Meeting Zydrunas

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  • By Susan "The Wife" Bartley
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Meeting Zydrunas

If you know me at all, then you know that my list of “boyfriends” is incredibly long.  It is comprised of two types of guys…actors and weight lifters.  I don’t actually have to know you for you to be a boyfriend, I just have to like you a lot.  One of the guys I have always adored was Zydrunas Savickas.  In 2011 we got tickets to go see World’s Strongest Man at Wingate College.  At the end of the day, right as we were leaving Marc yelled into the athlete tent to ask Zydrunas to come out and take a picture with me.  He did, although I am not sure how happy he was, and it made my day.   This past week we got the chance to do that encounter one better and attended a seminar on strongman training given by Zydrunas.


I LOVE, more than anything, listening to the top guys and girls in sport talk about training.  Actually, it doesn’t even have to be about training.  Just having the chance to listen to someone so accomplished in their sport, even if they are talking about the weather, really energizes me.   The day with Zydrunas was amazing.  I took lots of notes and thought I would share them here, so you could learn a thing or two as well.


My biggest take away was a moment of clarity where I really saw the difference between a true Professional and an amateur or hobbyist lifter.  When Zydrunas talked about his training two things stood out.  One, he talks A LOT about training your weakness to hone your skill.  Sure, he isn’t the first one to harp on that but really how many people in a normal training atmosphere listen to that advice.  Training your weakness SUCKS!  It is more fun to try to continue to train your strength and hope like hell that negates anything that your weaknesses might throw in the mix.  But, of course, this isn’t the way to get stronger OR to achieve longevity in sport.  Despite numerous injuries that would be devastating to most people, Zydrunas is still a top athlete and he has been competing since 2001.  Professional athletes understand that they are only as good as their weaknesses and so they train harder to overcome them.  I don’t see that kind of commitment in gym lifters and amateurs.  I have seen many a competitor live with mediocre performances or leave the sport because they refuse to try and understand why the suck and what they need to do to NOT suck.


The second thing I noticed is that his attention to the competition aspect and how it affected his training was spot on.  Simple things like if the competition starts early then try to make your training start at a similar time.  Train the events where there is a start and stop command with a buddy who can actually give you those commands.  Know what the weights of each event will be, and/or what you need to accomplish to win and then train for those weights.  He talked about his basic training being a progressive overload format where you add 10 to 20 kg per week of the main exercises and always try to best what you did last week.   Most people in powerlifting agree that a continual progressive overload program leads to burn out and lack of gains.  But, because Zydrunas is often training to a competition weight that is below his 1 rep max, he very rarely gets to a state of overloading a max weight.    And, even more awesome, if he is supposed to go for a certain number one week and it just isn’t there then it isn’t there and he trains where his body is at that moment.  No pushing past a threshold just to check off a number in his training log.   Do what you can and come back the next time stronger.


Basically, and this is something I have said about Spud for years, truly understanding the training and how it affects your body AND how it correlates on competition day makes your training maximally effective.  Zydrunas doesn’t train with a coach any more because he said he no longer needs someone to tell him what to do.  He gets it, he understands what he needs to do and he can motivate himself to do it.  Working with a coach is great, but if you don’t learn what the coach is teaching you then you will never be able to excel in your sport because you will never truly understand what it takes to be great.


Okay, here are some actual bullet point take-aways.  And these are not just for Strongman athletes, these training points work just as well for powerlifting and any other strength sport.

