Dave and Jim: The Seminar Years

TAGS: the seminar years, elitefts seminars, Jim Wendler, dave tate, Elitefts Info Pages

A few weeks ago, I went to a seminar at elitefts and was amazed at how far it has come. The weight room was packed with attendees, coaches and volunteers. There were half a dozen squat racks/monolifts, benches and platforms, all being coached by four or five people. The volunteers were up and about, helping, giving encouragement and shouting cues. This was an amazing sight and the energy was palpable.

However, things didn’t start like this — there were no volunteers, no other coaches, and rarely more than one rack and one bench. It was just Dave and I, flying across the country, staying in stranger’s houses or bad motels, and working our asses off to help people. We didn’t get paid much and we didn’t have much support from others in the industry. It wasn’t very glamorous but this was probably some of the best times in my life.

I owe a lot to Dave — he is the first person to give me a shot. He believed in me and thought I had something to offer. To a young person trying to find his way, this was all I needed. I didn’t know what way I was going, only knowing that somehow this would lead me to where I wanted to go. Hell, I still remember the first time I asked him if he’d like me to write an article for elitefts.

What I learned from Dave wasn’t about training. He taught me about being in the industry and how to do it correctly. It wasn’t about the quick fix; it was about the grind and the process. And as Dave learned, I learned. We did a lot of things right — and goddamn did we screw up too. But the one thing I have never told Dave is this: I never worried. When you get him in the captain’s chair, he will steer you through choppy waters and come out clean. He kept things steady when things were bad. It’s hard to know the value of this until you work for someone that can’t keep the wheels on.

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For those new to elitefts, understand that things are much different than when I was first hired. We were in a tiny space that stored the inventory, desks AND weight room. Dave and I are probably the only ones that did just about every job at elitefts. Hell, I remember packing up orders with Dave, slapping labels on them in the summer. We had no air conditioning and we ran around the office shirtless. We answered phones, took orders, wrote articles, coded the articles, did seminars, stocked inventory, wrote copy, did phone consults, and packaged orders. This is only a handful of things we did. After my first week at elitefts, Dave trusted me enough to leave for a week with Traci on a vacation. That was an interesting time for me and it threw me in the fire.

So here is a brief story of two guys, traveling around the country trying to spread the good word.

The First Time

My first seminar was actually as an attendee. Dave was hired to do a private seminar for the university where I worked. I was familiar with Dave from his days at Jason Burnell’s Deepsquatter website. Jason doesn’t get enough credit for putting together Deepsquatter (how funny is that Dave did stuff for a website named Deepsquatter?) and having article from Louie Simmons and Dave Tate. For years, this was one of the best websites on training. However the real treat on the website for me was the Q/A section. Dave answered questions every couple of weeks and his responses were great. One particular person asked Dave how to get faster in his bench press. Dave responded, “Push harder.”

Now, if you have read the Q/A on Deepsquatter, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t edited and Jason just copied/pasted the emails that Dave sent. This was how Dave and I first bonded.

After the lecture portion of the seminar, I talked to Dave and we bullshitted for awhile. He asked me what I thought about the lecture. I sucked up some confidence and told him he needed to fix some grammar errors on the PowerPoint presentation. I just talked to Dave about this recently and he still remembers it. It wasn’t about being disrespectful to Dave; more it was only going to make the presentation better. We spent two days together, him helping out the football team and helping fix technique, etc. It was then I asked Dave if he’d like some articles from me. I had been writing a ton of stuff on my own and never had an avenue to publish them. He read over some of the stuff and agreed to publish them. From that point on, I was part of elitefts.

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But the real story about this time isn’t about the bond we had from the seminar but from learning Dave’s quirks. For example, I was on the phone with Dave and when he was done talking, he just hung up. There wasn’t a goodbye or any formal send off. Just hung up the phone. I called up Bob Youngs a couple days later and told him I thought Dave is pissed at me and relayed the story to Bob. Bob just laughed and said, “So you got the Dave Tate hang up too?”

Now the best one was when Dave sent me an email asking if a certain article was done — I responded with one word, “Done” and sent it off. Dave responded with “You think I’m done? I got years left and no way any injury or set back is going to ruin me. I’m going to be stronger than ever!” and so on. About two paragraphs of this. Yes, I was as confused as you probably are. That, my readers, is Dave Tate.

