Most of you have probably never heard of Dan McKim. Dan is currently one of the best Highland Games competitors in the world, having won the National Championship from 2010-2013 and the World Championship in 2011 & 2013. I met Dan at the CSCCA Conference in Salt Lake City this year, where we were both working the Sorinex booth (I was promoting my Hip Thruster to the various strength coaches). Dan and I instantly hit it off. Even though he looks like Goliath, he’s a wonderful guy.
BC: Dan, first things first, who do you think would win in a fight – you or me? Just kidding buddy, trust me, I wouldn’t ever mess with you after seeing your hang power snatch prowess. Please tell us a bit about yourself, and be sure to include your height, weight, and age.
DM: My money is on you, bud. What’s the saying … “if looks could kill?” I kid. I kid.
I’m 32, 6’5″ and my body weight fluctates a bit depending if I’m in season or off-season (290-295 in-season, 300-305 off-season). My wife and I have five young boys, ages 7, 6, 3, 3, 15 months. And yes, for those keeping score at home, we have a set of twins in there! We live in Kansas City, Missouri where I work as the Midwest Rep for Sorinex. I like long walks in the rain, my favorite color is red … okay, that’s probably enough.
BC: Twins – oh no!!! I have a twin and we put my poor mother through hell, but you have 5 boys in total, I couldn’t even imagine how much of a handful that is. Props to you. Now tell us a bit about The Highland Games. How many events are there?
DM: The Scottish Highland Games is part track and field throwing and part strongman. People always ask me what I do, and I tell them, “big guys in kilts throwing heavy stuff.” You know, Bret, pretty much your family reunion, right?
It is comprised of eight (internationally) or nine (US and Canada) events. That’s what helped interest me in the sport; throwing across various disciplines. I was a collegiate thrower and always loved throwing, so this was a great transition for me.
BC: How does one start learning more about The Highland Games if one is interested in training and competing?
DM: The best tool is www.nasgaweb.com. It’s the North American source for discussion, training, technique work, schedules, ranks, equipment sources and more. Other than that, YouTube is a huge asset in training and competition development.
BC: Perfect! Now let’s talk training. When we were lifting together, you informed me that you can’t squat deep, and I saw that you have a nasty case of buttwink when you try to squat rock bottom. Clearly you have deep hip sockets and can’t squat deep due to your anatomy. How do you work around this? Do you do half squats, or just avoid squatting altogether?
DM: Well, since I met with you, I’ve started to switch my set up a bit. I have started to think of “pinning” my big toes to the bottom of my shoes, which forces my knees to track better and keep me from hitting rock bottom. Since our talk, my knee pain has improved; thanks, man. As I prep for this off-season, I’m excited to move my depth from letting my buttwink hinder and hurt my squat development. I’m excited to see how my numbers and strength improves now that I can squat more appropriately within my anatomy.
BC: You don’t deadlift from the floor, correct? I imagine your posterior chain gets plenty of stimuli with all the Olympic variations and throwing you do, would you agree?
DM: I do. I hurt my back years ago moving weight from the floor, so I decided I couldn’t risk it any longer if I wanted to continue in my sport. I do Olympic variations twice a week and get my posterior chain work through lots of back hypers, glute ham raises, curl work, and modified deads such as RDLs and straight leg deads. And I think you make a good point about the throwing I do. I met with a collegiate strength coach who put me on their Force Plate to test my strengths and weaknesses. Given the movements I do in my sport, I was very posterior dominant. The throws I do are very reliant on a strong posterior, and that was very evident in my testing!
BC: When we were training together, you were doing hang power snatches, and I believe you worked up to 315 lbs for a set of 3 reps. What are your favorite explosive lifts in the weightroom?
DM: Haha! You have quite the memory, my friend. Yes, I believe the hang snatch to be my favorite explosive and most transferable lift for my sport. After that I think the hang clean is the second best for me. (Bret’s note: I randomly found a video of Dan performing hex bar jump squats so I embedded it below)
BC: You were already a fan of the hip thrust when I met you, but I showed you the American deadlift and the rounded back extension, which work the glutes thoroughly as well. Your glutes were burning like crazy after just one set of all 3 exercises. How important are the glutes in Highland Games competitions? Do you incorporate any specialized glute training in your program?
