Being an Athlete 24/7 is More Than Just the Physical Aspect

By: Brian Carroll

I may not be the strongest that I have ever been, I guess it depends on what you want to consider strongest. I certainly have more restrictions that I placed on myself pertaining to training loads, volumes and intensity, so I can last. With that said, I am by far the healthiest I have been in 7 years. And, If I’m not the strongest I have ever been (I certainly am on the deadlift and ironically enough, this lift suffered the most when I was hurt).  I’m not too far off, that’s for sure overall and much lighter too. All that aside, I feel that I’m a better lifter overall top to bottom all things considered AND even the formulas say so 2651 at 241 vs 2570 at 241 vs 2730 at 275. When I say better or stronger, not just form, technique or approach but most importantly, mentally. This is where I have had to take it up a notch since I don’t really push my body as hard as I used to in the risky and dangerous ways, and I have a lot of miles on this body. And for good reason; I beat the crap out of my body and paid a great deal to the piper for years.


Being an athlete 24/7

Yes, you’ve probably heard this a lot by now but this is much more than just the way you move in & out of the gym, your diet, your supplements and mentality but it’s also a subconscious pathway which be imbedded in your DNA, either by force or by God. I think both are possible but more likely you have it or you don’t. I’d guess most have it and some have to learn to have and harness it over time (check out how Lisa Guggisberg learned how to flip the switch).

How many do this innately?

I would be curious to know how many beginner lifters have this but don’t totally understand how to channel it. I certainly believe that newbies will think, daydream, post and talk about in an obsessive manner, lifting and their dreams but there is a STARK CONTRAST between burning up mental energy, spinning your wheels and dreaming about what you’d like to do and actually going to a place mentally and actually doing them before you ever make it to the gym. Actually envisioning the week’s coming training, how it is going to feel, your form all the while seeing yourself do it from the outside looking in and as if you are watching yourself do it, step by step. Then actually doing it full speed before you ever even make it to the gym-this is visualization-going there mentally and physically; core stiff, teeth gritted, tongue on roof of mouth,  back locked in and doing it ALL top to bottom. Then, the easy part, going to the gym and doing it just the same.


For me, one way I have noticed this is during my self-reflection or down time at night. I lay around when I’m winding down for bed and I simply just think. I usually don’t write much down but I will on occasion if I think it’s good or important.  I think on and reflect about the day, PRS, 10/20/life programming, my clients and teammates, training and projects I’m working on and so on.  On one recent night, I was thinking on the mental aspect and approach to life in general and in particular lifting big and how we can maximize this outside of the gym for when we go to turn ‘it’ on. Simply put; the ability to be able to activate and create super stiffness in an instant by going there mentally and turning it on, just like you would before a big lift. This isn’t JUST ‘bracing’ this is complete body stiffness, by the way.  I constantly catch myself making up scenarios in my head while I’m doing normal things like carrying the groceries, gripping a random object or simply going there mentally about a big lift I’m chasing, going to dark side instantly in a second.

What is it exactly?

 It’s a mental tenacity that usually manifests itself on the outside. Not always, but in many cases it should. Is this weird? Maybe, I don’t care if it is. Some will get it and some will not, just like anything else in life. Not everything works for just any one person.

What I’ve noticed more and more.

I catch myself turning it on and ‘practicing’ around the house all the time – while doing tasks and suddenly realizing I’m wedging, making a super stiff belly or practicing squeezing through my top end squat sticking point with my lats down perfectly in the wedge and heels going through the floor. I’ll tell even myself if this object slips out of my hand, “this that 800lb dead for 2700 so you can’t drop it!”.  Or just simple similar mind games with myself. I catch myself talking to myself and wonder if people notice at times because I’m zoned out and sometimes can’t decide if I was thinking it or actually saying it, usually it’s both. As Ria has I’m sure heard and pointed this out to me more than once. Or I’ll have a crazy look on my face holding my breath, this is nothing more than focus and going ‘there’ mentally just for a second or two sometimes.


Powerlifting is 90% mental, the other half is physical.

In case you are wondering, this whole lifting weights thing is much more than just slinging heavy weight around the gym a couple of times a week and those who DO NOT utilize everything in their power to be complete, well,  you are leaving a lot on the table.

Side effect: The only problem with turning this on and getting so good at it, I started clenching without knowing this.  My neck and head are not happy with this but it is great practice. So I have to be cognizant about this to not create any TMJ issues.


This, to me, takes practice. For some it comes easier than others, to go from normal to completely cold, locked in and 100% intense with top to bottom super-stiffness (as McGill puts it).  It’s what I have to do between sets when I have down time in the gym AND at meets so I can still help, coach, load and spot.  I let myself relax a little bit but I’m still 100% focused… then when I’m wrapped and about to go I snap ‘it’ back on, just like how I practice on whims in day to day life around the house doing daily activities. Just like I do in the car driving when I’d catch myself about to rip the steering wheel apart.  The key for me is I have to have the on and off switch, Otherwise I’d be exhausted doing this all day.  It’s good because there are so many distractions at meets that I’m used to it, especially now since I work in the arena and usually have clients, teammates or friends competing in the very same meets as I.

last pull

ONCE AGAIN, This has to be something you can turn off and on. Otherwise you WILL BE DRAINED when it counts. Also – NOTE- I don’t just sit around and think about lifting all day, far from this. This only happens on occasion but when I do, I make the most out of it. This tends to be more common the closer the meet is.

Long days = pacing yourself.

A powerlifting meet is a long day as there’s a lot of down time.  And this is also a time where you can use mental game to your benefit as well when others tend to break. Especially when so much can happen on a given day. You have to pretty much be ready for anything and everything.  In training we will roll with the punches within reason and adjust when needed just like meet day. Some days it takes FOREVER to get through squats, other days it takes about one third the time depending on many factors just like a meet day. You should be ready for anything come meet day and it’s probably a good idea to be ready for a fast pace or a super slow one.


When it comes to being just a fraction of a percentage better, there are little things that need to be done to be just a little bit sharper, better or more ready.  To some this will sound silly and that’s fine but there are a lot of parallels in lifting related to life. We have all prepared for speeches, toasts, lectures and conflict and practiced this beforehand, right? So to me, there really isn’t a difference. To be successful you have to believe that you can do it and what better way to build this confidence than to actually see yourself doing it then actually going through the motions. This is just another way we practice to be succeed.

Give it a try, visualization has shown to really help people overcome issues, achieve great things and do things that some thought were impossible. Everything starts in the brain, and you should be utilizing this to your utmost advantage at all times. You’ll thank me later.

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Brian Carroll

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Brian Carroll is committed to helping people overcome back pain and optimizing lifts and movement. After years of suffering, he met back specialist Prof. McGill in 2013, which led to a life-changing transformation. In 2017, they co-authored the best-selling book "Gift of Injury." On October 3, 2020, Carroll made history in powerlifting by squatting 1306 lbs, becoming the first person to break this record. He retired with a secure legacy and a life free from back pain.
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