this agile, I'll always have this much energy.
Well, that’s not the way it works.
If that were the case people would be running around with these kind of weights in their 70s.
Nick: Definitely. And I think you make a really good distinction in the book too between your biological age and your training age.
I believe you were born in 81…
But I would say your training age compared to most people's around your age...
Nick: We'll get into what you decided to do for health and happiness a little bit later, but I think you definitely made a good choice there.
You talked about a few things that I haven't heard and some of the other interviews. You went into it in the book.
The system is kind of… I’m all pro medicine.
I know with my former partner, who you know would be on the podcast were he here, he was big into skepticism. He was big into following the medical procedures that are backed by evidence and so forth.
And so am I.
But that being said, you hit on a sore spot which is, there is a system. There is a pipeline and you have a track when you do go into the medical field and you follow it. If you have back pain, you know you're going to see how severe it is and then it's likely to end up in surgery.
And your story is refreshing because I was talking to several friends and family members in the last couple of weeks and they're asking, “So what kind of surgery did he get? What drugs was he on?” This, that, and the other thing.
And I would reply, "No surgery. The rehab process, to my understanding, didn't involve a lot of drugs. Maybe some painkillers. But there wasn't surgery.”
They were floored by the fact that your spine was in the condition it was in -- and that it recovered at all.
So would you like to talk a little bit about the bone callousing process?
Was that just happening through proper loading in recovery ?
Or did it involve some kind of electrical stimulation?
Or something else?
Brian: OK, so let me preface this with:
1. You know, it's not me just digging on doctors as a whole.
I have doctors that are friends, close friends actually, but they understand the flaws in the system and it works for a lot of people, but unfortunately a lot of people it doesn't work so well for, and they end up on painkillers.
None of my rehab contain any medication, opiates or any kind of anti-inflammatory drugs, above some occasional ibuprofen and I've taken Voltaren before. That's more for my hip arthritis in my knees especially at this point.
It was one of those things that Dr. McGill, the bone callous thing, he experimented on with a couple of lifters, or people before but none of them were trying to come back to bear so much load once again. It was just going to be more body weight, day to day stuff.
Loading with 1,000 pounds of pressure on your back is quite a bit different.
This book is not just for someone who wants to lift a bunch of weight. It's a far outside the box story of someone who got out of pain that was not supposed to be, and returned to athletic endeavors.
All the more reason for the person that's a stay at home mom, or the dad that can't pick his son up out of the crib anymore without back pain. All the more reason for them to understand if they do the right things and they move well and they rebuild that athleticism in their back again, they'll be able to do these things.
It's not a death sentence. I just took it to the way extreme.
All the more reason for the person that isn't trying to, that they can accomplish this. So let me just say that.
But the bone callousing, Stu can explain the science a lot better, and in the book the science is explained pretty thoroughly. But basically, we give enough stimulation for the bones to lay down scaffolding. To fill in those breaks there and to rebuild and remold and remodel.
Over time, proper progressions of dead lifts and squats and carrys, and things of that nature helped everything gristle and build back up. But the biggest thing is was not working in any pain, and not trying to go too much load too fast.
So we varied our intensities very nicely like I outlined in 10/20/Life, my strength training book. And we really took our time rebuilding it. I mean when I started back squatting again, I started back at 65 pounds on the squat. And that was a barbell back squat.
I just squatted 1,185 at one time, so I really started over as a beginner. So the biggest thing was dropping the ego, listening to Dr. McGill because he was the expert in his field, and letting him do his thing. And fortunately, one of these experiments worked with the bone callousing, and this book is basically a giant case study on this.
Nick: And as you mentioned it's an excellent case study. Because not only were you, again this is helpful for everybody not just world class athletes, because what it shows is that you can go from essentially being in worst case then you a grandmother that just fell down and fractured her back, to squatting 1,100 pounds again.
So, if your goal isn't to squat 1,100 pounds, it's kind of goes without saying if you're just doing body weight activities -- you can probably improve at least to that point.
Brian: Yeah. Yeah, that's an easier goal to accomplish. Just getting back to the normal day to day stuff.
But I think...
