Zack MacCarley is the current under 105kg National American Strongman Champion. Whilst that’s impressive in itself, he is also only 23 years old. We caught up and spoke about winning the Strongman Championship, Being Natural v Steroids, Exercise form, Strongman Camaraderie and his Heroes.
PB: You recently took out the title of 2011 National American Strongman in the under 105Kg division, what did this win mean to you?
ZM: I wanted this from the start but I was not 100% sure if I would get it. I honestly do not have the best facilities, I moved 120 miles away from my old gym with all the equipment two months before the contest. When I moved my equipment was only a set of farmers walk handles, a borrowed small log, stone, and sandbag. I literally drove 2 hours to the nearest yoke and log to train with once every two weeks.
I also injured my back and shoulder within 3 months of the contest. My hips were literally starting to fall apart, the connective tissue in my pelvis around my SI (Sacroiliac) joints was getting loose and some days it was hard to walk. My shoulder got injured because I had the great idea to wrestle 6 weeks out from the contest and got carried away; I ended up straining my posterior capsule and was out of overhead training for two weeks.
What did it mean to win America’s Strongest Man under 105Kg? It meant a lot, I had such a hard year in 2011, and I honestly believe I deserved it.
I never missed training sessions, when I was hurt I’d train something else. I committed my whole summer to the sport. I do not think anyone does so much with so little return. I am still the only Professional Strongman in the USA with no sponsor or endorsement. But I do it for the love of the sport. (Potential sponsors can contact Zack via firstname.lastname@example.org)
The contest was very close; there were a few mistakes on the score sheets so after day one it said I was in first place when in reality I was trailing by 3 points. I was ok with this because I knew I was capable of a strong performance on day 2, they were good events for me and I believe I have the best conditioning in the sport out of anyone.
I did well in every event except the log. I honestly have had a weak spot on my log for as long as I can remember, but I have been working it a lot in the last year! I plan to fix this weakness!
PB: Ok, let’s talk about the Elephant in the Room as they say “Steroids”, you mentioned to me that you had been drug tested and have never taken steroids. Tell me your views on steroids/performance enhancers and of competitors taking them?
ZM: I have not been tested recently as a lot of contests are not tested but I have passed tests in 2007 and 2008 at Rainier’s Strongest Man in Sumner, Washington. I am drug free and proud, of course I do not go parading around yelling it like some people, but I think it is important for me to stay drug free as I am a role model for quite a few people.
My stance on performance enhancers is rather unique, most people fall in one of two categories, either “they are great everyone should use them” or “No-one should use them, they are cheating“.
I really don’t care if people want to use them because your body only has so much it can handle. On top of that, performance enhancers do not affect tendon or connective tissue strength, so someone making too many gains in too little time will experience several setbacks in the form of injuries.
This is not to say everyone who gets injured is “using.” I do believe a lot of irregular injuries come about from abusing these drugs. If used correctly these can be wonder drugs but too many want too much. I do not think that they are cheating, because they are not, but they are crossing a line that I am not willing to follow and they are taking risks that are in my opinion unnecessary.
Despite everything I think they should be legal and that they should be legal in competition. You should have to have a baseline knowledge before use though, maybe a 100 hour course and a comprehensive final for a license to possess and use?
To finish on this subject, I’d also like to state that strongman competitors sometimes pop up but then disappear. I would attribute this to the abuse of these drugs, but again it is the price they pay. If you love the sport stay off them, your career will last twice as long, if not more.
PB: A couple of years ago you had serious problems with your Deadlift and squat? What were these specific problems and how did you rectify them?
ZM: Most of my issues come from form. My squat and Deadlift forms used to be dangerous, now they are just bad.
I will say that in a wide stance squat, I am very technical and very good with my form, but everything else is rough.
I do however have certain rules on these lifts:
Deadlift- keep your low back straight, keep your chest from caving in (this happens when your low back is about to bend), start the lift with bent knees (if you don’t it is not just a Deadlift)
Squat- go deep, act like you are sitting in a chair, knees stay behind the toes.
Above all else, if something works for you stay with it, do not listen to someone who has not been where you are and “think” they know what to do.
If someone wants to improve then study who you want to be like. Honestly the best squatters have awesome form, but the best deadlifters have poor form (not dangerous, there is a difference).
Exercises I suggest for anyone are good mornings, front squats, and stiff leg Deadlifts they are all very easy to do and very effective at creating an overall strong body.
PB: What other common lifting mistakes do you see people make in gyms you train at, and how should they be doing the exercise in question?
