BOOM! – it smacks me in the face, like a proverbial front kick from MMA Fighter Jon “Bones” Jones and we’re only on the first presenter of the day, Dave Tate. The group is twenty minutes into the seminar and I’ve already had a “light bulb” moment. I know what I am doing wrong – at least one of the things I am doing wrong. Just twenty minutes in and the seminar is already worth ten times the cost of admission.

I’m in London, Ohio, at the elitefts™ Learn to Train 3 Seminar. elitefts™ is one of the biggest and most reputable names in the field of strength and conditioning. Athletes, who actually perform under the bar, preside and present at the seminar. They are elite powerlifters, strength coaches, nutritionists, and exercise physiologists – simply stated, they are the best of the best. I came to this seminar for two reasons – to become a better powerlifter and to become a better strength and conditioning coach. I was determined to get what I came for and elitefts™ didn’t disappoint.

Dave Tate gave the opening remarks and the first presentation – Overcoming Sticking Points.

Most of you already are familiar with Dave Tate, but for those who are not, he is the founder and CEO of Elite Fitness Systems. He sharpened his saw during the crazy years of the infamous Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio. Dave was involved in powerlifting for more than two and a half decades as a world class participant, coach and consultant. Dave wrote over 100 articles on strength for magazines and websites and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 from the Society for Weight Training Specialists. Many consider him one of the top powerlifting coaches in the world.

I was positioned in the front row eager to imbibe all the information. Sitting there, I was a strange amalgam - part groupie and part student attending the most pertinent lecture of the semester.

Dave discussed that he was a huge proponent of the Westside system or training method (in case you didn’t already know). The Westside system is, in part, a conjugate training system that employs both the Maximal Effort Training Method “ME” and the Dynamic Effort Training Method “DE.” I’ve been employing a Westside template in my own training for the last several years.

Without delving too deep into the Westside system, which would be well beyond the scope of this article, Dave initially discussed the ME Method, which entails working up to 90 percent or more of your one Rep Max (“RM”) in a Special Exercise for one to four total repetitions. Examples of special exercises to increase your bench press include: 2, 3, and 4-board presses, floor presses, close grip incline presses, reverse band presses – trainees can also add bands and chains to facilitate accommodating resistance. Examples of special exercises to increase your squat include: box squats, low box squats, cambered bar squats, safety squat bar squats, heavy good mornings, etc.

One of the main concepts of ME training is that during a ME training session (on the fly during the actual training session), the lifter decides whether to go for a new 3RM, or if the lifter is feeling particularly strong, a new 1RM in the special exercise he is performing during that session.

During the elitefts™ LTT3, I had my first light bulb moment when Dave mentioned the 3RM component of ME training. I asked myself the following questions, specifically regarding the special exercises I’ve been employing with my ME bench press training:

  • What is my CURRENT 3RM for 2-board press? Answer: I don’t know
  • What is my CURRENT 3RM for 3-board press? Answer: I don’t know
  • What is my CURRENT 3RM for reverse band press? Answer: I don’t know
  • What is my CURRENT 3RM for the floor press? Answer: 420

Holy sh!t. Meatloaf said Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, but one out of four certainly sucks.

Did I know my 3RM for the bench press specialty exercises at one time? Sure I did. They were written in chalk on the wall in my basement back about three years ago, but somewhere along the way, I veered off course and I needed to hear Dave Tate say the words before my two neurons finally awoke and fired. Almost immediately, I understood how to get my training back on track.

I had been lying to myself; telling myself I was faithfully following the Westside template, but I was only kind of following it.

During the month prior to LTT3, I came to realize that much of my training followed certain patterns. I’ve always been good at warming up, so that’s not an issue, but a lot of my work sets follow this pattern – let’s call it the “Pattern of 25s and 45s.” I suspect that this example is going to hit close to home for some of you, especially if you’re honest with yourself.