Arizona

Dave and I went to Arizona several times to do seminars and this is where I met the great Joe Kenn. Joe was awesome to have around and we got to train in the ASU weight room and just hang out and eat good Mexican food.

The first seminar we did was in Tucson, home of the University of Arizona, where I attended college. We were picked up at the airport by Jesse Lanier, who might be one the funniest and craziest people I’ve ever met. Jesse and I hit it off and went out that night to some of the old bars I used to go to. We ended the night at a dive bar and saddled up to the bar for some drinks. Some girl came up to me and asked me to buy her a drink and did her eye flutter/hair flip as an exclamation point. I told her to get lost and she got very upset and started mouthing off to me. And just as the juke box switched songs and a lull in the bar came to, I said to her, “Honey, your ass is too fat to have that attitude."

The bar erupted and the girl stormed out. Jesse was dying and still to this day, that’s still one of the best lines I’ve used on a woman.

This same seminar was the first time we met Chad Aichs and Mark Bell. Mark wasn’t very big, probably around 200 pounds or so. He told me he was training for wrestling and I asked him what weight class. “No, no, no. I mean wrestling, like body slams and figure fours.”  He had the biggest shit-eating grin on his face.

It was at this seminar that Dave first saw me upset. At the time, I was interning and had little income. My income was about $700 dollars a month and I struggled to eat and afford anything. When one of the attendees complained that he didn’t have enough money to afford this/that, I remarked how if you save your money and spend only what is necessary, you can eventually afford just about anything.  Dave then told them to cut out stuff like beer and drinking on the weekends. It was then I erupted, “No!  You don’t cut out the alcohol. Find something else but keep the beer.”

You never know what you’ll learn at an elitefts seminar.

Arizona: The Sequel

We did another seminar in the Tempe area, and if you’ve ever been to Arizona in the summer, it’s hot. I don’t care if it’s a dry heat, 120 degrees sucks.Thankfully, the chateau we stayed at had a broken air conditioner so we had to sleep with the doors and windows open to get any breeze we could.

So here are two large men, in their underwear, lying above the covers, with the doors and windows wide open, getting no sleep. Odd, for sure. The worst part is that the hotel had a 24-hour porn option, so Dave decided that the lustful skank moans would help soothe our heads. Now let me preface this by saying that a year or so earlier, Dave called me and asked me my address. He was going to send me some stuff. I was excited! Was it a canvas squat suit? A GHR? A new squat bar? I waited anxiously for my new toys. A few days later, UPS shows up at my door with two large boxes, totaling 78 pounds. I open them up to find each box is stuffed full of VHS porn. 78 pounds of porn. Now this was way better than a squat suit or any piece of equipment. And most of the tapes were rewound, which is key, because you never want to know where the last dude decided to stop the tape. That would give you a glimpse into a part of him you’d rather not know.

So on this hot Arizona night, I slept with one eye open, and two eyes cinched tight. Dave outweighed my by about 30 pounds then.

Jesus and the 8 Keys

Before elitefts hosted seminars in the gym, Dave and I went to some interesting places. The seminar host was responsible for the arrangements and it didn’t always work out so well. We’ve done them in huge gyms, key clubs, university weight rooms, and even garages. Hell, some hosts simply forgot to reserve space at all and we had to wing it. One place I had to speak was in the basement of a church, which gave Dave great amount of laughs. He kept taking bets on which was going to burn first: me or the church.

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As I did more and more seminars, Dave let me do the lecture by myself. I used to think it was to get me experience and that he had faith in me. Perhaps there was some truth to this, but the reality was he was much more comfortable catching a nap in the back of the room. During the Church seminar, we took a break and asked him how he thought it was going. He responded, “I have no idea. I didn’t listen.” Dave was busy writing the 8 Keys article that premiered on t-nation and probably the most-read Dave Tate article ever. To this day, I claim that article as my own as I’m sure he WAS listening and furiously taking notes.

