Interview 4x Scottish Champion Strongman Ken Nowicki! Proud Owner of KNStrongman.com (2016)
On Fitworldexposed, we like to talk a lot about how you need to bring up your shoulders with vertical presses if you are trying to get that enhanced look and strongman competitors hands down have some of the biggest and strongest shoulders on the planet. They exemplify how you don’t need a massive chest to look big either. They may not be the leanest athletes, but who cares? As far as sheer size and raw strength is concerned they are unmatched and in my opinion they are the most entertaining athletes to watch.
This is why when you are trying to get good at anything you want to study the people who have mastered the craft that you desire if you really want to excel!
So without further ado, lets get into it!
What made you want to start competing in Strongman, how old were you when you started and did you play any sports before? What do you feel differentiates the strongmen from other athletes?
I had watched strongman on TV for years as a teenager and eventually heard of a local contest so I went to watch it. The next year I competed in it at 17, a week before my 18th birthday. I didn’t really play any sports, just soccer during free time at and after school. I think the biggest differentiation is that we can’t just focus on one or two aspects of athletics. We need to be strong, mobile, agile, have muscular endurance as well as enough work capacity to move with weight too. It’s a very complex sport to train for.
What are some of your goals for this year as far as lifts are concerned?
The biggest was a 800lb deadlift which I achieved at the North American Log and Deadlift Championships in June. We’re now in off season training so I probably won’t hit any maxes until next year now.
What are some of your lifetime lifting goals that you will be extremely happy, satisfied and content with if you eventually hit them?
Initially it was to win a contest, then qualify for UK’s or Britain’s Strongest Man, then win Scotland’s Strongest Man. I did all those and was satisfied each time, but always wanted more. After detaching my bicep in 2012, and moving to the USA in 2013 it took me some time to get back to where I was. I just qualified for the Giant’s Live Tour so now the goal is to qualify for World’s Strongest Man, and then make the finals there.
How many days are you currently training per week and how long are the sessions usually lasting?
Right now we just went to 5 days, and they vary in duration. One day currently is more of a mobility day so that’s shorter. Weight days will be approximately a two hour session.
How many days per week do you soft tissue work with foam rolling, lacrosse ball work along with stretching? Also how long do you usually do it for?
I have some stuff that I need to do on a daily basis, breathing exercises etc and then before each session I roll certain things like feet, traps with a ball. Stretching I need to get better with but when I’m doing it properly it will typically be fore around 20 minutes.
What is an underrated technique tip on the strict press that most people overlook that helped out your press by a lot?
I think a big thing that people don’t do is to use their lats when they press. I will get my grip, then rotate under the bar and squeeze my elbows together and then brace my triceps against my lats. That way when you come to press everything is very stable and you can get the most power transfer into the bar.
Do you incorporate Z Presses into your program and if you do then what benefit have you gotten from them exactly? If you do incorporate them then at what height do you usually set the pins and why? Also tell us some common Z press mistakes that you tend to typically see?
I haven’t done them too much to be honest, but when I have I did enjoy them. I think one major issue is that people will lean back too much and make it into an incline bench almost because they use too much weight. From what I’ve seen a lot of the movement is based upon bracing your core and then staying stable throughout the press movement.
Do you ever incorporate shoulder pressing rack lockouts (standing or seated) in order to increase your top half vertical pressing strength strength?
I have in the past, when my press was a lot poorer than now I would have a whole tricep day and I would do a lot of seated lockouts to help build that top portion of the lift.
What are your top 3 favorite direct tricep exercises to do in order to help improve your lockout for your vertical pressing variations? What rep range do you also work with in these tricep exercises and how many direct tricep exercises do you typically include in your program when you are really trying to bring up your press?
When I was doing my single tricep day I would focus on close grip bench press, seated lockouts, at times dumbbell floor press and a lot of Tate press for growth. I found that hitting those big heavy movements and then doing a lot of hypertrophy work was one of the keys. I’d typically go 3/5/8 on most exercises with something like the Tate presses being extra volume so it could even be up to 15-20 reps on those at times depending how my elbows felt. if they were sore I’d take a lower weight and do more reps.
Strongman competitors do a lot of One Arm DB shoulder push presses, what are some tricks/tips/cheats that you could give the viewers on how to use more weight on this exercise? A lot of people underestimate the weight that they could use on this lift because if you use your whole body properly while having your technique dialed in then you could move a lot more weight.
The biggest tip would be to learn your groove. It’s not a strict press, your basically trying to brace the dumbbell there and then jump to press it. Use your lat to help stabilize and then jump and punch it.
How many days per week will you do vertical pressing variations when trying to improve your vertical pressing strength?
I used to do it probably twice a week, now that I don’t do my own programming it could be once or twice, just depends what we have to prep for.
Here is more of a bodybuilder question, whats your take on doing the behind the neck press for building bigger shoulders? Do you think that it is really that essential for bigger delts? Also do you find that they have a good carryover to strict press and what grip width do you usually use if you do them? Also how low do you usually bring the bar on behind the neck presses?