"One thing that people should keep in mind is all of us are athletes -- our goals are just different." -Brian Carroll
Someone's athletic goal might be a really fast landscaper outside and do a lot of volume with cutting yards, or someone might be trying to be, or excel in some other job, be fit or whatever it, is be a really good personal trainer. So they have to treat their body and not use it up doing things that are going to damage it. So we want to be cautious of the of the things that we do.
Always being mindful for picking something up we're bracing, we're utilizing that lifters wedge. It started off of me when I was coming back from injury I'd lean on the sink with one hand and I would brush my teeth and do a hip hinge.
So I think if everyday people treat themselves as athletes and really try to be the best at what they're doing and with good movement, day to day ingrained, I really think that it would help a lot of people stay out of the rehab purgatory if they would think of themselves as simply an athlete.
Again like you talked about doing a hip hinge when brushing your teeth. I've been doing that for years just because I thought,
"Why would I not keep my spine integrity while I'm doing basic activities like brushing my teeth?" -Nick Ritchey
But that's a common one where the first few times you kind of catch yourself, and you're like... AH! Just tighten a little bit down there and then we're good.
Brian: Same thing. I talk about the landscaper, or the person that's trying to be a great roofer or a contractor.
It doesn't matter how good they are at something if they're hurt and beat up and can no longer do it. So it's a matter of just taking care of your body and just being mindful of everything that you do every day.
I'm not saying that you can't have some fun, but there has to be a pros and cons. Juice has to be worth the squeeze and everything we do. Instead it just of be kind of being reckless and then wonder why we're feeling like we're 80 when we're 40.
Nick: That's a hard, hard ask for a lot of things.
If you've ever moved things around on your desk and you reach for where your pen used to be and it's now in a different position.. you can do that for a year before you go "OK, it's in the drawer."
If you move things around your kitchen, you reach for a glass and it's somewhere else… it takes a while.
I don't think people give themselves enough slack.
People are really hard on themselves for common human behaviors. It's part of our patterning. That's how our brain works, it takes shortcuts. And there's no reason to feel bad about it.
Just, when you see an opportunity to improve -- take it. Right?
Brian: Yes, so it's a whole 'withdrawals and deposits' analogy. Make too many withdrawals out of your bank account and what happens?
You end up bouncing, or overdrafting, or going bankrupt. Same thing, you can be athletically bankrupt and you don't have to be an athlete.
Again your body can just be flat worn out, start treating it better and make some deposits back in it, and you'll be pleasantly surprised what can happen.
Nick: And so I know Chris Duffin, you're familiar with him. I like think a lot of his guys have the word “anti-fragile” on them, but there's this book series by this guy called Nassim Taleb and he talks about anti-fragility.
When I see the anti-fragile logo on a lot of their stuff, I think about that book all the time because it's all about breaking down and rebuilding stronger than ever.
And that seems like a lot of what you did with the spine here. But it's a delicate balance to strike because if you break too much, you can be out of commission or require surgery.
Brian: I did reference Duffin there.
And we want to build anti-fragile strength.
"We don't want to be scared of load or movement. We want to stabilize and minimize the risks of what we do. And build resilience over time." -Brian Carroll
Slowly building it up.
The porridge that's not too cold, and the porridge is not too hot. You want it just right.
Well you need to start, especially with athletes or someone coming back from injury, or you know your million dollar athletes, or your general population, whoever it is.
You start with somewhere right in the middle, because you don't want to do too much for no reason, and especially if they're going to make gains off a small amount and you obviously don't want to hurt them.
But you don't want to do so little and that I'm not making any gains and wasting their time.
So it's all about finding that sweet spot and it directly applies to the bone callousing and rebuilding and the anti-fragile analogy you made there earlier about the cup and the cat.
It's one of those things that it's got to be just right, and it takes time to do that. But always err on the side of caution, is the way I put it.
Nick: You don't want any career ending injuries, especially if you're a beginner.
"It's the top and the bottom, the absolute newbies and the world class athletes that seem to overdo it one way or another." -Nick Ritchey
You had a great section about ego, but let's get back to that in a minute.
I want to jump back, if we could, for just a second because we talked a little bit about Stu. I'd like to talk about him a bit more because I really love how you paired with him, and then you really have the best of both the science and practice in this book.
Could you tell us a little about Stu?