Joining the Club

For one seminar, Dave and I met in the Detroit airport, him flying in from Ohio, me from Kentucky. We were catching a flight to a seminar and my walk to the terminal was a little apprehensive. I had to confront Dave about something and wasn’t quite sure how to bring it up.

I sat down next to Dave and said, “So I was reading Supertraining this week and got to the part about concurrent and conjugate training.”

Dave looked at me sternly and then began laughing.

“Yep.”

Boston

Murph always hosted a great seminar in Boston. Every year it was always the biggest seminar we did, which is pretty amazing since it was done in January and Murph forgot to put heat in this gym.  Murph is a great guy and someone I genuinely like, which is why I don’t talk with him much. No sense in ruining a friendship with communication.

My first Boston seminar, I met Dave at the Boston airport at luggage claim and were waiting to be picked up my Murph. Dave asked me if I had met him before. I told him I had not.

“Boy are you in for a surprise.”

Murph dresses horribly. Horribly. Huge sweatshirts complete with Zumbaz pants and a fanny pack. Every bad fashion trend was represented. Now, if you're Brad Pitt or some other “hot” celebrity, you can get away with this style of dress. He doesn’t get this exemption though as, putting it politely, Murph is not attractive. However, when you think about it, perhaps his fashion was a conscious choice to divert attention from his face. If this is the case, bravo Murph!

Murph own TPS gym and picked us up in his company truck. It was about as tastefully and subtly logo-ed as his attire. As we were driving around, Dave asked him if the truck had helped business, etc.  He said it did and it was a good investment. Dave then asked him why he didn’t put the gym’s phone number on the truck seeing as that would be a good way for people to reach him. Murph didn’t quite have an answer for that.

Boston, Part One

Many people don’t realize that elitefts seminars were run by Dave. Once it got above 30 people, Dave would take me along to help out.  We had no other help – just two guys and as many as 90 people. Seminars were two days. Saturday was lecture and the squat. Dave and I would have a entire presentation and questions were answered. Sunday was going through an actual bench session with all the participants. We’d talk a bit about bench technique (“Lay on the bench press. Now press the bar”) and everyone was given the opportunity to do a full workout.

Saturday was the hardest and longest day; we spoke for six hours or so and worked with everyone on their squat. The day wasn’t done until everyone was taken through and their squat analyzed.

One year, Dave couldn’t attend the Boston seminar. This was last minute so I was left to handle over 75 people on my own. This wouldn’t be bad if it wasn’t only a lecture – the squat and the workout part would be almost impossible. I got through the lecture and started the squat session. At just after 9:00, I had worked with everyone and was exhausted. One squat rack, one coach, over 75 people. To put this into terms everyone can understand, on that one day, I personally worked with three times the amount of people than the majority of internet fitness experts have in their lives.

I sat down on a bench and a man came up to me and said, “I feel like you cheated me today.” I stayed for another half hour as apparently 12 hours of lecture and coaching was just not enough.

Boston, Part Two

Aside from the yearly elitefts seminar at TPS, Murph had another seminar that had various speakers including myself, Dave, Jason Ferruggia and Alwyn Cosgrove. I owe Jason a lot in my life as he was the only friend I had that took me aside and told me to shave my head and just give up on having hair. For that, I will always be grateful. Now if any of you know Cosgrove personally, the dude is funny. Not occasionally funny but every goddamn second. Everyone at the seminar got paid the same amount, as the profits were divided equally. Cosgrove and I concocted a plan to see how much we could piss Jason off and get him to fight Murph.

Cosgrove and I, along with the other speakers, met for dinner and drinks after the seminar. Making sure to make it sound like small talk, Cosgrove and I remarked to each other how much we made and how we couldn’t believe the seminar brought in so much money. Of course, we inflated the amount quite a bit. Jason overheard us and got pissed. He kept asking others how much they made and we made sure they were in on it too. We let this go the entire dinner and Jason was stewing. We eventually gave in and let him know the joke but Cosgrove can sell a joke as well as anyone.

As a side note, we actually have film of that dinner/drinks/conversation. After viewing it the week after the seminar, just about everyone decided it would be in NO ONE’s interest to make it public. I’m sure today with all the social warriors, we’d be boycotted by every group of idiots that has a cause but no life.