DM: What an awesome day that was! I’ve since added the rounded back extension (love it) and hip thrusts more readily in my programming. Like I said earlier, a strong posterior is critical for my events, so adding in the things you showed me has not only helped my training but also my back health. Sorinex sells a glute ham roller, a new piece, that I love doing leg curls and glute ham bridges with. So, in short, I’m realizing that the glutes are very important to my sport, and my time with you and on the Force Plate helped reiterate that to me. (Bret’s note: below is my friend Jim Kielbaso showing off the glute ham roller)
BC: Yep, preaching to the choir! Tell us more about your training. How do you split it up, and how many exercises, sets, and reps do you typically perform?
DM: Many people accuse me of doing a “bodybuilding” split, as I like to break my days into muscle groups and movements. Because I love to lift, this allows me to get five days of lifting in each week, pushing it hard every day. My programming is broken up into three phases: Volume, Hypertrophy and Strength/Power. As I progress into each phase, the reps drop while the weights increase. Right now, I’m doing this over a 14 week period with a few rest weeks in between the phases. Here’s how I break it down each day of the week:
Monday – Bench press, close grip, triceps
Tuesday – Hang clean, back squat, posterior chain
Wednesday – Back and bis
Thursday – Incline, strict overhead press, shoulders
Friday – Hang snatch, front squat, anterior/quad
BC: Okay, so I can see why some people say it resembles a bodybuilding split, but it’s easy to see how it would still be very effective for explosive sport training as it contains two pressing days, a pulling day, and two heavy/explosive hip and leg days. What are the strength feats that you’re most proud of in the gym?
DM: Probably my 341 lb. hang snatch and 500+ lb. bench press.
BC: Not too shabby my friend. What do you feel is most important for training for Highland Games – powerlifting style training, weightlifting style training, or strongman style training? Or is it a combination of all three? I imagine you’ll say weightlifting.
DM: Great question! I think weightlifting is the most transferrable but there have been many a successful thrower from strongman and powerlifting backgrounds. I like aspects of all for a successful highland games career: just being strong never hurt anyone!
BC: Good point. What are your current bests in the various Highland Games events?
Braemar Stone: 43″9″
Open Stone: 56’7″
56# Weight for Distance: 47’5″
28# Weight for Distance: 94’9.25″ (North American Record)
22# Hammer: 132’2.75″ (World Record)
16# Hammer: 157’7.25″ (World Record)
Caber Toss: We’ll throw a different caber at each event
56# Weight for Height: 18′
20# Sheaf Toss: 35’2″
BC: Awesome. How do you mix in the event training throughout a typical week? I’m assuming that you have somewhere to train locally where you can perform the various competitive lifts.
DM: I have all the throwing implements at my house, so when it’s time to practice, I load up my truck and head to the park. I have at least two locations near my house that I can throw at, and thankfully the cops know me at this point. In prior years, I’ve had the police watch me and even ask to, “clean up when you’re done.” During the season (April through September) I’ll typically practice the events two to three times a week. But, during the off-season I won’t practice the events at all. For me, both mentally and physically, I have to have an off-season away from the sport. I’ve been competing in it for 10 years now, so it’s becoming more and more important that I don’t bury myself with the Highland Games. When I first started, I was so addicted and excited about throwing that I practiced five to seven days a week for 18 months straight; rain, snow, cold … it didn’t matter. While I got a lot of volume in, I wound up inured as my body never fully recovered for either throwing or lifting, as I was still lifting five days a week.
BC: Yep, all of us lifters have to learn this lesson as we age. Now let’s talk eating. You’re a large man. Do you know how many calories you typically throw down per day? What about macronutrient split?
