Mountain Dog Pukefest

A great example of strength of will versus science and genetics can be found in the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca. In the movie, Vincent (Ethan Hawke’s character) beats his genetically enhanced brother in a game where they swim out into the ocean seeing who can go the farthest before turning back. Since Vincent has the flawed DNA of those born before genetic engineering, his brother Anton finds it inconceivable that he could be beaten, as Vincent never came close to victory in the past. He demands to know how Vincent bested him.

“You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.” –Vincent

An example of that same type of leave-nothing-in-the-tank philosophy took place this past Saturday at the S-4 Compound.

I refer to it as the Mountain Dog Pukefest. The video gives you a good idea of what took place, but I wanted to go inside the heads of the participants because what they did was a sure sign of psychological imbalance.

The abbreviated Saturday morning crew this weekend consisted of a powerlifting contingent comprised of Ted Toalston, Stevie Gabrielsen (who drives two hours here every weekend from Indianapolis), elitefts’™ equipment expert, Matt Goodwin, as well as his father, Alan, round out the line-up.

Across the gym, John Meadows came in with his crew: Bill Willis, Ryan Smith and James Seals. They came to meet elitefts™ founder Dave Tate, known for skulking hood-up around the gym, looking like either the Angel of Death, an angry monk, or someone ready to knock over a liquor store.

Now the meeting of Meadows and Tate is either a great combo, or the worst damn thing that ever happened to either of them. Like Lennon/McCartney, Roth/Van Halen or Hetfield/Ulrich, there's a synergistic magic in the combination that drives things to another level. Both trained for over three decades. Both faced and overcame injuries and hardships that would permanently retire most lifters. Most incredibly, even with all the mileage on their bodies, neither one of these lifters eased up or switched over to "maintenance" workouts (which we all know really means “surrendering to steady decline”).

Both possess strength of will that, if they were to ever engage in a Gattaca-style wager to see who could swim out the farthest into the ocean, would end with them both lost somewhere amongst the major shipping lanes. God help their training partners.

Speaking of their training partners, the balance of the Mountain Dog crew earned a spot in this psychological dumping ground by virtue of

  1. stumbling into a John Meadows workout
  2. surviving the workout
  3. something being improperly wired in their neural connections that caused them to continue showing up

When you converse with these guys prior to a training session, they seem to be perfectly normal. After watching them train, I imagine them closer to a smiling Dexter Morgan handing out doughnuts to his co-workers.

James Seals trained with John for 14 years and is a true warrior. A past NPC Mike Francois Classic bodybuilding winner, he has the quiet, reserved composure of a high level assassin. James is still a bit shaky from a broken leg suffered in a motorcycle accident last year, but does not show it. His pain threshold is ungodly high and he tries to outdo his training partners on each and every set.

Willis and Smith fulfill the science needs of the crew, with Bill Willis completing his doctorate in physiology (while competing in drug-tested bodybuilding events) and Ryan Smith working as a chiropractor and ART practitioner. Both are technicians and offer invaluable critique of body mechanics and performance. They differ from the traditional science geeks in that they really should know better and should train in a more reasonable manner. The lessons they learned in the gym however, trumped their classroom curricula. “Reasonable” falls painfully short of what they expect of themselves, but on Saturday, February 25…reasonable must have slept in.

The Workout

For John Meadows, anticipation of leg day commences as he leaves work on Friday. “If I’m not careful, I can’t even sleep because my mind races so fast. It’s my favorite time of the week, and I would equate it to being a spiritual experience.” In the Mountain Dog faith, spiritual enlightenment is found in the cleansing fire of a lactic acid baptism.

A mainstay of the Mountain Dog training philosophy is that each workout is unique. This was coined “The Weider Muscle Confusion Principle” by Joe Weider because he never took any formal college coursework and would be confused if someone used the term “neural adaptation.” Anyway…John is a firm believer in changing things up by providing different angles, exercise orders, loads, resistance curves, ranges-of-motion and stimuli each session. He believes this keeps the mind fresh and the body adapting.

Meadows does however, stick with some things that work. When it comes to leg training, he tends to kick things off with some variant of leg curls as a warm-up. A hamstring pump not only gets some blood flow into the lower body, it also creates a cushion for the ass-to-floor deep squats that John favors.

After 6 to 10 sets of hamstring work, Meadows will say, “Okay, first set!” He never fails to find endlessly entertaining. Tate gives him hell about this. The rest of the crew typically refrains from eye-rolling since they're intent on getting into the mental zone required by Mountain Dog training. The game plan is to do three warm-up sets of eight on the lying leg curl, followed by the work sets of eight, and one final finisher set of eight reps followed by 20 partials out of the bottom.

For spectators, it's hard to distinguish exactly at what point the leg curl warm-up becomes work sets, as the aggressive training mindset eventually kicks in. “As I finished up the last set of leg curls,” Meadows recalled, “I was cranking on the machine so hard it started moving, helicoptering to the side. It was kind of cool, made me feel like a little bit of a wrecking machine.”

