Tom Sroka, age 27, is a resident of Fort Mill, South Carolina. The 6'0", 305-pound weightlifter has his bachelor's degree in Physical Education (K-12 Teacher Certification) with minors in Health Education and Exercise Science from Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois.
Sroka worked as the PE teacher at Immaculate Conception Grade School in Elmhurst, Illinois from 2010 to 2012 and the Throws Coach at North Central College Track and Field in Naperville, Illinois for the same time period. He was also the Throws Coach at Monte Vista High School Track and Field in Danville, California in 2012.
He has served as Weightlifting Coach at Crossfit Vitality in Concord, Crossfit Northlake in Charlotte, Crossfit Weddington in Weddington – all North Carolina locations – and Crossfit Lake Wylie in Lake Wylie, South Carolina from 2012 to the present.
His training centers have included California Strength in San Ramon, California from January 2012 to June 2012 and MuscleDriver USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina from June 2012 to the present. Let's learn more about weightlifter Tom Sroka!
Q: How did you discover Olympic weightlifting events?
A: I got into weightlifting during high school. Instead of doing a regular PE class you had the option of taking a barbell class if you did a sport. I was always intrigued with trying to lift more weight than I did the day before and enjoyed the feeling of self-betterment. I then realized the benefits that training had on my sports performance and dove into training head-on, spending all my spare time in the gym.
As I went through college I was more enthused to be in the weight room training than out on the field participating in my sport. I was an All-American shot putter in college but spent more time lifting than throwing which is why I think the Head Athletic Trainer introduced me to Olympic Weightlifting.
After college was over I wanted to still compete so I dabbled in strongman and Highland games competitions, but I still liked lifting more than training the events themselves. I met a friend through the games and started working for her gym as a personal trainer on the side. One day she saw me messing around with one arm snatches and showed me how to do a real snatch. She encouraged me to give weightlifting competitions a shot and I declined. She then passed my name along to Glenn Pendlay who had a team of weightlifters out in San Ramon California and at the time I was working with a local college's throwers.
Glenn invited me out to California for a week to train and learn the lifts and I took it as a good opportunity to bring some knowledge back to my current jobs. After a week I was hooked and got invited to come out and train full-time so I put in my resignation with my jobs and moved out to California to train. I was there until June when part of the team relocated to Fort Mill, SC where MuscleDriver USA is located. The rest is history and I don't regret the choice for one second.
Some of my most memorable lifts are the first time I deadlifted 600 lbs. at a commercial gym on Christmas break and ending up bending the bar. I also laugh about passing out the first time I cleaned 400 lbs. But the lift I am most proud of to date is at this past year's American Open; I made an 11 kilogram jump (about 24 pounds) to clean and jerk 198 kilograms (about 435 lbs.) to win my first national competition. I try not to focus too much on past lifts and accomplishments because the best is always yet to come and I can't wait to hit the next big lift.
Q: Did anyone influence you or serve as a mentor?
A: For sure, there were plenty of people along the way but the two biggest influences were my high school weightlifting teacher, Steve Morgenthaler. He was a no BS kind of guy and he graded you on whether or not you showed improvement. He was the first person that really showed me how to look for small improvements from training session to training session when the big PRs were nowhere to be found. He got me started in lifting and is the reason I kept up with it.
The second big influence is the Head Athletic Trainer/training partner/good friend from college, Terry Smith. From the day I walked in as a freshman, he took me under his wing and showed me how to work smarter with my training. He also expressed the importance of a training log to keep track of progress and find out what went wrong when you hit snags in training. The biggest thing I learned from him was training is not a one-size-fits-all. Find what works for you, then modify as needed, and sometimes change things up just for the sake of variety.
Nowadays, my biggest mentors in training are my teammates and coaches at MDUSA. We are constantly talking about different ways of training, how to solve issues with technique, and implementing a plan of action for the next competition.
