Big Z Comes to TNT Gym

On the afternoon of my 43rd birthday, I got the once in a lifetime experience of being able to go pick up Big Z at the airport.  I was a bit nervous as this was my first time playing host to a celebrity.  I am more of a Walmart and McDonalds kind of girl while I presume celebrities are supposed to a bit of a higher class.  Of course, there was an issue with his flight.  It is fine until it gets into Albuquerque and then has to sit on the tarmac for an hour waiting for some other plane to get pushed out of the way.  Nice introduction to Albuquerque.  I made some comment about it but he didn’t seem at all concerned about it.

That is the main thing I was surprised by with Big Z.  He seems remarkably easy-going. Perhaps he was cursing things in private, but with him he seemed to be perfectly content with whatever.  While I was driving him back in an older Highlander, he was talking about his time in Dubai, where they had expensive cars with drivers waiting for them at the airport, stayed in the best hotels, ate the best food.  As I am driving him to one of the nicer hotels in Albuquerque — but still running only about $100 per night — I am thinking he is going to hate this.  But he never indicated it.  He was polite, gracious, and seemed amazingly easy to please.

Day 1 we went to Sandia Crest, an experience which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy.  I felt bad that we were a bit rushed up there due to him being scheduled to workout at 1:00.

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He kept getting a bit too close to the edge.  I had paranoid visions of him falling off the mountain and then the entire strongman community coming after me.

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Following Sandia Crest, we went to lunch to introduce him to New Mexican food.  He had said that he didn’t like a lot of spice so I had suggested he get the green chile on the side, but he seemed to handle the green chile just fine.  We also had the pleasure of introducing him to sopapillas for the first time.

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Next was training time. He was getting over an injury so said today would be a very light day.  Even so, I was pretty excited because he said he was going to train log.  I would get to watch the greatest log presser in the world train log.  I was trying to get some work done (I work from home as a programmer) while he trained but I was kind of keeping an eye out for when he had the log loaded with a decent weight so I could watch.  Finally he gets around 240lbs on that log so I go to watch him.  He strict pressed it for 5+ reps without even breaking a sweat.  The good news is that our cheap Titan log held up to his workout.

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That night he was gracious enough to agree to do a meet and greet type event over at a local restaurant. A ton of people came over to say hi, he must have stood for about a billion photos, and he even played some games with the kids.

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Not sure what this game was, but the kids seemed to love playing it with a giant.

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The next day it was breakfast   (with green chile of course!), a brief walk in Albuquerque’s old town, a walk along the Bosque, and then training again.  Today’s training was squats.  He was taking it really light due to recovering from a serious knee injury, which of course meant he only worked up to in the 500+ range.  What was interesting to me is that he said he couldn’t go very low due to knee problems and recovering from the injury, but at least from a distance his depth looked very close to below parallel.  No guarantee that it would have passed in a powerlifting meet, but it wasn’t too far from passing.  After training, he was again gracious and willing to pose for photos.

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Big Z and my Mom at Church Street Cafe
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Going into San Felope “The oldest church in Albuquerque”.  Apparently old in New Mexico isn’t very old in Lithuania so he wasn’t as impressed as I was.

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Finally came time for the seminar.  He started off discussing his strongman and powerlifting career, lessons he has learned over the years, and his training methods.  This was really, really interesting.  He then answered 30-45 minutes worth of questions. I didn’t want to be the nerd with a notepad so didn’t take notes, but here are some random list of things I remember;

  • He really emphasized the importance of one’s mentality in competing — not letting your mind impose barriers on what you are capable of, illustrating it with several examples from his own career.
  • Like most strongman, he eats a lot but he doesn’t really track calories.  I think he has been doing this so long he just kind of knows what he needs.
  • He also emphasized the importance of sleep for recovery.  He says he tries to get 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • As far as training secrets, he has one main secret: a lot of hard work over a lot of years.
  • He says he spends a lot of his training time working with barbell lifts instead of doing more event-specific work (although this will vary based on how far out from a serious competition he is).
  • He does back squats but then finishes them off with front squats.
  • On seeing my weak left side, he suggested after I do my main overhead lift then do some dumbbells pressing just on the left side.
  • He does a cardio-only workout once per week, usually does one type of cardio for 20 minutes then switching to a second form of cardio for another 20 minutes.
  • He likes indoor soccer shoes for moving events and his rehband belt, sometimes (but not always) with a standard leather belt over it.
  • He said he did a lot of his early years of training only being able to access implements once a week.  Other than that, he only had basic equipment (barbell, dumbbells, etc.), yet was still able to develop into a world-class athlete.  (Thus heavily implying that everything I needed — and more — to do great in strongman was at TNT Gym.  I just needed hard work and a good attitude).
  • For cardio, he likes to do 20 tire flips as fast as possible.

Next came the hands-on portion. I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect here.  I find that the skill set to help people with lifts and the skill set to be very good at lifts yourself don’t always overlap as well as you would think.  Sometimes people are very. very good at knowing how to do well themselves but not so good at identifying where other people might be making mistakes.  This wasn’t the case at all with Big Z.  We went over log, deadlift, and stones.  He made a few minor tweaks to my form which definitely helped, and also instantly identified the fact that my left side is far weaker than my right on the log press.  What was really cool, though, was watching him work with people who were less familiar with the lift.  He would patiently adjust things for them and before long they would get it.  One girl had never gotten any of the stones, came up and tried one and could barely budge it.  He adjusted things for her and she got it easily.

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“Very strong strict presser”.  She never uses leg drive.
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Look at the size of the biceps!
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The entire group.

Overall, I was really impressed with the seminar.  He was able to work with people of all levels, from ones who had rarely (if ever) worked with the implement to ones who were seasoned competitors.  If you get a chance to do a seminar with big Z, I would definitely recommend it.

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