How To Stop Being a Dumbass in the Gym (And Everywhere Else)

By: Brian Carroll

Maybe you’re a competitive powerlifter. Maybe you’re not. Either way, if you’ve found this site and you’re reading these articles, you probably think of yourself as an athlete.


Maybe you’re even a good athlete. You’re strong, technically sound, and can perform well in your sport. For lifters, obviously strength means everything in this department. As I go over in detail in 10/20/Life, however, there’s a massive difference between being strong and being smart.

Being strong is easy, but strength isn’t worth jack shit without the experience to know when you’re making mistakes and how to correct them.

Remember what I said there. Experience counts. What I absolutely can’t stand is the profusion of weak so-called “gurus” out there whose office walls are papered with degrees and certifications from every school and organization in the world, but who can’t lift shit in the gym.

You guys know who you are. You’ve never lifted a damned thing, you’ve never totaled anything worth a shit, you’ve never coached anyone worth a shit, you’ve never made anyone better, and you’ve never trained under anyone who’s worth a shit.

Oh, you also look like shit, too. Have I mentioned that yet?

I have over a decade of world-class strength experience, and I’ve formed a few opinions along the way, as that process has gone on. I’ve gone into meets as the strongest guy in the field, only to be outmaneuvered and outthought, and lose. I’ve also been in meets where some guys may have been stronger than me, and I’ve found ways to win.

For all the weak-ass gurus out there, here’s how the f*****g strength game really works. Some of this is adapted from what I’ve previously written on the topic, and some is brand spanking new. Take notes, “bro.”

The Lifter’s IQ

I’ve written about this previously, both in 10/20/Life and elsewhere, but it bears repeating here. I call intelligence in the gym and on the platform the “Lifter’s IQ,” but this can easily be applied to any sport or training regimen as the “Athlete’s IQ.” It’s applicable to everything you do.

Your IQ in this area is the way you go about your programming, the way you listen to your body, the way you approach meets, games, and lift attempts, the way you strategize, and the ways you continue to make progress in your career as an athlete.

This has nothing to do with physical ability, and I don’t give a flying crap whether you’re a genetic freak or not. The point here is that you need to adapt, learn from your mistakes, surround yourself with great people, and learn your own body. This will help you train intelligently, get the most out of your training cycles, and perform your best on your meet or game days.

Your Training

The one thing you don’t want to be is the guy who impresses the shit out of everyone with your gym lifts and training cycles, then bombs in meets, on test days, or in actual games. This happens because some athletes train the hell out of themselves for months on end, leaving nothing left for competition. They have no understanding of gathering momentum in training, they don’t peak properly, and they may as well not even show up.

Here are six ways to remedy this situation:

1. Use 10/20/Life to start your training cycles with your body in as fresh a state as possible. Here, I’m referring to your pre-contest phases. You don’t want to be beaten to hell here.

2. Make sure your intensity stays relatively low, and that you only turn it up at the proper time. I’ve trained literally hundreds of clients, and this holds true for everyone.

3. As you progress toward the middle of your pre-contest cycle, you should have your nutrition, supplementation, rest, and recovery completely dialed in—especially as you’re getting close to a month away from whatever you’re competing in or testing. This is crucial.

4. The period I just referred to—the middle of your pre-contest cycle—will beat the hell out of you. The idea, then, is to create momentum, ride it, and walk the tightrope of overtraining so you don’t fall apart psychologically. A little bit of overtraining will create a supercompensation effect, but you don’t want to cross over too often, or you’ll feel like hell.

5. Some athletes look rather mediocre in training or in practice, and then they kill everything at meets or in competitions. This is no accident. Instead, it’s that fine line of overtraining I just mentioned. The rule of thumb here is that you don’t want to miss more than a couple of lifts in a full training cycle.

6. The most effective way to stop momentum, hurt yourself, and come into your competition beaten down is to ignore what your body is telling you, not learn when to back off, and constantly miss lifts. This is why I prescribe deloads every third week in every cycle. Deloading this way will keep your fresh, both mentally and physically.

How To Think Your Way Through A Powerlifting Meet

If you are getting ready for a powerlifting competition, there are some things you definitely need to know. A lot of this is applicable to CrossFit competitions, too, believe it or not. One of the main keys here is an awareness of your surroundings. The equipment you’ll be using, the pacing of the competition, the judges, and your handlers are all important considerations you need to take into account.

A lot can go wrong, and you don’t want to screw up a great training cycle by overlooking a couple of small details. Here are five things you need to consider when approaching a meet:

1. Get there early. You don’t want to see your name on a flight that’s getting ready to go when you’ve only just arrived. Give yourself plenty of time to get focused and do what you need to do.

2. Always pay attention to the standings, even if your goal isn’t to win. Nobody gives a shit if you set a PR in every lift, but still come in last. This is a competition, so treat it that way.

