What I Learned from Dave Tate: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

TAGS: setting goals, Patrick Flynn, coaching athletes, education, powerlifting, dave tate

This is the second article in a series of articles covering some of the topics Dave Tate discussed with me in my gym, the North Myrtle Beach Aquatic and Fitness Center, while he was on vacation.

Dave is a cool guy. He’s also a self-proclaimed meathead and a really smart dude. He has forgotten more about training than most people will ever know and he also has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the business world. That’s how we got on to the topic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s what?!

Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled, a person seeks to fulfill the next one and so on. An individual needs to completely satisfy each level before moving on to the next. One of my two master’s degrees is in human resources development, so I was all over this topic and jumped at the opportunity to relate it to powerlifting.

So what the heck does this have to do with powerlifting? Well, for many of us, powerlifting is more than just a hobby. To be truly successful in powerlifting, one must be seriously motivated. Reaching the top of this pyramid in powerlifting will mean something different for everyone. Reaching self-actualization has to do with becoming the best powerlifting version of yourself.

Looking at the pyramid and each level will also help to explain the things you need to take care of first in order to move on. For instance, you can’t become an elite lifter before finding a gym. It seems simple, but what about becoming an elite lifter before properly educating yourself and finding the right training philosophy? Many guys simply want to skip ahead and cut corners. That simply doesn’t work in this sport. So use this pyramid as a template or road map to figure out where you are, where you want to be, and what needs to be taken care of to get there.


These are the basic needs we all must have to sustain life. Oxygen, pizza…I mean food, water, and sleep, to name a few. Some of that sounds familiar, right? These are the very basic things that we need to be able to lift. We must be in good health and have the ability to get up every day and get to the gym. Pretty easy, right? For most of us, yes. This is one of those things that we take for granted, but without fulfilling these basic needs, we simply can’t move forward.


Now we’ve taken a step up and we aren’t simply sustaining life any longer. We’re trying to secure safety of our body and, in powerlifting terms, do more than simply show up. Do you have a gym? Does it have the equipment you need? Have you educated yourself well enough to have any idea as to what you’re doing? Do you know the difference between the squat rack and the Nautilus biceps machine?

At this point, we’re showing up to the gym and lifting some weights. You have some education but probably don’t really know what you’re doing. The good thing though is you’re showing up. Hell, that’s half the battle.


We’re getting into the good stuff. At this point, you’ve found a gym and are doing some type of training. Now you need to network, find other like-minded individuals, and get some training partners, or if you want to train alone, educate yourself. Become part of a team and you have your family. You don’t have to train at Westside to find good training partners, but having good training partners is a huge step in the battle of becoming your best powerlifting version of yourself.

Another big step in reaching the love/belonging stage is attending a meet and getting to know the other competitors in your area. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my powerlifting career has been the friendships I’ve created. I would never have created them had I not taken that first huge step of attending and competing in a meet.


At this point, you’ve started competing and have hit some decent numbers. You may even be an elite lifter and may possibly be the strongest guy at your gym. Education wise, you should begin to find out what works for you. You’re starting to listen to your body and you know what exercises are going to increase your total. You’re training hard and following a program. You show up every day to the gym with a plan and you execute that plan.

Now, we need to take stock of what’s important and find out what we really want out of this sport. Do you want to total pro? Do you want to pass information on to the up and comers? What is it you want from this sport? For me, I’d like to grow the sport, build the lifter and fan base, and rip an 800-pound deadlift. What do you want and how are you going to get there? Figure that out and you’re well on your way to the next step


This is the top of the pyramid. You’ve figured out what you want and you’ve achieved it. In terms of training, self-actualization comes when you have complete control over your training and your body and know exactly what to do from one day to the next. You’re aware of when you need to back off and you know when you need to smash weights. You’re no longer a robot in this mode. You can think creatively outside the box and are able to truly find what works for you.

In terms of coaching, you’re at the point where you’re turning your athletes into coaches. You’re helping them reach the esteem and possibly even the self-actualization level of the pyramid.

I’ve used some very broad generalizations to help explain what each level of the pyramid means and how it relates to powerlifting. People may find themselves falling into different categories at different times. The idea of this article was to give you some perspective on where you are in your lifting career in relation to where you want to be. How to get there is up to you. This is also an excellent tool to use when working with other lifters and coaches.

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