Words Over the Bar #1: Mike Zolkiewicz, Highland Games Champion!




Mike Zolkiewicz is a 6’4’’, 290-pound Highland games competitor and world record holder. He is also owner of PowerClean Fitness in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Let’s learn more about this champion.

Saw your article with Judith Kelliher –http://www.masslive.com/living/index.ssf/2013/07/post_205.html – telling of your world records in the Highland games for the 56-pound weight toss. Amazing!


Q: Accorzolk3ding to http://www.highlandgames.net/ , your world record of 19'1" in the weight over the bar competition still stands. Will you be the man to break it?

A: There is one other guy out there right now that is getting close. Andy Vincent (former NFL lineman and Pro Strongman) has cleared 18’-6” and has come close to 19’. For now I am the only active athlete to clear 19’ and I feel this year I can go higher.


Q: How did you get introduced to the weights – by family, sports, friends, your own interest?

A: When I was 10 years old a friend’s father put a discus into my hands and told me I was going to be a thrower. A few weeks later we were working out in his basement and he was teaching me how to squat and bench. As I got older I picked up small things from teammates and older guys around the gym. I didn’t understand what it was to really train until I got out of college and started doing my own research and contacting coaches.


Q: And how did you discover the Highland Games? 

A: My college throws coach, Bill Sutherland (Southern CT State University) is Scottish and threw Highland Games for many years. He taught us the games as a way to help our off season training program. It got us stronger for our track events and it was a nice break from the grind. We would throw at a small game his wife ran in Goshen, CT at the beginning of October and then start back into track and field the next day.


Q: What sports did you play growing up? 

A: I did a lot of the usual sports growing up. Soccer when I was very young and I liked to run, baseball and had dreams of playing center field for the Red Sox, and a very short stint in football. I survived summer double sessions and quit right before the season started when the coach kept changing my position.


Q: How long have you been a personal trainer?

A: I started personal training in 2000. I had the best experience working for Mike Katz the body builder. His son Mike Jr. and Ron Alterio taught me so much about personal training and the business aspects of running a gym.


Q: What can you tell the readers about PowerClean Fitness? [Note: Visit on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/pages/PowerClean-Fitness/154742887925637 and also @ http://www.powercleanfitness.com/ ]

A: We are currently redoing the website with a new look and all new content. I can’t wait. I try to keep up with the FB page as much as possible with all of our programs, classes, and people hitting huge numbers.


Q: Any advice for those wanting to get into the sport?

A: It is the most welcoming sport I have ever been a part of. Just show up to a games and you can learn how to get involved. We have people at the lower ranked classes that have never even seen all of the events before. You take them aside and you start to get them going. As athletes we are very open and easy to approach. The main website to use to find out about games and ask questions on our message board is www.nasgaweb.com.


Q: What is your overall training philosophy and can you explain what you mean by “RANDOM ACTS OF EXERCISE”? (I read your one blog article!)

A: I believe in training with purpose. I’m very goal oriented myself and make my client aware that goal setting short and long term is important. I’m not a fan of what most trainers refer to as bootcamp. I actually despised the word for many years because it seemed every trainer was doing their version of it. Do a lot of reps with light weight or body weight, and do high intensity intervals so you feel tired. No rhyme or reason to the exercises just make it feel as hard as possible so at the end you feel like you accomplished something by being tired.

I fully believe in testing the central nervous system (CNS) through proper percentages of weight going through a periodized program. By the exercises staying in a pattern and changing the load you can accomplish better muscular fatigue/growth and burn more body fat.

My best example of CNS training is seeing a woman lift a car off of a small child. How is this accomplished if she hasn’t trained for it? How does she not tear every muscle she has? The sympathetic nervous system gets the CNS to fire those muscles and lift the load. Muscles are extremely strong and just need the proper stimulus to elicit a strong response. It just needs to be learned by repetition, not random exercises.


Q: How long have you been training? 

A: I can almost cut out the first half of my athletic career. I wouldn’t call it training. Looking back at my training logs I had no idea what I was doing. I barely even lifted in H.S. My whopping 250 bench and 300 half squat says it all. 

I really began in college and progressed a lot further afterwzolk4ard. Mark Philippi was my first strength coach post college. We met in the airport and I bought him breakfast, sat next to each other on the plane and I hired him by the time we touched down.


Q: Who has been your biggest inspiration or mentor? 

A: I’ve had lots of great influences throughout my life. The ones I still hold at the top would be my HS track coaches, Donald “Chip” McKeon and Nancy Moran. Lessons learned from them were too many to even start to mention. They had the biggest impact on how I’ve conducted myself athletically, in school, and in life. The most important thing they taught me was how to teach others.


