What Motivates You When Things Are Tough?

By: Brian Carroll

Do you quit or find a new goal when things look like they may be  colliding into insurmountable sized brick wall?

When asked about my rehab I sum up the process with this analogy – “I’m very stubborn and was determined to make it happen. Think of the obstacle I was facing as a brick wall and my head going full speed into it and either the wall was going to break or my head was. I wasn’t stopping until one broke”.

In most cases – It’s easier if you just quit now and find something else to do. Honestly.

About this time about 2 years ago, I was released to start putting a bar on my back to squat and start pulling from the floor. Dr. McGill had me take a few months off from loading my spine and correcting some structural issues that had brought me to a place of either quitting lifting, surgery and/or both. I was very lucky to have someone in my corner like Dr. McGill. Keep in mind, the ‘months off’ consisted of no lifting of any kind, only core work and having to watch everyone else lift and train for competition. In case you were wondering, yes I was still in the gym helping others lift the best I could and to help with coaching. This helped me in some ways but made it worse as some were prepping for a meet. Kind of bitter sweet being around it, but you suck it up and stay focused. At the end of the day, this made me envious of the healthy lifters, but at the same time it motivated me to get and stay healthy. At the time I wondered if I would ever be able to be pain free during a squat and/or deadlift.

As some of you know, I hooked up with Dr. McGill in May of 2013 after many trips to the doctor and surgeons who either refused to operate on me or told me they couldn’t help me. As a result, we came up with a plan that you can read here => “Bulletproof Your Back: 10/20/Life & Dr. Stuart McGill – Part 1”


In all reality destroying my back was the best thing that ever happened to my lifting career and knowledge base to help others. However, at the same time it was a very difficult time to process and understand even though I was doing the right thing. The injury and rehab process messed with my head on a daily basis. Some days more than others. I was already known as a top 2 lifter in every class I had ever competed in for the last 10 years and here I was made to start from zero with many things up in the air as far as my lifting future. One thing was certain – I was not going to keep trying to do things my way. MY way wasn’t working, so I was locked in to my rehab and was going to give it 100%. A turning point and also a very difficult day for me was during the 2013 IPA Westside invitational. This was a Saturday, so for me it was squat day as I was just recently released to put a bar on my back again and to deadlift from the floor. Needless to say, I was very excited to build my squat back up, though slowly and while remaining pain free. In July, I was released to start with squats with the ONLY bar for sets of 5-6 and by the middle/end of August, I was moving at a pretty good speed. I was making good progress and was happy.

Going back to this particular Saturday of the Westside meet, I had just worked up to 335 (3 plates again on the squat) for the first time or so and felt great about my progress. But there will always be things that want to pull you away from your goals. Toward the end of the session — the news I didn’t want to hear came in about my former squat record. Byrd yells across the gym, “Hoff just hit 1210 squat and broke your 1185 record “. Keep in mind, as I hear the news, I am finishing up my session with yoga shit (birddogs) on the ground and I’m trying to digest the fact that I’m about 900lb away from the record I once held. It did feel like someone kicked me in the gut. The feeling is a good feeling to remember and one that I can remember vividly. Motivation.

This was a tough pill for me to swallow, but it was expected. Although, it still doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I knew the record would not stand for long, but it was still tough to hear about considering I was literally laying on the floor doing yoga moves fighting for the ability to lift again without knowing how well I’d respond in the future, period. The hardest part for me was making myself focus on the fact that I was pain free and making progress and not focusing on both the record being gone and how far I still had to go.

Still there was many questions about my future and if I was ever going to be able to get under big weights again. I had to decide whether I would let this motivate me or crush me. I decided to let it motivate me, of course…..but did NOT let it make me change my plans and rush things. Think for a minute about how too much or incorrectly channeled motivation in the wrong way can get you to train yourself into a frenzy of overtraining and in my case – another or worse back injury.

I stuck to McGill’s plan 100% and didn’t do any ‘extra’ or ‘more’ just because I was feeling it – but on days that I didn’t feel the fire, I would think about this day and how I felt. I would remember that particular “feeling” on the days that things were not going right, things felt heavy or off and it reminded me to keep pushing and to be patient. I’ve come so far. I never forget feelings, thoughts and circumstances when I’m in situations that impact me. Ever. This is what motivates me to keep pushing on. I like to reflect on this weekly especially when I have a crappy day in the gym. I remember how far I have come, but still how much more I want to do and accomplish.