So our listeners who aren't familiar with him will know a bit more.
Brian: Dr. Stuart McGill is out of Waterloo, Canada. He was a professor there for about 33 years.
He taught...he was over the whole science department actually, I believe. Kinesiology and spine biomechanics is his background. And he's worked with some of the top athletes in the world, a lot of them that we can't talk about.
Some are pretty public like George St. Pierre or Blaine Sumner, that have come out and given him credit for a lot of the work that he's done with them.
And obviously I've worked with him, and I know countless other athletes and colleagues of mine that are powerlifters that work with him.
But he is the authority on low back pain, pain causes and disorders, and rehab. And we paired up and, like you said, his science complements my real world validity and the methods that I come up with over time.
And I've inter-fused a lot of the things that he has taught me through this process and it kind of made me a complete lifter. But I was lacking a few things, you know I was a little sloppy with some things that I talk about and I wasn't so cerebral approach at all times.
He helped kind of fill in those gaps for me a bit, and Stu is one of my mentors, and he's a mentor to a lot of people. And actually he's was just over in the UK not long ago doing his courses, so his website is BackFitPro.com if you want to read more about him.
He's got a couple of really good books, too. I think the most popular one right now is Back Mechanic. It's a great book, but the guy's just a genius.
Nick: Yeah, that's one that I'd really want to get in and read in the future now that I've seen it referenced so many times. Not only is the book called Back Mechanic, that's pretty much who he is.
If you’ve got a problem with your car, you go into the car mechanic. If you have a problem with your back, you go to Stu and he fixes you up. Same kind of thing.
As long as you do your part, don’t overdo it and all that stuff.
“Porridge not too hot, not too cold.”
I love that analogy. That's great.
Nick: Yeah. It's always about how we make this stuff relatable to people so they can latch on to it, remember it, and then hopefully use it in the future. So it's not just abstract.
That's why I brought up you and Stu.
Because again the marriage of the science and the practice… because of his position and the books he's written and how he's helped clinicians.
People who you know really latch on to the science will go 'OK this book has some credibility,' whereas you're just a strong guy to them. They love to see the science behind it.
But a lot of people are skeptical of science. Everybody's pulling their shit from Pub Med, cherry picking, and putting it together to do something that supports the conclusions they made beforehand, right?
So then they see you actually implementing this and it working. And they’re like, “Oh, great! So now I know that this stuff works because this guy used it.”
Then, for everybody who can appreciate both, it’s like, “Wow! That's a really, really powerful synergy.”
Brian: Yeah, Stu ran the lab there at Waterloo for 30 years and conducted countless experiments and studies.
Hundreds. And that's why he learned, and then he would test it in the clinic. You'd have the lab there and the clinic next door. And he would test things with his athletes and injured people, and it turned out really well. As you can see.
Nick: Yeah, definitely. I'd like to get into some of these details a bit more in the next episode. But let's talk a bit more about your book here. If you're all right to move on to that?
Nick: We already talked a little about the injury. At the start of the book, in section one you’re talking about your early years. There were all these great little lessons that I learned from my mentor, Chris. And your mentor, Skip Sylvester, gave a lot of the same advice.
I believe Jonathan Byrd also lifts with you down there quite often. A couple of things like “strength is a great equalizer,” “eat a lot and train heavy…”
I mean, we love these things.
It's common knowledge that goes around. It's part of the making of a lifter.
And think we both feel the same about bodybuilding.
I love bodybuilders, those are tough sons of bitches to do what they do. But I believe you said,
"There was nothing appealing to me about eating super small amounts, sucking myself down, then prancing around onstage feeling like death." -Brian Carroll
Brian: Yeah, I did a couple bodybuilding shows and it just wasn't fun because you don't eat much, you feel bad.
The diet is the hardest part. The training isn't hard.
So yeah, I don't miss that.
Nick: Yeah. I've tried that. And getting super lean, not so fun.
Want a four pack? Just lift heavy. Eat good. Don't get too sloppy, and you're fine.
But getting super lean?
No fun, just no fun.
Brian: It's a whole other level of care and maintenance like 24 hours a day.
Nick: I saw your picture also when you were 17 and you were benching more than I do now at 33.
