Kroc Talk

Damn Good Training Advice

Matt Kroczaleski—Kroc, as his friends call him—is a lifter's lifter. He's the guy you hope to catch a glance of at the gym, the dude you stop to watch as he loads up five or more plates on the bar. It doesn't matter what he's getting ready to do—it could be something as mundane and totally vanilla as back squats—Kroc always seems to make things a little more interesting. (Like doing the following as one non-stop drop-set of squats: 500 pounds for eight reps, 405 for eight, 315 for eight, 225 for eight, 135 for eight.)

At 37 years old, Kroc is an Elite-level powerlifter who's squatted 1014 pounds, benched 738, and deadlifted 810. He's also fresh from a bodybuilding show where he placed first in his class and second overall.

Not bad for a guy with "bad genetics."

And while all those numbers are impressive and while most guys would love to be as big as Kroc, there's something else that he can teach us that just may be even more powerful: consistency and hard work can pay off big time.

Cliché? Sure. True? You bet your ass.

Kroc Bench

Matt Kroc Speaks

My program right now is actually a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. It's a little different, but it's perfect for me. Lots of guys think you can't go after both strength and muscle. It's really not complicated. If powerlifting is your goal, all you have to do is heavy basic exercises followed by some high-rep pump stuff. If bodybuilding is your focus, just work in some heavy days. Why make it a pain in the ass? You can be strong and look good.

Sundayis my heavy bench day. I'm just starting to get back into my shirt, so every other week I'll train with that on. Otherwise, it's raw. After my heavy bench, I'll do some dumbbell incline bench presses, dips, and then a couple of sets of twenty reps on some flys to pump some blood into my muscles. I'll throw in some triceps work, too.

Mondayis my straight-up powerlifting day; I do heavy deadlifts, some assistance hamstring work, and some abs if I feel like I need it.

On TuesdayI do shoulders. It's my main weakness and I know I need to bring them up before I enter another bodybuilding show. I'll do military presses, lateral raises, plate raises, rear delt work, and stuff like that.

WednesdayI train my upper back and biceps. I do dumbbell rows—everyone knows them as "Kroc" rows now—and a couple of different chin-up variations. The rows help with back thickness and my deadlift lockout since I'm holding on to a very heavy dumbbell for a lot of reps. The chins are mainly to add width.

For biceps I just do pump stuff. Nothing too heavy. I might get through my back stuff and be pretty shot anyway. Doing 300 pound dumbbells will fry your grip and make you want to sit down for a while, man.

I take Thursdayoff. FridayI do squats and SaturdayI do arms.

Guys are always emailing me asking if I can write them a program. I like getting the emails, but c'mon man. It's not about the program. It's about how hard you train and how consistent you are. The mental aspect is much more important than the physical.

The perfect program is like a bad blowjob. It doesn't exist.

Look at the program of every champion in bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or whatever. All of them train differently. Yeah, there are some things in common. Like, every powerliftter is going to squat, bench, and deadlift. But the sets, reps, accessory exercises, and everything else is different. If the program was really the deciding factor, then all the champions' programs would look nearly identical.

Hard work, the right mental outlook, and the desire to win. You have to be willing to do what your competitors aren't. That's how I look at my training: I'm gonna take it one step further. It's like Larry Bird or Michael Jordan—they were always trying to be the hardest training guy in their sport. I remember reading about Larry Bird staying after practice for hours to shoot free throws in the dark, wondering if there was some guy out there who was training harder than he was.

"Hardgainer" skinny kids tell me they eat all the time. No you don't, dude. It's not hard. There's a very similar formula: eat more than you burn to gain weight. They get all pissed because they try it for a couple days and nothing happens. Believe me, I've been there.

Kroc Squat

Are you kidding? I had to work to gain weight, man. It's always been slow and steady progress too. I can tell you what I weighed from seventh grade on. People don't want to hear it was slow, though. I get pissed when people say what great genetics I have or how genetically suited I am for powerlifitng or even bodybuilding. Growing up I was told the opposite.

You want actual numbers? All right.

In seventh grade I weighed 100 pounds. In eighth grade I weighed 110. My freshman year of high school I hit a whopping 118. From there it jumped a little more, but it wasn't anything too crazy. When I was a sophomore I was 140. I was 160 as a junior, and 175 as a senior.

When I joined the Marines I jumped up to 187 pounds. I remember me and my buddies talking about how jacked we were. When I got out of the service four years later I weighed 225.

Then in early 2005 I bulked hard and pushed it up to 269. I went to the beach and realized it was the first time I looked better with my shirt on then my shirt off. I've tried to stay lean ever since. In late 2005, I cut down to 230.

Now I'm back at 255, but I'm the leanest I've ever been. I can really say I'm in the best shape of my life. I'm hoping to get up to a lean 270 if I can do it without getting fat.

