Leading up to the 2016 World’s Strongest Man competition in Botswana, I felt on top of the world and was confident I was going to win. However, this feeling vanished the day before the event after I dislocated one finger and ripped all the tendons clean off another while training. I managed to take third place, but I didn’t feel right afterward. Everyone had me for the win, and I felt like I let them all down. It sucked.

But they say everything happens for a reason, and that loss was the extra kick in the balls I needed to train harder, eat more, and focus on my recovery. Strongman was all I could think about for that entire year off.

I got back into the gym the day after the competition, and the first thing I asked myself was, “What are my weaknesses?” Any pulling event—like the yolk walk, the truck pull, and farmer’s walk—caused me the most problems. I’m a big guy, and putting that mass into motion can be tough, so I stepped back and reevaluated my approach. Here are the lessons I learned in the year leading up to the 2017 WSM competition in Botswana. And guess what? I won.

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1. Go Back to the Basics

Even for a top-tier competitor like myself, I had to start from scratch to improve—and I mean scratch. I retaught myself how to walk, how to stand tall—which came in handy for the yolk—and even how to position my feet. It was simply what I had to do. When it comes to your training, the lesson here is to be honest with yourself. If your deadlift form is shite, then lower the weight. If you can’t hold on to the bar, retrain your grip. Take care of the small things, and big things will come.

2. Learn From Others

To improve, I watched footage of the guys I competed against who were the best at what I was weakest at. For the car walk, I watched how Laurence Shahlaei stands and steps. I also observed Brian Shaw and Hafthor Bjornsson for the truck pull and discovered I wasn’t getting low enough, using my arms as much as I should, or driving my hips through. If you see someone stronger than you, don’t be afraid to pry them for information. They’ll most likely be flattered, and, in the end, you’ll be better because of it.

3. Prioritize

Recovery is hugely underrated, and I believe it is what enabled me to become the World’s Strongest Man this past May. In the run-up to the contest, I paid for my own physiotherapist to travel with me to Botswana, consistently stretched, had regular hot-cold treatments, and even installed a hyperbaric chamber in my home to improve my recovery. I realize that most people don’t have this luxury. With that said, lifting weights will punish your body, so it’s your responsibility to take care of it. If not, you’ll only end up paying the price in the future, as I did.

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