Podcast: Lasting Strength and Mas Wrestling with Tom Sroka

Tom Sroka has done it all — literally. A former standout thrower in track & field, Tom has competed in weightlifting, powerlifting, GRID, and Highland Games competition. He’s excelled in each to an impressive degree, making him one of the world’s most well-rounded strength athletes, period.

Tom’s also built a reputation for coaching all levels of strength athletics, particularly when it comes to weightlifting. You can find him at countless national competitions as he trains and develops athletes, often from the ground up.

Recently, Tom has developed a passion for — and elite-level skills in — the rising sport of Mas Wrestling, where athletes face opponents one-on-one in something that resembles a cross between deadlifting and tug-of-war. Tom’s rise in the sport took him to the World Championships, where he got firsthand experience with the sport’s Siberian roots and old school training techniques.

When we were there, they had a warm spell. The warmest it got was negative 24 degrees and at night, it would get into the negative 30s.

Our conversation was fun, insightful, and filled with some big surprises. Tune in below!

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest Tom Sroka and host David Thomas Tao discuss:

  • An intro to Tom’s incredibly diverse strength career (1:29)
  • Tom’s introduction to Mas Wrestling and path to the World Championships (6:23)
  • What Mas Wrestling and boxing have in common — and why strength isn’t everything in this sport (8:58)
  • Tom’s trip to Russia for the Mas Wrestling World Championships, including experience with the brutal Siberian winter (the WARMEST it got was -24 degrees Fahrenheit!) (11:48)
  • When Tom was learning the MOST as a strength athlete (16:08)
  • Weightlifting, throwing, powerlifting, Highland Games, Mas Wrestling: Which was the toughest? (19:00)
  • Why Tom thinks the USA lags so far behind in men’s superheavyweight weightlifting (24:24)
  • How starting young gives kids such an advantage in weightlifting (29:35)
  • What gives Tom pause when it comes to the growth of strength sports (33:20)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast where we talk to top athletes, coaches, influencers, and minds from around the world of strength sports, presented by barbend.com.

Today on the BarBend podcast, I’m talking to athlete and coach, Tom Sroka, who’s worn a lot of hats over the course of his strength career. He’s been a competitive power-lifter, Highland Games athlete, Strongman athlete, weightlifter, and he even competed in the sport of Grid.

Tom is a coach and the owner of The Strength Agenda, which is a gym and podcast based out of the Greater Chicago area. Recently, he’s been getting heavily involved at the international level with the sport of Mas-wrestling. I’m really excited to hear Tom’s take on how his approach to strength and coaching has evolved over the course of his career.

Just a quick reminder, if you’re enjoying the BarBend podcast, make sure to leave a rating and review in your podcast app of choice. This helps us stay on track in bringing you the best content possible week after week.

If there’s someone you’d absolutely love to hear on a future BarBend podcast episode, let us know on your podcast review. I personally read each and every review so your suggestions will most definitely be seen.

Today on the BarBend podcast, I’m really excited to be talking to one of the most multifaceted strength athletes in the United States, maybe in the world. He’s someone whose strength career and coaching career, I’ve been following for a few years. That’s Tom Sroka. Tom, thanks so much for joining us today.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Thanks, man. Thanks for having me on.

David Thomas TaoDavid Thomas Tao

Tom, the first thing that always comes up when people talk about you, whether it’s at a weightlifting meet you’re coaching at or something where you’re competing, is the fact that you’ve done literally just about every strength sport under the sun. Every time a new one seems to become popular, you’re right there at the front of the pack really trying it out.

It’s a really fantastic thing. It’s given you, hopefully, fantastic perspective as both a coach and an athlete. Give us a little bit of your athletic background and history if you don’t mind.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

The big thing is when I was a kid, I drove my parents nuts. I was just constantly into something or doing something I shouldn’t have been doing, and all that. My dad’s solution was to sign me up for every sport possible. I played basketball, soccer, baseball, football. I did track. I was in Boy Scouts. I was always doing camping, stuff like that.

I was always doing something and trying to learn something different. I wish a sport like rugby would have been around when I was a kid because I would have took to rugby but it wasn’t.

Football and track were my main two sports in high school. I did wrestling a little bit. I just didn’t like it. My dad and my brothers were good wrestlers. I wasn’t. It didn’t stick. Then, I went to college. I was a track-and-field athlete. I threw the shot and the weight throw primarily. I was a three-time All-American in that.