For example, when performing the floor press (one of the special exercises, utilized to train the bench press, I referenced earlier), after an extensive warm-up, this was my pattern:

  • 5 reps with 225 – add 25s
  • 5 reps with 275 – remove the 25s and add 45s
  • 3 reps with 315 – add 25s
  • 3 reps with 365 – remove the 25s and add 45s
  • 3 reps with 405
  • Shoot for a heavy single

I’m almost ashamed to say it, but I was literally stuck in this rut/pattern for…gulp…a couple of years. Sure, every few floor press sessions I made an honest effort to hit a new 1RM, but I wasn’t doing the 3RM work necessary to build my 1RM. Only recently had I realized what I was doing and finally decided to add another 10 pounds to all the sets starting with what was the “275 set” – so my new sets were 285, 325, 375, etc.

The first week I changed the pattern the result was a new 3RM of 415; a couple weeks later I switched from 2-board presses back to the floor press, remembered to break the old pattern and hit a new 3RM of 420 and a solid single with 455. This week, I had a near miss with 425 (hitting the first two reps and stalling on the third), so it’s time again to change my special exercise, but I feel as though I’m back on track.

I don’t know why I didn’t translate this “pattern break” to the other specialty exercises; I can only surmise I was too close to my own training to see it. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

At LTT3 Vincent Dizenzo, the great bencher and the second presenter of the elitefts™ team, advised you should always have someone else (an experienced lifter) review your training, because they may catch an error you are making. It took me flying 650 miles, from New York to London, Ohio, for the message to finally reach me and these are only a couple of the dozens of examples of immediately applicable training ideas and technique changes I discovered at LTT3.

Here are a few other examples; each alone was well worth the effort it took to get to Ohio.

Squat Form:

I thought I was a pretty good squatter, actually, to be brutally honest, I thought I was a great squatter. I was fortunate to work with Dave Tate at the hands-on squat station on day two of LTT3; we made a couple of modifications to my form including a subtle change to my foot position, tightening my arch (with my chest higher and hips back further) and ensuring the bar is centered across my back. I learned that no matter how tight you believe you are, you’re probably not tight enough. These changes will only make me better and contribute to a bar-bending total on the powerlifting platform.

Video of Dave Tate working with me to improve my squat form

Bench Form:

The bench press has always been my baby, so I felt pretty confident at the bench press station, but no matter how much you know, you can always learn more. Comparable to the squat, no matter how tight you think you are on the bench, you can always get tighter, including how tight you squeeze the bar. Vincent Dizenzo shared the fantastic mental inventory he uses upon lying on the bench to get as tight as possible and ready to handle mind-blowing weights. At LTT3, the coaches painstakingly ran through all the technical aspects of the lift.


The right GPP (general physical preparation) will enhance your overall program and Jim Wendler helped drive this home at LTT3; whether it’s running hills or pushing the Prowler. It’s easy to let GPP training slip by the wayside, especially with a busy schedule. The lectures at LTT3 reminded me of the importance of GPP and moved me to text my 13-year-old, during the seminar, to ask him if he would begin running hills with me.

Prehab and Rehab:

Perhaps this is the worst component of my own training, although I’m actually better than I used to be. At one point I did absolutely nothing in terms of prehab and basic mobility.  At LTT3 ,we discussed not only mobility work, but also some basic prehabilitation work for several of the most common strength training injuries (sore elbows and shoulders, knees, lower back, and hips). Dr. Ryan Smith demonstrated exercises for flexibility, mobility, prehab and self massage. The hands-on learning helped enforce many of the techniques that are actually easy to implement. To their credit, neither Jen Commas Keck nor Molly Galbraith, both assisting Dr. Smith at the hands-on station, laughed at my expense.

Jason Pegg:

Pegg is a dead ringer for a bald Zach Galifiankis and arguably just as funny.

In Summary:

When I consider the elitefts™ Learn to Train Seminar 3, Jeremy Frey’s philosophy is useful to illustrate my reason for attending. Jeremy Frey is a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, as well as a powerlifter, and a member of the elitefts™ Team. He was a presenter at LTT3 and his philosophy is as follows:

Success comes from learning from those who have been there by doing it yourself, and having an understanding that you can always learn something new.

Great coaches and mentors can contribute to the level of success attained by their athletes/students, which is the reason we at Beast never remain complacent with our knowledge base and abilities. We consistently strive to improve ourselves as coaches, and improve our programming for the betterment of our athletes. The elitefts™ Learn to Train Seminar 3 proved to be an excellent vehicle to facilitate this betterment.

Good luck on the platform or the field this year, whichever is your stage.

Life is good in the Belly of the Beast.