  1. How he schedules his training: Mon/Squat, Tues/Overhead Press, Wed/Cardio and accessory, Thurs/Deadlift, Fri/Sat/Strongman even training, Sun/off
  2. He works up to doubles and rarely does singles unless he is looking for a 1RM. Doubles assures him that if he only has to lift a weight once it will be easy because he has trained to lift it twice.
  3. If you are working an event for max reps try to find out what you need to win, how many reps the top guy/girl will do. Then train for that number plus 1.  If you can make the number you need to win easy then you will take the competition easily.  If you only need 3 reps for the competition but you can do 4 then winning with 3 will seem like pie.
  4. 3 month cycles leading up to a competition is the best way to ensure the gains that you need.
  5. Do cardio. Strongman training gives you some of that, but you need to also do just regular cardio like on the bike or treadmill.  A couple of 20 minutes sessions a week will make sure you have the wind you need in competition
  6. Squat days start with normal back squatting variations and then front squats. Ending with normal leg exercises like heavy leg press.  So, yes, the leg press does transfer into strength programming.
  7. If your lock out sucks, then do more triceps. What kind of triceps? It doesn’t matter just focus on your triceps until your lock outs start getting easier.  If a pressing weight flies off your chest easily but you get stuck halfway up, then your triceps are weak, and you need to work them more.
  8. REAR DELT WORK is king. Most people don’t do it, but they should.  On pressing days after your main work, you should do accessory work for the front, side and rear delts.  Working the whole shoulder will make your pressing more stable and help you be stronger and ward off injury.
  9. Get 9 hours of sleep a night. Just do it!
  10. Work in competition to be better than you were before. If you focus on that as your goal, then winning will come. If you just focus on winning and not being better, then you will fail more often than you win.
  11. Train the clean and hold the load for a few seconds. The easier you make the clean and the less uncomfortable you are in the rack position the easier the press will be.  After training your press, train the clean.
  12. Another tip for lockout issues is to hold the top position for 5-10 seconds. Lock everything into place and really fell what that position feels like so that you can find it over and over again.
  13. Yoke tip: hold the side of the yoke and pull in. This will squeeze your upper back and “lock” you into place making you more stable under the load.  Keep your upper body tight and just run with your legs.
  14. Another Yoke tip: train for heavy and train for fast. Do both in your yoke sessions so you are competent in both scenarios.
  15. Train your upper back with lots of row and pulldowns so you have that strength for your, cleans and presses.


OMG!  There was so much more, but these are the quick take-aways I was able to jot down.  I got lots of videos of him demonstrating as well so I could see it in action for later.  Watching a professional do what he/she is best at is a great way to learn.  Are these tips earth shattering?  Is it new advice? Well some of it maybe, but most of it NO.  It is all stuff we have heard or maybe even said to our clients, but do we do it?  That is the big question.  Watching someone like Big Z talk about his training makes you want to do all of these little things so that you can be better.


All in all, we had a wonderful day.   Like these things often do, I am reinvigorated to train.  I had lost my spark in the move to tackle the heavy stuff and had just been doing light work and cardio.  Now I think Stella might have her groove back.  To prove it, here is my first day back workout for the week:


Axle Press with our 55 lb. axle (it is short and stubby, but I wasn’t sure if I could manage our large heavy axle)


3 sets warm-up with just the axle for sets of 3 from the floor clean and press.


Add 5 kg per side for a set of doubles regular clean and press from floor and a set of doubles continental style from the floor.


Add 5 lbs per side and did 3 sets of doubles regular C&P and 3 sets of doubles continental.


Triceps work with bands and pushdowns with cables


Clean and holds with double 20 kg Kettlebells


Banded pull aparts for rear delt work.


10 minutes on the Sand dune 45 sec on/15 sec off.


  1. Ryan Stockie Ryan Stockie

    Hey Susan! I am so glad I stopped in to read these today, I'm going to meet Big Z at a seminar on Tuesday! I feel more prepared and excited to meet someone who has been one of my heroes for many years.

  2. Joseph Fontenot Joseph Fontenot

    Mrs Susan, thank you for posting this training blog. It's tips like these that just a novice lifter like myself benefits from. I don't want to be a power lifter, but admire the dedication and persistence it takes. I have a Soldier of mine who does strong man competitions and wears Spud wraps I'm sure he'll read your article.

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