zach hadge

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

Positivity

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.

Prioritize

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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Patience

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.

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Parasympathetic

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?

Persistency

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

Performance

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

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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.

SQUEEZE: 5 Tips and Challenges to Build Preposterous Amounts of Grip Strength

P.S. Make sure you read to the end to get in on the competition for some free swag.

My whole life I’ve never been a really big person. Well at least not in my eyes. Even on paper I'm not that big at 6’ tall weighing between 200 and 230 lbs. There are dinosaur-sized humans out there, but somehow I can keep up (for the most part) when it comes to lifting weight.

How do I do this?

Well for starters, I work my ass off. I played sports (football, basketball, and lacrosse) my whole life, and was fortunate enough to have a personal trainer at the age of 13. I started training the summer before my freshman year of high school, and weighed in at a whopping 125 lbs.

Since then I haven’t missed a step, and continue to push the envelope on a day-to-day basis.

But there’s also the power of my environment--I’ve been blessed to train alongside people who help me grow both mentally and physically every day.

What I’d like to return though is the power of effort because everything I’ve ever done has been with 100% effort, and if you’re hoping to tap into preposterous amounts of grip strength, you’ll have to as well.

One of the many adaptions I have made through training hard and often is having crazy strong grip strength. I was gifted with pretty big hands, but grip strength is something that comes with effort and high volume tension, and can be attained by anyone who is willing to SQUEEEZE.

Think effort not size

Everybody wants Popeye sized forearms. We all know, for the most part, that high reps and high volume will cause muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). But is the answer to muscular strength simply to make the muscle bigger? The answer is no.

When we set out to get stronger grip strength, lets not focus so much on size. Same concept with regards to olympic weightlifters: they don’t set out to get giant quads, but as a result of endless repetitions on full cleans and front squat comes giant quads.

With the size of olympic weightlifters quads, one would think they must have done tons of leg pressing and leg extensions. Same idea can be applied to someone with huge forearms: you may think they did lots of forearm curls to enlarge the belly of the forearm (flexors), but that’s likely not the case.

You;re probably sitting there wondering what exercise is the equivalent of a clean for grip strength, and the answer is tension.

Squeeze all day long

There is no one exercise, or even a combination of exercises, that I consider the BEST when it comes to grip strength. Tension and effort are king, as always.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I have the upper hand because I’m constantly moving weights around all day. And when I’m not coaching, I’m lifting myself, which is obviously working on my grip strength.

So how do you squeeze all day long if you aren’t in my position?

Make the best out of what you are working with. Hopefully you have a hands on and active job that can be turned into a workout. If you have a desk job, try squeezing a stress ball or a portable hand gripper. Sounds stupid, but grip strength needs to be worked on constantly for it to improve.

You wont progress either if you just absolutely crush your grip once or twice a week to the point where you’re sore and cant work hard the next day. Consistency is the key, and increasing intrinsic finger strength is crucial because they consist mostly of type I fibers.

These small slow twitch muscles need to be worked day after day, and unlike large type II muscles that are used in explosive compound movements, these type I fibers are smaller and used to stabilize. This is why there is such thing as “old man strength”--Type I fibers get stronger with time and volume.

Take the hard way out

Take simple daily activities and turn them into the extreme. For example, taking in all of the groceries in one trip. Sounds ridiculous and classic, but I have had many max effort grocery carries in my time.

This is no joke. Carrying groceries across campus and up three flights of stairs was not a rare occurrence while in college. Sure I could have called a friend or pulled in front of the dorm to bring the groceries in, but I never take the easy way out.

Other little examples of how you can push yourself to the next level and force adaptation include:

- Carrying your gym or laundry bag with one hand (as opposed to flinging it over your shoulder)

- Carry weights in the gym with one hand and make sure you alternate hands

- Or just use both hands and carry a lot of weight (i.e. grab 2 or 3 plates at a time instead of one at a time)

- Carrying a laundry or trash basket, squeeze extra hard and engage your core.