After I graduated college, I got into Highland Games and Strongman just looking for something to do. That’s where I met Ingrid Markham. I’ve explained that story millions and millions of times about how she got me in touch with Glenn Pendlay and then he invited me out to California Strength.

I started doing weightlifting with the only prior experience which was doing power cleans in college for the track-and-field. I was with Glenn and MDUSA till 2016. I got burnt-out with that. Grid had just started to become a thing. I transitioned into training for Grid because it was something fun — different and fun — that I thought I was pretty good at

I had a short coffee break or a coffee date with the New York Rhinos. From there, I opened up my own gyms. I had Big Shoulders CrossFit for a little bit that I was running Team SAW, which is my weightlifting team out of.

I started doing remote coaching in 2013. Had a brick and mortar in 2016. Sold that a year later to just do the strength agenda because we started having athletes coming to us. They wanted me to coach them and stuff like that.

Right now, Mas-wrestling and Highland Games are my two big sports that I do. I just try to do everything because I get bored really easily. I’m on the pro circuit for the Highland Games right now. I do about 6 to 10 competitions a year with that.

Mas-wrestling, I’ll do usually the Arnold, then a couple of local competitions here and there, and at the end of the year. This year, I’ll be going to Poland for the World Cup, be on Team USA in the 275 class. I don’t know. I do everything and anything. I’m always up for a challenge.

Mike Szela moved back from MDUSA because he’s from this area as well. He’s a multiple-time national medalist in the old 69-kilo division. He runs my sports performance. I run the weightlifting team. I manage all this stuff on the back end.

Then, I got back into the Highland Games. I started doing Strongman and stuff like that. Because I don’t know how to read a calendar, I stumbled upon Mas-wrestling.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s a fantastic background. It’s a lengthy strength-sports career. It’s still very much in progress. It’s been awesome to see your progress in both the Highland Games and Mas-Wrestling which I consider one of the up-and-coming strength sports.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Highland Games has been around for a long time. With weightlifting, too, the advent of social media is making Highland Games more popular, the pro-class in particular.

We have Spencer Tyler, who’s…if you’ve ever seen anything or paid attention to Spencer Tyler, he’s one of the freakiest athletes you’ll ever see. I’m powered for days with that guy.

He’s, obviously, at the top of the pile but all the way down to spot number 20 on the ranking list. There’s no slouches. Usually, back in the days, it was three or four guys at the top, then you had a little bit of a gap, then another three or four and so on and so forth.

It’s pretty stout from top to bottom once you get past the guy like Spencer Tyler.

David TaoDavid Tao

For Mas-Wrestling, you talked about how you stumbled into that. That’s a sport, when I say it’s up-and-coming, it’s on people’s radar for the past couple of years. I see that you’ve traveled to compete internationally in that sport.

It’s a very different sport, too, because you, unlike all other strength sports, you control what your opponent does. You’re matched up one-on-one against something. It’s not just you and the barbell. It’s you, a stick and another person.

How have you evolved in that sport and what has been most different about that to you in training and because there’s that one-on-one aspect?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

I was wary of it first because it reminded me of wrestling.

David TaoDavid Tao

It is Mas-wrestling.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah. Just the aspect of not being in control of all the variables. For some reason, I didn’t do well with that when I was in high school and junior high wrestling. I was nervous if I was going to be OK at this.

The big thing about it is it’s so steeped in culture. It comes from a small area of Russia, the Yakutsk province, Siberia. It’s this little group of people that started doing it in their cultural festivals and things like that and then it expanded out of that area.

There’s also a history of it being done by the Vikings and some of the Scots and stuff like that till our version of it. It’s one of the original manhood sports like Iceland with their stones.

You have to lift certain stones to be considered a man in some form or fashion. It’s very much like this sport. “You think you’re better than me? Here’s this stick, take it out of my hand and prove it,” kind of a deal.

Some of these guys that I’ve competed against have been doing this since they were five years old. This is in their blood. You look at them…our definition of what an athlete should look like doesn’t fit a lot of these guys.

They look like a regular fit guy that has been working with his hands his whole life or something like that. When you’re set up against them on the board, and they grab onto the stick, you’re like, “Wow.”

