INTERVIEW WITH THE 2015 WORLD’S STRONGEST MAN WINNER, BRIAN SHAW
Newly crowned three-time World Strongest Man winner Brian Shaw chats to us about the 2015 WSM, chomping on 10,000 calories a day and sizing up his rivals.
BRIAN SHAW’S STRONGMAN SCHEDULE
Curley: When I was texting you to set up this interview, you told me your schedule was “crazy”. Is that because it’s the Holiday season here in America, or is it your work schedule that’s crazy?
Shaw: No, it’s work related. So many different things going on, it’s just crazy. It’s not just the training and the competing; it’s the business side of things. Just trying to make it all grow, man! It’s hard. It all goes through me. And then staying on top of eating and competing and training and everything – it’s all very hard.
Curley: It doesn’t sound easy, I’ll tell you that. How many hours per day are you spending on Strongman related activities? Not the business side, but whether its weightlifting, the gym, even eating I would consider part of it because you have to maintain your size, right?
Shaw: Correct… To be fair, eating is probably the most time consuming. First the meal prep has to happen, and I mean just the simple fact that sitting down and eating meals takes time – and some of them take longer to eat. Each meal I would say takes probably at least 20 minutes. Some of them are easier to chew, but if you’re eating say six meals in a day, and spending [about] 30 minutes per meal, that’s three hours!
Curley: That’s a lot of time!
Shaw: Yeah! Yeah, it’s crazy! I mean obviously I try to schedule my meals while I’m on a break from something else. At times I have to drink a shake instead of sitting down to eat, but if I can, I really like to get those whole foods meals in. I try to prep my food in bigger quantities so it’s all ready to go…
Curley: Do you cook all your own food?
Shaw: Yeah. I cook all my own food, too. I try to do it all around breakfast so everything’s ready to go for the day. But that would still be about an hour of my day.
Just that piece of the puzzle is very time consuming. But it’s an absolute necessity! If your food isn’t right, nothing else is gonna go well. Like your training won’t go well, your recovery won’t go well. So that’s like a “necessary evil” for lack of a better term.
BRIAN SHAW’S FOOD PHILOSOPHY
Curley: It sounds like a lot of effort. I’m curious, and if it’s a trade secret, you don’t have to say… How many calories do you take in a day?
Shaw: It does vary. I work with a nutritionist now who gives me my meal plans. So, that makes it easier because now I’m not the one doing the planning. I give him feedback on how I’m doing and then we make adjustments from there.
Probably, on the very lowest: 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day. And maybe on the highest: closer to 10,000 a day. But it really depends on how the training is going and what contest I’m getting ready for, because some of them are more endurance based. I might be burning more calories and need to replenish that based on how I’m doing. So, it really is fairly detailed.
I know there’s a lot of guys who compete and they kind of have the philosophy of ‘well, I’m just gonna eat a ton of food and not really track what I’m doing’. And, to be fair, probably four or five years ago I was very much that same way. But I’ve always tried to refine what I’m doing to make it more scientific – you know, make it better. I realized from this that the more on top of the diet I can stay, the better my training goes and the better I compete. It just kind of all goes hand in hand. To me, it’s worth all the extra effort and time it takes to do all that – because it’s so essential to being successful.
Curley: That sounds like a real championship mentality, Brian.
Shaw: I’m trying man! I mean it’s definitely competitive! Anything I can do… It’s kind of like if you had a Race Car, you wouldn’t put terrible gasoline in it. You want to put premium fuel. That’s the mentality I have toward food. It’s not about how good it tastes, although I try to make it taste as good as I can. At the end of the day, you have to look at food as fuel. That’s what I’m putting in my body to do the work.
COMPETING IN A FEW WEEKS NOTICE
Curley: Sometimes competitions come up one after the other. That’s got to be a serious burden. How long before coming into The World’s Strongest Man were you at the Arnolds?
Shaw: So, this year, 2015, I competed at the main Arnold which is in Ohio, and then the weekend after that I flew to Australia and competed at another one. Those were two back-to-back weekend contests. That was brutal. That was tough to get through. And then we had about six weeks (maybe seven)… not a lot of time to prepare for World’s Strongest Man after those contests. It was very challenging from a training standpoint trying to be ready for all of that.
