Interview With Powerlifter Mike Strom As told to Powerlifting USA by Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com - December 2009
CRITICAL BENCH: Mike, tell us about yourself!
I'm 29 years old, and started competing in bench only competitions when I was 18. I've been married for just over 5 years to my wife Alicia, and we live in Kenosha, WI which we love at least from March through September each year when snow isn't an issue.
I work as a carpenter building custom homes which I enjoy, but can also interfere with training at times because of the physical demands of the job.
CRITICAL BENCH: What is your biggest bench today?
My best competition bench is 606 @ 198, 562 @ 181 (both top 50 all-time). Raw in the gym my best bench is 415.
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about the first time you benched 225, 300, 400, 500, and 600lbs? Tell us a little about how you trained to get to each and how you overcame each of those bench press barriers one by one.
I recall making my first 200+ bench shortly before high school (I started lifting in my parent's basement at 8 years old). I remember because I had the old concrete weights we used to have to hang bags off the ends of the bar with dumbbells in them to add extra weight.
Throughout high school I was pretty much stuck in the mid 200's until I finally found out about powerlifting. Once I started to train more like a powerlifter and less like a bodybuilder as well as gaining a few pounds (I finished high school weighing about 155 and moved up to about 175 by the time I benched 300) I passed 300 fairly quickly by 1999, after powerlifting about 1 year.
400 seemed to just come along pretty easily as I built a strong base and moved into a denim shirt after using the old EHPHD shirts to start with.
I got my first 400 bench in 2002. 500 was a bit more of a struggle. I took some evolution in my training as far as learning more about my individual weaknesses and what exercises paid off for me. I needed to focus on building lockout strength and as that came along I pushed past 500 in 2005.
I hit 600 for the first time in late 2006, so that came pretty quickly once I passed 500. I switched shirts again (went from the denim to a 2 ply Rage-X) which I think helped, and my improved training knowledge help me progress more quickly; and again I moved up in bodyweight to the 198 class.
Since first benching 600 things have slowed down again as I've been focusing on competing in full meets, but my total has been moving up well.
CRITICAL BENCH: Do you ever scare yourself by knowing that you're benching well over triple body weight?
I never really think in terms of bodyweight, I just want to continually lift more.
CRITICAL BENCH: Answer the following...What would you like to say to those who:
A) look up to you-
Always push yourself to achieve your best, constantly re-evaluate your training, and learn to feed of others lack of belief in you.
B) are afraid of you-
Meet me and you won't be, I'm very laid back and friendly.
C) people who you fire up-
Always focus on hitting PR's and improving, but also do your best to beat everyone else in the gym, you owe that to your training partners to push them in that way.
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about your training routine!
My general template is based on Westside Barbell, although I continually try new things and constantly adjust and evaluate my training.
CRITICAL BENCH: What bench shirt do you use?
I currently use a 2-ply open back Rage-X with a reinforced neckline (but not the "superneck") My shirt is actually from before they made a thicker rage-x material, so I can't even get another like it to replace it. I wish I could because this one is over 4 years old and pretty worn out, but I still love it. So currently I'm looking into a new shirt and have a few in mind I'd like to try.
CRITICAL BENCH: How do people respond when they hear how much you bench?
I really don't talk much about my lifting to "non-lifters", so they understand the shirts and the training, etc. Generally they say "wow, that's a great bench for your size". I hate the "for your size part".
CRITICAL BENCH: What are your future goals?
My short term goals are to total over 2000 @ 198, compete at AAPF Nationals and AWPC Worlds, squat over 800, bench over 650, and pull over 600. Long term goals I like to keep to myself for internal motivation.
CRITICAL BENCH: So far in your powerlifting journey what has been your favorite, craziest, most hardcore and most memorable moment?
My most memorable and favorite moment was actually taking 3rd behind Brad Heck and Jay Fry at a UPA Bench Bash for Cash pro meet. It was an honor to share the platform with 2 guys at the top of the game like they are. I guess I don't really see what I do as "crazy" or "hardcore", it's just what I do and who I am; I hate to back down, so training can get pretty wild.