There are some guys…you think you’re strong until you get raddled out by a human being that’s the same size or smaller than you. When you’re like that, that is strong.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Could you relate it to boxing, because one thing that’s been interesting…being in New York, being around Madison Square Garden, we’re the center of the boxing universe. Even if you’re a casual fight fan, you still see that.

The thing that happened a few months ago, we were recording this in July, I guess it was about a month and a half ago. Andy Ruiz beat Anthony Joshua for the World Heavyweight Title.

Everyone was flabbergasted if they weren’t following the sport because here’s a guy who doesn’t look like what we think of as an athlete, beating this prototype of what the western society thinks an athlete can be.

People forget Andy Ruiz has been boxing since he was a kid. It’s ingrained in him, the movement patterns and the technique. It’s second nature.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah. That’s a great comparison. Some of these guys…you get some of these dudes, for instance, last year we went to World’s. World’s, as far as I know, is always hosted in the home of Mas-wrestling which is the Yakutsk province.

They have a training center dedicated to the sport of Mas-wrestling. It’s a phenomenal place to see. It’s a cross between an old school, a boxing gym with very little weights. There’s one rusty crabby bar in the corner with some plates that are falling apart.

They have their specific machines that they use for training mass and different aspects, and stuff like that. Then they have a bunch of monkey bars and grip stuff all over the place. The rest of it looks like one of those Ninja Warrior places. That is essentially what their training halls look like.

They have climbing walls, like Jacobs Ladder is going all the way up to the ceiling, and stuff like that. I posted a couple pictures of it, but they didn’t want people to see what it looked like. They wanted to keep this to themselves.

It was really interesting to go last year and dive headfirst into that culture, and realize how much tradition is in there. They have the tribal drummers that are out there when you’re competing.

They’re sitting, they’re banging on their drums while you’re competing. They have the people in the fold like [indecipherable 11:06] guard escorting you out to your platform where you’re competing, and things like that. It’s a really cool strength sport that’s steeped in a ton of traditions.

That, for me, is the funniest part. The training, it’s cool to train for something different and to train for these competitions. As you go through this training, when you learn that certain aspects of the sport are just strictly rooted in culture and tradition, that, to me, is what separates it from stuff like Strongman, and all these other sports.

The other sports have been around a little longer. They’ve evolved over time. This hasn’t gotten there yet. It’s still very culturally-based in a lot of its rules, and its roots.

David TaoDavid Tao

I remember your social posts at the time you’re posting about that trip. It was a little chilly there, if I remember correctly. What kind of temperature was it outside?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

We were joking around about that. Chicago had a polar vortex earlier this year.

David TaoDavid Tao

Just for reference, folks, Tom is based in the Chicago area.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah, Chicago, Illinois. My students were talking about how it’s colder here than it is in Siberia. I’m like, “False, I was there.” When we were there, they had a warm spell. The warmest it got was negative 24 degrees and at night, it would get into the negative 30s.

That’s without a windchill. That’s raw temperature. I was joking around about this on another podcast. I felt like they wanted to remind you of how miserably cold it was because they had thermometers. It was clear as day. There’s the temperature, it’s cold, like get used to it, kind of a deal.

It’s hands down, the coldest I’ve ever been. I never have been anywhere where I had to wear a jacket the entire time. We got off the plane. There were three of us that walked off the plane in shorts. Because when we left Moscow, it was like 30 degrees, and we’re like, “Oh, this isn’t bad.” We had hoodies on, and shorts.

We got off the plane in Yakutsk. Right away, our escort walked up to us, and they’re like, “You had to put pants on. You cannot go outside like that.” We’re like, “OK.” They’re like, “It’s not good for your health.”

We’re like, “All right, cool.” We threw our pants on, threw our jackets on. I’m glad they made us because as soon as we stepped out there, when the cold just hits you, you’re like, “Ooh.” It was cold. That’s all.

David TaoDavid Tao

Coming a little later in life to Mas-wrestling, some of the folks you’re competing against at the international level, they literally grew up around this, and with this.

What have been some of the technique hurdles you’ve had to overcome or maybe you’ve learned from these folks where it’s really a second nature to them, and you’re still building that movement mastery?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Honestly, leverage. Learning how to leverage your body not only against a object but against another human being, trying to counter their leverage. I was talking to…We’re running a tournament here in October, and a couple of people have been asking me about it.