DM: I hit about 3,700 to 4,000 calories. I don’t necessarily count them, though, as it’s a struggle for me to maintain a high body weight. If I want to stay around 300 pounds, I have to consciously eat all the time. I also don’t focus on the split like I should: I just try to eat more protein!
BC: I met Matt Vincent the year before at the Sorinex Summer Strong conference, and he’s another strange combination in that he’s a humble, gentle giant just like you. Am I right that it’s usually the two of you battling it out for first and second spot?
DM: In the past four seasons, I’ve won two World Championships and Matt has won the other two. We’ve been going at each other for a few years now, and it doesn’t look to be slowing up anytime soon!
BC: Now let’s talk roids. You’ve never used them. Some of the guys have, and some are now using testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT). You believe that this is unfair, right? Please elaborate.
DM: I’ve never used steroids and have held a strong stance against PEDs my entire career. It is sad, but any strength sport will have guys who feel they need to cheat and destroy their bodies to throw far. Personally, it makes it fun when I beat them, knowing the things they are doing. Unfortunately, a popular item is TRT, which is on virtually every commercial break or radio sponsor that you hear. What I’ve been fighting for in my sport is, essentially, the same rules that the NCAA, IOC, SHGA, WADA, etc. all have in place. Even the UFC, now, disallows TRT as an acceptable “medical” treatment. Yes, I believe it is unfair. Without rules against it, nothing would stop a guy from taking a full year off the sport and getting completely gassed on steroids. Then, when they were ready to compete again, since they now have low “T” from their steroid use, they could get prescribed TRT to keep their levels high. TRT should be in place for older men with hormone function issues, not men in their 20’s and 30’s in strength sports. It’s a sad state of affairs, I believe. Just a few years ago putting testosterone in your body was considered a PED or even steroid use; without question. Now, we’ve slapped a medical term on it to make athletes tell themselves it’s okay to do. Thankfully, it’s still considered a PED in mainstream sports, but my sport has been soft on it. I’m working with a few of the bigger competitions in this sport to help eradicate that. More to come!
BC: Great points. Let’s switch gears. Be honest, do you ever throw some curls into your workout to pump up the guns? It’s okay Dan, we all want a biceps pump. And on a serious note, is there anything about your training that other competitors find surprising?
DM: You better believe I do! I work them in once a week for looks, but mostly for auxillary work. For me, they fit in nicely with my upper back work, which is important for events such as the caber and hammer. And, as you already know Bret, the fastest way to put on size and weight is through upper back work, glutes and hammies. I just figure the curls help me with upper back work, right!? Haha! Other competitors find the “bodybuilding” split I build my workouts around to be surprising. I’d say that, along with the volume of work I do each week. I love to lift. I’m a meathead. So, for me to get the most done in a week that I can, safely, I split my workouts into muscle groups so I can turn around and train hard the next day. When I’m done competing, I’ll still program like this, as I simply love to work out.
BC: Glad I’m not alone in my affinity for curls. Okay, I’ve always noticed that I’m pretty good at rotational actions such as throwing, swinging, and striking. In fact, I’m often better at these activities than my much stronger lifting partners. Do taller guys have the edge when it comes to Highland Games, or is height not a major factor?
DM: Taller guys do have leverage advantages as well as release point perks, but I’d say your success in those actions is due to your athleticism. You are an athletic guy, Bret, which translates well, I believe, into those movements which are more athletic than a static box squat or deadlift. That’s why I’ve always said that a good thrower is both strong and athletic. In the Highland Games, we are throwing such heavy implements, that you truly have to have a base of strength that rivals other strength athletes (strongman, powerlifting, weightlifting). But, it’s the combination of strength, athleticism and explosive ability that makes you a formidable and successful thrower.
BC: Amen! Great interview Dan. I wish you the best of luck in the future. Where can readers follow you and find out more about you?
DM: Always an honor to chat with you, man. So many of us appreciate your work and expertise. I really do thank you for helping me line up my programming better. I’ve got a few ways people can follow my competitions, training and life in general.