Note: Rhodes and Vincent were there and Cosgrove desperately wanted to be part of Rhodestown. We finally relented and gave him the title “Stripper Bus Driver.” He couldn’t live there, but he was free to travel around and make sure the strippers were safe.  Remember that women weren’t exactly falling off the trees in Rhodestown, so you had to import the affection.

The Motherf*cker

One of the things people don’t realize is that in the beginning of seminars, things weren’t always very smooth. Elitefts didn’t actually “host” the seminar – it was done by whoever wanted a seminar. We’d promote the seminar but the money was collected by the host. Then the host paid us and kept the rest. He could charge whatever he wanted, provided he gave us X amount of dollars, so some hosts could make some money if they promoted the seminar correctly.

As you can imagine, we had some interesting hosts over the years. Most good, some bad, some odd. One of the strangest situations Dave and I have ever been in was being driven to the hosts house – he picked us up at the airport and we hung out at his house for a bit before we ate. As Dave and I were sitting on the couch, the host had to use the phone or something at he left us alone. We hear some noise from the bathroom and out walks the host’s mother in her bathrobe. She squealed and apologized for not having her face on and hurried off into her room. Dave and I just looked at each other and were amused/confused but brushed it off. There’s no shame in living with your parents, as times can be tough for everyone.

Finally the host returned and his mom came out and we began talking. Eventually, the host introduced what we thought was his mom, as his wife. I couldn’t look at Dave because I knew he was thinking the same thing. I bit my tongue in order to not laugh. While having a May/September romance isn’t a big deal, it is when the woman looked exactly like Mimi from The Drew Carey Show.

Uncle Eddy

This may be one of the weirdest encounters I ever had during a seminar. The seminar was hosted in the Midwest area and I was living in Kentucky at the time. I told Dave I would meet him there and drove there on my own. We were to meet at the house of the seminar host. I had never met him before, nor had Dave. So we were scheduled to meet there at around 7:00 p.m.

I arrived first, rang the doorbell, and was greeted by a man wearing the highest pair of pants I’ve ever seen – they were pulled about three inches from his armpits. This fashion faux pas was accessorized with a very healthy dose of Imaginary Lat Syndrome. I silently cursed Dave for making me endure this alone.

I got a tour of the large house and then was brought into the Trophy Room — creatively named by the owner due to the large amount of trophies in the room. Now, I’ve played a lot of sports and was pretty good. I finished first most of the time. And I have never seen so many trophies from one person, in one sport, that really hadn’t done anything. He took me through some of his more prized plastic gifts, bragging for a half hour about this, about that and really not impressing anyone but himself. Looking to change the conversation, I asked him what he did for a living. He responded, “I make a lot of money.” This answer still haunts me to this day.

Finally the doorbell rang and I was saved! Dave was here. But it wasn’t Dave; it was Ed Coan. Ed had some time off and asked to come to the seminar and just hang out. The host greeted Ed enthusiastically.  The host also instructed his young child to address Ed as “Uncle Eddy.” I didn’t think anything of it as I was just excited to have a buffer between me and High Pull Pants. After a couple minutes of small talk, the host ran upstairs and I greeted Ed. I asked him how long he knew the host.

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“I’ve never met him in my life.”

Whatever disagreements Dave and I have had with training, work, life, Ohio State football – being late to this guy’s house is the only thing I have never forgiven him for.

Vibrators, Selkow and Lat Pulldowns

“She sounds hot!”

This was Dave’s statement to me about the contact we had for a seminar in California. We were flying out to the west coast for a seminar for a private facility and incidentally, where we first met Harry Selkow. Dave was convinced though that the girl was a supermodel based on the timbre of her voice.

“Anyone that hires us to speak isn’t hot. Trust me.”

That blew the wind out his sails.  Reality sometimes hurts.

During the seminar Q/A, we were asked what attachment we liked best for the lat pulldown. Dave responded, “Whatever attachment is currently on there is the one we use.” Not satisfied with the response, we were then asked “Well, let’s say there wasn’t an attachment on the machine.”

Without looking at each other we both said, “Then we aren’t doing lat pulldowns.”