In an ideal world, you’d have like 12 weeks [before a competition]… you’d find out what the events were going to be and set out a training plan and train specifically for five or six events and then go into that competition [after a rest period]. But that’s not the way it works. It’s just not the way that the game is played anymore.
It’s nice to have these opportunities to compete in these bigger contests like the Arnolds. But, you know, obviously The World’s Strongest Man is the whole focus of the year. It’s very hard to have that time before WSM to get ready. Basically, the approach I take is that I really try with my training to cover all my bases the best I can. So, within a matter of a couple weeks I can be ready to do almost any event.
I’m constantly working on static strength, in case if I have to do a max type lift. But if they have some event that is more endurance based, I have to throw the reps in. I take an approach where I’m working on everything at the same time. It’s a balancing act. It really is. It’s very easy to get into a space where you’re over-trained.
I’ve become very good at listening to my body and figuring out how hard I can train it. If there’s a day where I need to back off and not push as hard, then I definitely do that. You know, if you’re constantly pushing your body to get stronger and work harder and all this, there’s gonna be times where you’ll have to back off a little bit. If I take a couple days where I deload, it actually helps the recovery process and I come back better from that.
But it’s a hard thing. When you’re getting ready for a contest, the last thing you want to do is take a day where you don’t train very hard. In the back of my head I always think someone else is working harder and doing more to get ready. But you know it’s one of those things! It’s very much a balancing act and you have to be able to listen to your body. Because the last thing I would want to do is get hurt in training and not be able to compete.
SIZING UP HIS RIVALS
Curley: You say sometimes you think someone else is working harder… well, right before entering The World’s Strongest Man 2015, Eddie Hall broke the world record for max deadlift. Are you paying attention to that? Is it extra incentive to train harder when you see a guy like Eddie Hall break a record just before you’ll have to compete against him?
Shaw: I mean – I was there in Australia with Eddie when he broke that [record]. It’s kind of… how do I say this? It’s like… my biggest goal in Strongman has always been winning. My number one goal is winning competitions. So, a lot of times what that means is that you have to be smart about when to try to break a record, or when to put yourself in a position.
For example, obviously Ed broke the world record in the deadlift in Australia… but he came fourth in the competition. Right? Like, he came fourth overall – he didn’t even make the Top 3. So, in my mind, [it was okay that] I got second in the deadlift. I didn’t even attempt the weight that he did because I already had second place locked up. At that point in the contest I was far enough ahead that I didn’t have to do that. It’s about saving [your energy] for the right time.
Obviously Ed got a lot of attention for that deadlift, but at the same time – to answer your question – Yes, I paid attention to it. But! I looked beyond what he did in the deadlift. I was more analyzing if he was well-rounded enough to win [the whole competition].
Looking at World’s Strongest Man, you can be absolutely phenomenal in one event, but if you turn around in the next event and take 7th or 8th place or whatever – the contest is over! You’re not gonna win! So, being great at one event is never gonna win you “The World’s Strongest Man” title.
Ed is very gifted and he’s worked extremely hard. His pressing and deadlifting is… well I’m taking notice of it. It’s fun to see a guy do that. However, I think sometimes people get so caught up [in acquiring] these records and will push themselves to the limit but forget to train the events they’re not as good at. I don’t know if that makes sense? You can look back at WSM history, and there’s a lot of guys that were extremely strong. Extremely strong, but they did not win World’s Strongest Man. Right? If you look back… who do you remember? Well, obviously you remember Magnus Ver Magnusson because he won WSM 4 times! So [excellence at] individual lifts is not the mentality that I’m taking.
Yes, there’s some pride involved and I’d be lying to you if I said it wouldn’t be cool to go get that deadlift world record back [from Ed]. But it’s got to be at the right time. I don’t know if that makes sense? I know I’m talking a lot about this. Not to discredit the lift at all, but I always have winning the contest on my mind and doing what’s necessary to win.
Curley: Well, you did outperform Eddie Hall when it came to deadlifts for reps at the World’s Strongest Man this year. I believe he got seven reps and you got eight, correct?
Shaw: To answer your question, 100% I did. But that’s because in that instance it was the World’s Strongest Man Final and I had to push myself harder. Honestly, I could have done another rep or two. Once we found out that one of the events would be deadlift for reps I prepared myself for that. Ed may have been focusing too much on max.