CRITICAL BENCH: Where do you train? Who do you train with and what is it like?
Over the years I've had a great experience with great training partners, so I'd like to give them all some credit. I started in bench only with Iron House Gym in Burlington, WI. I learned a lot about training from Dave Walker, Sean Corbett instilled a drive and competitiveness in me, and Mark Hinkston reinforced the importance of assistance work to me. These guys really mean a lot to me, and I appreciate all their help.
When I moved to Kenosha I started training at Atlas Gym, which isn't so much a "powerlifting" gym, but a hardcore place for sure with lots of great guys willing to help you out and spot for you.
The gym is filled with strong guys, from gym rats, to powerlifters, and the owner is a highland games competitor.
Currently I train at Monster Garage Gym (monstergaragegym.com). It's a great atmosphere with a good group of guys and we've been growing lately. We have a mix of raw lifters, single ply lifters, multiply lifters, and guys just starting out that haven't competed yet, we also have Phillip Daniels, one of the owners, who plays for the Redskins. It's a great group and we have all the equipment you need in a powerlifting gym.
CRITICAL BENCH: Has the bench press shirt changed your perspective on lifting? If so, how?
Nope, I just lift as much as I can, pretty simple.
CRITICAL BENCH: What do you like doing away from competing in the bench press?
Spend time with my wife, family, watch movies, drink beer, watch football… pretty typical stuff. But mostly away from bench I like to squat and deadlift.
CRITICAL BENCH: What motivates you to step under heavier and heavier weights?
Whenever people ask "how much do you want to be able to lift", all I can say is more. I don't know why I do it, I just know I can't not do it.
CRITICAL BENCH: What is the best and worst advice you were ever told?
Best advice - technique is everything
Worst advice - arching your back is bad for you
CRITICAL BENCH: Out of looks, health, toughness, and strength what is the most important to you in order and why?
Toughness - everything in life and lifting depends on your ability to withstand pain/discomfort.
Strength - It's always been an obsession for me.
Health - It's necessary to continue lifting / competing
Looks - Doesn't matter much.
CRITICAL BENCH: How do you want to be remembered?
As a strong, dedicated lifter who loves his sport, but is still fun, easy going and enjoys helping fellow lifters.
CRITICAL BENCH: What does the bench press mean to you?
It demonstrates complete dominance of a weight. You can't bench it if you can't control it.
CRITICAL BENCH: What makes you happy?
Consistency in my training, I really hate to miss the gym. Also, nothing feels better than a PR.
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us your top 10 tips to a bigger bench press?
Learn proper form and use it on every rep.
Lift with other serious powerlifters.
Build a strong upper back.
Build strong triceps.
Focus on training your nervous system.
Be open to new ideas.
Take care of your joints / rotator cuffs.
Learn to identify your weaknesses.
Spend time training raw.
Be tough and expect success.
CRITICAL BENCH" Give us your training routine and diet
You can check out my training on youtube (mikesbench600)
Saturdays - Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
Mondays - Max Effort Bench
Wednesdays - DE / RE Squat / Deadlift
Thursdays - DE / RE Bench
My diet really isn't anything special, I try to make sure I get adequate protein and not eat too much junk.
CRITICAL BENCH: What are the 5 biggest mistakes other benchers make?
Letting their wrists bend back
Poor setup with no leg drive
Unable to maintain tightness throughout the lift.
Don't retract the shoulder blades well enough.
Fear of the weight.
CRITICAL BENCH: Any words of inspiration for all the other benchers out there or any message you would like to leave the bench pressing world?
Cherish this sport, it's one of very few things in life where hard work is guaranteed to pay off.
CRITICAL BENCH: In closing is there anyone who you would like to thank?
I'd like to thank my wife Alicia for being so supportive of my lifting. I'd like to thank all the other lifters and coaches who give so much back to powerlifting through articles, interviews, videos, etc. I'd also like to thank the meet directors and judges who are often taken for granted and don't get the respect and appreciation they deserve.