Brian: Yeah, I focused too much on the squat and the deadlift at that point, I was just benching 3 or 4 days a week which is ridiculous.
But you do a lot of silly things in high school.
You follow suit. But a lot of things didn't really make sense to me so I stopped doing them.
Nick: Power lifting is not for everyone, right?
But you love it, I love it.
We've all got our own things and like you said you got to just be mindful. Where's that going to put you if you're not using right form?
You’ve got to be aware 24/7.
Brian: Yeah, exactly.
Nick: All right. I wanted to go into something just for our listeners.
I mentioned the Johari Window in the outline because you talked about when you were having difficulties with your back. You said you'd done literally everything you knew how to do just...
And then when you don't know what to do, a very helpful tool is something called the Johari Window. Draw a 2x2 Matrix on a piece of paper.
You've got things at the top. There are things that “you know that you know,” and then there are “things that you know you don't know.”
When people hear I’m a math teacher they're like, "Oh, I don't know math at all." They know that they don't know math, right?
So you've got things you know, and things you know you don't know.
Then there are other people on the side of the grid. There are things that “others know about you,” and things that “others don't know about you,” like private information, secrets, whatever.
This 2x2 grid gives you 4 boxes.
And one of the boxes is “things that others know about you, that you don't know about yourself.”
An example is the guy at the party that's just a totally weird dude, and everybody is trying to stay away from him…
But he doesn't know he's a weird dude!
Brian: Yeah that's always awkward.
Nick: Yeah. So you got that guy, right?
But it's not just social skills and parties, it's knowledge gaps as well. So when you were thinking, “Look I've done everything I know. The people that I know in my network, they don't seem to have something for me.”
"To get answers, you may need to go outside of your network." -Nick Ritchey
Which you ended up doing.
You ended up going to Dr. McGill. And then you found out some stuff that he knew about you, about bracing and these various little things to help you recover -- that you didn't know about yourself.
I just wanted to highlight this because when people don't know what to do, often they'll just throw up their hands and give up...
Instead, remember the Johari window.
“It ain't over till you quit, but if you quit, it's over.”
Brian: Right, exactly.
So I was definitely on the cusp of getting desperate and there were things that I simply didn't know that were pointed out to me when I when I met Stu in his life clinic that they were just, I knew but I just didn't realize it wasn't doing them properly.
It's kind of when someone tells you you've been a jackass for a while. You kind of noticed it, but not enough to do something about it. That's kind of the same thing.
Nick: Yeah. And we've all felt that before.
Definitely. It's like, “Oh, I was such a dick.”
Brian: It's like, uh maybe I thought I was rude.
“Oh, actually you said this, and you said that…” and next thing people are letting you know how you acted, you're like, “Oh my god. Yeah, you're right.”
It was like an intervention for me mentally and physically was Stu just reminding me that I started over as a beginner. I wasn't too big, my ego was not too large to start completely over and act like I knew nothing.
So I went in there with a clear, a fresh slate, clean slate.
Nick: And good on you because people get caught up in their egos and their pride. And that's why they often continue to get injured over and over, and over and over again…
And some people never learn. They never learn.
Brian: Yeah. Sad to see, but you can't help everybody.
Nick: You said in the book, your source of frustration was just realizing that there were many flaws and they were perfectly avoidable. And once Stu brought them to your attention, it seemed obvious.
One of the quotes that I like is basically, "A wise person sees the obvious."
Brian: Right. So there's a lot of things that I was doing that were so obvious once pointed out, and a couple of my injuries, my pain causes and injury mechanisms were flexion under load, and I was compression intolerant.
I was always either sitting or standing in flexion, or I was loading my back in compression awkwardly, doing the normal things day to day, whether it was picking something up off the floor, tying my shoes, or grabbing something, opening the door, or brushing my teeth like I said earlier, lifting the toilet seat.
It was things that he pointed out that I didn't think had any bearing on my athleticism and that was like, “Why didn't I think of this?”
Of course everyday when I do this it hurts my back, why didn't I stop doing that?
Nick: Yeah, and I know in another interviews, Stu likened it to picking a scab.
You've got some inflammation no doubt going on there, and every time you do that it's just like picking the scab, and you know it's not going to heal if you keep picking the scab.