Enter the Spider

As they head over to the squat rack, Tate (who was out-of-town the previous weekend) yells out, “I heard you guys didn't do shit last Saturday but f#$% off and talk!" Poking at the hornet’s nest, this serves as just a harbinger of impending ruin brought closer to fruition when Meadows and Tate deliberate over which bar to use for the squat.

“Last week we used a Buffalo bar, the week before it was a safety squat bar,” Meadows said. “This week I wanted to try the big cambered bar, but Dave had an even better idea…the Spider Bar.”

Between sets of glute-ham raises, Ted Toalston saw the storm brewing, “I knew the leg session was going to be crazy when they chose the Spider bar for squats. Dave has previously gotten pretty crazy when using that bar. Now, add to that the desire both he and Meadows share to outdo each other on a weekly basis...and BOOM!”

The Spider Bar has a deeper camber than a typical Yoke bar. With collars, it weighs roughly 90 pounds and has a lower center of gravity. It also requires more stabilization, which throws greater emphasis on the quads. It isn't fun, but it's a very effective quadriceps punisher.

While Meadows drops down impossibly low in his squats in true Platzian fashion, Tate takes his down to a box. “Out of everyone in the group, I'm the most beat up,” Tate said. “Using a box helps my back and knees tremendously. John wanted me to be closer to free squats, so we opted to use the soft compression pad to allow for less stopping on the box. This also makes it harder to drive off the box on the way up. Over the years, I learned how to use the box to drive off of, so when I have to touch-and-go, it's much harder. As you can see in the video, some of the reps were touch-and-go and some were pausing. I'd say the paused reps were due to either needing to get air or allowing my groin to ease up. In addition to those problems, I also have disk issue where I'll shake at the top [of the squat]. This is due to nerve compression and I didn't have much luck trying to work around it. Ted suggested I do 3/4 reps and just stay out of the shake zone and this seemed to work out okay.”

As Tate shared his laundry list of battle wounds, I reached for my prescription pad, and then remembered that I'm not a doctor.

“Dave starts the rotation,” James Seals said, “and with each successive set I’m thinking that there's no way we can go much heavier." But, Meadows continued adding pairs of chains on each set. “I'm really wondering how far can this go, but like the rest, I just do it as it comes."

The use of bumper plates is not driven by ego and wanting to appear on video with a fully-stacked bar. They allow for a wider placement of the chains, so that they do not pile up on the base arms of the Monolift, which would throw off the lateral balance of the load and turn a somewhat unstable exercise into a circus act.

“I knew it would be hard,” Meadows said. “So, we went with it and began to work our way up. Initially the weight felt heavy and awkward. Having never used the bar I thought, ‘man is this bar this hard, or am I just weak today? But as we went, I did find it a little easier to get into a groove.”

The crew worked through six warm-up sets of eight reps. They quickly rotated through the line-up and climbed from just the bar (90 pounds), to the bar and one plate (180), to two plates a side (270), to two plates and a quarter a side (320). From that point on, the working sets began. The strategy was to begin with three plates a side (360) and two sets of chains for the first working set. From there, a pair of chains was to be added each successive set until the fourth set was done with eight pairs of chains. That was the agreed-upon strategy, but as things progressed, Tate began to formulate his own contingency plan.

“What you see in this video is the third set,” Tate said. “My first two sets were full of shaking − my back hurt, my knees hurt and I felt like crap. I made the decision to just go for broke on my third set in hopes that John's ego will have to follow suit and do the same. My plan worked perfectly, and as you can see, there wasn't a fourth set.”

“Dave asked me to come spot and cue him," Ted Toalston added. “That’s when I knew that shit was going to get crazy. The first set I spotted him for was for six reps. They were awful and that's when I learned the program was only for sets of six. No big deal. Next time Dave was up, I came to spot and after six he growled ‘I’m not done!’ and refused to rack the weight.”

“I knew that SOB was going to do something crazy," Meadows added. "He always does. We were doing sets of six and all of a sudden he goes into ape shit mode and does 20 reps. With this weight and in particular, with this bar, that's pretty damn impressive!”

At this stage, the spectators all stopped what they were doing. Alan Goodwin recalled, “It was the most intense thing I have ever seen.”

Seals said, “Dave did something none of us saw coming. When he refused to rack the bar, and did f$%&ing 20 reps, I shook my head – he went full-loony with that set.”

“He was nearly convulsing at the end trying to keep going, so I know he was giving it everything he had,” Meadows said. “Puking up glowing yellowish-green bile was also a pretty good indicator he pushed himself to the limit.”

Ted Toalston, who was running the monolift, had a front-row view of things. “Dave stumbled around for about 10 seconds," Toalston said. "I honestly don’t think he even knew where he was, before dropping to his knees and gagging. You could tell his body wanted to puke, but it just wouldn't come out. The loud gagging followed by the foamy greenish shit that came out, started to make my stomach turn. After several minutes, he got back on his feet and made it to a chair.”

