Matt Brown is more than a conqueror. From an emergency craniotomy in 2012 to stand up paddling, bouldering, lifting weights and most recently Highland Games, this father of two is pushing himself as hard as possible, laughing and living life to the fullest, though not necessarily in that order.
You’re a guy who takes up a lot of challenges; who wins in a Matt Brown versus MMA fighter Matt “The Immortal Brown” in a thumbwrestling death match where the loser has to change his name?
I’d like to think I would. My dad taught me some good thumb wrestling moves when I was a kid. I say the only way “The Immortal” takes me is with that big elbow to the head.
Your transformation pic on Instagram was impressive! You went from dadbod/skinny fat to a vascular, athletic physique that’s got show and go. What were your top three keys to achieving this?
Thank you! The three things that helped the most were tracking macros, hitting the workouts with everything I had, even when I just wasn’t feeling it, and the constant desire to want to improve.
You recently did your first Highland Games competition. I know that you got a trainer to help you prepare. How far out did you start training?
After seeing my first Games in the fall of 2015, I started training in the spring of 2016. I trained for a few months, and then work got really busy, and I had to stop training. I didn’t get to train at all for this year’s Games.
How did the neighbors react to you throwing sheaves of straw in the front yard and running down the street with utility poles?
Unfortunately, we never got to practice the caber toss, so none of the neighbors got to see me running down the street with a utility pole.
All joking aside, competing in a Highland Games comp is definitely on my bucket list. Where did you find your trainer?
My trainer just happened to be one of the organizers. He was looking to boost participation, and find people to train with, so it was just a matter of showing up at the park where we practiced twice a week.
The interesting thing about Highland Games is they’re divided by gender and amateur versus professionals (although in Midwest Games only they have an under 190lb division for amateurs). How many competed with you and what were the weight ranges?
I competed in the Masters 40-49 group. There were seven of us. Myself and one other guy weighed in at about 200, and the biggest guy came in about 265.
I realize that you said you’re not happy with your performance but the Games events are absolutely some of the manliest feats of strength on the planet. Did you have fun?
I had a blast! The other competitors were very helpful and encouraging. The sense of camaraderie was amazing, as
most of the guys had already been competing together for several years.
Next year you’re planning on a rematch with those events; this time in a kilt. Have you ever worn a kilt and where are you planning on getting one for the competition? SportKilt? Utilikilt?
I’ve never worn a kilt, but I plan on probably borrowing a kilt for next year. Although, if I can manage to get my free time and extra money to line up, I’d like to compete in at least three games. If that happens, I’ll probably buy a Sportkilt: my favorite Highland athlete, Matt Vincent, wears a Sportkilt.
I like Matt Vincent’s stuff. I listen to his vlog when I’m driving if I don’t have a podcast cued up.
Not sure if this will make Michael Soong’s list on Powerlifting Watch but I can verify that the world record for heaviest bench completed while dodging falling objects from a power rack is held by you, Matt Brown. You got the title with your successful attempt of 300lbs. What are you going to do next?
Haha! That was something else, wasn’t it? I built that rack fifteen years ago for a friend, and that was the most weight that thing had ever had on it during a bench press. I had to actually secure it to the floor after that. My next trick will be 300 nice and smooth.
Tell me about the Grey Sweatpants Society. Did you swear a blood oath to join?
The Grey Sweatpants Society is the brainchild of Aaron Ausmus. He’s a former college strength coach, who worked at USC for several years. It’s more of a movement than anything.
So no ceremonial sacrificing of a pair of joggers?
You just put on grey sweatpants, and sacrifice wearing anything else for gym wear. And you take an oath to yourself to get stronger with your best efforts in the big three lifts.
That sounds serious! Nothing but grey sweatpants for the rest of your gym life? But I do see you in shorts as well. Is there a GSS Reserve Unit?
I guess you could say I’m a Grey Sweatpants Society reservist. Ha ha! Some days it’s just too humid for anything but shorts. I doubt my total is big enough to be an official member, anyway. Those are some VERY strong guys.
You got me pretty motivated when you pulled 570lbs with your trap bar. Then you switched it seemed to focusing on bench leading to the 300lb bench pr, after that it was squatober and an unsuccessful attempt at 405lbs. Do you structure all of your training to chase individual prs while putting other lifts on cruise control?
I’d never really thought about it, but I guess I do. I have a one track mind when it comes to achieving a PR goal. That’s going to have to change while I train for my first powerlifting meet next spring.
You’re into rock climbing. How often do you climb?
I don’t climb nearly enough, anymore. The last time I climbed was in 2016.
It looks like a great way to keep the spirit of play alive in adults which is so important for overall emotional/mental/physical wellbeing.
What was your most memorable climb?
My most memorable climb was actually not mine. It was my oldest son, Wyatt’s. We went to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas on a whim one day about three years ago. I forgot my shoes, so we found a couple that let him climb on the route where they had their gear placed. He reaches the top— 50 feet up, and the man tells me it’s a 5.10, an advanced level climb. We all high-fived when he came down. It was awesome!