Brian: Yes. There's a couple different things that people like to do to pick the scab, even on purpose because they think it feels good.
If you have a scab on your palm or the top of your head and you scratch it, you're scratching because it itches and it feels good to scratch it.
The problem is you're not going to let it heal.
So when Stu talks about the silly stretches or whatever for someone with a low back disorder they're blindly doing stretches thinking that they're going to heal the back by stretching it out, it feels good for a little while, but you're just picking a scab.
So that's one way when people are actually thinking they're helping but they're hurting themselves. An analogy I give at a lot of my talks when I went on speaking to athletes or coaches is…
Think of this analogy.
You're walking down the street and you constantly stub your big toe. I can inject it with all kinds of Lidocaine and painkillers and everything, bandage it up, but until we address the gait problem that toe is never going to heal up because you keep picking the scab and stubbing it.
I say it's no different with your back.
"If you're constantly causing the injury over and over, it doesn't matter what I shoot into it. Doesn't matter what we do to brace it. Doesn't matter what we do until we address the issue and the injury mechanism and take that away." -Brian Carroll
And then we allow to rebuild athleticism.
Nick: Yep, I think that hits the nail on the head… and I hate stubbing my toe.
Brian: Yes. It doesn't feel good.
Nick: No fun. So section 1 was all about you and your story of how you became a lifter.
Part two was all about recovery and building resilience.
Wow, there's a lot in section 2 there with all the moves and the exercises and all the little cues for doing that stuff -- for building stiffness and stability.
There's the big three from McGill, which will we'll get into in a minute. But one thing that wasn't mentioned was, I saw some of your YouTube videos where he had you doing some modifications, like where you had the McGill, the reverse curl up, and he had you doing the opposite arm and leg to do some neural firing, trying to move just right around the joint there and so forth…
Were there a lot of things like that that were not in the book or just a couple things specific to you?
Brian: There were just a couple of things that we just thought would get a little too convoluted, and then some we could do for a second edition. We were just running short on space as far as keeping the integrity of each section.
There are a couple of things we have to put out and save for the next edition.
But honestly I don't do the reverse curl up, the McGill curl up, with the neuro muscular pulse much. He was kind of just showing me that for my own use if I wanted to kind of up the ante a little bit to curl up.
But I'm so not good at those.
Once I got good at them I hated them so much, because they kicked my butt, that I started doing stir the pot. So I progressed to stir the pot, which for me was a little bit more, it was better for a power lifter, me needing that stability and not any really flexion.
I kind of had a built in excuse, but it was back by a little bit of science there. So yes, I kind of snaked my way around that one. I'll still do curl ups, but I get more bang for my buck by doing some high repetition stir the pots.
Nick: I was I was surprised with the reverse curl a bit because literally, you're an inch off the ground when you do it right.
When I first tried them, I went a little too high and I didn't get the same experience. When you do it right, that isometric that contraction against yourself… my god, it tears you apart.
Brian: Yes. And you don't need to move the cervical spine hardly at all to do that. Just enough to get a little bit of motion and a little bit of stiffness going. You want to push out laterally on your abdominals and then make them make them stiff.
So that's what it's about, that neuro-muscular contraction, and there's a place for it obviously in power lifting and everyone should be doing it that has back pain as part of the three pronged attack.
The curl up, the rolling plank, and then of course the bird dog. Anyway, I still do them as part of my warm up, but I don't push the ante up with them.
Nick: And then section 3 is all about the blueprint in action. It was really fun to see your progression. And for people who haven't read 10/20/Life, definitely pick it up.
I'd probably buy it after Gift of Injury, but obviously it's whatever's most relevant to you.
It was really interesting reading 10/20/Life and then seeing this recovery blueprint. Then little tweaks and see how things evolved over time with the jumbos and the combos and all that fun stuff that have to change I think kind of by necessity as you as your training age at least goes up…
Again biological age doesn't matter when it comes to training.
Brian: Yes, so work the 10/20/Life is a philosophy, so it's ever changing ever evolving. And some things I've gotten wrong, some things I've gotten really right, and some things I wanted to expand upon and give more options with as we tested. You know, it's ever-growing for sure.
Nick: And you also went into the Arnold in 2014 which was about 10 months later. You were in this sorry state, and then 10 months later, here you are gearing up lifting crazy weights.