“Dave set the bar high,” Meadows said. “But he went first. That always allows me to think of something even worse, a way to push myself even harder.” Determined to live up to expectations, Meadows declared his intentions to match Tate’s set and tack a strip set on top of it, to the point of passing out. "Let’s see if someone can match that,” Meadows said.

Meadows thrives on unreal training challenges, so no one should be surprised to see him grind out 20 reps, remove the chains in order to hammer out five more, and then drop two plates each side and perform five final excruciatingly painful squats.

“As I went through my drop set, pain began to set in and I got angry,” John said. “No way was I not going to extract everything possible from my body. As the burning and fatigue set in, something changed, and I just stopped thinking and being angry. Instead, I started listening to my partners’ cues. They always tell me to do more. To breath a certain way, to stay tight, etc. That becomes paramount to me so that I don’t do something stupid and injure myself.” After the last rep Meadows crumpled to the ground in agony. “I was seeing little stars like you see in the cartoons when someone gets smashed over the head,” Meadows said.

Toalston had a front-row seat to watch Meadows as well. “As soon as he racked it, he just collapsed right there under the monolift. His eyes were glazed over and I think he was in shock. He didn’t puke, but it appeared to me that he was having an out-of-body experience."

After that, James was up and followed suit with 20 hard, hard squats. “I heard everyone there yelling and cheering, but honestly by the time I hit 12 reps, I was screaming inside," James said. "My quads felt like someone was tearing the meat off the bone and I still had to do at least eight more reps because I wasn't going to pussy out in front of them!"

“My drop set began after a torturous 20 reps and I didn't even make it to five,” James continued. “On my fourth one, I cannot put into words how on-fire my quads felt. I began shaking my head, and we racked the bar. I quickly walked off for fear of falling right there on my face. I was kind of lethargic at this point. I shook my head, and hoped that rattling the brain in my head would get my equilibrium back.”

Bill Willis stepped up to the rack next, not squatting as deep as Meadows, but gritting out 20 clean reps. Ryan Smith's chose to squat down to a padded box set at parallel due to a severe lower back injury (which he refuses to let limit him). He drove them up like a machine.

“The color of their faces was a shade of purple that I can't remove from my mind,” Matt Goodwin recalled. “After they stopped dry heaving, the craziest thing of the session happened next, they went to the leg press. WTF!”

Pressing On

Tate described the continued ordeal after the crew moved to the leg press machine to do one all-out set. “We started with four plates per side and did four reps, holding the weight at the top," Tate said. "One plate per side was loaded and four more reps were done. Then, one more plate and four more see what's happening. By the way, these are not really rest-pause. You only pause long enough for the plate to be loaded.”

"Dave went first again and went up to something like 13 plates,”Meadows recalled. “I was still wobbly from the last set of squats, and I was determined to beat him again. Well, on this exercise it wasn’t meant to be. I was one plate short of reaching Dave’s weight and my legs pretty much just quit functioning. The searing burn was excruciating. Once I crawled out of the seat, I crawled over to the trashcan and began dry heaving in it. I heard James, Bill, and Ryan complete their sets, but when I looked over, I just saw blurry visions of them leg pressing. I actually crawled over to the other side of the gym onto a bench and was laying there trying to gather my senses when Dave came over and told that three exercises ain’t gonna get it done today.’”

“On about the sixth grouping of four reps, the searing pain digs in, and it took all I had to finish," James Seals said. "I rolled off the machine and did my best not to crumple to the floor because Dave was already yelling at Meadows for impersonating a rubber gym mat.”

Extending Further

“On this one, I told Dave to call the plan, so he said to load the leg extension up and go to failure,” Meadows said. “I let everybody else go first out of the goodness of my heart. James and Dave hit 40, Bill hit 37, and I hit 34 before my legs just went out of commission again. My quads were literally so full of blood, I looked like a damn penguin when I was walked. I started to feel a sense of relief at this point, as I knew that we were close to being done, but I still wasn’t talking out loud at this point. I was starting to wonder how long I would have to sit down before driving home."

After his set, Seals visited the ever-popular trashcan. “I did some hard coughing and heaving again. I never did catch my breath. I sort of wished I could throw up and make it go away!”

Meadows likes to bookend his leg training with another hamstring movement (usually a stiff-legged deadlift variant). On this day, Tate chose a Power Squat Good Morning since Meadows wasn't back to being fully competent. Two sets of 12 reps left to complete the workout. The entire training session was a total of eight work sets, but like the swimmers in Gattaca, the dedicated lifters sprawled in chairs in the elitefts™ gym left absolutely nothing in the tank.

“We were done and sitting around the big office table in the middle of the gym,” Meadows said. “We were all coughing, dry heaving, and laughing at having done all this crazy shit. Ted Toalston approached me and said, 'I used to respect you, but now I see you just have a screw loose.'"

Meadows smiled and added, "I took it as a HUGE compliment!"


Rackable Cambered Spider Bar

EFS Normal Knee Wrap

Monster Mondo Leg Press