They were asking about Russia. That’s the other cool thing about it. These guys are really willing to help because they realize the potential to grow the sport in the Americas. They want to help anybody from our side of the world, help grow the sport.

They said flat out to us when they saw us go into the training hall, and they saw us training. The coaches got a little worried, because they’re like, “These guys are strong. They’re stronger than us.” Because there are a couple of us who do deficit deadlifts, we’re doing some cleans, doing some snatches, doing some squatting like the US team was.

They’re like, “These guys are really strong.” Then they watched us get on the boards, and they’re like, “Oh, never mind, their technique is horrible.” That’s the biggest thing, it’s just learning not only the proper techniques, when to be tense and when to relax, when not to fight, when to counter leverage, and when to create your own leverage.

That’s been the hardest part for me is because I’ve always just been like a bull in a China shop, like just attack, attack, attack. Actually, learning how to, I guess, play an offensive type of defense has been really hard for me.

The patience just isn’t there. As soon as I see something, I want to go after it, but it’s you being baited into that trap essentially by another person that you’re competing against.

David TaoDavid Tao

t reminds me a little bit like having done color commentary to few international weightlifting events. You go into the training hall, and you see these folks, or even national events, you see them squatting just massive weights. You see them putting 300 kilos on the bar sometimes, and just ripping out for back squats.

It’s not always the case that the person squatting the most is going to snatch and clean and jerk the most. There are diminishing returns on those strength gains, and the ceiling in weightlifting is more at that level. Certainly, it’s more often technique than strength.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

Having done all the strength sports — weightlifting, functional fitness, power lifting, Strongman, Highland Games, and now Mas-wrestling — where do you think your knowledge growth as an athlete was most accelerated? At what period in your athletic career? Were you learning the most per day or per session, I could say, I could ask?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Honestly, I’ve always been a student of the game. I always ask questions because I want to know why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s not an insubordinate, like questioning the coach or their methodologies. I just wanted to understand what was the purpose of this, and how was it going to help me get to my goals.

I really didn’t start to conceptualize what I’ve done or was doing in all my training till I started coaching people. I then had to take that information and then relay it to somebody else, and make sure that they understood it. Because I understood it, that didn’t mean they understood the information.

Whether I had to escalate how I relate it or bring it down a little bit so the general population could understand what I was trying to convey. That’s when I really started to fully conceptualize all these different things that I had been taught.

Until I really started working with other people that we’re trying to do the same things that I was doing, that’s when I really started to understand and comprehend fully all these different little tips and tricks and tools that I’d added to my arsenal over the years, and still continue to add.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is a question I love asking strength coaches of a variety of backgrounds. Who would you rather coach, an athlete who has experience in prior coaching in the sport or a completely blank slate?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Right off the top my head, I’d say somebody without. I also enjoy working with athletes that know a little bit about the sport or have worked with somebody else that is knowledgeable. That depends. It depends on what their previous experience is because I have had it both ways.

I’ve had athletes that have had other coaches, have come to me, and have been very willing to learn and say, “OK. When we did this with my other coach, this was why we did it. Do you think this could help in this situation?” I’ve met other coaches or other athletes that have just been like, “This is not what we did before so I don’t understand why we’re doing this.”

It just depends. If I had to hands down, place a bet, I would pick that raw athlete simply because they want to learn. They want to understand, in most cases. You can shape and mold them the way that you want. I guess that’s the best way to prove your system of whatever you’re doing, to prove that it works, is if you can take an athlete from start to finish and build them up in the way that you see fit. That’s the best example of the body of work that you have as a coach.

David TaoDavid Tao

Which of the strength sports you’ve competed in and trained for was, in hindsight, the most challenging for you to progress in, relative to maybe what you thought was going to be your progress?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Weightlifting, hands down. Throwing, I always took too. It was one of those things like…I started out in track-and-field as a sprinter. I thought I was a sprinter. One of my football coaches was like, “You are way too big to be sprinting. Go throw.”

I took to it immediately — really fell in love with that process of trying to make this little ball go farther and how I could adjust my body in different ways to do it.

Weightlifting, I always equate weightlifting to track-and-field but not. While you’re trying to figure out the best way to move your body and the most efficient way to move your body to get an object to move, that object is never the same.

