Brian Shaw Exclusive Interview for SwoleScience.com
Professional Strongman and Worlds Strongest Man competitor Brian Shaw has just began his whirlwind career and is already the top contender for the World’s Strongest Man title and winner of multiple strength championships. This strength athlete has 6 Strongman Super Series Wins, placing 2nd in the 2010 World’s Strongest Man, 3rd in the 2009 World’s Strongest Man, and winning the 2011 Arnold Classic and Giants Live. Brian Shaw is currently preparing for the 2011 World’s Strongest Man, having placed 1st in three contests this year so far, and most recently MHP Liberty Strongman Classic on July 4-5 in Philadelphia. Brian Shaw’s unique natural strength, size and talent has made him the definitive face in the next chapter of professional strength competition. Throughout his relatively short career he was proven his unmatched tenacity to progress beyond his limits in every competition and his drive to become the best in the world.
Brian Shaw Exclusive Interview for SwoleScience.com conducted by Papa Swole.
SwoleScience– Brian, I would first like to thank you for agreeing to the interview and how are you doing?
Brian Shaw- Doing really good.
SwoleScience- You have two top 3 finishes at the Worlds Strongest Man, placing second last year and winning the Arnold Strong Man classic this year, What would you say sets you apart from other strongmen?
Brian Shaw- I’m a little bit outside the box because of my height and my size. I’m different from the taller guys that have done well in the past such as Magnus Samuelsson, he’s 6’7 and we’re really close in height. He didn’t quite have the same size that I do, but also in squats, deadlifts, and those types of events didn’t seem to work that well for him. Where as I have been able to be outside the mold of a taller guy in that deadlifts don’t really bother me, and basically any of the heavy static events. I’ve been able to compete with the best on presses, and so on. The height advantage and athleticism is what has really led to my success. As in the World’s and the Arnold, which are two very different contests, I was able to adapt to both of them.
SwoleScience- In Worlds Strongest Man competition there are competitors from 5’11 to nearly 7 feet tall, why do you think you’re able to do well in lifts where generally, smaller guys have the advantage?
Brian Shaw- Honestly, I think its just training. I hate to say it, but its probably genetics as well. I’m a bigger guy but also I also have a really big frame and it’s taken me a long time to get better at things. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of training. Some of the things like pressing for example, I’ve been working on that really hard for 5-6 years now, just focusing on getting my overhead press up and I’ve been able to get it to a really respectable level, and kind of the same thing with deadlifts. I’ve had to find different ways to train to make me better and I’m constantly changing my approach. It always comes back to my training and constantly trying to improve myself.
SwoleScience- Strongmen have a unique style of training and diet, how do you like to train and diet?
Brian Shaw- As far as training, what I try to do is focus on the contest I’m getting ready for. So, the Arnold its just heavy things in a limited number of events, only 5 events, so its pretty easy to fit those things in a week and cycle those events up or down depending on the week and how my body is feeling. For that contest I will rest more because the lifts are so heavy, where as right now what I’m starting to do for preparation for World’s Strongest Man, there are some days I’ll train twice a day, and one will be more conditioning, not real long, maybe 20-30 minutes but a strength endurance circuit and run through it. Basically my training week, and this changes depending on how close I am to a contest: Monday- lower body leg day. Tuesday- pressing day with shoulders, chest, triceps and static lifting. Wednesday- Off day. Thursday- Deadlifts and back. Friday- Normally take off depending on contest. Saturday- Train the events and this always changes as well depending on contest and its 3-4 events. Sunday- is a recovery workout to prepare for the next week. In World’s Strongest Man, you might have to get ready for 12-14 different events depending on the Qualifiers and Finals, so it makes it very hard to specialize on one thing. So as I get closer to the contest, it becomes a lot more contest specific where I might drop more of the gym lifting. A lot of guys don’t recognize when they’re overtraining and that’s how they get injured and beat themselves up to no end. The tough part of strongman is every event is a total body event, so when training you really have to have the ability to listen to your body. Lets stay you were planning on training, you wake up and you can tell something’s not right and your body is trying to tell you to rest, well on those days I’ll back off and do some recovery training and then comeback refreshed. If you always have the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality and ‘I’m just being weak’ then you’ll find there’s a fine line between being dumb with training and smart with training. I have been able to walk this time and back off when I need to and push when I need to. You have to make smart choices and prepare.
