9 Great Secrets of Training Success
by Dave Tate
I got an e-mail this morning that got me thinking.
"Dave, you did very well in Powerlifting and also have made remarkable progress in getting shredded and overcoming many injuries. I've read your book "Under The Bar," and you write of the lessons in the gym that have a carry over to business and life. Based on your experience, what would you say are the secrets of training success?"
Reading this e-mail made me think back about my years of training, and it hit me that I've spent over 10,000 hours of my life in the gym. This doesn't count all the hours I've spent spotting, lifting in meets, coaching at meets or training others. I've also trained every style, ranging from progress overload, HIT, Westside, high volume, DC training, and a host of other principles, templates, and methods.
I've also spent thousands of hours speaking with other lifters, trainers and coaches in regards to the betterment of my own training and that of those I worked with, so I guess I've picked up some secrets along the way. I'm also pretty confident in saying if I don't know the answer to any training problem, I know a few others who do.
What follows, then, is a list of what I consider the nine great secrets to training success, based on my experience and that of my peers. They represent the cold hard truth that many would rather avoid. They're pretty easy to understand, and very hard to implement. You might think some of them don't have anything to do with training, but you'd be wrong.
1. Set Your Goals High, and Keep 'em to Yourself.
At one of his seminars, Jim Wendler asked how many of us had set training goals. Out of 60 people, only fiveraised their hands, myself included.
You can't know where you're going without good goals. However, I just want to mention one aspect of training goals that you may not have considered: your goals can limit you. You should set that goal out there, not to work toward, but to smash. Too many times, I've seen people say, "my goal is to bench 300 pounds." Then when they finally get there, they could have done so much more.
That's why Louie Simmons always taught me to break my PR by five pounds on my second attempt (in a powerlifting meet you get three attempts), and go for broke on my third. It's also why when I was dieting for fat loss, I also set a timetable based on a number of weeks. If I reached my desired percent bodyfat early, I keep going. If I didn't reach it in time, I shut it down for another cycle.
The other thing I suggest when setting goals is to keep your goal specific to yourself and a select few, and general to all others. In other words, if your goal is to bench 400 pounds, keep that as a marker in your mind, but if others ask just tell them, "I'm training for a bigger bench," or "I'm working toward a new PR." Your goal may be to get your bodyfat down to 6%, but all the masses need to know is, "I'm dieting right now."
Just tell 'em you're dieting.
The reason for this is simple: 90% of everyone you meet are negative pricks who will go out of their way to tell you why you can'tdo something. Once they know your goal, they'll try and tear you down. Just keep it vague, and all they can do is wish you success.
Of course, they may still try and tear you down once you've actually accomplished your goal, but who cares. You've done the work and have the results to show for it. Theycouldn't have done it. So fuck 'em.
I do feel it's important to still put the goal out there to make you accountable, but I'd only tell those who know you can do it and will hold you accountable. Take a good look at the people around you, and consider yourself lucky if you know even a small handful of people like this. But all you really need is one: you.
2. Build Yourself Up, Don't Tear Others Down
Here's something that always comes to my mind when I think about people who try to tear you down, especially online. Years ago I made a trip to the Show of Strength in Atlanta where I was going to help Chuck Vogelpohl, Brian Schwab, and Ano Turtiainen, all great lifters and multiple world record holders.
During one of the breaks I found myself having lunch with a small group of people, one of whom just didn't fit in at all. Granted, he had an opinion on everything, but nothing to show for it in the way he looked, his lifts, or who he coached.
Later, I discovered he couldn't even cut it in three well-known powerlifting groups in his area. He got no respect from all the local lifters on account of his big mouth, his inconsistency, and his not having the balls to train hard and help others in the group.
About a year later, I see the same guy talking shit about everyone on a powerlifting forum with an "I'm the man" attitude. A few phone calls later and there were three of us on the phone just busting up laughing about this. I no longer have the time to read all the forums, so I have no idea whatever happened to this guy, but I can pretty much guess he's the same crappy lifter he always was.
I'm pretty sure that most of these people have done nothing of value in their lives, so all they can do is find fault in others. It's always easier to tear others down than it is to build yourself up, and easier to demand respect than to earn it. Of course, the easy way isn't always the best way.
3. Let Your Program be Your Guide, but be Prepared for Detours.
While programming does not play as high of a role as many people claim, you still need to have a solid program designed to help you achieve your training goals. The difference between a general program based on what an author perceives to be effective is a far cry compared to a programmed designed around your own strengths and weaknesses. Time and experience will give you the best training know how to do this for yourself.
For beginners I'd suggest jumping on some of the pre-designed programs to help get your feet wet. While they are still not as effective as a personally designed program they are much better than what you'll come up with on your own. That's why they were written in the first place: not to be the Holy Grail of programming, but to serve as a launching pad.
For the intermediate and advanced lifters you need to think about your program as you're a car driving on a highway. You need to get on the right one that will get you where you want to go. If you need to go north, then it's not a good idea to get on a highway going south regardless of what anybody tells you. The difference between getting there or being broken down in the middle of nowhere is knowing how to read the signs. In any long trip, there'll be slowdowns, stops, construction, and detours.