I try to be a well-rounded strongman. At that point in the contest, I needed to win that deadlift event. I had to push myself to the limit [in this specific situation].
Curley: Because you always have winning the event on your mind, it’s not about impressing everyone at every moment.
LOSING A BATTLE, WINNING THE WAR
Curley: You had to face a formidable line-up to start things off at WSM 2015: JF Caron, Mateuz Baron, Adam Bishop, Martin Forsmark, and Robert Oberst. There was a situation during the Heats where you lost the opening event, the Loading Race, to JF Caron.
Curley: Was that a shock to you? Or was that part of the plan?
Shaw: No, it was definitely not a shock. I knew JF would be good at that.
The barrels we were loading were made of a plastic-like material and a lot of guys were having trouble holding onto them and they were very slippery. I knew that the loading race at the beginning of the competition is always a little bit questionable. There’s typically a lot of speed involved in it. You wanna stay in the Top 2, that’s always my goal.
Obviously, it’s always better when you win. At the same time, I know going into these Heats there will be a lot of events that I can win if I have to win them. But I don’t have to put out my max effort in order to do that.
The World’s Strongest Man is an interesting contest. I have to get through the qualifiers by putting out as little energy as possible, so that I’m not exhausted and beat up when I get to the Final. It’s always a strategy to pick which events I want to win and pick which ones I’m okay taking second in. You know?
Curley: I think our readers will understand exactly what you’re saying. It’s an intelligent strategy. Right thereafter you had this amazing display in the Kettlebell Throw where you were the only person to get all 7 kettlebells over the height. Obviously you had some explosive power saved up! I don’t think anyone is going to dispute your strategy – because you got to the finals!
Shaw: Sure. It’s all fun! I really enjoy competing and I really enjoy the challenge of preparing, and then the strategy [aspect] of the contest. I put a lot of thought into what I do and how I do it.
For example, my first year [making the WSM Finals in 2009, in Malta], I had Zydrunas Savickas in my group. I had to tell myself that I could hang with him in the qualifiers. And so I was pushing myself every event. Just pedal to the metal, going as hard as I could. And when I got to the finals, it was like I didn’t have anything left! It was very hard for me to get amped up and to push harder. Zydrunas, being a veteran at that point, he just did what he had to do to make the Finals. In my head, I thought, “he’s going as hard as he can”. But that was untrue.
I still got 3rd Place in 2009, and I was very, very happy with that. At the same time, I learned a lesson that year. I could have done less and made it to the Finals, and then I would have had more energy saved up for the Final. Being a veteran is [important]. A lot of these things you can only learn if you go through it. I’ve changed my strategy a lot over the years of competing, just because I’ve been through it. I know how I’m gonna feel, and I know when to turn it on and when to (kind of) turn it off. If that makes sense?
Curley: It sure does. That’s a very cool story you shared from 2009. Zydrunas had already been competing against champions like Mariusz Pudzianowski for so many years by then.
Shaw: Yea. Absolutely!
THE HEAT IN PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA
Curley: Putrajaya, Malaysia… Extremely Hot?
Shaw: It was tough. The conditions were very tough. It was very, very hard to stay hydrated.
Curley: How much water does a man of your size need to stay hydrated? How much do you have to drink? [Brian Shaw is listed at 6’8”, 434lbs (2.03m, 31stone)]
Shaw: I was probably going through 20 bottles of Gatorade a day. I was salting my foods and doing anything to get rehydrated. It’s not a good situation when you’re drinking that much Gatorade and you don’t even have to go piss, you know?
It was… It was bad. I mean a lot of guys started cramping up. It was tough. It was very, very tough conditions. Competing the way we have to is hard enough in normal conditions. When you add the heat and humidity of Malaysia, it added a whole different element to the contest this year.
WSM 2015 – HEAVIEST YEAR EVER?
Curley: And in addition to the heat, it also seemed like the events were heavier this year. You tell me? Was it the heaviest year yet?