As far as nutrition, I wake up and normally have a shake then have breakfast. I go back and forth between shakes and meals. I normally drink MHP Up Your Mass, which is my standard shake and has a little more calories and is a gainer shake with calories. I’ll typically have 3-4 of those MHP Up Your Mass shakes a day and then also 4-5 different meals broken up every 2 to 2 ½ hours a day. A typical meal is either beef or chicken for me. I normally do half pound to three quarters of a pound of meat and then carbohydrates such as: rice, whole-wheat pasta or yams or something like that. I also have milk with all of these meals for the extra calories. The part that I fault on is getting vegetables in, I know that I need to get that in but it always tends to fall back onto protein and carbs.
SwoleScience- What are your favorite supplements you feel have been the most effective?
Brian Shaw- I really do use all of the MHP stuff. The pre and post workouts- dark rage and dark matter, honestly these are my favorite products. Dark Matter has been really one of my favorite products that they have, and I have used that for almost two years after every workout and I have noticed that has really helped me. I use their amino’s, glutamine, the shakes, multivitamin and their joint formula. Other than that I pretty much live off the shakes and those supplements. Take the Amino’s, glutamine and multi a couple times a day just to help with recovery. Obviously around a workout I try to get as much nutrients and especially with Dark Matter. I never workout where I don’t use Dark Matter.
SwoleScience- You have been doing excellent this year placing first in ‘Giants Live’ and the ‘Arnold Strongman Classic’, and beat Zydrunas Savickas, who beat you in the last two World’s Strongest Man competitions. Do you think you have progressed this year to a level to win the title?
Brian Shaw- What I have really tried to do over the past 3-4 years, and my main goal is just to comeback better with every contest. I always try to take a step back from every contest, analyze what I did well, what I could improve on, and how my training was going in. Depending on how I perform, I can really see how I can improve. I think I’ve really figured out how I need to prep for each contest. I went back after World’s Strongest Man last year, and really set up a good training for the Arnold this year and I feel that it came together then and I’m doing the same thing now I’m preparation for World’s Strongest Man. Zydrunas has been tough, I mean really tough for the last 10 years almost. He took 2nd at World’s Strongest Man three times, and when the split happened, he won a few IFSA World Championships, and came back to World’ Strongest Man and has been able to win the last two years. He’s been competing, I think this is his 20th year competing in Strongman or Powerlifting and this is my 5th year. A lot of people don’t realize this but if you go back and look at Zydrunas when he was 29, and match what he could press, deadlift, and all those lifts to me being 29 years old, its not even close. He has gotten so much better in the last 5 years. From the time he was 31 or 32 he has found a way to get better every year. I have a lot of respect for him. Even after all the stuff he’s won, he’s a pretty humble guy, pretty down to Earth and he doesn’t do a lot of talking and that’s one thing I love about him. He just shows up and he lifts the weights, he lets his performance speak for him. I’ve tried to follow that myself and he recently gave me a complement at the Arnold this year and told me that he liked that I just showed up and let the lifts do the talking, not being arrogant and cocky, just performing and letting that speak for you. World’s Strongest Man is my biggest goal and I want that this year very, very badly. I guarantee you when I walk in this year, I will be in the best shape I have ever been in. If at that point, I’ve trained as hard as I can, and someone beats me, then my hat goes off to them because I know that I will be able to perform well.
SwoleScience- You were tied in the finals again Zydrunas Savickas in the 2010 World’s Strongest Man and lost by ‘countback’ which gives the win to the competitor with the most number one placings in previous events? How do you feel about this system and do you think it is a fair way to judge?
Brian Shaw- Honestly I think that is just about the worst way to decide World’s Strongest Man that they could have come up with. What’s interesting is that from when World’s Strongest Man started, it has never ended in a tie and that was the first time ever. My honest opinion is I don’t think they planned for it. I don’t think they planned in advance such as ‘lets do this if a tie happens’, because it was never written down in any of the rules they handed out to us. What’s kind of funny is if you actually break down into the way they decided it. They decided it on 1st and 2nd place. I won two, Zydrunas had won two, and we tied for 1st on the deadlift. So the next place they went to was the Keg Toss, which he got 2nd and then I had 3rd place in the loading race because the bag fell off. So that’s how they decided, but if you go back, and do a head to head comparison between me and Zydrunas in that contest, out of 6 events in the finals, I actually beat him at 3 of them, he beat me at 2 of them and we tied on 1. Technically if they had done it that way, I would have ended up winning based on me beating him more times than he beat me. I think it’s a terrible system. I never liked it from the beginning of my career. I honestly think what they should have done was gone to a sudden death style tiebreaker event. Just because for the title, on that level, you should have to do something to prove that you are better. With the placement in the events, that shouldn’t matter if you have the exact same points. It shouldn’t matter if you took 1st or 2nd place as long as you have the same points, and you should have to prove that you’re better with another event. The problem is with the TV and the filming is very hard for them to plan another event, so my recommendation is the Stones again. Because, it’s already set up, it’s always the last event and in all likelihood a tie is not going to happen. It would be so easy, and at least everyone would know that this is rule and then just go at the stones again. You could talk about it a lot of different ways, but for me there is such a big difference between winning and being the runner up. It was tough, and its something that I honestly won’t ever forget. There were something’s in the finals that happened and I feel I let it kind of slip away and if I would have handled those events better it would have even gone to a ‘countback’. I would have easily won and you know you learn from those things. I tried to take things in a positive light and this is going to be a big motivating factor for me to say ‘well, I got that close and you just have to train harder and be more focused’. Hopefully, I will come back and show them how much it has motivated me.
SwoleScience- What are your favorite lifts and events and why?
Brian Shaw- My favorite, just because it’s a classic strongman event, is the Stones. I think that is one of those things, that even as I was watching it as a kid, everyone always brings it up and it’s just a classic test of manhood. Out of all of them that really stands out, I really do like all of the events. If I had to pick one that I really didn’t like, maybe something like the shield carry or Africa stone carry. Honestly, its just because I think its boring, but what’s funny is I’m actually pretty good at that and normally do pretty good at that. I just think there are a lot of events more fun to watch than that.
SwoleScience- How do you feel about the absence of testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing drug within the strongman world and do you feel there is a place for it?
Brian Shaw- That’s a good question. I wish they would come in and make a bigger effort. If they’re going to test, they should test all year and make it a mandatory thing. Make all the guys follow the rules. The hard part is that the United States is actually one of the only places where that’s (steroids) illegal, so for a lot of these other guys it’s as easy as literally going down to the corner store and getting whatever they want since its not illegal. Since the World’s Strongest Man is a world sport where all these guys fly in and this is a one day contest. I think that could make it hard to test and to disqualify guys. Baseball has really taken a bad rap here in the United States, and it’s funny how people think baseball players all use it and football players don’t use anything and push it under the rug if he tests positive. With any sport in the world, if something increases your performance, everyone is always going to try to get ahead. The real question is: Is there drug testing that works in any sport? I’ve heard of guys, like Olympic lifters who try to plan what they’re taking so they pass the tests. Its tough, in a perfect world, no one would take anything or lie, and be a level playing field, and that’s what I would prefer. But unfortunately that’s not the case in strongman or any other sport.
SwoleScience- Well, Magnus Samuelsson was a big proponent of drug free competition and he was very vocal about showing that you can win without steroids. Do you think you can still win or place in the top without the use of steroids?
