This month, I was fortunate enough to be selected to be invited to train my ass off with Dave Tate. This opportunity (officially titled “Train Your Ass Off with Dave Tate”) was posted on Dave’s and elitefts’ Instagrams and was something you needed to apply for. Luckily enough, I was selected, and it just so happened to be the week of my birthday, so happy b-day to me!
As a meathead strength coach, I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from one of the best in the game in a hands-on environment. Dave has not only been an inspiration to me and my strength pursuits, but he also owns a company that carries THE best equipment in the game if you are serious about training.
On the morning of October 19th, only two days after my 30th birthday, I jumped on a 5 a.m. plane headed for London, Ohio. That was only after waiting in the longest TSA line that Providence airport has ever seen. I nearly murdered a security official because I was randomly selected and asked if my lever belt was a weapon, sprinting to my gate, and making my flight by a swift four minutes. Panting in my seat, sweating, heart racing, I buckled up and faded to sleep.
When I landed, after drooling on my plane neighbor (reason number 246,548 why I shouldn’t get the middle seat), I jumped in my rental Ford Fiesta, grabbed a gas station sandwich, and prepped to train my ass off. This would later be viewed as a poor choice of training fuel.
Arriving at the elitefts Compound always gives me butterflies. I have been there several times in the last two to three years for seminars, lifting sessions, and visiting elitefts team members. It doesn’t matter how many times I have visited the Compound, I still feel like a little kid on Christmas upon pulling up. I’m still trying to figure out if I get more excited to use all the elitefts equipment or the fact that I am using the same bars as some of the strongest humans on the planet. Either way, the butterflies are real.
As I walked up to the door, I was greeted by Matt Goodwin, director of sales at elitefts and told to “have fun.” Looking back, I think he knew what was about to go down. Thanks for the heads up, Matt.
I saw the rest of the guys I would be training with when I walk into the gym. We shook hands and share nervous pleasantries. We knew what we signed up for and what this guy is capable of from the videos we have seen online for years. I mean, shit, have you ever watched The Void? I don’t mean just passively watched it — I mean, have you watched it with the realization that YOU were going to be doing that, too? It takes it to a whole new level.
I could spend the rest of this article saying how brutal it was and how many times our group puked (somewhere around four to six times, to be exact), but I will spare the details as that was the magic of making the trip out there. If you want to know exactly what happens, then you need to make the commitment next time the opportunity becomes available. I will, however, share with you my biggest three takeaways from my experience of training my ass off with Dave Tate.
1. No matter who you are and how long you have been training, your form probably sucks more than you think it does.
This was by far one of the biggest eye-openers for me as someone who makes their living coaching athletes and general population clients for a living.
My form sucked.
I don't mean in the sense of looking or performing like I have never squatted or deadlifted a day in my life — I have been training for several years and have competed in strongman for just as long. Strength was not the issue. It was more about having the form appropriate for ME, specifically and having someone with the knowledge and experience alongside to identify your weaknesses and how to progress.
The fact that Dave could watch us squat in a relatively short period of time, make a couple adjustments to form, and have us all hit PRs in the 50- to 100-pound range is truly impressive. This is even more impressive knowing that we as a group had a training age of about seven to ten years.
What can you as the reader take away from this particular point? Simply put, do not rush technique. Do not think you are too good to practice technique. Rushing to lift heavier weights without perfecting technique is a short-sighted pursuit that will lead to a limited potential and almost guarantee a serious injury. Knowing the risk of injury is high in the world of powerlifting, strongman, etc., you do not want to add to this risk unnecessarily because you want to lift with dogshit form. Lifting heavy weight is a skill that needs to be practiced with true intention and you need to make sure all aspects of the lift are performed with precision to get the best results.
2. You are not training as hard as you think you are.
This was the second eye-opener for me as well as the group. In a world diluted with people utilizing RPE, reps in reserve, and autoregulated programming, there is truly an epidemic. That epidemic is the overuse of self-perceived 9 out of 10 and 10 out of 10 when it comes to training intensities.
