elitefts™ Sunday Edition

First published: December 8, 2002

“What the hell was that? It can’t be that bad!” This is what I kept thinking after I missed a 600-pound bench press for the second time in the gym. “Screw it! Keep the bar loaded! I am going to get the son of a bitch this time!” However, that third miss was the one that really did my shoulder in. Now I had to find out whether I was hurt, injured, or fucked up—this is how I define the three stages of injuries.

When you are hurt, it's really no big deal. For the powerlifter, or for any athlete who has pushed the envelope with maximal weights, you are almost always hurt somewhere. Usually, it is just a minor strain that will go away in a day or two, or even just after a few more sets. But when you are injured, it does not go away in a few days, and it may require some time off and rehabilitation work. When things get really bad, you become fucked up. When you reach this stage, no matter what you do, things don’t get better. It can also be an injury from long ago that just keeps creeping back. Now, I had to find out what stage I was in...

During the next bench workout, I could not lower the bar without pain. It was like someone was sticking a knife in my neck. I trained around it for a few weeks, but it did not get better. At this point, I knew that I was somewhere between injured and fucked up. I tried to do those things that did not hurt, but unfortunately everything I did hurt my shoulder. So after five months of pain, I decided to see a doctor. Five months without being able to bench 315 pounds was a clear indicator that something had to be wrong. I was told that I had four bone spurs that needed to come out and a torn terres major that needed to be fixed. Surgery was scheduled and I was going back under the knife. On the way home from the doctor, I wondered to myself, "why in the hell do I do this?"

I awoke that day at 4:30 a.m. to get to the hospital for a 6:30 a.m. surgery. As my wife drove me to the hospital, I wondered how long it would take to come back. After having surgery on my torn pec, it took 18 months to break my personal record, and I didn’t want it to take that long to come back from this. So, right there in the car, I started planning how to rehab in the fastest time possible.

As I was checking in, the nurse asked how I injured myself. I told her about the years of abuse and strain that I had been through. She noticed the other surgery on my record and asked if that was also from training. I told her that it too was from lifting, and she then asked the question, in the cold room with nothing on but a revealing robe, she asked the very question I had asked myself earlier, “Why do you keep doing it?” I laughed it off and went on my way to pre-op.


This place felt worse than I had remembered, and I felt as if I was off to death row. The anaestheologist introduced himself and told me he was going to numb my arm. He pulled out the biggest needle I had ever seen in my life, and I realized that he was going to drill this thing through my trap...and judging by the length, it would probably reach my elbow. As the needle broke the skin, he asked how I injured myself. I told him of the 20 years of abuse from the sport of powerlifting. He knew the sport! Finally, someone who understands! Yet, as he finished, he turned to me and asked, “Why to you keep lifting when you are as beat up as you are?”

I had been asked the same question two times in the last 30 minutes. I laughed it off again, but this time something made me stop and think. As they rolled me into the operating room, I saw my doctor standing there. I was beginning to fade out of consciousness, but I still had the mind to tell the doctor, “Take care of me. My life is in your hands.” He assured me that he had performed this operation a thousand times before and had yet to lose anyone. Lose anyone? I was talking about my bench! Doesn’t anyone understand...or am I just crazy? Then the question came back into my head, “Why do you do this?” Before I could answer the question, I had passed out.


I found myself in the gym and noticed a certain smell...A unique blend of sweat, chalk, silicone spray, and liniment. This is the same smell you find in any hardcore gym. The smell of hard work, pain, and discipline. The smell of courage, desire, and pride. The one that brings to mind the great training days of the past and the better days to come. To a true lifter, this is the smell of home, the place you want to be. Many spend years trying to find such a place and end up starting their own gym in their garage or basement. Wherever it is, they all have the same smell. I thought to myself, “Could this be it? Could the smell be what it is all about?”

While waiting for our regular start time of 8:30 a.m., I always begin the process of applying the liniment. During this time my training partners are filtering in. One walks in and says, “Have you guys heard this one?" and "Did you hear what so and so said?” The next guy arrives and asks, “What are we going to do today? It doesn’t matter, I am going to kick all your asses.” Someone else walks in, starts talking trash, and a bet is made. This goes until 8:30 a.m. and then the training begins. This half hour is reserved for talking trash, catching up, cracking jokes, and applying liniment. Some light warm-up work may happen during this period but nothing serious. I think to myself, “Could this be it? Could this be why I do what I do? Is the kinship and camaraderie with my training partners the real answer?”

