Metal Mulisha Motocross crew founder Brian Deegan is known for pulling off some of the sickest stunts on two wheels. The original freestyler also draws attention for having suffered some of the wickedest crashes in action sports history. Nonetheless, he seems to walk away in one piece (most of the time).
“The General” spent the day with STACK to tell us about battling back from injuries and reflect on what he’s learned about himself after 18 years of flipping dirt bikes.
STACK: Tell us about the injuries you’ve sustained throughout your career.
Brian Deegan: I raced from the time I was eight to 18 and never broke a bone. The first bone I broke was my wrist, but it started adding up [when] I started to freestyle. We [the Metal Mulisha crew] were the first guys to try tricks. When you innovate something, you’re the guinea pig, and with that risk you take on injuries. I’ve broken my ankles. I’ve broken my femur in four spots. [I’ve broken] my hip, snapped my humerus in half and broken my wrists five times. I’ve compressed a vertebra in my back and blew up my kidney doing a backflip [for] the MTV show Viva La Bam. In the end, I’m still riding dirt bikes.
STACK: Have you ever asked yourself, “Is riding still worth the risk?”
BD: Yeah, the moment I crashed and blew up my kidney. [It] ripped off my artery, and [I] had internal bleeding. I remember going into shock. My mouth was just biting down, and I kept falling asleep. I toughed it out until I got to the hospital and ended up waking up [with] tubes everywhere.
The doctor came in and [said], “You’re never going to ride a dirt bike, ever again.” A couple weeks later I was lying there and [thought], “Man, I feel like riding.” I healed, and six weeks later I was riding my dirt bike. That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I enjoy doing.
STACK: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an athlete?
BD: In action sports, there were a lot of things I just shut my brain off and did. The times I got hurt were because I was pressured into a situation. The fans were cheering or the sponsors were [saying], “Alright, do it.”
For the MTV deal, the producer wanted me to do the backflip, but it was too windy. Today, I would have said no way, but at that moment, the pressure got to me. That’s a moment I regret. Now I wouldn’t put myself in those situations.
STACK: What advice can you offer based on your 18 years as a pro rider?
BD: The main things that I’ve learned are [to stick] by your family [and live by] good values. Treat people how you want to be treated. It’s easy going up, but when you come down, you want to be able to have that support from people. Surround yourself with people you trust. One key to my success has been having a good team around me. Another [is] taking chances. I took a lot of chances during my career, and I failed more than I succeeded. I was good at one out of 10 things I tried. You never know until you try.
STACK: How does your body feel now after all the surgeries and crashes?
BD: I feel better now than I felt throughout my career, because I train all the time. I work out every day. If I take days off, I feel worse. Your body needs a day to recover, but I feel like my recovery time is half of what it takes [other] people. It’s better to have some muscle, because when you crash, [muscle] protects you when you hit the ground. There are guys that ride freestyle and don’t work out, and they’re always [getting] hurt.
When Deegan isn’t flipping bikes and riding hard with the Metal Mulisha, he’s flipping truck tires and hitting the heavy bag at iCON Sports Alliance with master trainer Charles Dao. Deegan’s unconventional freestyle training methods focus on three key components that every athlete needs.
Tire Flip With Plyo Jump
Variation: If truck tire is not available, perform Power Cleans and jump over bar
Sets/Reps/Rest: 3x12 with 60 seconds rest
Coaching Points: Don’t round shoulders or arch lower back // Use lower body to drive tire up // Keep weight on heels // Jump over tire as fast as possible
Dao: This exercise uses every muscle in the body. Brian needs to be explosive every time he’s on his bike. If you don’t maximize that power output, you’re going to be halfway flying through the air and unable to bring [the bike] back around.
Single-Leg Physioball Inverted Row
Sets/Reps/Rest: 3x7 each leg with 60 seconds rest
Coaching Points: Keep back flat // Don’t allow hips to sag // Use core to stabilize body // Control movement throughout exercise
Dao: When you’re throwing a bike around in mid-air, it takes a lot of core strength to control it. Some of the tricks that Brain does are push-and-pull movements. He’s two, three stories in the air and needs to make sure that he has the core strength to bring [the bike] back.
Sets/Duration/Rest: 4-5x3 minutes with 60 seconds rest
Striking Combos: Jab, jab, cross // Cross, hook, cross // Jab, cross, hook, cross // Jab, jab, cross, hook
Coaching Points: Control breathing with deep breaths // Stay loose // Keep nonstriking hand up to protect face // Keep feet shoulder-width apart // Keep wrists straight when striking // Generate power with legs and core
Deegan: Boxing is one of the gnarliest sports, hands down, [when] training for cardio and peak fitness. Hitting focus mitts, sparring, there’s really no better cardio workout. It really [improves] hand-eye coordination and helps you focus.