Shaw: I mean it’s hard to say! The Truck Pull was very hard. The Yoke in the beginning was heavy – was real heavy. The Deadlift was heavier than it has ever been. Max Log. Power Stairs was more endurance based, it was not the heaviest set of power stairs I’d ever done. But the Stones were heavier! So, I guess I’m just going through it in my head, but that’s 5-out-of-6 events that are heavier than they’ve ever been…
So, absolutely! I have to answer “Yes”. It was heavy. It was hard. I think the Final was exactly what it should have been for World’s Strongest Man.
I know when the organizers are trying to do this, it’s tough to come up with event locations and everything. They did a really good job in 2013, but the 2014 competition was way too light. It was way, way too easy. You know, some of the events in 2014 had three, four, five guys all finishing within a couple seconds of each other. That was not enough separation for when you’re trying to crown the World’s Strongest Man. So, I was really happy in 2015. As far as Finals events go, they put it together really well. I thought it was great.
Curley: 2015 certainly wasn’t easy. You said the Truck Pull was particularly hard… No one finished! I’m assuming it’s the toughest one you’ve ever done, but you tell me?
Shaw: This year, one of the things they did (and I think they did it last year, too) is they took the time limits of every event down to 60 seconds. Whereas in the past, in 2011 for example, we had an extremely tough Truck Pull, but we had 75 seconds to finish it. I know for myself that if they would have given me an extra 15 seconds, without a doubt I could have finished it.
[The Truck Pull] was good. I think you found out who the best truck pullers were. It was a tough truck pull the whole way through. I think they could have shortened the course a little bit, but you don’t know that until you actually have the guys going. As a test of strength, I would much rather have a heavy truck pull that’s very hard on the guys than to have one that’s light that you end up running with. Then it’s all about speed and it’s over in 30 seconds. From that angle, it was a really good event.
BEHIND THE SCENES AT WSM 2015
Shaw: I know they had a hard time getting that truck out there and getting [the Truck Pull event] organized. You know, the Malaysian government I think gave them the truck. I don’t even know if they knew what truck we were gonna pull until that day! It puts a lot of pressure on the equipment guys to make that happen and to make it good. Because obviously, if it was too easy, that would be a problem. So they’re under a lot of pressure! That’s a lot of the stuff that goes unnoticed with the World’s Strongest Man. They work their asses off! Trying to get the equipment ready, and set it up, and organize everything.
Curley: That’s the stuff you don’t see on TV.
Shaw: Yea, you never see that. Those guys kill themselves setting it up. And obviously the pressure is on us to compete, but when I’m saying how the events were really good and put together well, that really falls back on Gregor Edmunds and the equipment guys making it all happen. Everything would fall back on them if the events weren’t good.
I always try to thank them and a lot of the people behind the scenes who make it happen. You know, it’s tough, man! You’re trying to contest the World’s Strongest Man. It’s very easy to critique the events and critique the contests from an outside perspective, but when you’re actually in it and making it happen… The way it came out, [especially] coming off of 2014, I was really happy what they did with the contest this year – I think they did a really great job putting it together, too.
Curley: That’s awesome – That’s really nice of you to mention the guys behind the scenes, I know they’re going to appreciate that.
GAUGING THE COMPETITION, WSM 2015
Curley: Going into the Grand Final, we saw an incredible line-up of strongmen. Some of these were the usual suspects who have given you great challenges over the years. What do you think about the field in 2015?
Shaw: Well, I mean I think overall, every year it gets more competitive. There’s guys that come in and out. You see a lot of the same faces. You see some new faces. You know, that’s just kind of how any sport evolves.
It’s changed a lot. I’ve seen it change tremendously from when I started to now. I’m definitely very proud that I’ve been able to stay right at the top for so long because the events have changed, the guys have changed – it’s all a different challenge now.
A guy like Zydrunas Savickas, that’s the same thing for him. Him and I, the fact that we’ve split the title – since 2009 it’s either gone to him or I – it’s pretty crazy to think that of all the guys to enter, there’s only two guys that have won for going on 7 years now. I really enjoy that rivalry with him. He’s definitely pushed me.
As far as the field, I think you see some more depth. I think it’s harder each year to make it into the Final. All the strategy and everything that I’ve talked about… As I get pushed harder, it makes it harder to have strategy than to go in and give everything that I have.
It’s fun though! I mean it’s fun to see everything evolve, and to see the depth of the field get better. It’s probably at one of the most competitive points that it’s ever been! So, it’s fun to be a part of it.