Brian Shaw- It’s a tough question. There are certain guys that came out and said ‘well I’m not using anything’ or ‘I can win without taking anything’. There’s all kinds of different testosterone boosters, so if you’re using those, are you finding a false way to increase your testosterone? I don’t know. You’re trying to increase your performance, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be illegal. I’ve taken different testosterone boosters and know a lot of guys who take those too, so it becomes a personal decision on what do you want to do, and how far do you want to take it. On the same point, some guys aren’t as genetically gifted as others. Magnus was a big guy, and I’m a big guy and just naturally going to be a big strong guy.
SwoleScience- You famously won your first competition with little formal training, how did you become a strong man?
Brian Shaw- I actually watched it as a kid and that’s where it started for me as a kid. They typically showed it kind of like a marathon, and I would get stuck to the TV and literally watch it for hours. I loved it as a kid, I loved big guys lifting big weights and it was something I got into just watching and then as I got further into my athletic career, and finished playing basketball and then fell in love with lifting weights even more. I came from that just wanted to do it and it was something that looked like fun that I enjoyed doing. I enjoy lifting and it fit really well for me. I went and entered my first contest with basically never training with any of the stuff at all and it was just something that came very natural, and it just progressed from there. I started to get more equipment, training and just got more serious about it. It’s something that has evolved for me over the past five to six years to basically what I have now.
SwoleScience- What is your current height and weight? And how much do you fluctuate? How much weight did you gain when you transitioned to a strongman?
Brian Shaw- Iam 6’8 and right now between 415-420.
SwoleScience- How much does your weight fluctuate usually?
Brian Shaw- Honestly, I don’t fluctuate much at all. I might have lost a little bit of weight since the Arnold, that’s just because of the loading medleys and other things you’ll be doing at World’s Strongest Man. My training naturally dictates were my bodyweight is going to go. I don’t really try to gain or lose weight, and I really don’t like weighing in. If I think I weigh more or less, it can really mess with your head.
SwoleScience- How much weight did you gain when you transitioned from college Basketball?
Brian Shaw- When I quit playing basketball after college I was 245 pounds. I was always able to gain weight very, very easily so basically after the season I quit running, playing and just started lifting. I literally don’t remember weighing 260 or 280, I probably put on 30-40 pounds in a few months. In college, I was practicing twice a day and doing conditioning, so in the summers I would naturally put on 20 pounds. I entered my first Strongman competition around 300 to 310, and that was late 2005. So basically, I’ve put on around 20 pounds a year and that’s been my goal and a comfortable thing for me to gain. In 2007, I was around 350 and that was when I first started competing as a pro and gained my pro status. From 2007 to now is where I’ve gained the extra 60-70 pounds and it’s always been very gradual. It’s the curse of the taller guy, and always taken me a long time to fill out because I have so much body mass. Nobody would guess I weigh as much as I do, but finally after 10 or 12 years I’m finally starting to really fill out. About 12 years of solid training and 6 years specific strongman and that’s the way I always wanted to do it and put on quality weight.
SwoleScience- What injuries have you sustained in your career?
Brian Shaw- I’ve been pretty blessed with injuries in my career. Haven’t had anything major, maybe just muscle pulls or strains, bumps and bruises but nothing serious.
SwoleScience- What’s the most extreme physical thing you’ve ever done in the sake of being a strongman?
Brian Shaw- My diet hasn’t really changed; just try to eat good food. As far as training, I’ll push a little harder as the contest gets closer or if I need to get more work done. I’ve never really been too extreme, always constant.
SwoleScience- What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring strength athletes?
Brian Shaw- It takes time to develop. Sometimes being patient and persistent, especially with weights. It just takes years and years of work to get where you want to build real strength. That’s something that unfortunately in today’s society and the way people, everyone wants to get immediately where they want to go. Even people that aren’t trying to compete in something, just the typical person that goes to the gym, they spent how many years getting out of shape and eating wrong foods, they go to the gym for a few weeks and expect to be in great shape. Just be persistent, if you are aspiring to get to anything, be persistent. Anything worth having you’re going to have to work for and it’s not going to come easy. A lot of hard work and it will not come easy.
SwoleScience– Thank you so much for the interview Brian and we look forward to speaking to you again in the future.
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(Photos used with permission from Brian Shaw)
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