10/20/Life: Brian Carroll's Program

william bad butt

More than 500 posts
I am currently 7 weeks in (out of a 20 week program) of Brian Carroll's powerlifting program and I am really enjoying it so far. For those looking for a power lifting program, I highly recommend it. I foresee myself doing this cycle once every.

The reason I chose this was because of my troublesome lumbar back. In February, I had my first relapse of severe back pain (originally injured my back in 2011?). I won't bore you with the details but this was my own fault, I pushed myself too hard. This one was bad and took me about 2 months to be able to walk pain free again, and without a limp. For a couple weeks, even putting on my pants and shoes was a feat. I followed Stuart McGillls Back Mechanic book and those bird dogs and lots of walking finally fixed me up. I took it nice and slow with swings and tgu's, starting with 8kg and after a couple months worked my way back up to regularly using the 32-40kg bell.

When I made the decision to start back with the barbell, I really searched for a good program. I wanted something that would not push me too hard with volume or intensity but still make me stronger (I know that is a tall order). I found many articles and YouTube videos of Brian Carroll. He is a world class powerlifter who, several years ago injured his lower back. He also seeked the help of Stuart McGill for "back mechanic" help. I decided it might be a good idea to follow a power lifting plan from a guy that is flexion intolerant like me. It is too early for me to say if it is successful since I haven't maxed yet, but I do feel very strong and healthy. This program has a lot more recovery time than I am used to, which I really like. Anyway, check out this power lifting program if you are interested in trying something new, especially if you have a history of "recovery issues".

william bad butt

More than 500 posts
That link is actually a good review. A couple other items to note: (1) the program is not entirely "cookie cutter", as it gives you a guide on how to choose accessory exercises based on your weak points. (2) Also, the program does a fair job incorporating GPP activities, it is not just for the 3 powerlifts. (3) I do agree that it is probably not a very good program for someone who is a beginner.

You posted the "powerliftingtowin" website. The actual "powerliftingtowin" program, coincidentally, was the program I was following when I injured my back (intermediate program). I did make a lot of great gains on that program, it really works!!! That program is very similar to the Texas Method, if you are familiar with Rippetoe. However, I was not able to handle all of that volume and pushing myself (straining) every day ended up catching up with me (after many months of following the program).

Steve W.

> 1k Posts
Interesting that the powerliftingtowin review asserts that the lower frequency/volume/RPE and frequent deloads are more suited to a lifter on PEDs than a natural lifter. I would assume the opposite, and @william bad butt specifically chose it because it was manageable with his injury history.

william bad butt

More than 500 posts
Yes, I would have thought the opposite too. For the record, I am not on PED's!!!

Both are American power lifting programs and both are effective but very different from each other. Programmingtowin has lots of specificity with lots of squatting, deadlifting, and benching. My bench and squat increased a lot (interesting my deadlift did not though). 10/20/life is more about finding your weaknesses and improving them to get stronger. It almost appears to have elements of Westside (which I've never done before) philosophy, using bands and chains for example, but is still definitely primarily an American power lifting program.

Time will tell... Hopefully 13 weeks from now I set PRs, Ill report back.

william bad butt

More than 500 posts
Well I am reporting back on this thread I created a few months ago. Overall I am extremely happy with 10/20/Life program and will do it again. I was able to stick to a program, and most importantly, complete it injury free.

I added 47 lbs to my barbell back squat max and 18.5 lbs to my bench press max. These are both lifetime PR's with strict form. I am happy with these results, I am not a beginner I have been lifting on and off for almost 20 years. I wasn't expecting this much increase, especially on my squat.

Concerning my conventional deadlift max, it did improve a lot relative to the last couple years (22 lbs). This is the lift that has the potential to aggravate my flexion intolerant back (I wrote about this in the original post) and I have struggled to improve it. However I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to have a lifetime PR. I attempted a 13 lb PR and it came up fairly fast and easy. I felt a slight "ting" in my back when I was almost at my knees and I dropped the bar (I think my form was degrading some and I was starting to round my back a little). Better safe than sorry, I am glad I stopped the lift but it is frustrating to prepare 20 weeks for something, knowing I can lift it, and then drop it. But I will get it up next year.

In summary, I highly recommend 10/20/Life program if one is interested in power lifting. Not only did I get stronger but I feel fresh and I don't feel beat up or injured (like I have in the past with other programs). I am currently taking 2-3 weeks off of "exercising" to deload and enjoy the Holidays (lots of travelling). I think I will do a couple months of a non-barbell program to give myself a break from barbells, and run this program again in a few months. If anyone else has any experience with 10/20/Life, please comment on your experiences.

In the meantime, I have always wanted to tackle ROTK and I may give it a shot in January. ETK+ has always been my "go to" kettlebell program but I want to try another doubles kettlebell program.


More than 500 posts
Hi @william bad butt

Thoughts still the same on 10/20/Life? Did you run it again?

I'm also familiar with Brian Carroll through Stu McGill (who I know about because of my own back issues).

There's not a lot of info on 10/20/Life, but the internet armchair lifters seem to say its for the advanced lifter, the equipped lifter, the chemically enhanced lifter, and there's not enough volume if you aren't all three of those.

I'm none of those (more intermediate), but at age 47, low volume and deloads every three weeks sounds more and more appealing.

One question - does he address conditioning/GPP and how to incorporate it?


william bad butt

More than 500 posts

Yes! It is the way I structure my training now. There is so much to say on this topic, I don't even know where to start...

