Interview With Elite Powerlifter Matt Kroczaleski As told to CriticalBench.com by Donnie Kiernan - October 2008
Welcome everyone to Criticalbench.com; I'm here with Elite Power lifter and prior service Marine, Matt Kroczaleski. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers. First off, how did you get started in the sport of power lifting?
Matt Kroczaleski: I was fascinated by strength and size and obsessed with becoming that way as long as I can remember. I started lifting consistently at age nine but I remember messing around with weights as young as age 6. I remember sneaking into the room where my dad had some of the old Sears Orbatron cement weights and doing curls 10 reps with one arm and then 10 reps with the other until I had done 100 reps with both arms around age six. My first set of weights was milk jugs filled with sand and my first bench was a 2"x12" laid across two cinder blocks. A year or two later my dad made some lead dumbbell plates for me by melting down lead from old car batteries.
I did my first power lifting meets while in high school. These were unsanctioned meets competing against other high schools. I did horribly and didn't place at any of them. I was very motivated and knowledgeable for my age and while I was a good athlete unfortunately my genetics were more suited to distance running than power lifting.
Critical Bench: Did you power lift while you were enlisted in the Marine Corps?
MK. I did two unsanctioned meets while enlisted. They were just against other Marines and other military personal. They were essentially raw other than knee wraps. I won both of the meets but only because I was one of the few lifters that trained my squat and dead lift just as hard as my bench.
I always lifted throughout my time in the Marines and while most times we were encouraged to lift there were times the people of my chain of command gave me a very hard time about it. When I finally became big enough to exceed the height and weight standards (at 5'9" my weight limit was 185lbs) my gunny threatened to punish me by having my kicked out of the presidential security program I was in and send me back to the fleet Marine force. Fortunately because of my low body fat and because I was still one of the best distance runners we had they allowed me to go to a Navy doctor to get my body fat tested and he wrote a waiver for me which allowed me to weigh over the prescribed limits.
Sometimes I actually had to sneak out of the barracks at night and break into the gym to train. That was something I often did while I was in college as well. One time I was caught by the Sergeant of the Guard training in the dark. Fortunately he thought it was great that I had that much desire to train and after he asked me what I was doing the only thing he said to me was to turn the lights on so I could see.
Critical Bench: Speaking of the Marine Corps, tell us a little about your career in the corps and how it affected you life today, on and off the platform.
MK. The Marine Corps was just something I had wanted to do for a long time to test myself mentally and physically. In boot camp I was selected to go through a special screening program and was lucky enough to eventually be selected for Presidential security duty. I ended up spending most of my first two years in the Marines stationed in Washington DC and my last two years at Camp David the Presidential Retreat.
I was already very disciplined and motivated before going into the Marines but I learned a couple of very important lessons there. I thought I had pushed my body to extremes before that but while in the Marines I learned that my body could take so much more than I thought it could. I realized that I could suffer through sleep and food deprivation, total physical and mental exhaustion and still keep going. I realized then and there that is was my mind that was weak and not my body. That has had a huge carryover to my power lifting success and a big reason why I often sleep no more than 3-4 hours per day and I'm still able to make progress in my lifting. I also learned how to channel and focus my anger and aggression and use it to my advantage. Before that I was too nice and lacked a real killer instinct. The Marines taught me that sometimes to do the right thing you need to be cold heart hearted and lack compassion. It gave me a mean streak that I could bring out and use to my advantage. I never had that before the Marines.
Critical Bench: Any regrets on not staying in the corps?
MK. None at all, the Marine Corps is a great place for a young single guy but if you want to have a family and be a good husband and father the Marines make it very difficult if not impossible to do that. They don't care if your wife is in labor with your first child, or if your son has his first baseball game or anything like that. To them every day is just another day in the corps and your duty as a Marine supersedes all other responsibilities. Having a family and being the best father I can be was always very important to me and I knew the Marines were no place to try to do that.
Critical Bench: I'm sure anyone who has heard about Matt Kroc has heard about the famous "Kroc rows." What made you want to do such an insanely heavy training exercise while the rest of the world wouldn't dare try something that heavy?
MK. Really it came about more by necessity than anything. I had realized that heavy dumbbell rows were very effective for increasing my upper back strength and thus my dead lift lockout strength so I worked very hard at them. The biggest dumbbells I had at the time were 175s and when I couldn't go any heavier I just tried to continually set rep PRs. Eventually I worked my way up to 36 reps with the 175s and hit 225x25 and I believe 265x10 is my current best. I believe Jim Wendler is the one that started referring to them as "Kroc Rows" and because of the You tube videos I have become known for them.
