Interview with Zydrunas Savickas (Big Z)

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Snapshot of Takeaway Points

  • Be patient, don’t try to get strong too fast
  • When you are losing you learn more. When you are winning you are just happy
  • Z’s favourite training protocol is a pyramid system

Introduction

Zydrunas Savickas is known as the strongest man to have ever walked the planet. He’s also one of the nicest! Knowing he was in my local town meant I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to invest in an interview. He also came back for a frequency specific microcurrent treatment on his cervical discs and then get himself onto my record board.

What do Trainees/Gym Goers need to do less of?

I’ve competed in Strongman for 27 years & I’ve taken a long time to get really strong. I’ve trained step by step and most people want to get strong too fast. I think this is a mistake because your body is not a machine. It takes time to get strong. It’s not just your muscles but your bones, joints & ligaments. So I think people need to slow down and not be so fast towards your goals.

I think you need to set high goals if you want to be an athlete but set year 1 plan, year 2 plan, year 5 plan, not just think ‘I need to win this year’. This helps you prevent injuries and ending your career very soon.

What do you wish Trainees/Gym Goers would stop doing completely?

Not so much as sometimes I see things that may be not so good for me, but may be good for them. It comes back to being patient again. I got really strong when I was 25 years old and stayed at this level for almost 20 years. I squatted 400kg equipped when I was 24 years old and I’ve stayed at this level for a long time.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started training?

First is I needed to know how my muscles worked, technique and how my body recovers after training. How to find my volume of training that I best respond to and recover from. Muscle growth happens not in the gym but when you are recovering. 

Who are you go to guys for Strength/Rehab/Nutrition?

No, I do everything myself. I studied physical education at Sport University in Lithuania and studied a lot to find out how the body worked, and asked some people and found what it is best for me.

What characteristics are required for a great strength Athlete?

Overall strength, speed & good stamina. Also knowing when and how to peak certain exercises is important and different strength qualities. One year I was really strong but my speed was really bad. Another I was good in speed events but my strength was weak. With experience, now I find the right balance between all the events.

What are the main reasons for your success?

I have good genetics for the sport, but not the best for strongman. I am for sure better suited to Powerlifting than Strongman, but I like the strongman sport more. Also you can become a professional athlete in strongman and it was always my dream to do what I love. I can train for a living rather than work and then train at the end of the day.

I personally think that the reason I win so many competitions and why I have gotten stronger and stronger is that I always believe in myself and that I believe I can lift the weight put in front of me. Also every year I was always able to look at my personal results and want to be stronger than myself the previous year.

This was important as 10-15 years ago I was lifting 20-30kg more than the guy in second place so I needed to compete with myself to continue improving. I didn’t need to get stronger but I had the drive to beat Savickas of previous year. I want to lift 5-10kg more on every exercise or if it’s events for reps I want to lift another rep. So I always pushed myself to be better.

Favourite book/resource/website for training or life?

When I started training internet was just beginning so it was not so easy to find research so I decided to go to Sport University to study and read books and lots of things. It was just simple books for training. Now it is 100 times easier to gain knowledge due to the internet. Last 10 years I find more from my training and experience to utilise what is best for me.

What supplements do you utilise for a top workout?

Whey protein, lots of BCAAs, creatine 2-3 weeks before competition, glutamine in the morning & evening. Omega 3’s and that’s it. Sometimes I use pre-workout if I’m tired but I try not to because then I sleep bad and if it makes me lose a lot of water sometimes I can get cramps. Also before training I use beta-alanine, BCAAs & creatine mixed together.

What lesson/failure has taught you the most?

Every time you gain different knowledge from losing. When you are losing you learn more. When you are winning you are just happy! Injuries you can really learn a lot. I injured my neck twice in one year. Working from 100kg log back to 190kg and then injured again. To fix this I went to my Doctor to get PRP in my neck, which was a first for this Dr! When you have a needle in your neck 4cm it can be a little bit scary!

What is your most important daily ritual?

First is good sleep, second is good food, then is training. 3 x most important things in my life. Also I use visualising in the evening & before a competition. I always believe I can lift the weight which helps me succeed in doing so.

What’s been your biggest change throughout your lifting career?

I’ve never made dramatic changes in my training routine or in diet or recovery. Only after my neck injury I now have specialist massage every week. After the neck injury I had to increase my muscle mass as in all of my left side I experienced muscle loss. I got leaner at this time also so I changed diet in this period, partly as an experiment but I also got stronger at the same time which is not typical!

If I do decide to put something new in my training routine I change one thing, not everything.

Z, where is the best place to train in Southampton?

Most use/favourite rep & set scheme or training program/protocol?

My favourite is a Pyramid System after a very long warm up & because it’s a long warm up I do just one really heavy set. This is the same for almost all events and the top set I do between 2-5 reps and warm ups between 5-10 sets.

Normally I start training 8-10 weeks before a competition. When peaking for a competition I’ll pick a starting weight and achieve 5 reps, then next week I increase the weight by 10-20kg and try to achieve 5 again. I always try to do the most reps I can with the weight. 5 is my goal but one day it will be 4 then 3 and so on. It’s the most simple training program but it really works for me.

It doesn’t work for me now in my deadlift as the neck injury has also affected my lower back alongside a really bad tear 4 years ago in my hamstring. Recently in Manchester I pulled 400kg for 2 reps, but now this Spring the deadlift is not going as well but I think this is more due to technique problem. I am open to trying new things if I am not seeing the results I want.

I never go for maximum weight in training. Sometimes I miss a rep & if it’s too heavy and I lift it once I won’t go for the 2nd because I know I won’t get it. It’s always better to hit 1 repetition than to hit 1 rep and miss the second. I am human and when I feel good I do go for an extra set and I get success then I’m happy, but if I miss it and fail then it’s not so good so it’s better to be patient. Every week I have a goal with training and if I reach this goal then I am happy so I don’t need to do more. 90% of the time I achieve my goal.

Tell me about the ‘Z Press’: I like that it’s called my name and I have my exercise, but I’ve only tried once and didn’t like it so that was it. I will make some new exercise I think in the future but better!

What are your best lifts in training & competition?

I always lift my heaviest lifts in competition. Log my best training lift is 220kg, competition is 228kg. Squat is 440kg x 2 in training but I don’t compete now in Powerlifting so I haven’t done max squat. Deadlift is 430kg in training and 442kg in competition.

Can you give me an insight into how you train the log press?

Now I log press twice per week. One day is heavy day (2-5 reps) and then one day is speed day with 3-4 sets of 5 reps.

My favourite log press assistance work is behind the neck press. My best in this lift is 200kg x 5 repetitions. I also like the smith machine press, flat bench press with a narrower grip, french press, and cable movements for triceps. I usually complete 4 sets of 10 reps, but on some lifts it can be anything from 2-6 repetitions. I like to keep my flat bench press with narrower grip at 10-20kg more than my log & also for 2 or more repetitions.

Conclusion

So there you have it. An insight into how the strongest man ever thinks and plans his training. Notice his strength of mind set that goes alongside his incredible results in strength sports. If you can’t listen to and learn from this man on how to get strong then who can you learn from?!

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 17/3/2019

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