I still follow 10/20/Life programming. From mid/late 2016 until early 2019, I was following this program about 50+% of the time. When I wasn't doing this, I was doing kettlebell programs such as ETK+ or ROTK. In 2017, for about 20 weeks, I hired an online coach from powerrackstrength.com (Brian's site) and competed in my first raw power lifting meet (I set a few Mississsippi state records as well). From early 2019 until Present, I have been 100% committed to the 10/20/Life philosophy. I am also very lucky to have Brian Carroll, personally, programming my workouts (3 days per week) and assisting my Big 3 power lifts via video/email/skype. In September of 2019, I competed in my 2nd raw power lifting meet. My strength improved a lot! I think I set 4 national records as well.

At present, I'm doing 10/20/Life 3 days per week: 1) Jumbo day focusing on the pause squat, pause deadlift, and floor press. 2) Fluff and Buff day. 3) Accessory Day. I'm currently not training for a specific meet, I just want to get stronger and healthier. In addition to these 3 days, I am training 3 days/week doing Strong First A&A snatches. 1 of those A&A days fall on my Accessory Day, so 5 total training days per week. Of these 5 workouts, 4 are pretty light and easy, and I push myself somewhat (but not too hard) on the Jumbo Day. This is just what I do. 10/20/Life is not a strict template, you adapt it to you.

I'm a 40 year old guy, raw lifter, no PED's (lifetime drug free). I've been lifting weights, off and on, my entire adult life since I was 18. I've probably done all the popular and effective programs like PTTP, 5 3 1, Starting Strength, etc... I'm not putting any of these other programs down, they all helped me in some way or another. I'm healthy and doing very well. I'm pretty strong for a 40 year old engineer who sits at a desk all day. My numbers wouldn't impress anybody who is serious or really strong, but my goal, over the next few years, is to Total Elite or achieve a 400 Wilkes total. So about 1600 lb at 220 lb body weight.

10/20/Life is just a mature program. I've had pretty good success for a some what experienced lifter, I think I've added ~250 lbs to my 3 lifts since late 2016, and I know I have a lot more in me (especially the deadlift). Also, the whole Raw vs Equipped or PEDs vs Natural is over rated. There are some nuances, of course. But the best methodologies to get STRONG apply to everybody. The multi-pli power lifters, are still training raw most of the time to get as strong as possible, then adding gear to prepare for the meets.

As you mentioned, the other benefit of the program is that it is supported by McGills evidence based lower back rehabilitation and strengthening protocols. This isn't just some 5 minute drill and then you do power lifts. These McGill approved protocols are the heart of the program, and they are critical to increasing your strength and keeping you healthy. Brian and Stu collaborated on a book together, Gift of Injury. Brian has spent a lot of time with McGill. You can really hear Stu speak through Brian. And Brian has taken Stu's protocols to a whole new level!

As to your comment about 10/20/Life being for advanced lifters... 10/20/Life is probably best for intermediate lifters, primarily. I consider myself intermediate. It would work for anybody though. The 1 group that I am a little leery about is absolute beginners. If you've never done a barbell lift before, it is hard to beat a program like Starting Strength. But 6 months later, how do you keep progressing? Especially without beating yourself into the ground by adding more and more volume? That's where 10/20/Life really stands out, in my opinion.

Concerning your question about "conditioning/GPP"... The answer is MAYBE. For a typical person, YES. GPP is well covered. Conditioning as well. I do a lot of farmers walks, sandbag carries, and walking. Brian also really likes sleds. Also, the "fluff and buff" workout has slight cardio aspect to it. However, if you are someone who is really serious about endurance training, someone who frequently runs long distance races or bicycles, etc, the conditioning of this program is not enough for you. However if you want to be able to hike through Whistler BLackcomb mountain comfortably, or be able to comfortably do heavy labor, or playing pickup basketball and softball games, the conditioning is adequate. But make no mistake, this is a strength program first. You will get very strong. And in some ways, this will help some endurance activities. For example, I mentioned my A&A snatches. I have very limited snatching experience. But in the last few months, I've been able to progress to heavier ketttlebells because I have a good base of strength. I remember a long time ago (whenever ETK was released) I tried doing high volume snatches with the 20 or 24 kg bell. Very difficult. I remember once attempting to do the 5 minute snatch test and only making it to 80. I remember how 24 kg felt so heavy. Now? A 20 or 24 kg bell is pretty light. I could do a lot of volume with those smaller bells. I very recently attempted the 5 min test with a 24. I passed. About 1 minute in I knew I would pass, so I slowed down to use up the whole 5 minutes. Don't get me wrong, it was hard, I was breathing hard! But Juxtaposed with my experience from many years ago, I remember the weight of that 24kg bell (so heavy), and I gave everything I had, killing myself, to end 20 reps too short of passing. Is my conditioning/endurance/cardio better now? No, I don't think so. I'm just a lot stronger.

I highly recommend the program. If you need help getting started, let me know. There is a reason that I tune in to both powerrackstrength.com and Strongfirst, these folks know what they are talking about!




More than 500 posts
Thanks so much for the long and detailed response. I'm going to read the book.

Besides Carroll's connection to McGill, Tony Cowden also speaks highly of Carroll. He's more of a hybrid athlete but said he still follows the 10/20/Life concepts, including the deload every 3 weeks. He was an early Crossfit guy that sent a lot of people to the CF games (who has completely switched from CF, it seems), but said his and his athletes nagging injuries went away when he started the frequent deloads.

Thanks again.
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