- Pumping gas, squeeze the handle extra hard

- Use a screw driver instead of a drill when you can

- Cleaning a pan over the sink instead of in the sink

Each of these may seem minuscule, but trust me, they add up. When carrying things, make sure to have no space in between your hand and the object. Focus on a symmetrical squeeze and use your weak hand more often.

Also, don’t be afraid to engage your core even if it’s with something as simple as brushing your teeth. A lot of people claim that their grip is their weak point, however, I notice that their “weak grip” is actually just a weak core. When the core isn’t strong enough, people start to rely on other muscles to do the work. This energy leak trickles directly down to your hands and makes the weight or task at hand impossible.

My Favorite Grip Strength Exercises: (thumbs wrapped, and squeeze)

1.  Anything with an axle (fat bar): cleans, deadlifts, rows, presses etc.

2.  Deadlifts (straps or no straps, both crush grip)

3.  Hex bar deadlifts with a slow eccentric

4.  RDL’S (specifically single arm single leg because it increases time under tension)

5.  Farmers or suitcase carries

6.  Ropes (the thicker the better)

7.  PVC or Pipe Roller (extensors and flexors)

8.  Plate pinches

Ultimate Grip Strength Challenges

1.  Max Double Overhand Dead Lift- Use a barbell, hex bar, or axel bar, and no straps or suits allowed.

2.  Plate Pinch for Max Time- Hold two steel ten pound plates in each hand, making sure the flat sides are facing out and your fingers aren’t in the holes. Hold until you drop. If you can do this for longer than 90 seconds, then add a third ten pound plate. If you are feeling like a daddy, then use 25’s. Chalk allowed, no tacky.

3.  PVC or Pipe Roller for Reps- Just to be clear, this exercise entails a PVC or metal pipe that has a 5lb plate attached to it by string. The string should be about 4 feet long so that when you hold the pipe out in front of you the plate goes all the way down to the floor. With straight arms that’s are at chest level, begin to twist the pipe so that the string wraps around the pipe. If you twist your hands towards you then you will be working your extensors, or the top of your forearms. If you twist your hands away from you, you will be working your flexors (the belly of the forearm). Either way, make sure you lower the weight slowly and controlled when going back down. Roll and unroll the rope as many times as you can before your arms give out. No drops allowed.

4.  Max Pull Ups on a Rag or Rope- hold on for dear life while doing neutral grip pull ups on a rag or a rope. Drape the rag or rope over any pull up bar to make pull-ups harder than ever.

5.  Carry for Max Distance- ( hex bar/frame, dumbbells, farmers handles, groceries).  Carry any of these implements for as far as you can without dropping. Measure out a set distance such as 25 or 50 feet and walk back and forth until your grip gives out.

Closing Thoughts

These are all exercises that I have done, and still do very often. Acquiring grip strength is an everlasting battle. As the rest of my body gets stronger, my hands and forearms better be able to keep up. I want to be the best dead lifter in the world one day, and without monster grip there is no chance. Grip strength is universal and necessary for everybody. Whether you want to be the best in the world at something, or you just want to be able to open a jar of pickles at the age of 90, go squeeeeze some shit. Actually, squeeze everything. Just be careful, you may start to break stuff by accident.

What I'd like to do before you leave though is challenge you to a little competition.  In fact, I want to challenge you to the Carry for Max Distance competition.  So here's what we'll do:  Whomever can film themselves carrying 90lbs dumbbells the greatest distance without dropping will win some free Rebel Performance swag (pictured below)

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All you have to do is video yourself, post it to facebook and/or twitter, and then tag us in the post.  We'll review all the entries, decide who legit beast moded everyone else, and then send a free shirt to the champ.  Are you up for the challenge?  I sure hope so.

P.S.  The competition ends Sunday the 18th at Midnight.

about the author

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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.