Tom Sroka: Giving Back to the Barbell

In the newest episode of “Coffee with a Coach,” Jim sat down with Tom Sroka. Tom is an elite athlete, competing at a world-class level in the Olympic weightlifting, Highland Games, and pretty much anything that requires strength and power.

Tom owns and operates The Strength Agenda, a gym located in Villa Park, IL that specializes in getting people stronger no matter their background or experience. He has coached high school and college athlete, and currently works with both novice and elite athletes from various strength sports: Highland Games, Powerlifting, Strongman, and Weightlifting.

Tom is a self-proclaimed “strength nerd.” His brand of coaching is built on an incredible depth of knowledge, willingness to experiment and learn from others, and commitment to building strong coach/athlete relationships.

Not much has changed for Tom since the onset of the COVID quarantine.

He spends less in-person time with athletes, of course, and he misses the energy of his gym. But Tom was prepared for this. He says that 60-70% of his coaching was already occurring online. The biggest variable of all – distance – is one that Tom was prepared to jump.

When the social distancing regulations came into play, he rented out equipment to his gym members and adjusted his programming. When a change was needed, he immediately went into action.

His concern is now for those young people who do not currently have access to the internet or a home computer, or if they do have a computer, access to a teacher who can deliver education using unfamiliar technologies. For many – students, teachers, and parents – this is uncharted territory. Tom believes we all need to “relax a little and forgive each other” if we want to make the most out of the situation.

After all, the quarantine is not all bad. Tom recognizes that he has “seen more families out for walks, people are spending time together… there are definitely positives coming out of this situation.”

It all comes down to perspective.

The rigors and stressors of the week have changed. One could look at this time as boring, or as a time of endless opportunity. You could complain that there is nothing to do, or you could read the book you always meant to if only you had some free time.

Students can be frustrated with technology and upset that they have to stare at their screens for remote learning – that’s fair. But they could also choose to be grateful for the technology that has put us in position to get ahead of the spread of coronavirus, ultimately saving countless lives.

If we choose to see this time as an opportunity, then we allow athletes to enter a place of self-discovery. Self-discovery is a trait Tom has always valued in his athletes, so he is intentional in reminding them during remote training. “I’m not right next to you any more, you’re going to have to figure some of this out on your own.” Tom reviews film to give motivation and guidance from afar, but it is ultimately on the athletes to make the most of their training sessions. That increased level of ownership might be life changing.

Still, it takes a talented coach to guide the ship from a distance. Tom is doing it as well as anyone out there. And he continues to give back.

It takes a talented coach to guide the ship from a distance. Tom is doing it as well as anyone out there.

The Good Athlete Project is hosting a one-of-a-kind online powerlifting event aimed at giving athletes hope, strength, and connection through the quarantine. Tom is dedicated to helping athletes excel in this event, so he has offered access to his programming:

“When athletes purchase the program they will get a welcome email to me inviting them to the program with instructions on downloading the app, and a link to a facebook page for those only on the program. This can serve as a forum for folks to ask questions about the programs, definitions, exercises, modifications, and just share whatever they feel like in a community type environment. 

The program itself is 100% unique for this event.

I have been tinkering with my own variation of submaximal training and couldn’t think of a better time to roll this out. The program is based around 92.5% of their max which is the percentage I use as an opening attempt for my competitive lifters. It allows athletes to push without risking injury, creating that needed GPP in the competition movements, and allows for auto-regulation on the athlete’s part so they can learn when and where they can push themselves and when to pull back.”

The program works. In addition to being a champion himself, Tom has produced championship strength athletes at his gym. If you’re looking for a boost, sign up today: https://thestrengthagenda.pushpress.com/open/subscribe/50f3

Why is Tom giving back to young athletes? Because “the barbell changed [his] life.” He found the weightroom in high school, when he says he was not the most talented athlete, but willing to work hard. He worked hard. Now he’s an elite strength athlete.

The barbell changed Tom Sroka’s life and he wants to support the same experience in others.

Wherever you get your training plan from, be sure to stick to it. Consistency matters. Intensity matters. The community of strength matters (even if it’s from a distance).

Hope to see you all in the upcoming virtual powerlifting meet. Until then, remember to stay healthy, stay connected, and stay strong!