I was really impressed by the thought process that was going on in your head.
Why don't you tell our listeners what you were thinking before your final deadlift attempt?
Because you nailed the squat, you hit the bench and then things weren't quite feeling right in your back…
Brian: Yes. So ten months after seeing Dr. McGill the first time, I started progressing forward and was competing in 2014 Arnold XPC to win that thing again.
I was ahead on the squat and the bench, and I didn't even need a very big deadlift, and as I was warming up the little bit of load on the squat and the extreme extension on the bench got my back a little bit irritated.
So when I went into deadlift that evening, it didn't feel right so I shut it down and took it to a deadlift even though I could have got first place with a first attempt deadlift.
And that was another growing point for me.
It was very hard because I knew that, OK I could go out there one time and pull the weight, secure the win and then sit back and hope that there wasn't too much damage from that one dead lift. But then I thought back to the time of how much pain I was in this meet just a year before, and at that point it was a pretty easy decision to shut it down even though it hurt.
Nick: And practicing what you preach by telling people not to overdo it.
Again, when people are beginners and when they're elite, when something's on the line, that's when you want to push it the most…
Just seeing that restraint, I think that speaks volumes about your character.
My jaw dropped. That was really impressive to me.
Brian: Thank you. It was like I said, it was a tough time for me.
"Just because you're doing the right thing doesn't mean it feels good at the time." -Brian Carroll
Brian: There's a lot of things we had to do that we didn't want to do but it was clearly the right thing, so there's still some emotional consequence there. But I got through it. We've got a better plan together and the rest is history.
Nick: And I think the last part for that section which people will be interested in, but I think always gets blown out of proportion, is the weight loss.
Several years ago I made a course on weight loss and talked about the mismatch between going into the doctor who is 100 pounds overweight, and them giving you advice on how to lose weight.
You went in and had a similar experience.
They talked about the caution against the lifting, but they weren’t like, “Brian, you weigh nearly 300 pounds. That might be contributing to some of your back pain…”
Could you tell us about some common-sense weight loss?
Brian: Yeah, so...
"If you're injured, you've got bad knees, bad hips, a bad back... the first thing you need to look at is if you're overweight..." -Brian Carroll
Especially depended on what your goal is, you need to look at yourself and say, 'man, you know what's the average person weighing that's doing the same endeavor that I'm after?” Or job that I'm doing or whatever.
Do a real self-assessment and be self-aware.
One big thing with me is, you know I've gotten bigger and fatter since I was hurt and not lifting as much, I would think instead of the whole lifting bit they would have went right for the jugular right away and said, “hey man you're awful big. A bigger guy is generally going to be a little rougher on his spine than a smaller guy.”
So if they would have said, "Why don't you try to do a little bit of dieting" you know and pointed me in that direction… if they would have done that, who knows, I might have started to solve at least a little bit of that myself.
So one of the solutions for me after the failed Arnold 14 comeback was dropping some body weight and then coming back down to 242, where I ended up winning the Arnold in 2015.
And I've won it a couple times since actually, as well.
Nick: Yeah, you got in some great shape there. Looking good and lifting like a monster. That was excellent.
And you seem to be feeling better at the lower weight class.
Brian: Oh for sure, I feel great. The weight cut does suck. I'll talk about that a little bit with the glycogen depletion and the water loading and all that good stuff.
It did suck cutting weight, but...
"Day-to-day being 25+ pounds lighter has felt so much better on my back and body. It was the missing piece, in many ways, of my final recovery." -BrianCarroll
Nick: I'll mirror that with my father, who is getting up there in years. When he loses weight… if he gains weight his knees will start hurting. If he loses it again, he’s just fine.
He went to a dance one night and his knees just were wrecked the next day because anytime you're doing any kind of impact like that, it's several times your bodyweight. And it's really, really tough on the joints… just from your weight and gravity.
Brian: Yeah. So that night he was a dancing athlete man. He was pulling some athleticism out that his body didn't want to give him.
Nick: The final section of the book is all about training wisdom.
And there is a ton in there. Wow!
I just wanted to mention we've already talked a little bit about thinking like an athlete and moving like an athlete 24/7 because there's 168 hours a week outside the gym.