At 8:30 a.m. the attitude of the gym changes. It goes from comedy and friendship to aggression and war. The main movement is the first of the session and the most important—the max effort movement. This is the one where we try to break records. The one that will either kill you or allow you to stand undefeated. The music is turned up—DMX, AC/DC… it really doesn’t matter as long as it is loud. I feel my heart rate begin to speed up and the aggression building. As I look around the room, I see the look of aggression in everyone’s eyes. If you were to walk in the gym at this time and had no idea what was going on, it would be best to turn around and come back later. As I looked around and heard the music and felt the aggression, I wondered if this was why I do what I do.

As we start the max effort movement, we begin with light weights and take small jumps. As we work up to the courage weight, the actual max weight, I grip the bar and feel the cold steel in my hands. The sharp knurling of the bar digs into my callused hands; the hands of someone who has spent a life with the iron. Shrek hands with sausage fingers that love the feel of sharp, cold steel. Each time I grab the bar, it brings with it a feeling of familiar places I have been and places I have yet to see. It brings on the excitement of striving to get to the big weights. The weights many dream about and only some will ever achieve. The place where only those who know how to dream BIG will ever get. On this day I take more time to squeeze the bar and pay more attention to the way the steel feels in my hands. With one extra squeeze I wonder again, “Could the feel of the steel be the reason why I do what I do?”

As I work up, all I focus on is the big weight of the day. The PR. This is the weight that separates the men from the boys. The true test of character! If you want to know if someone will ever be an elite lifter, watch the max effort work. As we work up, the trash talk gets worse and the shouts of encouragement are coming from all directions. As I get under the bar, five pounds more that my last best, I hear shouting coming from everywhere. I unrack the weight and feel the rage building. This rage is what drives the lifter to attempt maximal weight. Three seconds later I rack the weight successfully, my eyes about to pop out of my head, and I walk away victorious. As I wipe the sweat from my forehead, I ask myself, “Could training under maximal strain be the reason why I do what I do?”


After everyone attempts their lifts, it’s my turn again, but I tell my training partners that I am done. “What the hell do you mean you’re done? Put on a quarter and get the hell under the bar!” Now I am faced with a decision...Do I risk killing myself or being stigmatized as a puss? I choose not to look like a puss and put the fear of failure out of mind. This is the time I have to dig deep inside and pull out another person to deal with this shit. Dave is not made for this but my alter ego, Zippy, is. Zippy comes to life and approaches the bar. The shouts of encouragement are louder than before, but I can barely hear them. The task at hand cancels out everything else that is going on. As I get under the weight, I feel my heart pounding in my chest and the aggression and rage is at an all time high. As I unrack the weight, there is no doubt in my mind that I will win...After racking the weight I think, “Could this be it? Could lifting a weight I first thought would kill me be the reason I do what I do?”

The workout ends with supplemental training of Glute Ham Raises, Reverse Hypers, and Abs. During this time, the reps are higher and the pace is fast—so fast that after every set you have to take a second to get your breath. The pain of the lactic acid building in my muscles, the sweat burning my eyes, and the cramping of my lower back and hamstrings makes me wonder, “Could this be it? Could the blood, sweat, and tears of training be the reason why I do what I do?”

The day after max effort work I wake up and realize that this is going to be a very slow process. My body feels like it was run over by a truck. Everything on the backside of my body, from my neck to my calves, is sore as hell. As I roll out of bed to avoid cramping up, I finally make it to the shower. I know this will help wake my body up. As I stand in the shower, I lean against the tile and let the hot water pound on my lower back. I am beginning to feel better. After the shower, I get dressed and go out to the curb to get the paper. As I begin to bend over I realize I that I am way too sore for this shit. I try to lunge one leg out to the side to minimize bending over. This would have worked if my groin and hamstrings were not sore as well. So I kick the newspaper inside my house as I plan my restoration training for the day. I think, “Could this be it? Could the soreness the day after be the reason why I do what I do?”

“Dave what’s up?" "How has your training been going?" "Good to see you again.” These are the same questions I here time and time again as I walk through the warm up room of the IPA Nationals. As I look around the room, I see MonoLifts, Power Bars, platforms, and all the other equipment required to run a meet. As you walk and look around, you can feel the excitement growing. Gym bags are scattered throughout and lifters are everywhere. Teens, Masters, Amateurs, and Pros are all mixed together. The sport of powerlifting has something for everyone. All are welcome on this day. All are looking forward to their time of judgment. Their minute of truth. As I look around and see friends I have made over the years and new friends I will be making I wonder, “Could this be it? Could being among all those who love the Iron as much as I be the reason why?”