Keep in mind, with so many variables, the rehab was not a 100% smooth process without any bumps in the road. McGill had me prepared for this but was I truly ready? Yes and no. Did I have setbacks along the way? Yes, but I kept working to figure things out no matter how hard they got because I remembered the Saturday in August being on the floor ‘posing’ and getting the news and what that felt like. That to me was motivation. To this day, that situation has helped me not only remember how far that I’ve come since the 335 squat day, or for that matter, starting over with the bar. It also kept me focused along the way to stay on task and to push forward. Regardless if I’m 900lb away from my goal or 100, I know that If I’m patient and stick to my plan, I will see my goals though. This is sometimes easier said than done. Check that, it’s always easy to say, not so easy to follow through!

As I said above, things got it the way, I had issues along the way and it was not always a smooth process in many ways. Even with the rehab going so well, being pain free day to day, my back healing up all the way and my lifts going back to where they were. After all this rehab and work, there was still one HUGE thing that I had overlooked along the way. With all the work, rehab, walking, focusing, honing in technique, moving like an athlete 24/7, starting over from scratch etc…I was too damn heavy. I couldn’t lift at 275 anymore (being over 270 was too much on my back – I was in the 290’s)

The last major bump was being in the lead at the 2014 Arnold XPC Finals and winning going into the deadlift. This was my first meet back after my year long rehab and training went well. Some issues from time to time getting to the bar on the deadlift and before I knew it, I had to pull out of the meet due to back pain. This was VERY hard to deal with. I had come so far, had it through the squat, PR’s on the bench and was in a position to win easily with a 700 deadlift and I couldn’t get to the bar in warm-ups. Because of this, I wisely shut it down and opted not to pull. I scratched my pull and took a 135 deadlift and called it a day. I knew that making myself pull with back pain and discomfort could end up making me have to start over, or even end my lifting ability. This was a super hard pill from me to swallow as pride is tough to deal with in strength sports. As Marcellus Wallace says in Pulp Fiction “Fuck pride.”It only hurts, it never helps”, and I had to do just that.

After getting back from the Arnold in 2014, I had some thinking to do. Many questions to deal with – “I thought your back was better? Your back is hurt again? You’re going to quit now aren’t you” etc. I was a bit lost for about 6 days but then I talked to McGill on the phone exactly one week after the competition. I had some ideas that I tossed to him about building my work capacity in my back and maybe I just needed more time to build the lead tolerance that is required to go heavy on the bench, squat and deadlift 100% on the same day. The flexion, loading and the extension over and over. He liked my idea and thought it was something good to try.

I knew I needed more time… but time doing what?

So I went to work with a modified 10/20/Life offseason program and it went pretty well. I squatted, benched and pulled on day one and did bench assistance work on day 2. On day 3 I hit my squat and dead assistance. There was a lot of volume and work for my back to build the tolerance needed. This was working but my back still was not happy with all the flexion and extension. It was BETTER, but not quite ready yet. What the hell was missing? I was pain free day to day!

The last piece of the puzzle was my friend Bob dying in May of 2014. The offseason had been going well with this new split and I was a massive (for me) 293lb. With Bob’s passing, it woke me up and made me realize being 293lbs was not healthy or good. Bob didn’t take care of himself like he should have and it scared me straight and got me thinking! So, after calling McGill and hearing his thoughts and ideas (he agreed it was a good idea), immediately I implemented a plan to lean up and get healthier. This combined with the new found back tolerance from the training split and dropping weight was the final piece that came together for me. I felt better each day as I went from 285, down to 280 and as I started hitting 270 and then dipped into the 260’s I found my niche. No more abnormal tightness or pain once I dipped under 270. The load was just too great for me day to day and in the gym for my frame and spine injury history.

See How I Did This Here => “A Look In The Mirror – Part 1″

I have honestly not even had an inkling of a back pain since and have not looked back in well over a year, thank God. This now gave me more motivation than ever! My motivation then went to being a 242 lifter again, getting back in training and going back to the Arnold in 2015 to win it. Nothing was going to stop me, unless it was me. Long story short, I came back to win it in 2015 with zero pain with a 1,065 squat,  765 bench and 780 deadlift for a 2,610 total for best lifter and winning my class. My exact goal.

So, now my sole focus and motivation is on the 242 squat and total record and I channel that same feeling and focus into this goal. For now and on days that I feel pissed or have a bad day, I go back to the day in August and this immediately changes my tune. Failure motivates me. The 2014 Arnold showing motivated me, but I had to decide how bad I wanted it after rehabbing all year to come up short. I had a whole year to think about coming up short and I never forgot the feeling of pulling out of the meet and taking a 135 token. Never will I forget it.

Having bad showings motivates me. Doctors saying that I’m done motivates me. Even McGill doubting the amount of athleticism I had left in my back motivates me to push 100% smart, efficient and faithful to my program.

People doubting me motivates me, but it will NEVER dictate or control my behavior. It will only fuel my focus on what I want to accomplish.


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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at PowerRackStrength.com
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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