6 Lessons Learned in My Journey to Become a Professional

There I was, the final event of the World Championships:  power stairs. I knew all I had to do was beat the Polish competitor to the top of the stairs and I would be crowned the World Champion and Lightweight Pro Strongman. All of my training came down to this event. Everything I had put into it was on the line, and if I made one mistake it would have slipped away from me like that.

I had never done this event in my entire life, but I have never been so comfortable and confident going into an event. If you watch Marius Pudzianowski compete on the powerstairs, it is the definition of determination. “YOU think you can beat ME to the top of those stairs?!? Hahaha yeah right (I have the utmost respect for all of the competitors and they deserve it just as bad as I did, but it was my turn.)

Zach Champ
Zach Champ


I said it before going “pro” and I will stand by my statement, POSITIVITY is the number one key to success. I put “pro” in quotations because if I had taken one wrong step on the power stairs, there's a chance I wouldn’t have the title of “pro.”

The thing is though...I was professional long before this competition. You don’t just become a pro all of a sudden. Everyone starts as an amateur, and that same amateur makes positive decisions which lead to professional status.

Having the title professional means nothing to me because I already hold myself to those expectations with or without the title. For example, my girlfriend, Alisha Ciolek, also became a World Champion that day, but girls cant go “pro.” Does that mean she isn't "professional" at what she does?  Absolutely not!  You'd be out of your mind to not consider that girl a professional at what she does.

When it comes to our success, being and staying positive is the key. Without positivity there is no way this would have been possible. In order to save money so we could compete in the competition, we went the winter without heat. That was one of many sacrifices that we made. Before day two of the competition, Alisha and I agreed that whatever happens,happens. We gave it our all and if we come up short there is zero shame.

As soon as a negative thought creeps into your head, and you start asking what if? Or maybe I should have done this... your mind will create negative illusions.

A confident mind is a clear mind, and a clear mind is a strong mind.

We knew what we had to do that day:  just play like we practice. And our positive subconscious took care of the rest.


Don’t let your hobby consume you, but don’t give up on your passion.

There is no money in strongman, and that’s why it's a hobby. If you are getting paid millions to play a sport, that’s a different story. Finding a balance is crucial. Use your hobby as an escape from school/work.

When you can do that, your hobby will become that much more enjoyable, it becomes a privilege. You will appreciate it more, and get more out of it.

Don’t ever let your hobby become a chore. As soon as it's not fun anymore, and you aren’t getting paid, something has to change. Whether its your program, your diet, your training environment, or training partners, switch something up!

Last summer I trained way too often, and way too hard. I did not dose my training efficiently with my work hours. Four to five times a week I woke up at 4:00 am to work out for 3 hours and then work a 12 hour day.

Im not complaining, these were all my choices. I could have backed down and said:  "No, that’s too much work.  Maybe I shouldn’t lift as much."

But the National Champion in me said no way, keep going. I burned the candle at both ends and it caught up to me. My training sessions became a force and I even went into some training session angry and pissed off. Lifting angry is the WORST idea because the weights will always win. Positive energy!!!


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Less is more.

Im not saying don’t work your ass off, but don’t over do it. Know your limits and don’t push through pain (hopefully you know the difference between suck and pain).

I trained my favorite event, deadlift, very often that summer. I could do it pain free and lift tons of weight. Although that was really fun, it wasn’t exactly optimal. I still trained all the other events, but being spent from the deadlifts limited my efforts.

Leading up to the World Championship I deadlifted maybe once a week. I strayed away from other lifts because I could not train them often without pain. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough work so I filled that with more deadlifts. I was impatient to get better. I wanted to be the strongest every single day, when in reality I only had to be the strongest for two days.

For Worlds, I stayed healthy and put more effort into all the other events. I knew I had to get better at the events that weren’t my favorite/best, with yoke being the main culprit. I knew that if I could do just pretty well on the yoke, I would win the show.

I was very confident on the other events, but yoke was sketchy for me.

Shin splits were a common outcome of yoke, but I always trained through the pain. The pain was tolerable, but it wasn’t going away or getting better. I gave myself a break and trained the yoke very light and not very often. Staying pain free was my biggest concern during preparation for World’s.

This doesn’t mean I wasn’t dead ass tired and didn’t want to lift sometimes. Alisha and I pushed through some grueling workouts, and she was cutting weight on top of it all! (cutting weight is not in my agenda any time soon).

So don’t think you always have to be dying! If you aren’t trying to peak for a competition or a game, train for longevity and consistency. Set a goal, make a plan, and make it happen. Trust the process and be patient.



Know how to relax!

Being able to truly relax and have down time is just as important as being able to turn it on.

Leading up to the Strongman World Championships in 2014, when I competed in the 185 lb. and under weight class, I was not capable of relaxation. I was stuck in sympathetic overdrive, and constantly in “flight or fight” mode.

I was starving myself to make weight and I was trying to get stronger on top of it. As lean and as strong as I was, it didn’t matter. My mind was not right. I was getting into fights with family and friends, and my quality of life suffered because of it. I was always anxious and on edge. Even when I tried to relax and chill out for a little I was always thinking about the competition, or thinking when I could eat next.

I even had to take a couple weeks off of work because I was too tired to stand through the day.

I was constantly uncomfortable. I knew it was because I was starving, but I couldn’t turn back. I was on the verge of being the strongest man in the world at 185lbs, how could I stop now. I made weight at 183 lbs. and everything was looking good.

I ate tons of food hoping to bounce back in time for the show in 24 hours, but it back fired. I ate too much and didn’t hydrate enough, so when it came time to compete I felt like absolute dog shit. All that hard work, wasted.. or was it?


The trickiest, but one of the most important:  staying consistent.

That day I should have been the World Champion. I knew there was no one in this world that could be stronger than me at 185 lb. But I fell on my ass and fought through the competition in extreme discomfort and disbelief and ended up placing in the middle of the pack.

I could have easily, and almost did, call it quits there. Everyone around me told me to give up strongman, and to focus on work since college was over. But Strongman gives me a feeling that nothing can replace.

It’s the ultimate feeling when you know you have a chance at being the best at something. The possibility alone is an adrenaline rush and a reason to work hard every single day. It was easy for me to stay consistent, I was having a blast! Its all a mindset. Start every journey with a positive and open mind. You are blessed enough to even be able to play a sport, so take full advantage of it and appreciate it.

Always be ready for failure, but pray and plan for success. If you really want it, consistency shouldn’t be a problem. Otherwise you don’t really want it.

Zach and Alisha
Zach and Alisha


I have never been able to balance all of these qualities so efficiently in my entire life. By staying positive, knowing my priorities, knowing my limits/ having patience, having fun, and staying consistent, my performance was at an all time high.

Every brick I laid was perfect. I had a brilliant coach, Andrew Triana, and I trusted the process 100%. Alisha Ciolek, my girlfriend, was a major factor to my success as well. We trained together, ate together, and lived together. She was there to push me when I was tired, and take care of me when I was down.

It was all just a big dream, and now we are both World Champions.

Surround yourself with great people, and great things will happen.

Do you want to be the best at a few things, or kind of good at everything? Find your balance.

The End

Once you have reached your final destination, whether it’s competing in lifting, a season of football, graduating college, or whatever it may be, just remember that the whole process starts back over. You will become a beginner again. The small fish in a bigger lake. But you aren't completely a beginner, take from the ups and downs of your previous journey. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, but don't make the same mistake twice. Good luck and be great.

about the author


Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort.  Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.