Zack McCarley, age 26, is a three-time America's Strongest Man under 231 lbs. and six-time National champion in Strongman. The 5'8", 230 lbs. competitor is a resident of Ellensburg, Washington and holds a BS in Chemistry with Biochemistry specialization. McCarley is currently a graduate student in Chemistry and has worked as a para-educator and as a concrete finisher. He trains at Ellensburg CrossFit and RABFitness.
Let's learn more about this six-time National Strongman champion!
Q: How did you discover Strongman events?
A: I first discovered strongman on television as a teenager; I always found it very entertaining. As I grew older I was drawn to weight lifting, football, and wrestling and with that, I began to compare myself to the people I would see on television and realized that I was not that far off.
Q: Did anyone influence you or serve as a mentor?
A: By the time I had decided that I would participate in a strongman event, I had plans to just show up and do my best. I was lucky enough that the individual that I called [for the event] invited me to train with him. I was taken under the wing of Grant Higa, professional strongman. I was fortunate enough to train with him for several years, and to continue training with him after I earned my pro card and my first America's Strongest Man victory as a lightweight. Unfortunately, now I live about 100 miles east of where I began my strongman training. I no longer train with my original crew, but I remember it very fondly. Old crew and I doing some conditioning... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WMMG6jMs5U
Q: What motivates you?
A: Motivation is such an interesting topic. I can recall the first time I ever really gave much thought towards motivation. This occurred one Saturday morning while training with an old partner, Rocco. He asked me flat out, "Zack, you work so hard. What motivates you to train?" and to be honest, I had no good response. It took me quite a while to realize that at that point in my life it was simply that I had the ability to do something I enjoyed. I had pursued it and did not need motivation.
Many people in life did not get a chance to do what they like and I suppose this motivated me a bit later in my career and continues to motivate me even to this day. People who waste time and effort on something that they do not truly enjoy – or something that does not make them happy – need a reminder that no one lives forever, so you had better do what you love. Isn't that motivation enough?
Q: What activities do you do outside of Strongman?
A: I am quite active outside of the strongman world. I wrestle in the NCWA, which is a folk style wrestling at the college level, I do a fair amount of CrossFit and, of course, love just about any athletic challenge. Of course, a huge amount of my time is dedicated to academic work as I am currently a master's student at Central Washington University.
Q: How do you train now?
A: My training is very different than it used to be. I do not have direct access to the majority of equipment that I use in competition, so I must travel. Typically, I travel two hours each way to access the yoke at RABFitness in Kennewick, Washington, and of course to train with the crew there – they are awesome!
My weekly training utilizes the small amount of equipment that I do have at my disposal and direct gym work. A basic layout of what I do currently is as follows: Sun.: Chest and upper back (very BBing style day), Mon.: Rest, Tues.: Lower Body #1 (dynamic or moving emphasis), Wed.: Rest, Thurs.: Overhead, Fri.: Rest, Sat.: Lower Body #2 (static or loading emphasis).
Q: What kind of advice would you give to beginners who are looking to get bigger and stronger?
A: The best advice I could give to the beginner who is looking to get bigger and stronger is simply to be patient. Results come with time and if you are willing to work hard and take your time attaining your goal, the results will stay for much longer. Many people are too impatient and will either push their body too hard or not take the time that is needed to develop strength and skill, both of which lead to injuries.
Q: What about nutrition? How much do you eat, grams of protein per day? Do you count grams, macros, etc.?
A: I get so many questions about nutrition, and I do have very different beliefs than many people. I used to count my macros meticulously, I would time all of my meals, I would monitor what I was drinking and when, I would monitor my mood during and after training as well as the amount of effort that went into each set. As you can see, it is no stretch of the imagination that I have found a discipline (outside strongman) that requires such meticulous notes.
I do not count my macros much anymore, the only nutritional planning that I really do is per meal. I typically consume 5-7 meals a day, 80 carbohydrates per meal (low glycemic), 10 to 20 grams of fat per meal, and 35-50 grams of protein per meal. The only deviation from this is my post workout meal; I always consume high-glycemic carbohydrates at around 60 to 80 grams post-workout with 20-30 medium glycemic carbohydrates as well as about 60-70 grams of protein in total from whey and milk sources, with as little fat as possible just for that meal.
Q: Do you use supplements or do you favor solid food?
A: Supplements are just that, they are designed to supplement your diet, not replace it. I favor solid food for many reasons but one of which is I am a huge believer in micro nutrients. I think individuals who follow a "if it fits your macros" style of eating have no real understanding of what your body does with food. With all of that being said, I do have a very busy schedule and I do tend to consume a decent amount of supplements. If I were allowed all the time in the world to prepare my meals I would have very few supplements involved in my diet.
Q: If you supplement, do you recommend any particular brand or specific supplements?
A: Seeing as I am a sponsored MET-Rx athlete this would be a good time to mention that I consume only MET-Rx products, but I really don't like what the supplement industry has become. While I do believe that I am sponsored by a great company, I also believe that taking care of the necessities comes far before supplementation. Instead, I will list the supplements I use, when, and why.
Whey protein isolate, 2 scoops (50g) post-workout – "PROTEIN BRO!"
Glutamine, 2 scoops (12g) intraworkout – support my performance.
BCAA, 2 scoops (12g) intraworkout – support my performance.
Powerade or Gatorade mix, 2 scoops intraworkout – support my performance.
Q: How much sleep do you get each day?