ZM: I honestly see a lot of people going too light. (Editors note: I wasn’t expecting that response:) )
When you go too light with a lot of movements you get out of your true groove.
Then there are the lifters I see going too heavy, who often forgot to check their ego at the door. I usually tell people if they are doing something dangerous.
The most common error I see is in the squat a lot of people love to load it up, not actually knowing how to do the lift. People shoot their knees out, round their back, only go half way down (sometimes only a quarter).
There have been times where I stopped my workout to help someone, and the next day I talk to them and they can barely walk, they are so sore. If you do squats right you get more out of them.
For Deadlifts I just make sure they are being safe but I have a rather passive way of coaching Deadlifts.
PB: Do you get frustrated when people say that the 105kg class is not the main event at a strongman comp?
ZM: I honestly laugh when someone tells me that the Light weight (105kg) division is a waste of time.
Too many people like to hide behind a keyboard as well but honestly I have left forums and never returned from some things people say, and that is the trick. Keep yourself away from negative people and stay around the positive ones. Negative people are small minded and weak, they do not possess the constitution or integrity to say they will do something and then do it, stick with it, and commit to it.
My honest opinion on Lightweight strongman? It is not the main stage, but that does not need to be said, most people come to see freaks, people who are LARGER THAN LIFE. I compete more often in Heavyweight (105kg+) competition than I do in the Lightweights.
I have never seen a “good” strongman disrespect another, honestly there is mutual respect for all competitors in this sport and I love it, some people do not, let them be angry by themselves.
PB: I have recently been given a 100kg Atlas Stone. How do I learn how to lift it? What exercises do you find specifically helpful for lifting atlas stones? (Yes I appreciate I should have got a lighter one first ? )
The way I fix people is to watch and critique. Posting the video and asking for help, works great on forums.
(Editors note: Viking Strength now has its own Forum where you can discuss all things Strongman)
Exercises that I use to help with the lift are:
- front squats
- stiff leg Deadlifts
- weighted hip thrusts
- And lifting the stone itself!
PB: Having been involved with Powerlifting in your early days and strongman comps now, what do you see as the main differences between these athletes, both physically and mentally. I have noticed a lot of camaraderie amongst Strongman, whilst there appears to be less in Powerlifting or Bodybuilding? Do you agree or disagree?
I agree, but honestly I have never done a Bodybuilding show, and Powerlifters most of the time are very nice (but there are more assholes in Powerlifting than there are in Strongman).
I subscribe to the thought that if you give respect then you get respect. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this, I respect and trust most people until they show me that they do not deserve it.
While I do believe there is more respect given in the strongman circles, my first powerlifting experience was one I could not forget.
I do not recall how I began talking to a man I did not know but I told him it was my first powerlifting contest, I had no clue what was going on (I tend to see something I want and go for it, sometimes with no guidance). He helped me all day and even gave me a singlet and wraps, he was such a nice guy I wish I could recall his name.
Finally I would just say that I have heard from close friends of mine that Highland games are even friendlier than Strongman.
PB: You are only 23, so very young in strongman terms, if I was to interview you in 10 years time when you are 33, what would you have liked to have achieved both in and out of the sport of strongman?
ZM: I would have liked to become a World Champion Strongman in the 105kg division, a ground breaking chemist, and I probably would have competed in other sports as well. Maybe MMA, crossfit, maybe even Bodybuilding (if my friends can persuade me).
I have been an athlete from the start, not a strongman. I started sports in Baseball, then Tae Kwon Do, Soccer (football to non-Americans, I know we are stupid), American football, Judo, Brazilian jujitsu, Am-ka-jitsu, wrestling, powerlifting, college wrestling, strongman, and who knows what is next.
10 years from now I could do anything, the tricky part is deciding what I want! 🙂
PB: If you had to be sent in a rocket to mars (Like Total Recall) with 5 other strongmen/women (alive or deceased) for 5 weeks, who would you choose and why?
ZM: This is a fun question, ok here they are:
- Jon Pall Sigmarsson– I wish I would have got to meet him
- Bill Kazmaier – He is so funny, we have sat down on a few occasions and just chatted.
- Tyler Scott – Old training partner and the smartest Strongman I know!
- Eugene Sandow – I want a shot to beat him!
- Louis Cyr – Just cause!
PB: Wow, that’s a mix of names spanning a hundred years of strongman. Zack it’s been great catching up, all the best for 2012.
ZM: No problem, you too.
For more on Zack see the below reference sources: