It was Friday night. I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. This was nothing new, but when I woke up in five hours, I would be starting my trek to one of the strongest gyms in the Midwest—the EliteFTS compound. I was nervous yet unbelievably excited to lift and be in the presence of some of the best in the business.

As I pulled in the drive and made my way to the warm-up area, my excitement to get the day’s lifting underway began to grow. As I stretched and rolled and moved, I found myself in the presence of the best lifters and coaches in relation to strength. I said my hellos to Dave Tate, the weekend’s generous host, as well as Matt K, who made the trip from Michigan. One flight was already lifting while the rest filed in and started to stretch and warm up.

The EliteFTS gym is the epitome of hardcore. The place is lined with benches, racks, machines, and weights. The expanse of equipment is focused on the central area where the free weights are located. This is where strength is grown, cultured, and refined. Unlike commercial gyms where you might find a few dozen plates, there was ample weight available to load on every bar several times over. As lifters hit bigger and bigger numbers, the energy in the room grew. We were there to test ourselves. We weren’t looking for trophies or medals. We wanted to get stronger.

The entire facility is Dave’s playground, a testament to the endless pursuit of strength. People were there from across the country. During warm ups, the weights became easier and easier. Everyone was focused, and the energy was unbelievable. Music was pumped into the room to help everyone stay focused and motivated. Jeremy Frey provided a few, quick tips in between his warm-up sets that really helped me get prepped for the day. I got out the briefs and got ready to squat heavy for the first time in months.

My first attempt at 455 lbs was high, and I needed to get the briefs higher according to everyone. I listened, hiked the briefs up, and worked the sides to get a better groove. My second attempt was much lower, and I actually sat back, which is a great improvement. So far, I had a 50-lb PR, so I decided to try 505 lbs. The set was a grind, but I was able to fire out of the hole and finish the lift. It wasn’t the greatest, but it went up, and I know where I need to improve.

In between lifts, I was able to sit and talk with some of the best and brightest in the strength business. Strength coaches, customers, suppliers, and lifters were gathered to meet and talk under one roof. There were no forums or rules—just an opportunity to talk strength. From the multitude of conferences, meetings, and seminars that I’ve attended, this was one of the best. No one was trying to sell anything. It was a demonstration of the endless pursuit of the PR by truly dedicated lifters. As a novice, you got to see what it takes to get stronger. As an experienced lifter, you could gauge where you were in relation to others without preparing for a meet. Regardless of your experience, you could walk away knowing what it takes to get better.

I ate lunch with Vinnie, Leigh Ann, some guy named Peg, and Jim. I realized that none of these people knew me, but it didn’t matter. We wanted to get stronger, and we wanted to lift with the best in the area. This was the one reason we were all there. We knew we would benefit from the day’s physical training as well as the mental training because we could share ideas. I was able to network with other strength and conditioning professionals, which is invaluable in the industry.

In closing, I have to thank Dave for the invite. I was humbled by his generosity in giving back to the lifters. From the food to the shirts and face time, Dave and EliteFTS set the bar in terms of giving back and defining what it means to be the best. I look forward to the next seminar and am motivated to get strong(er).