3. Bring handlers you know personally, who know how you are during meets.

4. Lift within your means for that particular day. You don’t want to leave a lot of weight on the platform because you decided to go for broke with every lift.

5. Don’t open too heavy. You need to be able to hit your opener even if something goes ridiculously wrong. Choose a weight you can handle on any day, whether you’re healthy or sick.

Going Deeper: Small Decisions And Big Lessons

I can’t do any of this shit for you. All I can do is give you the tools in 10/20/Life that will push your strength numbers over time until you’re at a level you never expected to see. This is achieved one building block at a time, with patience and good planning. It’s also achieved through failure, mistakes, and injuries.

That’s right. F**king up will make you better.

Think about this. What helps us learn the most about anything over the years? We learn, grow, and mature from making stupid decisions and experiencing failures—epic ones, at times. Failure is a great teacher, and it ingrains what we need to know better than anything else in our lives.

In contrast, success can be a coddler, and it can really spoil people in any field if that’s all they experience. If you’re successful right away, you don’t learn how to fight through adversity, or how to get back to the top after falling to the bottom—or how to exist on the sidelines for a while without fading away into oblivion. Spoiled athletes don’t last long, and they don’t make a meaningful difference in a positive way, either on or off the field or platform.

The problem with immediate success in strength sports is that most athletes won’t understand that this isn’t the norm. They have neither the perspective nor the awareness to know that they’ll eventually have a bad competition.


Bomb out of the most important meet of your life at the Arnold Sports Festival in front of 3000 people, and see what that does to you. You either quit, or you learn. Have a bad showing at any bodybuilding show or CrossFit competition, and you’ll never forget where you want wrong—or what you need to do in order to correct the problem.

When you’re kicked squarely in the balls, how will you respond? Will you take notes, regroup, and come back with a plan, prepared to throw bombs? Or will you go lay down and not respond? I’ve done both at times, but the faster you get over yourself and learn from it, the faster you can turn it into a huge positive.

Going 9-for-9 in a powerlifting meet won’t happen often, so you should appreciate it if and when it does. All too often, I’ve seen guys have success right out of the gate, then expect 9-for-9 meets to happen all the time. When things start to go wrong, these guys crumble and quit, because they’ve never learned how to fight adversity. This is what separates the okay from the good, and the good from the great.


Like I said, it’s good for people to fail, especially if they’re wet behind the ears. Look at all the douchebags all over social media who post shit like, “Just hit 405 on the squat! Next up? 1000!”

You’ve seen this shit, too. People think everything is linear, and that if they keep showing up, they’ll be champions and world record holders by this time next year. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way, and if you’ve had some adversity in your life, you understand what I mean perfectly. Failure makes you tough. It gives you perspective and helps you understand that the world is not linear at all.

Learn to endure hardships, and you’ll learn to shake off roadblocks and obstacles, too. In other words, you won’t be a pussy anymore. I got my head kicked in when I started doing full meets. Let’s just say I finished in third place a lot. I took this in stride, because if I’d come out on top from the very beginning, it wouldn’t have prepared me for what was to come when the big boys came out to play and beat me by 110 pounds.

It’s like this:

What makes you a better ballplayer as a kid? Playing with your older brother and kids twice your size and skill level? Or the neighbor kid who’s half your size and craps his pants when he has to try to tackle you? If you ever want to be any good, you’ll opt for the former option, and not the latter.

The Takeaway

Getting injured is a good thing. In fact, it was the best thing that ever happened to my career. I’ve learned a ton in the past year after breaking my back and being relegated to starting from scratch with 95 pounds my first week in the gym. I now know how to warm-up the right way now, how to stay healthy, and how to avoid doing stupid shit in the gym.

When you’re smart, you learn from your mistakes, and you don’t repeat them very often—but what do we learn from our successes? Usually not as much. We learn what works, but that really doesn’t teach us a lot. In contrast, when you learn your lessons the hard way—i.e., touching a hot stove—we get hurt and realize that what we did wasn’t a good idea.

In other words, we don’t do it again. For me, this occasionally takes a time or two. My mom told me that when I was a kid, I’d drink Tabasco sauce out of the bottle, then scream and cry afterward. It evidently took me quite a few rounds of this before I realized it wasn’t very smart—although I’d argue that I was simply trying to toughen myself up at an early age.

Point being, don’t learn the hard lessons over and over. Remember what you did wrong, then move forward.

You can accomplish this by being smart in your planning and setting moderate goals for your training and competitions. Try to get better at something every day. If things don’t feel right, don’t force the issue. This means you can’t be afraid to shut things down in training—as long as you know you can’t do that in competition.

The reasoning behind this is that I want you to learn how to pick your battles and live to fight another day. Success isn’t a temporary thing, and greatness is measured over decades, both in competition and by helping people when you’re away from it, too. [share title=”Share this Article” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true” reddit=”true” email=”true”][author title=”About the Author”]

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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at
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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