People like to make excuses for themselves. "Well, he has better genetics." That lets them off the hook.

I don't take time off ever. I squatted four days after I had my testicle removed. It freaked out my oncologist because I bled through the bandages. When I went back for my checkup the next week the bandages were brown and caked with blood. He thought I had a serious infection, but when he opened it up and looked at it, he realized it was clean. I didn't say anything about the squats, though. He wouldn't understand.

Every day you miss in the gym is a lost opportunity to get bigger and stronger. I know guys who'll take a week off after a meet. It's stupid. A buddy of mine did a bodybuilding show and took three weeks off training completely. He was mentally burned out. To me, it's the best time for growth, the time to bounce back and make some serious gains. It's been three weeks since my show and I've already gained 40 pounds. Granted, a lot of it is fluid and glycogen retention, but I know a lot of it is muscle, too.

I've always believed that training is an evolution not a revolution. I think the most effective thing you can do is make small changes a little at a time so you can evaluate what works and what doesn't.

I've never really been one to look at a magazine and just pick a program. The only time I changed drastically was when I first started with Westside and trained with more experienced guys. It was a huge revolution in training, especially in the late 90's. Back then it was this "secret" program that a few select people were experimenting with.

No disrespect to Louie Simmons, but I think the success of Westside wasn't necessarily due to the programming. It was the atmosphere, man. If you get a bunch of huge guys in the same gym competing against each other I don't care what program you put them on—they're all going to improve. Everyone wants to be top dog. That's what drives them. I'm not knockin' Louie's programs, because there's a lot of good stuff in there. But the environment is key. When I recruit guys to train with, I want them to push me. I'm gonna try to increase the distance I have over them and they're gonna try and close the gap. That's how it should be.

Some of the most intense workouts I've done were when I was alone. When I was prepping for my first Nationals back in 2000, I was going to school full time and working full time, so I trained at midnight.

The gym was in the basement of the oldest building on campus—probably early 1900's—and it was a dungeon. Old, dirty, and hotter than hell since all the hot water pipes ran through it.

I also had to break in. I'd go in there in the day and unlock a window and then crawl through it later that night.

Anyway, one of my big goals for that meet was to squat over 800 pounds. I'd stare in the mirror, looking exhausted and think, fuck, I don't feel like being here. But that's when you've got to man up and start the self-talk. I'd force myself to do it.

And once I got into the workout, I'd just kill it. During that training cycle training in the dungeon, my squat went up 70 pounds.

Spotters? Nope. You just don't miss the lift.

If there's one lift that plays mind games with me, it's the deadlift. There are times in training where the bar just doesn't want to budge. It's glued to the floor. But I know it's all psychological. The physical strength is there, but mentally I just can't activate all my muscle fibers to move it. I'll try pulling 600 pounds—something I should be able to do for a half dozen reps—and I won't even get one rep. It frustrates the shit out of me.

That's why we started betting each other on lifts. I remember pulling a hard single with 605 pounds, but I was planning on going to 705. My buddy told me I wouldn't pull 655 let alone 705. I asked him if he wanted to lay fifty bucks on it. He agreed. I went up and fucking smoked 705. All I needed was a little pressure to perform. I've made some money off my training partners that way.

Matt Kroczaleski

Nah, I don't purposefully try to make money. Although it's not a bad idea. I just perform better when there's something on the line.

What do I think is the best exercise for each body part? That's a good question. OK, let's go from the bottom up.

For calves I gotta say the Arnold-style donkey calf raise where you have your training partner sit on your back. Yeah, it looks a little gay but for some reason that angle just always worked my calves the best. I'd go with stiff-leg deadlifts off a four-inch platform for hamstrings. Also, nothing builds my quads more than hard and heavy squats. I like doing sets of 10 to 20 reps.

For my back I do dumbbell rows for very high reps and weighted chins. When I do abs I like sit-ups with a 45-pound plate held to my forehead. A heavy bench press is my number one pick for chest, although I like using dumbbells, too. I like doing heavy barbell shrugs for my traps—my personal best is 825 pounds for 10 reps. For my shoulders I do strict barbell military presses. I love doing skullcrushers for triceps although they aggravate the hell out of my elbows, and I like basic straight-bar curls for biceps.

I think that's every major muscle group. Did I miss one?

My brain? Ha! Okay. Well, my advice to make your brain bigger is to challenge yourself with something you're not sure you can do. I mean, don't be an idiot and load the bar up with 800 pounds and then collapse on the floor or anything.

But pick something slightly out of your reach—something slightly beyond your perceived limits—and force yourself to do it. It builds tremendous confidence. Pretty soon you'll see yourself as unstoppable.

There has to be a point where you say, "I'm the biggest and strongest I'm ever going to be." But I'm not there yet. I expect to get better every year and compete for at least another decade. It's gonna be a strange day if I ever decide to stop. But I can't fathom it now. I love to train, man. Love it.