Zydrūnas Savickas interview

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Žydrūnas Savickas won this year’s World’s Strongest Man competition. It’s the second successive title for the 35-year-old Lithuanian.

What was the toughest event in the WSM this year?

The first one: the Loading Race in the water. We had to pick up sacks from a platform in a swimming pool and run through the water for about ten metres before putting them on to another platform. So in all we ended up running about 60 metres in the water with the sacks. The sacks were slippery and on my third one, I tried to lift it on to my shoulder but I lost my balance and fell right under the water. I couldn’t finish the event and came in 6th place. It was a very bad start. I was worried because it wasted a lot of points for me right at the start of the competition.
How far in advance do you know which events will be in the final?
We know the events six weeks beforehand. We don’t know which weights or distances will be involved, though. I knew we would be loading in water, for example, but I didn’t know it would be with sacks. I thought we would be using kegs, so I trained with them. I also knew there would be a Log Throw and Farmer’s Walk but the weight could be between 220kg to 250kg.
How do you train for the most outlandish events? You don’t have a plane to pull, for example.
I have a place in Birštonas, 100km from [Lithuanian capital] Vilnius, where I can train especially for strongman events. I have stones, tyres, logs, a squat machine, dumb-bells, equipment to do farmer’s walks, sacks, barrels and kegs – everything we use in the competition. I train there twice a week, while in my gym I train just with machines and weights, and do cardio workouts. It was hard training in a swimming pool. I have an outdoor pool at my house, which is quite deep. In the competition the water was only up to waist height. If I’d known it would have gone so bad for me, I would have let out a bit of water from my pool for training. For the car deadlift I trained with a normal bar deadlift instead of a car. I know exactly what shape I am in with a deadlift, while with a car I can’t measure it as well.

What training sessions do you do?
I train six days a week: two hours a day in the gym and three hours or more a week practising the actual events. On Monday, I work on my legs: squats, front squats, leg curls, leg presses and calf exercises. On Tuesday, I do events: the log lift, farmer’s walk, tyre flip and the keg toss. Wednesday is cardio day: I spend one hour walking uphill at 5km/h on a 9° incline. Thursday is deadlift day: cable pulls, shoulders, presses, dumb-bells, triceps bench press, cable triceps, French press. On Friday, I work on more events: Atlas stones, super yolk, truck pull (using my Nissan Pathfinder with the handbrake on) and keg loading. On Saturday, I do cardio for an hour. Sunday is my day off.
How much of your training is endurance-based compared to explosive?
I don’t train too much explosively. Instead I train like a powerlifter, not moving too fast. In the log lift, for example, I lift normally, not explosively. Other guys use their legs much more but I have very strong shoulders. I like to move slowly so I have more control and I can feel the weight.

Which three gym exercises should I do if I want to get stronger?

Firstly, squats. They work the whole body. I squat neither fast nor slow. I do them very deep twice a week. Secondly, deadlifts. This is more for the lower back but it also works the legs, hamstrings, all back muscles and your grip. They even work if you don’t train that often. I’d do this perhaps just once a week. And third, the overhead press. I do this standing, lifting from my chest. It works the shoulders, biceps and chest. When you do them standing up, it really helps your balance. If you do these three exercises, you’ll will be strong for sure.
What is your diet like during heavy training?
I eat about 6,000 calories a day, plus I drink four or five litres of water and three protein shakes with milk or water. I eat four times a day, mainly cottage cheese, eggs, chicken, beef, fish, rice, potatoes, vegetables and fruit juices. I monitor my body weight. If I just need power for a competition then I eat fried food. But if I also need speed or endurance, such as in the World’s Strongest Man competition, I eat more healthily. I’m very careful with alcohol: I have a glass of white wine perhaps two or three times a year. I also take lots of different supplements made by my sponsors.

What injuries have you sustained during your career?
Nine years ago I ripped the patella tendons in both knees at the same time. It was a competition in the Faroe Islands, an event called the Conan Circle. I was lifting 400kg and at first didn’t feel any pain. It was a real shock – the next thing I heard was ‘boosh, boosh’ and I was lying on the floor. I couldn’t understand what was happening and couldn’t move my legs. I was taken straight to hospital and after a few hours was in surgery. I started competing again nine months later. I’ve also ruptured my hamstring and my calves. I’ve torn my quadriceps before and have even dropped a keg on my foot. But the patellas were the worst.

How does winning this event compare to your other achievements as a strongman?

At this time it’s a very important event because we don’t have a world championship in strongman. And it makes me very famous in Lithuania. Back home strongman is the third most popular sport after football and basketball.

Would you ever think about branching out into MMA like Mariusz Pudzianowski has?  

I am not Mariusz. I know that I am the best in this event and I don’t want to be less than the best in a different sport.
Could you fight if you had to?
I can fight but I haven’t done it professionally. Sometimes in strongman competitions we do sumo wrestling. I have always won it but it’s too rough and very dangerous. In 2004 I got injured in a strongman sumo event. You have to do lots of extra training for it. With MMA I know you need a few years to be very good. I have competed for 19 years in strongman and I don’t have time to do MMA.

Why do eastern Europeans do so well in strongman events?
In the beginning it was America on top, then Scandinavia, and then eastern Europe. But now it’s looking like America is coming back very fast. I think [regional domination] moves around. It’s not just one region. But we have good genes in eastern Europe. In Lithuania, especially, we have a lot of good strongman athletes. Stefan Petursson, for example, came to Lithuania to train. He competed in the Lithuanian open competition and came 5th. In the World’s Strongest Man competition this year he came 4th. That shows you what a high level we have in my country, and what big pressure there is for me.

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