One of the things I didn't see mentioned was sleep.
I was curious if, because we spend a lot of time sleeping, did you talk to Stu at all about sleeping postures on your back, side or belly?
Did he discuss that with you at all?
Brian: Yeah, we did. And my exception was I wear a C-PAP. So I can't sleep on my belly, and it's optimal for those especially with a back history to sleep on their belly.
So I was kind of stuck, I would lay side lying a lot of the time with the pillow between my knees. That was the most comfortable, on my back was probably the least comfortable, but I still did fine with it. Maybe a little bit of support under my lower back, I know at BackFitPro.com they sell a lot of back cushions.
I have one here in my seat that's, you just pump-up to fit the curve your spine and it kind of meets there and makes a sitting dynamic, instead of you know a little bit of flexion or putting stress on your back.
So I never experimented with any of the pads for the bed because I didn't really need them, but ideally I would be laying on my stomach. But I just can't do it with my C-PAP mask.
Nick: Yeah. I’ve enjoyed sleeping on my stomach most of my life. But I'm curious, do you know the proper form?
Do you put a leg out? Anything about... or I'm maybe barking up the wrong tree here...
Brian: Whatever feels comfortable is what I would say.
Nick: Yeah. OK. Because I’ve heard, “Don't sleep on your belly, it's bad for your back,” and I'm thinking, “I don't think that's true.”
OK, moving on to technique like the sumo versus conventional deadlift. I thought you had a ton of great tips there. You talked about butt wink…
I’m just giving the listener a preview because they need to buy the book to really get the value from this.
You go into the sumo versus conventional, butt wink, lifters wedge, fixing weaknesses… and I wanted to draw a parallel between your 10/20/Life and Gift of Injury.
Is it a fair assessment to say this book is a bit more about addressing the movement pattern, whereas 10/20/Life is more about addressing the strength deficit?
Brian: Well, yeah. Yes and no. I think that the Gift of Injury is a little more detailed with the exact science to maintain the back position for the back injured athlete. So there's more nuances pertaining to that, especially with the squat and the deadlift.
But I think at the end of the day the goal is still the same, we just changed the wording a bit. Again, 10/20/Life, strength being the ultimate goal and...
"With 'Gift of Injury' the ultimate goal is maintaining that athletic resilience, and then building strength." -Brian Carroll
So we kind of mixed some of our cues together in Gift of Injury and kind of made it our own that way. And I think they're a bit better than Gift of Injury, honestly.
Nick: Yeah, it went into great detail. I saw a lot of Mel Siff popping up over and over again. Chris turned me on to Mel Siff and I absolutely love the guy. He was a friggin genius who went away far too soon.
There are many excellent, EXCELLENT coaching cues.
You talk about training mindset and purpose and programming. The programming section was pure gold as well. On page 116 there are some things that get you thinking, “Am I doing the right thing?”
Because again, as with moving the pen or pencil on the desk, when retraining your movement patterns, you get into your gym routine and then you need to adjust when things change. But you get into a routine and often don't switch things up when required.
Brian: Yeah, I'll ask someone when they're doing something just to kind of test them out. It might be at a seminar asking them what they do to warm up, or it might be a gym I'm visiting and they're doing something that may be common or maybe something rare, and it’s just to see where they're at with their training.
I'll ask them, "Why are you doing that?"
And more times than not, they don't really know. They don't have a real explanation as to the purpose of why they're doing that.
And that's a problem.
Nick: Definitely. Which, I think it's a great segue to, “seal pilates on the ground...”
You've reached the end of episode 151 of the Limit Slayer podcast with Brian Carroll. On the next episode we'll pick up where we left off.
In addition to seal pilates, we're going to be going into greater depth on the topics covered with Brian today.
Thanks again Brian, for joining us. You can find the transcript of our interview, links to Brian's other podcasts, products, resources, my one page summary of the Gift of Injury and more at:
If you enjoyed this episode and want to spread the love, you can make our day by leaving us a five star review on iTunes and telling others what you love about this podcast.
And finally, to get the most out of this series please check out the show notes, or go to Brian's website which is:
And get your copy of Gift of Injury.
Till next time, thanks for listening.
And Stay Mighty!
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