BIG PRESSURE FROM BIG Z!
Curley: And talk about a rivalry. Big Z won the penultimate event: the Log Lift. And that’s always been a favorite of his. He’s always done very well at it.
Curley: So, going into the Atlas Stones, was the pressure on him or you? He was leading by half a point!
Shaw: Yea, we’ve been in that position now several different times: where we’ve been either tied or half a point apart or less than that! They pick all these different events and it always seems to end up coming down to the Stones for us.
I know this year I was a lot calmer going into that Stones event. Just because I’m very confident with myself that I can perform under pressure. So I (in my head, at least) I told myself the pressure’s on him ‘cause this is an event that I should win. I really felt like the pressure was on him and not on me. And maybe that was myself trying to give me a mental advantage, if you will. But, I was confident man!
Stones is an event that I’ve loved, and they made the platforms shorter this year which I think took away the height advantage from some of the guys – and I think that’s something that’s needed to happen for years. I was happy to see that and I was happy to see that they brought in some heavier stones. It makes the event more fun to watch I think with the heavier weights. And it’s more of a pure strength event instead of pure speed. The last couple years, the stones have been so light that like if you make a bobble or you do anything…
Curley: They go flying?
Shaw: Sometimes in an event like that, the strongest guy won’t win. When you have heavier weights and lower platforms, it comes down to how strong you are and that’s it. It’s not about height, it’s not [exclusively] about speed (but still about speed). There’s less room to make mistakes, and it’s really about how strong you are. I was happy to see that.
I was confident going in. I was very much visualizing myself winning, and I went and ran through the event just like I have so many other times. Yeah, it was fun! It’s fun to be in those big pressure moments. You almost never feel more alive than when everything is on the line and it all comes down to how you perform. So, it’s a lot of fun.
“DREAM BIG” – Brian Shaw
Curley: I don’t think too many people would agree that this sounds fun! I think a lot of people would be shaking in their boots in this sort of high-pressure situation. But that’s why you’re the champion!
Shaw: You’ve got to embrace those moments! As a competitor, there’s just nothing better. Really. You know, having that adrenaline rush and getting into that type of situation… my whole sporting career I’ve always wanted to be the one to have the pressure on his shoulders to perform. And so with strongman, it’s not a team sport, it’s individual. So it’s like, if I don’t perform the only person I can look in the mirror and blame is myself. I really like that about strongman. If you don’t do it, you can’t blame anybody else, because you had the opportunity to do it and it’s not anybody else’s fault.
Curley: Well You did do it – and you won. You’re The World’s Strongest Man in 2015. It’s a hat-trick for you, now: it’s your 3rd title. Talk us through the moment of victory! How did it feel this year?
Shaw: Earning a 3rd title was incredible. I mean it really was. It was something that like… I really never could have dreamed that this would be possible when I started competing in strongman.
And to match Bill Kazmaier as an American winning 3 times… I’ve looked up to Bill my whole career and even before I got into strongman, like before I ever met him. You know, it’s something. To come into the sport and not only be able to win The World’s Strongest Man but to win it 3 times now – being in that select group of men who have won 3 times or more… like that’s crazy! It’s just one of those things that to be fair, it might not even set in until I’m retired and I’m away from the sport. It’s great. I’m just very, very happy about it. There’s no other way to put it. There are not a lot of words to describe it, other than being extremely happy.
Curley: Well, the U.S. is very proud of you, and I’m sure many all over the world are impressed by you as well. It has been my absolute pleasure to talk with you Mr. Brian Shaw, The World’s Strongest Man! Leave people with one final message, for me. Is there anything you would like to say?
Shaw: Oh man… I think the biggest thing that I tell people all the time… is to Dream Big. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve if you really work hard enough and you put your mind to it. Don’t put limitations on yourself.
Curley: Wow. I was expecting you to say “please visit me at ShawStrength.com” (which we do want people to do), but that was a big message. You’re a phenomenal athlete, you’re an intelligent man, and it’s been great to talk with you, Brian.
Shaw: Awesome, Dane! Thank you, man! I appreciate it!
Brian Shaw can be found online @ShawStrength on Twitter and Instagram. He’s also on Facebook at WSM Brian Shaw.