It’s never constant. It’s always changing in variability as well because once you make a lift, the weight gets heavier. Now you need to figure out how to apply those changes in your body to the different weight now.

Weightlifting for me has always, and still is…I still do the lifts every once in a while. There are days where I feel like I’ve never learned a thing about the sport in the five or six years that I’ve been doing it. For me, weightlifting is still one of the most technically challenging things for me both as a coach and an athlete.

David TaoDavid Tao

Weightlifting truly is a sport for life. A red flag for me if anyone’s ever like, “Oh, their technique was perfect” or “My technique is perfect,” I’m like, “No, false.”

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Negative. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

“You’re wrong. It’s impossible.”

To give listeners some background, your weightlifting career, I’d say, was not incredibly long, it was a few years, but you did have some really cool accomplishments. You did win some big, high-profile meets. Can you give us a recap as to your PRs during that time? You’re also competing at a heavier body weight, I believe.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah. When I got into weightlifting, that was the last group of weight classes. I was in between. I was about 260, 265. Glenn pretty much looked at me and was like, “Yeah, you need to be a super heavyweight,” which is 105 and up, 231 and up, which I was already there.

To be a really competitive super, I needed to be closer to 300 pounds. He’s like, “You’re too big to be a 105. Start putting on weight.” I was like, “OK.” I didn’t know how to do it. The heaviest I got when I was weightlifting was about 330 pounds. 147.6 kilos is the heaviest I ever weighed at a competition.

I was really fortunate to be with the group I was because I got a crash course, [indecipherable 21:52] with Donny, Glenn, Jon, Spencer Moorman, and all those guys. Being with MDUSA, which was the first professional team, we literally got paid to train bin with Kaleb Whitby, Mike, Travis, James, and all those guys, and Morghan King and all of them. It was really cool.

The highlight was winning the 2013 American Open. I won that as a 105+. My best all-time lifts training, I’ve snatched 152 in competition. I’ve only snatched 150 clean and jerk. That was kilos, sorry. I know some people don’t…

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah. We’re waffling a little back and forth between. You do see a lot of weightlifters in the US talk about body weight in pounds and then lifts still in kilos.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

My best snatch is 335 outside of competition. My best snatch in competition is 331 or 330. Most I’ve cleaned and jerked in a competition is 201, which is like 444. I’ve done 202 in training. My clean and jerk was really close between training and competition snatch. I always did more in training versus what I did in competition.

My numbers weren’t stellar. If you compare those numbers, as a super heavyweight, to the guys that are out there right now, I’d be lucky if I was top five with those numbers.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’re talking in the US here?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Just US, yeah. For instance, our best super heavyweight right now is snatching over 400 pounds, cleaning and jerking over 500 pounds. I couldn’t sniff that. It’s definitely evolved.

David TaoDavid Tao

Weightlifting in the United States has come so far in the past 10 years. Being an audience, that has been a real treat for me. It seems like the super heavy category has been anecdotally — now that’s not to say we don’t have great super heavy weights. Caine Wilkes is probably the best super heavy in the US right now. He’s done some really phenomenal things. He’s a great athlete.

You look at the progress in our super heavy numbers relative to the international stage. That’s the class where — on the men’s side. Not on the women’s side. Sara Robles is an Olympic medalist and a world champion there. But on the men’s side, it seems to be a weight class where we are a little bit further behind compared to the wider body weight categories.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Quite honestly, all of our best super heavyweights are playing football. They’re either playing football or they’re throwers.

Kurt Jensen, he’s an Olympic shockboader. He’s top 10 in the world right now. He showed up to the American Open one year and on straight legs, power snatched 150, clean and jerked 185-190 with atrocious technique, absolutely horrible technique.

I’ve seen videos of football players doing 184, 400-500 pound hang cleans for sets of three or five. Our best super heavyweights just aren’t competing in weightlifting, plain and simple.

It’s not a knock on the guys we have. It’s just the guys that are there are the ones that are dedicated to the sport and they deserve all of the credit. Some of these real genetic freaks that are 350 pounds, they’re getting paid more money to do something else is essentially why we don’t compete.