A: I am going to go off on a tangent a little bit on this question. A lot of individuals like to say that there is no such thing as overtraining, but those same individuals say that you can under-rest. Another large group of people believe you can overtrain but give no deep thought to rest. What most people don't realize is both of those things are in fact the same thing.
Overtraining is simply training with too high of a volume or frequency to recover from within a given rest interval. And likewise under-resting is not getting enough rest between said high volume or high frequency of training that the individual is experiencing. It drives me absolutely crazy when people talk nonstop about how it is one way or the other when in reality everyone is arguing the same thing. Rest is essential!
There is no reason to train if your body could not recover enough to gain the results that you are after. In order for your body to do that it must rest. To answer the original question in one sentence, I typically aim for between 7-10 hours of sleep per night.
Q: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention or rehab?
A: If someone were to look at my training they would not see anything specific for injury prevention, but there is a lot going on in my training. I make sure to train my entire body, even the muscles that are underutilized in strongman. The training of these underutilized muscles allows my body to stay strong and stave-off any weak link in my body.
This in itself is an injury prevention technique. Sport specific training is fabulous as well as effective, but when athletes get too far away from general fitness they become increasingly susceptible to injuries. The body is an integrated system and the progress of strength development can and will be halted with a single weak or under-developed area.
Q: What are your favorite events?
A: I hate to give such a generic answer, but I really try not to have any favorite events. People who have definitive favorite events tend to train them far too often. But some events I really do enjoy are the axel clean and press, Husafell Carry, farmer's, and of course everyone's favorite – the stones.
Q: What is your overall training philosophy?
A: My overall training philosophy is more complicated than I care to go into at the moment but a simplified version would be, do not have any weaknesses. When I do have a weakness, if at all possible I correct it.
For example, I used to be very poor at the tire flip but now I am very good at the event because I have worked on it so hard, for so long. I can recall mornings that I would wake up at 4 a.m. to get to the training facility by 5 a.m. In order to flip the tire and then go to work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYYzCfKhYbE
I also recall every Saturday for a year working the tire flip first before any other events. I learned to love an event that I hated and that is what people have to do in order to have no weakness.
Q: How long have you been training seriously?
A: I began training at a relatively young age, 13 or 14. I really did not know what I was doing for several years and began focused training around the age of 16. I was introduced to strongman when I was 18 and began training seriously after I had turned 19.
Q: What are some of the lifts you are most proud of?
A: I actually had to think about this question for a while. I do not linger on accomplishments because I recognize the victories mean nothing if they do not last. I suppose my most proud lifts are flipping a 700 pound tire for over 100 reps in a row, this took about 24 minutes.
700 lbs. tire x 100 flips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tY-hjsNRP0
Dumbbell press 210 for a set of 4. Winning the H-carry at the 2012 Arnold Heavyweight Worlds 410 pound Hussafell stone for 273 feet. My first birthday medley and every one since.
21st b-day and first ever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0r4q5oSAhI
22nd b-day: My birthday wish was for everyone to do it :D
Grant p1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLjYKIfRzuE
Grant p2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPdKLjCJsC0
Zack 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-x6yvuFW6A
Zack 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up5cqKvZ6xY
23rd b-day: no video
24th b-day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGMWs5QVDwk
25th b-day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slHp6xDWM_g
Bonus video: Kristyn Whisman (3x national champ) doing the entire nationals contest as one birthday medley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djogfTkeEWM
Q: What are the contests you are most proud of?
A: Without a doubt, the single contest I have been most proud of was 2010 NAS Nationals where I won my pro-card after taking second the year prior.
Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength?
A: Oh wow! This is a loaded question if I have ever heard one. I will say the snatch, deadlift, and ohp. Although I don't suggest anyone go on a workout program with just these lifts.
Q: What is the worst competitive experience you've had (injury, etc.)?
A: My injury at the 2013 Arnold heavyweight Worlds was undoubtedly my least favorite moment in any competition that I have competed in, but barring injuries I would say that there have not been many moments in competition that I have not enjoyed.
Q: Any shout-outs?
A: So many shout outs, where do I begin? Of course, first and foremost my fiancée Aly and family for the love and support over the many years. All my training partners past and present, Grant Higa, Kristyn Whisman, Tyler Scott, Steve Spellman, Scott Hughes, Laurion Burchall, Rocco, John, Ryan, Joe (Myers) and other Joe (Koop), Mike and Lisa Kromer, and the whole Kennewick crew, Roger and Ally Baker, RABFitness, and to anyone else I forgot.
I'd also like to thank my awesome sponsors MET-Rx, Strength Crew, Bioforce; and my chiropractor, Dr. Bridgeman in Ellensburg, Washington; my home gym Ellensburg CrossFit and Taylor Clark. All the teachers past and present who have not given me a bunch of crap for having to miss class to go kick some ass.
Q: How can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)?
A: Blog: http://zackmccarley.blogspot.com/
Facebook (personal): https://www.facebook.com/zack.mccarley
FB (athlete): https://www.facebook.com/pages/ASC-Pro-Strongman-Zack-McCarley/328117483891221
YouTube (current): https://www.youtube.com/user/prostrongmanzack
YouTube (old): https://www.youtube.com/user/strongmanzack
Zack, I really appreciate you taking the time to share part of your story with Rx Muscle! Wishing you continued success in the sport and in life.
Discusss this interview @ http://forums.rxmuscle.com/showthread.php?127660-The-Strength-Series-Interview-8-Zack-McCarley!
And check out all the athlete profiles @ http://www.rxmuscle.com/strength-articles/athlete-profiles.html