I have done them in the past more as an accessory movement for higher reps to just add a different pressing angle into the mix. I don’t know if I’d say they are essential, but because the deltoid has three heads hitting them from a multitude of angles is key. I would take a wider grip than normal when doing them, and if I had the choice I’d use a smith machine as I’d only be doing them for hypertrophy and that takes a little bit of risk out of the movement. I would come to around mid head for depth.
Since strongman is a sport that is based a lot on the shoulder press, how much horizontal pressing variations do strongman competitors usually incorporate when trying to bring up their press? I know that sometimes certain strongmen don’t want to get too caught up in the benching because then it could potentially affect their overhead pressing numbers so how do you program benching in a way that doesn’t hinder your vertical pressing work (while obviously enhancing it)? (Ex: closegrip benching for stronger triceps…etc)
When we put benching in my program it’s more of a hypertrophy exercise to build some more mass on the chest and triceps. We’ll also do close grip and floor press with a 3/4 lockout too to over stress the triceps. Depending on the phase of training things change drastically. One thing I think is important to mention is that if you look at all the big pressers in strongman, they all have huge bench press numbers. In my opinion the key to not having the bench affect your overhead isn’t down to the exercise, it’s down to not maintaining shoulder mobility and not training the upper back enough so that the shoulders protract forward reducing active ROM.
How much can you Military press x 1 vs Bench press x 1?
I’m around 290/300lbs vs 350/360lbs.
We all know that low reps are important for getting stronger, but so are high reps as well. What is the highest rep range that you ever go to for vertical presses and why?
Again all depends on training phase, right now cause it’s hypertrophy we could be up as high as 12s, for strength phases it’s triples or fives typically.
Direct rotator cuff work is a controversial topic in the lifting world because some people say that its not necessary if you are doing a lot of work overhead while others say that they can’t do an upper body session without doing it, do you incorporate any?
I’ll incorporate it in upper back and press days, but I also put it in as rehab work as it prevents protraction of the shoulders and reducing ROM of the shoulders. Also, if you have weak rotator cuff muscles there is extra pressure put on the long head of the biceps to help stabilize the glenohumeral joint. I’ve actually see a proximal biceps detachment because of weak rotator cuff and the extra work that LH biceps has to perform.
Crucifix holds are a staple exercise in strongman events, do you find that they help your OHP strength and improve your side delt muscle development? Also what is the heaviest that you have ever done on crucifix holds and for how much time?
In my opinion they aren’t going to aid in strength, it’s basically an anaerobic muscle test and whilst there is muscle taxation I don’t think it would help with strength much. Possibly thickness. I think I’ve had 20kg or more, I honestly can’t remember the specifics of that event much.
You have one of the thickest upper backs I’ve ever seen, are there any movements that you really swear by for thickness or is it just a variety of different exercises? (Ex: high pulls)
There’s nothing I really do specifically, I used to shrug a lot but I think bent over rows, rear felt work and heavy deadlifts are really the key.
What is the most weight that you have ever rack pulled in your life (from around knee level)?
In the gym I’ve pulled 800lbs for a set of 8 from around that height. In contest I have pulled 880lbs on a silver dollar set up.
What exercises do you do for direct rear delt work and do you ever do any direct neck work? Also do you see any benefits in doing your direct rear delt work in a cheating motion or do you like to keep your reps smooth and controlled for the most part?
I will do seated or standing rear delt flyes as well as face pulls. I feel those done in a controlled fashion add the most hypertrophy to that area, and I don’t do any neck work.
Whats the fattest handle that you ever had to hold on to during a strongman competition? Do you ever use 3 inch+ handles in your training for grip work?
I can’t think of any farmers handles in a contest that have been much above standard, the thickest bar would probably be a 2” axle, and I have a special piece of equipment from Havyk called a Triad with multiple handle sizes. Mine is custom and the only 100lb one in existence so I’ll use that for certain stuff to add a grip element in there too.
What are your favorite exercises to directly hit your core and do you do any direct oblique work? Also tell me how you progress these movements overtime in order to make them a lot more challenging? Whats your take on stuff like Reverse Weighted Crunches, Weighted planks and leg raises?
I don’t actually do anything too specific, a lot of my core training comes from not using a belt and explosive movements with a med ball. I feel some of the weighted things are too technical for people unless you have a good understanding of how the body works. Most people don’t train their abs on crunches but rather their psoas and other hip flexors.
Strongmen need really strong lower backs to have a longer career especially with all of the stress they put it through with all of the vertical presses and deadlifts. How heavy do you go on direct lower back training, what rep ranges and exercises do you like to do on average?
We do a lot of deadlifting, and then on the side reverse hyper and glute have raises are other staples. Rep ranges will depend on training phase again, such as if prepping for a contest specifically or in a general strength phase.
Do you have any hobbies outside of lifting?
I’m a big movie buff so I’ll watch those in my spare time, as well as cooking, hiking and now that I live in the US I’m starting to get into more hunting too.