David TaoDavid Tao

It works the other way around. I remember the first time I ever sat across from Lasha Talakhadze at a lunch table, at the 2017 World Championships. You can’t tell me that if he hadn’t trained for it, he wouldn’t succeed in the NFL.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Exactly, yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is a guy who may, before the end of his career, snatch 500 pounds on the competition platform.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Oh yeah. It’s interesting, because they talk about that all the time too. If you take some our athletes that are in these high-profile sports and put them in a less obscure sport, like track-and-field or weightlifting or you know, Greco-Roman wrestling or something like that, how would they do?

I remember watching a documentary about Ivan Iverson. He was good at like three different sports. He was a good baseball player. He was a good football player and he was a good basketball player, obviously. He could have gone pro in two, possibly all three of those sports.

We get a lot of those athletes. They just choose one thing over the other. It’s the same thing with weightlifting. C.J. Cummings older brother, Omar.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

He’s playing football now.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

He’s a really good weightlifting, but he chose college football over weightlifting. If it pays for his school, I don’t blame him.

David TaoDavid Tao

My guess is we’ll see Omar back on the platform at some point.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

I would hope so. He was a really good lifter. I would love to see him come back, too. It’s just one of those things, you pick what you really want to do.

David TaoDavid Tao

People who might not follow strength sports as closely will ask me, “What happens if you take Ndamukong Suh make him a weightlifter?” It’s tough at that point, because people start playing football at a young age, they start playing baseball at a young. Weightlifters internationally are starting at a young age.

I brought up Lasha Talakhadze. He was lifting as a little boy. They brought him up in that program. You joke, you find like the biggest, strongest kid and you make him a weightlifter. That’s what happened.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah. They probably saw him playing soccer somewhere and were like, done, weightlifter. You hear about a lot of these power lifters and strong men today.

I remember Eddie Hall, World’s Strongest Man. After he won World’s Strongest Man, I don’t know if he was joking or not, but something came out about him wanting to compete in weightlifting for England. I’m still waiting for that weightlifting debut. You know what I’m saying? It’s not easy. People think like, “Weight is weight.”

I remember a while there. I love Louie Simmons, but he tried saying that because Benedikt Magnusson pulled a thousand pounds faster than an Olympic weightlifter can pull 500 pounds off the floor because of simply velocity, Benedikt Magnusson would’ve made a better weightlifter.

I couldn’t be completely off base, but that was basically what I got from reading the post that he made or whatever. That’s not simply the case. Benedikt Magnusson probably doesn’t have the risk flexibility to sit in the bottom of a clean with 400 pounds.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s like you’re…

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Go ahead.

David TaoDavid Tao

I was just saying. It was like what we’re talking about in Mas-wrestling. It’s like there’s the strength aspect, but there’s that technique aspect. The older you are…This is not to take anything away from people who get into weightlifting when they’re older.

It’s an awesome sport. It’s a lifelong sports. Strength sports are for life. I truly believe that, but you’re not going to have that ingrained technique and that movement patterning as like the person who started with a broomstick when they were eight.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Exactly. I mean that if you look at it, you see all those videos coming from the Chinese training halls when they have the five and six-year-olds that are sitting there doing broomsticks with two and a half kilo plates taped to them.

That’s what these guys have been doing for years. Those kids have probably been doing that for, I would say, two years, four or five days a week before they even start lifting on a normal barbell.

By the time they get the barbell in their hands, their technique is flawless. They get to play with a deck of cards that we’ll never have, so you can’t compete with that.

David TaoDavid Tao

Whenever I watch CJ Cummings lift. You bring him up earlier. He’s a four-time junior world champion, one of the best weightlifters in the world, just 19 years old. He’s been lifting at this elite. He’s been lifting since he was a very small kid.

You can tell when he’s on the stage. He’s competing against often on the national stage lifters much older than him. Right?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

Even when he was 15 years old. 

[laughs] Even when he was 15 years old, his technique was so much more mature than people on the stage twice his age.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

People forget how he looked when he was 13. I remember seeing him when he was 13 years old, competing at national meets in the 56 or the 62-kilo class, because he was a little guy. Then I think it was 2015 or maybe 2016. He was lifting as a 69, and he [indecipherable 30:27] by three…

He had set at the time an American record at 187. I made 185 and I went for 190, so I did get beat by CJ. I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” People don’t realize how much progress that kid has made, and it’s been raised on a phenomenal job in making it incremental. He’s not huge jumps in tech in weight and sacrificing his technique in the process.