Most people think that they are training hard and only have one rep in the tank, but I say that is bullshit. Why do I know that is bullshit? Well, that is because I have seen true exhaustion. I have experienced “to failure,” and it is not the place that you think you are at. It is a dark place, and it makes you really hate yourself, everyone around you, and especially Dave, who does not want you to make it through and is standing by relishing in your pain.
If you are the type of person that goes hard five, six, or seven training sessions a week, then you are not actually going hard. You are stroking your ego and probably grunting way too loud in your gym, hoping to have people see how hard you go. The best piece of advice Dave gave us in terms of intensity is that if you are truly training to failure, then you will be too fucked up to train again for the next week and possibly the next two.
There is a negative correlation between the intensity of your training to the amount of time you can train. The harder the work, the shorter the amount of time you can train overall. So think about that next time you “go to failure” because you and I both know that deep down, you are going until you are uncomfortable, not until you fail.
3. Understand your life priorities, and you will better understand your life and your training.
Dave ended the training session (at roughly 11 p.m.) with a great round table discussion where we were all asked about what our top three priorities in life were. I want you as the reader to do this, too. I want you to sit and think about what your top three life priorities are for you at this point in your life. Really, take some time to think about it, and be honest with yourself because it matters.
If you did the exercise correctly, then you are staring at the three most important things in your life. This can be a scary exercise, and you may not feel completely comfortable with what you discover, but it is important for your life, your training, and your relationships to fully understand what makes your list.
My list is as follows:
- Amanda (wife-to-be)
- My athletes’ training
- My own training
This means that in order for me to feel as if I am being honest to my true self and who I am in life at this moment, then these are where I put my efforts into my life and business. If there is a situation that arises where my athletes wanted an extra session, but I am enjoying my time with Amanda, then I do not forgo my priority.
Secondly, if I get put into a position where I need to put my athletes’ programming, training, and success before my own, then I can do so without feeling bad or worrying about missing training. It is simply the hierarchy of priorities. This has helped me release anxiety and guilt around many areas.
With that being said, that is not to say that these priorities do not shift at different points in life, but for the most part, my number one is my number one, no matter the situation. This may be different for you.
The example that Dave gave us was with competitive powerlifters who want to be the best — the athletes who put training as their sole number one priority. Those are the athletes who will truly go places and be able to accomplish big things because, in order to break world records and be somebody in the world of powerlifting, it is a necessity that training is their number one. That means it goes before family, friends, their job, their education, their social life, money — everything.
Dave truly shifted my perspective on how I live my life. There would be times when I was worried about not training at the end of a day of working with my athletes. There would even be days where I would be second-guessing my decision to not pick up another athlete because it would jeopardize me getting a date night with Amanda. That is no longer the case. My mind is at ease because I know the pecking order of the priorities of my life. I know that I am acting by my code of conduct and with the proper priorities in mind.
I hope you, as the reader, take some time to really put your priorities in life down on paper because it can help you see the bigger picture of what is truly important to you. It can also help you reduce some unnecessary stress and anxiety when it comes to having to make decisions both big and small.
I hope you were able to take away a small piece of useful information from my experience of training my ass off with Dave Tate. I want to thank Dave and elitefts for the amazing work they do and for taking time out of their schedules to work with me and the members of my training group.
This was not only a life-changing experience; it was also truly something I will remember forever. It has made me a better coach, a better training partner, and a better overall human because it helped me figure out what is truly important in my life. After I limped away from the gym that night, now I can say that I have learned things that would not have been possible without truly training my ass off.
Sam Brown is a national-level strongman competitor with a master's degree in counseling. He works as a strength and conditioning coach for middle school and high school athletes, teaching them not only how to get strong bodies but also how to better utilize their thoughts and minds to surpass their goals.