Critical Bench: I had the honor of listening to you speak at the EliteFTS.com VIP seminar this past May. Your topic of discussion was mental focus and vision. For our readers who may not have attended, Matt stated that you need to visualize yourself completing the lift over and over before you actually attempt it. Your words have changed my lifting career tremendously, how has that approach affected your lifts?
MK. That approach has been a major reason why I have been able to achieve the things I have thus far and will be responsible for my future accomplishments. The power of the mind over the body is much greater than most people realize and it can be trained and utilized to increase performance very effectively. Now I use visualization mainly to help me break through sticking points or barriers and I have progressed to the point where it includes all of my senses including taste, touch, smell, and hearing as well as mentally seeing everything from a first person perspective. The more real you can make the visualization the more effective it becomes.
Critical Bench: Kind of like the Bell brothers (Chris, Mark and Mike), you grew up in a family that was constantly being competitive with each other. How did that competitive spirit between you and your brother's help you in your sports career and is it still ongoing today?
MK. My competitiveness has been essential to my success and I think that is true of any successful athlete from any sport. You have to loathe losing and love winning in order to have the necessary desire to force yourself to do what's necessary to prepare and compete at the highest levels. I was just always very competitive and pushed myself at everything. When I was in elementary school I used to ride my bike to baseball practice which was about three miles away and all up and down hills. The hills were very steep and long and I made a deal with myself that I would never get off my bike and push it up the hills and I never did. At ten years old my thighs would be on fire and my lungs burning but I never once got off my bike. I saw it as me versus the hills and there was no way I was going to let them win.
I'm not sure how much my competitiveness helped my brothers though. LOL. Even though I meant well I tried to push them too hard, too young and drove them away from competitive sports and lifting. I have told the story before of how at age 18 I took my 12 year old brother Chris out for a three mile run and wouldn't let him walk and basically ran him until he broke down in tears. Kurt is only 18 months younger than I am and we have almost come to blows more than once because of me pushing him excessively. Because I was the older brother and a pretty good athlete I rarely lost at anything we did but when I did I never wanted to stop playing until I won. One time when I was in the Marines and home on leave Kurt actually beat me twice in a row in a backyard wrestling match. He was a good wrestler with an excellent shot and a great choke. After shooting in and taking me down he caught me in a rear naked choke twice in a row. That was one of the first times that had ever happen and I didn't like it at all. I insisted we go again and that time I beat him and then ground his face into a tree stump while I had him pinned to the ground. I didn't purposely try to be mean or cruel but I hated to lose and still do till this day, it is just the way I am wired. I may lose a battle here and there but I will never concede to losing the war.
I am not a sore loser and you will never see me complain at a meet or fail to offer my sincere congratulations to someone that has beat me but that doesn't mean that I like it or even accept losing in my mind. Some of my friends joke that I never remember losing and there may be some truth to that. One of my close friends that I have known since first grade is a pretty good arm wrestler. Apparently he beat me one time years ago but I honestly have no recollection of that ever occurring even though several people verified that it happened.
Critical Bench: From following your training logs, I've seen you hit with some pretty tough blows as far as injuries go, yet you always seem to bounce back quickly and end up STRONGER in the process. Please enlighten us as to how you are able to recover so quickly!
MK. It all boils down to mental toughness and desire to overcome any obstacle but knowing your body and how far you can push it is very important as well. The key to a fast recovery is doing as much as you can as soon as you can. The difficult part is walking that fine line between maximum speed of recovery and re injury. For me I have overcome so many injuries that at this point I truly believe that nothing can stop me. At first I was pretty sure I could overcome injuries quickly but each time I conquer something new that reinforces my confidence and my belief in myself to be able to make anything happen that I want to.
When I tore my first distal biceps tendon and had surgery I did lots of research and talked to everyone that I knew or could get a hold of that had been through it. Most people told me that it would be at least six months before I could get back to training regularly and a good year before I was ready to compete again. I tore mine in late August and had surgery in early September and I told all of my close friends that I would be 100% by Christmas and most of them looked at me like I was crazy. Well on November 3rd at a Metal Militia bench seminar I hit a 605 bench which was a big PR for me at the time. So essentially I made a full recovery and increased my strength in less than eight weeks.