On Saturday night, Dave and I went out with a bunch attendees for some dinner and drinks. Dave doesn’t drink much and is pretty sloshed with two beers. I’m a different story. I can put them away.  We were all sitting on the patio and I kept excusing myself to go to the bathroom. After two hours, Dave asked me why I was so drunk.  I had as many beers as he did and he couldn’t understand.

“Every time I say I’m going to the bathroom, I go to the bar and I’m doing a few shots.”

As usual with alcohol, the subject of sex comes up and I got to talking to a girl about dildos and vibrators. Very appropriate. She tells me what she likes and I tell her I have a hook up and I’ll have them send her some sex toys. Dave is just amazed at this and laughs. When she gets up to go get some drinks, Dave leans over and asks, “What kind of hook up do you have?”

“The internet.”

By the way, Harry Selkow hasn’t changed at all. This was probably 10 years ago and even if you don’t know Harry personally, his energy can be best described as, “Meth with a touch of Cocaine.”

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SWIS Conference

The SWIS conference was held every year in Canada, land of hockey, polite people, the denim tuxedo and of course, more hockey. The SWIS conference (which stands for Southwestern International South, I think) was a huge conference that had dozens of speakers from all parts of the world. In fact, it was at this conference that I learned of the coffee enema (told to me at breakfast) and was also told I have Parkinson’s disease (I was tapping my foot to a beat). So as you can imagine, this was an interesting event.

We attended the SWIS conference twice, Dave being a featured speaker each time, me just helping out. Although looking back, I really didn’t do that much and I suspect that Dave took me in order to not feel totally alone. Let’s put it this way: during the opening remarks there was a photo on the overhead screen of one of the  SWIS speakers pulling 405 pounds. People GASPED in the audience at the sheer amount of weight on the bar. That kind of sums it up.

The first year we went, Dave had no plan. I don’t mean he had “kind of a plan, but we will play it by ear.” I mean NO PLAN. None. All the speakers had the opportunity to set up a booth. Our booth literally consisted of me and Dave sitting behind a folding card table. Dave brought some bands to sell, so we expertly laid out the bands by dumping them on the table. That was our booth — no sign, no big cardboard display, just a table with some bands dumped on it and two fat dudes sitting behind it.

The SWIS conference was great for me as I got to meet a lot of new people in the industry. And it was at the booth that I got to meet Mel Siff. Siff is a character. Louie has some funny stories about Siff and I kind of wrote them off as being inflated by time. Not the case after meeting him. Mel walked up to Dave, Dave said hello, and then without any prompting  Mel said, “I haven’t found much evidence of the Soviets using plyometrics.” Then he said goodbye and left. That was it.

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Dave made a killing on the bands, all cash. This was smartly invested into the Canadian economy via the wonderful strip clubs of our northern neighbors. I don’t know how strip clubs in Canada are now, but back then it was nothing more than showcase for prostitutes. Going in, I did not know this. Leaving, I was fully aware.

It was at this conference that I met Ed Coan. I literally ran into him at the airport; I was walking with my head down and bumped into him. I saw him on the plane I was on, which was ironic because that week Dave and I talked on the phone about it being comforting that at least when we were on a plane, we were probably the strongest guy on there. This was proven to be horribly wrong when you fly with Ed Coan. However, and I told this to Ed that day, he had just injured his knee and had surgery, so technically I could out lift him that day. So there’s that.

I also got to meet Martin Rooney, Joe Defranco and Tom Myslynski (Milo), with Martin taking us on what seemed to be a 12-mile stroll through the city to eat at Gretsky’s restaurant. I say 12 miles, but it was probably one. See, Martin and the Parisi Warm-Up Guys are always in great shape. I’m guessing it’s because of the jumping jacks but I can assure you, Dave and I were in no condition to walk two miles, me especially. My lower back was so pumped up that I had to rest at every block with Dave just laughing and the rest of the guys baffled. This should have been a wake-up call but you know, that’s the price you pay for the glory of powerlifting.

The SWIS conference was great for one reason: it was the first time Dave and elitefts were getting some respect outside of the very small powerlifting world. It may not seem like a big deal now, but it wasn’t too long ago that we were truly outsiders in the fitness industry.

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