Q: You mentioned in the article that your father, Ed Zolkiewicz, has been there to see you break all your records. How important is that support?

A: It’s huge to have that support. My parents have traveled all over the place to watch me compete. My dad hates to miss a comp now. 


Q: What are the contests you are most proud of? 

A: The Highlander competitions, which were a hybrid of strongman and Highland Games, were by far the best test of strength and athleticism I have ever been a part of. I had the pleasure of competing in several World Championships in Scotland put on by Dr. Douglas Edmunds and Gregor Edmunds. They brought in some of the best competitors from both sports and created an amazing atmosphere that if promoted right I feel would have been a huge crowd pleaser.


Q: You're owner of PowerClean Fitness, a personal trainer, and a competitor. What’s a typical day like for you? And how much sleep do you get each day?

A: I’m up at 3:45 AM every weekday and at work by 5:30 AM. I start clients first thing in the morning. Most days I have between 7-10 hours of actual client training time so my own training comes whenever it can. Sleep is also at a slight premium. I try to crash by 10 p.m. but it doesn’t always happen. 


Q: What does your weekly nutrition, eating, meal plan look like? 

A: I follow a lot of what Mark had me do when I first started training with him. My average diet includes a lot of white fish, shrimp, and tuna. Meat makes it in once a day (2x would be a lot). Carbs are usually a rice and some bread (primarily of P&J sandwiches), 1 gallon of milk every day, and pasta very sparingly. Fats are whatever I get in through my daily intake. Proper nutrition keeps it moderate and mainly good fats.


My rough daily breakdown @ BW 290 lb:

Protein: 400 g   1,600 cal

Carbs:  800 g    2,600 cal

Fat: 200-300 g   2,250 cal

Total cal: 6,450 cal


Q: Do you recommend any zolk-interviewsupplements?

A: Here’s what I take:


Quivanva Prime

Nature’s Best Isopure Protein Powder

Kirkland Multi-vitamin

Kirkland Fish Oil

Kirkland Krill Oil

Kirkland Selenium Husk

B complex

Vitamin C

Hyaluronic Acid



BSN No-Xplode (cycled)

Scivation Xtend BCAA


I try to keep the caffeine and pre-workout mixes to a minimum.


Q: What does your current training split look like? 

A: Having limited time to train I can’t keep a constant split. I guess you can say I work with a combination of West Side, Juggernaut, and an Olympic lifting program I have from MSU. 

Unless Olympic lifting that day I try to get in 2 major lifts with each workout. One is a strength move; the other is either speed or dynamic. Accessory work is dependent on what I feel needs work.

I also take several days every few weeks to stay athletic. I use ViPR, BOSU, Med balls, and lots of kettlebells to accomplish this.


Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength? 

A: Deadlift is the king of all lifts. It builds power and strength through the whole body and requires the entire CNS to function as a unit to do it properly.


Q: What is the worst competitive experience you’ve had (injury, etc.)? 

A: Tearing my ACL a month before we were to start training for the indoor track season of my Senior year (1999) was by far the worst. I had it scoped and cleaned out immediately and went without an ACL for the entire season. I used a DonJoy brace to keep my knee together the entire season which was extremely successful. I had an allograft put in after graduation (2000) and have only had minor troubles with the quad and muscular connectivity since.


Q: Any advice for regular people trying to take their training to the competitive level? 

A: Please do your research in your area and find a very competent, certified, experienced trainer, and with education. It’s too easy to become a certified trainer with all of the programs now. To find a trainer that truly understands the body’s capacity, can deal with injuries, and has true knowledge about what you want to accomplish is very difficult. 

Would you take advice on how to run a marathon from someone who has never run one? Why would you take advice from a strength and conditioning coach that has never been strong? Do your research and ask questions.


Q: Training partners, yes or no? 

A: I usually train alone. It’s safer for all.


Q: Any shout-outs? 

A: Definitely the Katzes who taught me so much about the business and how to do things right. Elizabeth Lenart, who has been a rock for me for the past nine years. She has been incredible putting up with all my crap from competition to the business. She always brings the newest and best of the industry into PCF. I wouldn’t be as far as I am without her.


Q: Your fitness center’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/PowerClean-Fitness/154742887925637 and your FB is https://www.facebook.com/michael.zolkiewicz. How else can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)? 

A: [email protected] Social media is by far the best way since I hardly ever answer my phone.


Mike, thank you for taking the time out to participate in this interview! I wish you the very best in all your endeavors. 

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