The biggest thing I have learned is the minute you think you know it all and are closed to other ideas; it's time to find a new hobby. You don't know everything and your training philosophy/implementation should be a constantly evolving cycle.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Simply knowing that there is always a better version of yourself but that you have to work to see it makes you want to see it; that's what keeps me training.
Q: What activities do you do outside of weightlifting?
A: Hanging out and exploring the Carolinas with my wife are number one on that list, but riding my motorcycle, swinging a golf club, and enjoying a good quality cigar round out that list.
Q: I'm a romantic, how did you meet your wife?
A: My wife and I met in high school. My pick up line was "Hey does this look broken to you?" pointing to my leg. Ha ha ha, I asked her out to homecoming and we've been together ever since... eleven years total, married for the last five.
Q: What is your wife's name and does she lift?
A: My wife's name is Beth and she likes to squat and deadlift, but she is a yoga instructor and that is where her passion really is.
Tom and Beth!
Q: You mentioned your motorcycle... what do you ride?
A: I ride a 2002 Honda Shadow Spirit 750.
Q: Have you done Sturgis, Daytona, or any other events?
A: I'm technically still riding on my permit so I haven't gone very far on my bike. The longest trip I've done is a little over an hour. I want to get more comfortable with my bike and obviously get my license before I take a trip on it to anywhere. Friends keep trying to get me to go riding in the Smokies, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that just yet.
Q: And what's your golf handicap?
A: I do not golf enough to know my handicap. I have the Happy Gilmore complex, getting the ball to the green is no problem, but once I'm there it could take a while.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to beginners who are looking to become better lifters?
A: BUILD A BASE! No building has ever stood the test of time with a crummy foundation. Focus on doing all sorts of activities and training; build a big old wide base. A big problem I see with folks and their kids these days is they are too specialized too soon and end up being burnt out before they really reach their full potential. Have some fun, try new things, and diversify the type of training you do until you know for sure what you are working towards.
Q: What about nutrition? How much do you eat, grams of protein per day? Do you count grams, macros, etc.?
A: I don't really count anything. I compete in an uncapped weight class so I don't have to worry about cutting weight. The only thing I monitor is my gluten intake. My wife is diagnosed with celiac and to make cooking and meal planning easier on her I stay clear of it. My diet mostly consists of lot of meats (beef, pork, chicken), eggs, dairy, rice, potatoes, fruits, and veggies. Of course, I enjoy sweets every once in a while but I eat fairly healthy for the most part; I do eat A LOT of food though.
"After college was over I wanted to still compete so I dabbled in strongman and Highland games competitions."
Q: Do you use supplements or do you favor solid food?
A: I like to get most of my nutrients from food but I do rely on a few supplements. When I am low on calories I will have a protein shake. Supplement-wise I take Blonyx's HMB+Creatine, Gnarly's Whey Protein, fish oil, and my vitamins. Nothing crazy because we get drug tested frequently so I need to make sure nothing goes wrong in that department.
Q: If you supplement, do you recommend any particular brand or specific supplements?
A: Find a company that has a good reputation and lists all their ingredients so you can check them out with your governing body if need be. My go-to's are Gnarly and Blonyx. They both have simple, tested products that aren't made with fillers and don't hide ingredients behind their "proprietary blend". In my opinion, fish oil is fish oil, find a reliable brand that doesn't break the bank and use it. As for vitamins and such, that stuff is pretty standard across the board so assess your nutrition first and fill the holes with supplements as a last resort.
Q: How much sleep do you get each day?
A: Anywhere between 6-8 hours, I try to stay around eight, but stuff happens. If I have a rough night of sleep I try to take a 20-60 minute nap during the day.
Q: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention or rehab?