I’ve talked to Ray a couple times about it, and Ray says like, “He does it wrong. He doesn’t get to do [indecipherable 30:58] . We’ve got to hammer it out, ’cause he’s gonna get hurt with the kinds of weights that he’s lifting on a regular basis. One little thing is out of place and that could be a career-ending injury for him.”

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ve seen a lot of CJ’s growth in his total has been on the snatch, has been due to those technique developments. CJ, if he’s snatching 150 as opposed to 140, it’s not like his legs weren’t strong enough to overhead squat that 150. It’s just incremental technique progress.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

It’s been cool to watch him. Ray’s got another guy, David Stanley, who makes huge progress. It’s fun to watch him. Harrison Morris has been…It’s cool to see a lot of these junior athletes that you saw. I’m curious to see how Hampton Morris starts progressing as he moves towards hitting maturity.

Morgan McCullough, who’s training out at Mash. The progress he’s made in the last three years as he started to hit maturity, physically and stuff like that, has been cool to see. I wanted to try to get out to Youth Nationals this year, because I feel like it’s 100 percent different than it used to be about two, three years ago.

The amount of talent and technique…The technique is the biggest thing. The technique you’re seeing with these younger kids, it’s very promising. The future of the sport is very bright. I said this the other day. I think it’s going to be hard the next clod to be a repeat Olympian.

I think if you make one Olympic team for the United States, given the new rules and how everything is set up, you’ve done a good job. If you make two Olympic teams after these new rules and stuff like that have been going, you’re killing it.

I feel like the talent pool is going to get that deep with all these younger athletes that are starting to come up with good technique and sound coaching and all that stuff that USAW is trying to implement from the ground up.

David TaoDavid Tao

Tom, one question I want to ask before we wrap this up — and we’ve been riffing for a good long bit now — is having access to all these strength sports, both as a coach and an athlete, having seen the growth of these sports over the past decade or so, what excites you most for the development of strength athletics moving forward? What gives you a little bit of pause or maybe trepidation for the development of strength athletics going forward?

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

What gives me pause is people’s unwillingness to broaden their horizons. Just like you see with kids these days, I see a lot of adults that want to specialize. If they compete in power lifting, that’s all they want to do. If they compete in weightlifting, that’s all they want to do — Strong Men’s.

Same thing with these kids. You see these kids playing hockey from the time they’re eight years old all the way up till high school. That’s the biggest thing that gives me pause, because I don’t think that they fully understand.

There’s plenty of articles and research done on the benefits of touching upon all different things, because it gives the body a different stimulus that it isn’t getting from that other sport. It’s the same kinds of athletes that did the same thing.

You get somebody that played football their entire life. Then when football is over, they look for that next fix of theirs. They just focus on the one sport, because they’ve never been pushed to try other things.

I guess that’s the biggest negative of anything that I see with strength sports is the unwillingness to try something different. If you suck at it, who cares? We’re not good at anything we do the first time. If you are well, you’re gifted.

Now that I feel like the wave of CrossFit has come down a little bit, seeing these gyms that are popping up and they’re thriving, offering all sorts of different modalities of training. I don’t know how many times now I go into a gym.

You see sandbags, yokes, atlas stones, and weightlifting equipment — kilo plates, bearing bars, and stuff like that. Then you go over. Then there’s BOSU balls, TRXs, dumbbells, kettlebells, and stuff like that.

When it comes to strength sports, seeing these gyms popping up all over the place that have a wide variety of these different implements, this equipment, and stuff like that that they’re using to get not only their athletes but their general population more fit, more strong, it gives everybody a taste of a different sport that may eventually tell them, “Hey, I wanna give that a shot.”

It’s cool to see the evolution of your general population gyms and the equipment that they provide for their clientele.

David TaoDavid Tao

Tom, where can people follow along with what you’re doing on social media, on your podcast, and if they just want to see what’s next for you?

 

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Biggest thing, go to www.thestrengthagenda.com. That’s the gym page. All our different programs and stuff, up on there. On Instagram, @thestrengthagenda. Myself, if you like jokes and mediocre lifting and throwing, @srokasaurus_rex.

Yeah. That’s it.

David TaoDavid Tao

Awesome. Tom, thank you so much for taking the time and joining us today. Really awesome to get your perspective. Best of luck in your upcoming competition.

Tom SrokaTom Sroka

Thanks, man. I really appreciate it. Thank you.