I only found out about indoor climbing comps from reading an article on Kai Lightner while at the doctor’s office a couple of years ago. Do you ever do competitions?
I did two outdoor bouldering comps in 2014 and 2015. In 2014 I took second in my division, and 2015 was literally a wash for me: it rained the entire morning, and I just couldn’t hang on.
Rock climbing is amazingly tough on your grip! Do you do grip specific training?
I trained on a hang board twice a week. Not so much for grip, but for tendon strengthening
I have seen you do some hangboard training, what did you think of our article on The Gripster earlier this year?
Great read. I liked that you covered the anatomical advantages of using it over traditional training methods for rock climbers. I may have to put one on my Christmas list this year.
I have one and what I like most about it is the ability to use progressive resistance combined with multiple surfaces all challenging my fingers in different ways. Maybe we can work out a deal to let you borrow one of mine in exchange for some welding (not so subtle hint).
I’d be happy to do some welding in exchange for some time with one of your Gripsters. We’ll have to work out some details later.
What’s your favorite grip training tool?
My favorite grip training tool is farmer’s walks. They work great, and look cool. Why else would they be a staple of World’s Strongest Man competition?
You’ve done an exhibition strongman medley where you said it taught you that your overhead press was weak. Is part of the allure of competing in different strength events a way of finding out where you need to focus your training next?
Definitely! Physical training should be aimed at strengthening all parts of your body. However, most of us make the mistake of overlooking the areas we don’t use on a regular basis. Overhead press is probably one of the most overlooked, but most important lift there is.
Your home gym used to be inside your home, now it’s out in your barn. What motivated the change of venue?
The move from inside the house to out in the shed came from combining families with the love of my life, Deanna, and the expense of my oldest son’s medical bills.
I think barn gyms are the ultimate in the home gym experience.
It’s been one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I’m able to channel all the the things that wear on my mind into my lifting. The only time I get distracted is when one of the kids wants me to teach them how to get stronger. Pure bliss.
I like that you have your family training with you. That’s always been important to me; I plan to retire to a place with my own barn gym to continue the experience with my children and grandchildren. Something like what they do at Buck’s Barn in Tennessee. Are you familiar with him?
I am now. Thanks for turning me on to that. I’m envious as can be.
That’s what we’re here for My Dude; do you plan to build a climbing set up out there like the ones on home climbing gyms?
Probably not. We’re just renting this place, so I’m looking ahead toward the eventual moving day, and trying to minimize the amount of packing. Besides, Zenith Climbing Center isn’t too far away, and that’s where my climbing friends hang.
You built the arms for your monolift attachment so how many pieces have you built for the Barn over the years?
Well, I’ve built the squat rack and monolift arms, a yoke bar, trap bar, deadlift jack and a Swiss bar. So I guess just six pieces.
Tell me how you like having a monolift attachment on your rack.
The monolift attachment takes some getting used to for squats: since you don’t have to walk out the weight, it kind of forces you to sit back into the squat, and keep a more vertical torso. If not, you’ll bang the bottom of the j-hooks on the way back up. Not much fun when you have over 300 on the bar. The monolift arms are fantastic for bench press. Rogue should be given a “Bro-bell” science award for that design.
What build are you proudest of? I’m assuming it’s going to be the one where you taped 10lb plates on each end of a set of dumbbells.
That one is pretty high on the list, but I’m probably proudest of the Swiss bar I made for a friend from work. That one came out great.
Do you have any builds you’d like to share with other aspiring home gym welders?
The deadlift jack is probably the cheapest, easiest build. Work has been pretty hectic lately, but I’ll draw up some plans for the mini deadlift jack for sharing online in the next couple days.
I’d love to have the instructions here on the site. You can do a video and include the written instructions. We’ll throw it up here in the Garage Built section with the other DIY articles.
Sometimes we get into DIY builds and realize that although it might have been cheaper or more effective to just buy the piece; the build process itself was the point. Is it ever like that for you?
So far, I’ve been pretty fortunate, and have saved more than enough to justify the build. There is something about knowing you can use your own two hands to build equipment that fits you.
Does it make your bench rack and un-rack easier?
Unrack and rack positions are ideal for bench– they allow you to maintain tension in your upper back and scapula when you un-rack, and when they fall back, you’re set up for optimal bar path to re-rack.
Last question and this one will make or break this interview. You’re a former Beachbody coach so based on your industry knowledge, personal experience and this Instagram post from your timeline; how many calories do you burn by cleaning the stovetop after DB Incline + DB Pullovers; BB Standing Press + BB Bent Rows; BB Shrugs + DB Rear Laterals; CG Bench + Alternating DB Curls?
I’m guessing probably about 456. I realized this question was about an old IG post a couple hours later, but only because a new flower of mine apparently made it his mission to like every last one of my posts. Kinda weird, kinda flattering. Maybe he was going I’d respond in kind.
Matt is really an inspiring example of how life can get better as you get older if you make the right choices. Want to get started in Highland Games? Check out NASGA in North America. Outside North America, check out the Scottish Highland Games Association which has member associations around the world. If you’re interested in bouldering or indoor climbing, check out indoorclimbing.com.