A: I was really inflexible and not very mobile when I first got into weightlifting so I have spent a lot of time improving that. I spend a good 20 minutes warming up the hips, back, and shoulders before training and take as many warm up attempts as I need in order to feel good for training. Nothing will ever be perfect, but I try to put myself in the best position to have a good training session each day. After training, I take about 10-15 minutes to lay out and stretch. I only use a lacrosse ball/pvc roller for tightness as a last resort. My wife is a yoga instructor so I do at least one class with her a week and do a lot of manual modalities on myself, if need be. My tools of choice are a car polisher for a quick massage or one of my portable e-stim units.
Q: In which weight classes have you competed?
A: I currently compete in the 105+ (231 and up) class. I tried cutting to 230 for a strongman contest once before and that sucked, so never again.
Q: What is your favorite event, the snatch or the clean and jerk?
A: Clean and Jerk for sure; my snatch lags a bit but it's getting better. Clean and Jerks win you meets and I love that feeling of getting after it. If I keep a competition close in the snatch, my confidence going into the clean and jerk is sky high.
Q: Do you have an overall training philosophy?
A: Not really; I have done lots of different programs and each has worked in their own ways. My overall philosophy is find something that works and stick with it, but if you are spinning your tires, reevaluate and figure it out and get back to it. But I am also a firm believer in if it's not broke don't try to fix it.
Q: How long have you been training seriously?
A: I have been training since I was 16 years old but I have been specifically training in the sport of weightlifting since November of 2011.
Q: What are some of the lifts you are most proud of?
A: As said before, the first time I cleaned 400 pounds, my first 200 kilogram clean and jerk, and my 198 clean and jerk to win the 2013 American Open.
Q: What are the contests you are most proud of?
A: So far, my 2013 first place at the American Open.
Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength?
A: The Squat is the most important; it all starts with legs. If you need two other things, focus on your mobility/flexibility to get in good positions and then get your whole back as strong as possible. So my three are 1. Squats, a distant 2. back strength, and 3. mobility/flexibility.
Q: Or what is the most important physical characteristic or attribute for a weightlifter, speed, strength, coordination?
A: Yes, and to add something else to that mix: patience. Rome wasn't built in a day and you won't be a champion in a day either.
Q: What is the worst competitive experience you've had (injury, etc.)?
A: In college, I dislocated my ankle completely when I slipped after running a sprint. Nothing else has come close to that. Because of that injury I was able to take every other injury in stride and work around it and come back better than ever.
"I was an All-American shot putter in college but spent more time lifting than throwing which is why I think the Head Athletic Trainer introduced me to Olympic Weightlifting."
Q: Any shout-outs?
A: First and foremost, I want to send a HUGE shout-out to my wife, Beth. Without her love and support none of this would be happening. The titles she has are never-ending and, at the end of the day, her opinion of what I do is the only one that matters to me.
My family and friends have also been super-supportive along this winding journey and I couldn't be more grateful to have them in my corner. Of course, a shout-out goes to MDUSA (the staff, the coaches, teammates). Knowing that we are all dealing with the same issues day in and day out and having different folks to get ideas from is a huge help. They give me a place to train and call home and I feel pretty lucky to have the "job" and "coworkers" that I do.
Also thanks to my online training group, The Strength Agenda Way, that I work with. I have over 20 folks I work with on a regular basis and being able to talk shop with them, help them with problems, and see them improve and crush their goals motivates me to keep on pushing on those days where I'm just not feeling it.
Lastly, big thanks to Gnarly and Blonyx for their support along the way.
Q: How can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)?
A: You can find me on Facebook (Tom Sroka), Twitter (@Srokus), Instagram (@supersrokus), and check out my website at http://www.thestrengthagenda.com. We are regularly posting great recipes, articles on nutrition/training/recovery, athlete spotlights, as well as offering weightlifting online coaching and clinics for your gym.
Awesome, Tom. Thank you very much for sharing part of your story! Wishing you continued success in the sport and life outside the gym. It's great to read the various approaches that people take in their training and careers. I really appreciate you taking the time to participate in this interview!
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