Here’s how 30-year-old Robert Browne bounced back from a devastating injury
High school football coach and health teacher Robert Browne always presents the same PowerPoint presentation when he gets a new batch of freshmen. In the beginning of his health class, he asks his students: “What do you want to look like five years from now?”
Those students don’t know what Coach Browne looked like before he lost more than 100 pounds. “I say, 'What if I tell you guys I haven’t always been fit?' and I turn to the next slide, and you can see their mouths drop,” he explains.
That slide displays a photo of what he used to look like; it’s the same picture you see on the left side of the before and after composite above, when Browne weighed more than 350 pounds.
Back when he was in high school, Browne lived and breathed football—and was good enough to earn a scholarship for it in college. But he fractured his knee toward the end of his junior year of undergrad, which required several surgeries and a donor’s meniscus (a C-shaped disc that cushions your knee) to repair the damage.
“I never got to play football again,” he recalls.
So he became a coach instead, but the injury affected him mentally. He became depressed, lethargic, stopped working out, and ate whatever he wanted. Before he realized it, the scale jumped from 275 to 355 pounds.
The consequences of that weight gain hit him hard at a family barbecue in 2013. He was chowing down on a plate of pork ribs and the blistering Mississippi heat was kicking in. Browne started feeling dizzy and sweating profusely. Worried about his health, his mom forced him to schedule an appointment with his doctor, where he was told that his blood pressure was “stroke-level high,” he says.
They put him on a high dosage of BP meds, but the numbers never went down. Realizing he would have to pop pills for the rest of the life if he didn’t make some changes, Browne knew it was time to stop making excuses.
“My job as a health teacher and football coach, we try to tell kids how they need to live, but I wasn’t practicing it myself,” says Browne. “I was telling my athletes that they had to be the strongest versions of themselves, but I wasn’t practicing that, so I started practicing what I preached. I started working out with my athletes.”
He hooked back up with one of his lost loves: Lifting heavy.
So it’s no shocker that Browne started losing fat and building muscle. As we’ve reported in the past (more times than we can count) every man should lift weights if he wants to shed pounds.
Browne does two 45-minute weightlifting sessions a day, four times a week, with his football players. After school, he does an additional 1.5 to 2-hour powerlifting session four days a week with his strength and conditioning students. With his football players, he focuses on explosive Olympic lifting. With his powerlifting students, he works to help them accomplish a higher one-rep max on the squat, deadlift, and the bench press. It's all about compound exercises—moves where you use multiple joints—in these sessions, Browne says.
“I saw my kids wanted to get stronger and change physically,” he adds. “If they want to do it, then I want to do it with them.”
But the weights don’t stop there: Browne does a separate 2 to 2.5-hour session on his own up to six days a week, focusing on days where he hasn’t moved as much. Here, he focuses on isolation movements, exercises that focus on a single joint or muscle group, like leg curls and extensions. He loves working his biceps and triceps, usually with exercises like barbell curls and the close-grip bench press. He alternates muscle groups so his body has time to recover.
And because he absolutely hates cardio, he conditioned himself to love squats and deadlifts, since they tend to burn more calories than other lifts, he says. (Looking for a program that will help you melt fat and build hard muscle at the same time? Check out METASHRED EXTREME, a series of high-intensity metabolic workouts from Men’s Health.)
We know what you’re thinking: Four days a week with both his football players and powerlifting students, and six days a week of gym time on his own? That’s a crazy amount of time spent pumping iron—and Browne acknowledges that his routine isn’t going to work for everybody.
But for his body and lifestyle, it led to results. At his leanest, Browne cut down to 218 pounds on a lower-calorie diet, which took him nearly three years. After bulking up for about 8 months, he reached 260. Now, he’s looking fitter than ever at 235 pounds (pictured in the after photo above).
Despite his insane workout routine, Browne knows he wouldn’t be where he is without making changes to his diet. Born and raised in the South, he used to rely on comfort foods like macaroni and cheese. Now, he meal preps for the week and focuses on consuming about 2,700 calories and eating enough lean protein to sustain his lifting schedule. He hasn’t shunned carbs, but instead of cornbread, he loads up on rice and vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and asparagus—foods he never even touched when he was heavier.
But he also credits his weight loss to the little changes, like taking the steps instead of the elevator, parking in the back of the lot instead of searching for a spot in the front, and substituting water for sugary drinks.
“Whenever I get bored, instead of snacking, I’ll go and just walk around the beach. I’ll go do something, even if I just go wash my truck. Physical activity doesn’t need to be contained to the gym,” he says. “Go help your mom with her garden. Go wash the dishes. Constantly moving burns off extra calories. It’s all about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
And teaching his students that very mantra is what inspires Browne to keep going every day.
We don’t blame him. How could you not be motivated when you see a high school senior squat 820 pounds? Nearly 200 pounds more than your own PR? He pushes them, and they push him back.
“I’ll tell my kids: I have done it, I will do it, or I won’t ask you to do it, and I mean that,” he says. “I live by that.”