My mindset is such that I care less about pain than I do about reaching my goals. I have used various techniques to increase my pain tolerance and this is why I do some of the crazy things that I do. I also believe what other people think about what I can doesn't matter at all only what I believe in my own mind. Back in 2004 when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer I told everyone right away that it was no big deal and it was just a bump in the road. Fortunately I was right and I didn't even really allow it to slow my training progress. Four days after I had my right testicle removed because of the large tumor in it I was back in the gym squatting. I was bleeding heavily through my incision but I didn't care. When I went back to see my oncologist and he saw the bandages were soaked with dried blood he thought that the wound must have become infected but after removing the bandages and cleaning the wound he was surprised to see everything looked fine. He really wasn't sure what had happened and not feeling like trying to explain myself to someone that was certainly not going to understand I didn't bother to even try. I have many other stories about similar incidents like my ilio-tibial (IT) band injury that had me on crutches three weeks out from the '06 Arnold Classic where I went on to win the middle weights and squat a PR in the process. About how I dislocated my left shoulder and partially tore my triceps a week before the '07 Arnold and yet I went on to bench a PR there. There have been more things like this but I think you can see why I believe so strongly in the power of the mind and the force of will in the face of adversity.
Critical Bench: Give us a rundown of a typical 24 hours in the life of Matt Kroc.
MK. A typical day when I'm working would be getting up at 8pm to hop in the shower and get ready for work, packing my cooler for the night and eating before getting on the road at 8:45pm to drive 77 miles to get to work at 10pm. I work ten hour shifts getting out of work at 8am and making the trek home to arrive around 9:30am. I change and try to get out into the gym by 10am. I then train until somewhere between 11am and noon depending on the day. After that I immediately drink a protein shake and begin cooking my lunch. I usually eat while sitting at the computer trying to answer emails, update my training log, answers questions from people and often I'm paying bills, keeping in touch with friends and doing other things I typically do online.
I am also currently in the process of starting up two businesses both related to my lifting. I am working on getting a website up and running which will be www.mattkroc.com when it is completed. I am also still working on my training DVD (which I am still shooting footage for) and ideas for a Kroc clothing line and a few other things as well. By the time I wrap all of this up and make sure I have food prepared for the next night at work it is often 4-5pm which leaves me 3-4 hours to sleep before starting the entire process over. Never mind the fact that I am a single parent of three boys (I have joint custody with my ex) and I own a home and that of course I do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and maintenance around the house by myself and as you see that doesn't leave me many hours in the day for my personal life which I am trying diligently to get going again. The days I have off aren't quite as hectic but being a single parent of three young boys is no picnic either as any stay at home mom can tell you but don't get me wrong I love my boys deeply and I cherish every minute I get to spend with them.
Critical Bench: How important are good, quality, like minded training partners to your success in power lifting?
MK. Good quality training partners can make a huge difference to one's training and they are valuable as hell but a good lifter can make progress even without them. I trained for years on and off without training partners and always continued to make progress. Jeremy Frey doesn't have any consistent training partners right now and he has made tons of progress in the last year putting hundreds of pounds on his total while competing at the highest levels.
Still the ideal situation is to have likeminded lifters that are both extremely competitive but also extremely supportive of each other. They have to be the type that truly wants you to succeed but also wants to beat you. At the IPA Pro Am I was recently asked why all of the guys that train with me are good dead lifters. Three of us were lifting at that meet; I pulled 810 at 220, my brother Kurt pulled an easy opener at 750 and then locked out 800 but had it turned down at 242 and Josh McMillan pulled a very easy 750 at 275. As it stands currently everyone that trains with me regularly pulls over 700 except one guy that is 49 and weighs around 200lbs and he is very close. And he is so pissed right now that he is the only one that hasn't pulled 700 yet that he has vowed to pull it at his next meet and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen which I believe he will. The answer to why we are good dead lifters is because my training partners want to beat me and I desperately want to stay ahead of them so we constantly drive each other to improve. If you truly want to get stronger find a bunch of guys stronger than you to train with and make your mind up to catch them and then to surpass them.
Critical Bench: Matt, thanks for sitting down with Criticalbench.com today and divulging some insight to your success. Dave Tate has gone on record to say that he hates when this question is asked, but I'm going to do it anyway. Any final words of wisdom for your readers?
MK. If there is one thing I want people to understand and take away as a lesson from looking at my life it is to never let anyone convince you that you are incapable of achieving anything you desire to. I had so many people tell me when I was younger that I didn't have the genetics to get that big or strong and that I would never achieve my goals. With enough desire, discipline, faith in oneself and hard work I truly believe anyone can accomplish anything they put their mind to if they're willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make their dreams become reality.
Matt Kroc Tribute Video
The interviewer Donnie Kiernan is an amateur strongman competitor and a member of the United States Army Reserves. His training methods, interviews of strength athletes and articles can be viewed at Train to Standard. His website caters to military and civil service members, as well as everyday people, who want to incorporate strength training with cardiovascular and plyometric exercises.