Bryan was a gamer, like many of you reading this. He spent hours pouring his attention and money into video games. Computer gaming was his speed, and he loved it, until he realized that if he could spend all that time gaming… surely a small portion of that could be used to get in shape.
“One day I simply decided that if I could spend that kind of time each week sitting on my duff, I could certainly devote some of that time to improving myself.”
Bryan didn’t come from an athletic background or a family of athletes. His uncle used to call him a “sunken chest” and in the period between graduating highschool and ten years later… he only went from 125 pounds to 140 pounds. At 5’10”.
For those of you with no reference for body stats… that’s really skinny.
“I was tired of being skinny and weak. I’ve always been a self-starter; once I decide to do something I do it … I just wanted to be better than I was.”
First, Bryan purchased a barbell set and started in on the Strong Lifts 5×5 program, which led to him increasing to 160 pounds. His only problem at this point was that he needed more weights.
Because of the sense of satisfaction his success gave him and because his new-found strength made everyday tasks easier, Bryan gave up gaming altogether and poured that time, attention, energy, and money into lifting.
This led Bryan to seek out a myriad of athletic endeavors as he experimented with what he was good at. He ran a Warrior Dash and has to date run three Tough Mudders.
Then, in late 2012, at the behest of a friend, he began Strongman training at a local gym, in addition to his weekly barbell work. Bryan couldn’t picture himself as one of the towering giants who normally compete in Strongman, but he couldn’t shake how much fun it was.
“That first time out I tried log clean and pressing, sandbag/keg carries, farmer’s walks, and yoke walks and felt like I’d been run over by a semi the following day and it was awesome.”
A year later, as 2013 ended and 2014 began, Bryan began to plan for competitions, and not without good reason: he had loaded a 300 pound Atlas Stone, done a 600 pound yoke walk, and even flipped a 980 pound tire. Many people have started competing with a lot less to their name.
However, Bryan had a problem: lower back pain. He had shirked this off for a while because every lifter deals with this at some point. But after becoming concerned enough to go to a doctor, he discovered that he had mild-to-moderate broad-based disc compression/displacement throughout his whole lumbar spine. Neither he nor the doctors could point to any one movement that had done it and it was simply chalked up to accumulated damage. The doctors suggested that he either give up lifting and Strongman… or do it at such a low weight that it would be negligible for Bryan’s interests.
Because they’re doctors and Bryan ceded to their authority on the matter, he gave it up.
For six months.
After that time, it seemed to Bryan that the rehabilitative exercises were never going to be enough, so he took his mental and physical health in hand, and started lifting again. He started with just the bar, and took it one step at a time.
“I decided that as long as a movement didn’t make things worse, I would just keep training it as I used to, progressively adding more weight, sets, or reps.”
Bryan had missed the stress relief and the simple pleasure of making himself better.
It was at this time that Bryan picked up another form of therapy: Iaido, a Japanese swordsmanship art. Bryan had always wanted to take up martial arts, but didn’t want to get thrown around a mat with his back issues. He accepted the long drives to his Iaido practice and his sword still sits proudly displayed in his house.
Bryan set his focus back on competing and 2015 became his year: he took home multiple state and national records in his first and only powerlifting meet where he competed Men’s Submaster at 160.2 pounds, tested for and was awarded his first rank in Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, and competed in his first Strongman competition where he won the Novice division.
Bryan won’t ever compete in a powerlifting competition again, because he doesn’t favor the 11 hour wait between the first attempt on the first lift and the last attempt on the last lift. But he does already have his next Strongman competition in sight, while taking classes and training at a local Strongman gym in Michigan.
The moral of Bryan’s story is to never give up. I often tell people when lifting with them, training them, or cheering them on that they have to push themselves, but to know their limits. All of us have a hard time walking that line between wanting to give it all… and giving so much that we break. Find that line early so that you can keep competing. But sometimes our ambitions get ahead of us. It’s happened to every major lifter I’ve ever known or known of. It’s what happens after you pass that line that defines you. Don’t give up. Heal, rebuild, and carry on in some capacity. Bryan’s story turned out fortunately in that he got right back at Strongman and powerlifting. But others have chosen to pursue a different but equally respectable path at that point: running, climbing, swimming, hiking…
Just push yourself, but know your upper limits.