“Dave Tate, in the hole!” I now find myself at the meet. It is my last attempt and a personal record squat. This is the day you train for, the moment in time that nobody can ever take from you and can never be relived. To a lifter, this is his shining moment. The moment he will remember for a long time to come, the moment that will determine if the work was done in the gym or not. This moment could be one of the greatest moments of the year, or it may serve as a constant reminder of where you went wrong. A learning experience that can make you better. “Dave Tate, on deck.” I am now one lifter out. I am ready for the task at hand. I know my mind is in the right place. While I let my helpers deal with my suit and wraps, I begin to set my mind for the huge task. I run through the lift in my mind over and over as I have done a thousand times before. The pain of the knee wraps being put on should be killing me, and on a different day and under different circumstances it would, but not today. Today is my day! The strain on my handler’s face shows that the wraps are being put on just right. After standing up, I see that look again in my helper’s eyes. It is the same look from the gym. The look of encouragement mixed with high-octane aggression. “Dave Tate, the bar is loaded.” Theses are the words some train six months to hear. I approach the bar and my mind is clear. I walk to the chalk box, get a slap on the back, and I find myself where I want to be. Where I long to be! What I train for! In this place it is only you. Nobody can lift the weight for you. Your partners can help you get to this place, but the moment you set foot on the platform, it comes down to you. The work YOU did will determine the outcome. Fear cannot be in the cards on this day. This is the day you spit in the face of fear and drive on. Fuck it! Lift the weight! As I approach the bar, the rage and aggression is at an all time high. All the internal rage is about to be transferred into the bar. I hear the weights laughing at me, “You can’t lift me. I am too big.” I grab the bar in an all out internal rage. I am ready for the battle, ready for the fight. Only a few seconds separate the winner on this day. As I unrack the weight it feels light. I know before I begin that I will win. With a nose dripping blood and stars in my eyes, I rack the weight and three white lights are as bright as the Vegas strip. All my partners are excited, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment. A new personal record. A weight I only dreamed of lifting 10 years ago. My work and determination got me there. As I feel my heart fill with pride, I ask myself, “Could this be it? Is this why I do what I do?”

Later that night I meet up with some of my teammates, several of my old friends, and a few new people for dinner. As we walk into the restaurant, all eyes glance our way. Couples at their tables enjoying their dinner look over, the staff looks over, and others waiting for tables can’t help but stare. We all look like a Shrek family reunion walking through the door. Big heads, thick bodies, blood-shot eyes, red faces from blowing out blood vessels, and the walk of those who just killed themselves under the weight. At the table anything goes and nothing is sacred. We are too tired to care. We keep ordering more beer and steak. A one hour dinner turns into a five hour marathon, and the conversation turns from one topic to another. Training ideas are exchanged, porn stars debated, sex, masturbation, shit, baby wipes, freak girlfriends of the past, and rock and roll is discussed. You either crack up in laughter or hold your stomach in disgust. Old powerlifting stories are brought back to life and new ones are created. As I find myself laughing with my head down on the table, tears in my eyes, and stomach cramping in happy response, I have to wonder, “Could this be it? Could hanging with other Shreks like me be the reason why I do what I do?”



“Mr. Tate, Mr. Tate, Mr. Tate! Can you hear me?” I find myself back in the recovery room, doped out of my mind. I am back in the revealing robe and the cold room, but everything is okay. The drugs dull the pain. After half an hour or so, I realize that I am still in the hospital and my arm is now wrapped in a sling. I was released to go home but still had a lingering thought going through my mind. Why do I do what I do? Then it hits me...

I do what I do because this IS what I do.

Let me explain. It is not the smell of the gym. I have been in many gyms and loved them all. They all did not have the same smell. It is not my training partners. Training partners come and go. They are all good friends, and they still would be if I did not do what I do. It’s not the steel or feel of the bar. Some bars are fatter than others, some are thin, some have less knurling while others are sharp as hell—I love the feel of them all. It is not the strain of the max effort weight. I love the strain off all weights, whether they are max effort, supramax, or sub maximal. It is not the feeling of the next day—the waking up and not be able to move very well. It is not the music in the gym. Music changes with time. It is not the old and new friends that are met and made at meets. Friends come and go and lifters retire and quit. It is not the personal records that are set at meets. If this were the case, I would have quit a long time ago. In twenty years of competing ,there may have been only three meets were I broke a PR in every lift. So what is it? Why do I do what I do? It is not one thing or one moment. It is the entire process I have the passion for. It is all of it! I love it all and this is why I do what I do. Twenty years ago, a 13-year-old kid picked up a Powerlifting USA magazine and dreamed of being in the top 10. On this day the passion began and the quest started. After fifteen years, this kid has yet to let go of his childhood dreams. On this day, this veteran is here to tell you to keep your passion, and when someone asks you, “Why do you do what you do?” just grin and say, “I do what I do because this is what I do. This is who I am.”