In my typical fashion of being late on everything social I finally watched Westside Vs. The World and I have to admit I really enjoyed it. I think they did an outstanding job of showing powerlifting at the highest most intense level during an awesome time in the sport.

As I watched, it brought back many great memories from my days competing at that level. It also reminded me of the many friends I met during those years. It filled my mind with many thoughts, the biggest of which never even got mentioned in the movie. These are thoughts I think lifters need to hear and understand, but they are just too long for my Instagram. So an article they will become.

Let me start by saying I owe a lot to Louie and Westside Barbell. So much so I have a tattoo on my shoulder of a pit bull with a barbell (from my imagination; no copyright infringement intended) that says, “Prepare, perform, prevail.” That was a small tribute to Dave Tate and elitefts along with Louie and Westside. Without these guys, I would have never achieved what I did in powerlifting. These are accomplishments I am very proud of to this day.

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I started lifting with bodybuilding magazines and books in high school. I then moved on to learn a lot about lifting from my throwing coach in college. I did a cross between the two and experimented for years until I found powerlifting. This happened in 1997, and this was where my strength training knowledge really began to skyrocket. Dave and elitefts and Louie and Westside were the major catalysts that caused this. I will not claim to have done their exact programs but they were always the base of what I did. I have great respect for Louie and Westside. I have great respect for Dave who trained under and with Louie, then took it his own direction.

In fact, I have so much respect for Louie that I was proud when he found my father at my first WPO meet and tried to convince him to get me to move to Columbus so I could train at Westside. I never moved there because I knew my path was doing it on my own terms with my own team, but still, I was very honored. I took great pride in the fact that I was putting up bigger numbers than any SHWs at Westside during my WPO days. That alone was an awesome accomplishment. I enjoyed every chance I got to speak with Louie and always listened intently to what he had to say about strength training and powerlifting.

During this movie, I just kept thinking, “Yeah, that was fun.” At the same time, I thought it doesn’t have to be that way, and how much stronger could we have gotten if we would have done it better. Still, I love the stories about guys training to the extreme and about guys having over-the-top dedication. I love those stories of stupidity and have so many of my own that I tell with a huge grin on my face.

Hell, I almost took my own life because I gave everything to powerlifting, and it doesn’t get much more extreme than that. I pushed my body to the point I would be up for days and weeks with no sleep. I pushed my body so far I was burying myself in depression because I never let it rest and heal. I would sit in my little living room with a gun to my head, bawling my eyes out, just wanting the pain in my head to go away. I would be trying to convince myself to not do it while another part of me was trying to get me to do it. My alarm would go off and immediately I flipped a switch into training mode because it was time to go to the gym. After training, I would be back sitting in that same chair going through the same fight.

I could not deadlift without pain in most of my competitions because I would never take the time to let my hip heal up. There was never time to back off, just time to get ready for another meet and another chance to put up a bigger total. In the 1998 WPO finals, I tore my hamstring about six or seven weeks out while deadlifting. I tore it again a few weeks later getting ready for the meet. I tore it severely on my first attempt at the meet. I then called for an even bigger squat of 1,173, which took two attempts but I got it. I then benched 805 with no leg drive and little support. It took three attempts, but I refused to lower my opener because of a hamstring. I still managed a 755 deadlift with basically one leg to finish second behind Andy Bolton.

In my first WPO meet, I broke the three-lift bench press record. What most people do not know is that I took it on my second attempt and dumped 810 on my belly. I sprained my wrist pretty badly during that, but I still called for it again. After having Ethan wrap my wrist as tightly as possible, I came back and hammered it. The soonest I have ever trained after a competition was about 15 minutes because I was so pissed at my performance I trained in the warm-up area before they cleaned the weights up.

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I have torn just about every muscle or muscle group in my body at some point or another. All of these times involved doing something stupid or because I was not listening to my body. I felt I was too hardcore to stop or listen to my body! I have had many insane training sessions that would put most people out of commission for weeks. I have been up for as long as 10 to 14 days and never missed a training session or meet because of it. Yes, it is hard for me to tell these stories without smiling and thinking I am a badass, but at the same time, I can honestly say it was stupid. In hindsight, I know I took it too far, which ended up putting me further away from my goals and stopped me from reaching my true potential.

In the movie, they talked about being an old and broken soul. They talked about how at Westside, you’re either on top or you’re nothing. You’re nothing until you reach the top and you’re a has-been when you fall off. I laughed at this and thought I am just an old and broken soul. I do joke about being a has-been, but I know my soul is in the best shape of my life.

The thing is that in this sport you are quickly forgotten and that is a major shame. There is so much to learn from the people who have been there before us, they save us precious time avoiding the mistakes they made. When I first met Dave, he was beginning to focus more on his business, but I did not care. I still to this day do not consider him or any lifter that was on top a has-been. They just moved on to a different role for the lifters who actually understand who they are. I see it as a progression of what we love.

Those lifters who wish they could stay on top forever or that do not want their records to ever be broken do not love the sport. The great ones evolve with their time. I often wonder how many lifters do not pay attention when they should because they do not understand who they are talking to. I include myself in this, but then again, I rarely talk about my competitive days unless someone brings it up.

For those who do not know, I destroyed drug-free world records and then moved to non-tested. I broke records there and even broke the bench record in my first pro meet. I did some of the highest openers in my time. I put up top-10 totals and squats in my day (I think fourth was my highest). As far as I know, they are still pretty high ranked but maybe not top-10 anymore. When I talk about strength training, it is from experience at the highest level. It is that same experience that tells me we did it wrong and there is a much better way.

Look for more in Part 2 of this article series, where I will write on about my thoughts from the documentary. I go deeper into why I think we did it wrong and how future lifters can learn from this.

Hopefully those of you who have not seen Westside Vs. The World yet will be more intrigued to do so now and maybe even see it before you move onto Part 2 of this series.

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Part 2: Widening My Tunnel Vision

Part 3: Redefining Dedication