As travelers we expect this, and while we still get frustrated, we know they'll be there.
Similarly, as a lifter you have to expect detours. They are part of the game. There will be things that will screw up your training. No training phase ever goes as planned. You have to be ready and expect for the detours and find ways to keep moving forward. To think everything will go smooth is a false reality. Actually, if you find you're ahead of schedule and things are very smooth, be on the lookout. The old saying "if it ain't broke, break it!" applies here.
4. Do the Stuff You Suck At
You ever wonder where your weak points come from? They're a combination of your strengths overpowering the rest of your skills, and you simply not doing the stuff you hate to do.
Think about it, if your abs and core stability are your weak points, is it because you're training them too hard or too often? Not on your life. Show me a weak point, and I'll show you a movement that isn't being trained because the athlete doesn't like to do it.
Is this something you hate to do? Then do it.
Let me tell you about how I discovered this secret.
It was at the IPA Worlds (a.k.a. the York Barbell Hall of Fame), my first meet after a nine-month hiatus. I had taken some time off to heal up, regroup, and push my bodyweight up higher. I was looking forward to this meet, because my training was going very well, and things seemed to be going my way. My warm-up for the squat attempts felt great, fast, and very explosive. I was definitely getting jacked up about the meet.
I was on deck, next up. My wraps were on, tight as hell, and I was ready. The moments right before I hit the chalk are the best moments of my life. The anticipation, the aggression, the work it took to get to this moment are unmatched.
Finally, over the loudspeaker came the words I'd waited nine months to hear, "Load the bar to 860 pounds for Dave Tate." It was a weight I'd squatted several times before, and it was to be my opening attempt. Full of rage, I began chalking my hands.
This is the moment with every big lift that I "detach" from myself, and go on autopilot. Rarely do I remember anything from the time I leave the chalk box until after the lift.
However, this lift I do remember, because I couldn't get it out of the rack.
I remember trying to stand up with the weight, but I couldn't budge it. It felt welded to the rack. I tried a few times and still nothing. This pissed me off to no end, so I stepped back and increased my rage as high as I could, got back under the rack, and nothing.
My helpers stepped in and pulled me from the rack. Needless to say, this was not a good moment for me. Nine months of training and I couldn't get my damn opener out of the rack.
Just then, I heard Louie Simmons call out, "Dave, you're done. Pull out." I glanced back at him, figuring he was just trying to piss me off. But he looked straight at me and said, "I'm serious, Dave. You're done. Pull out, and we'll talk later. It's not worth what could happen right now."
Now, Louie Simmons is one of the best coaches in the world, and I was part of his team, the Westside Barbell Club. This club is known to be the strongest gym in the world and I was one of Louie's boys. I respect this man and trust him with my life.
So I pulled out, and spent the rest of the meet watching the rest of my team lift well, sitting there eating hot dogs and wondering what the hell my problem was.
On the drive home, I told Louie, "I don't understand what happened today. My training went well. I was strong as hell on everything in the gym."
Just then he stopped me and said something I'll never forget: "That's exactly your problem."
As we turned onto the Interstate, I sat there thinking that Louie was out of his mind. How could being strong in the gym be a bad thing?
How can being strong as hell in the gym be a bad thing?
"You know what you need, Dave?" Louie continued. "You need to do those things you suck at. You're at a point where your weaknesses are killing you, and you're doing nothing to address them. Your legs and upper back can easily squat a grand, but your abs and lower back can't squat 860 pounds. Which do you think you'll squat, 1000 or 860? What you need to be doing is reverse hypers and standing ab work!"
The simple truth hit me like a half-ton of iron. Louie was exactly right. In training, I hated doing reverse hypers and standing ab work. As a matter of fact, I hated alllower back and ab work, so to be honest,I skipped it most of the time.
Once again: your weak points are caused by doing what you hate to do. And this is the difference between competitive athletics and "working out." You can always get into better shape by doing things that you like to do, but to excel at a sport, you have to master doing the things that you hate to do.
So, for the next six months I trained my lower back and abs four days a week: once at the beginning of every session, and at the end of each session. At the Nationals in November, I squatted 900 pounds for the first time. For the next meet, I increased my torso training to six days a week, with three days being very heavy and three days being light.
In July, I went back to the IPA Worlds, the same meet I had to pull out of the year before. I squatted 860 pounds, then 905 pounds, and onto an easy 935 pounds.
While training for the 935 pounds, my main gym lifts that I had bragged were so strong were actually down 15 percent from the previous year, however, my torso strength was the strongest that it had ever been.
5. Change Your Damn Attitude
When I'm conducting a seminar, I often explain to people what they need to do to get their lifts to come up. Most of the time they understand the issue, thank me for addressing it, then go back and correct it and set new records.
If you understand the path the bar is supposed to travel in any lift, then it really is pretty easy to see if the problem is technical or physical. Once you understand this, the solution isn't that hard to find, and your lifts should go up.
However, there's always the occasional slap-dick who totally disagrees with anything you say. In my experience, they fall into one or the other of the two categories below. You'd better not fit into either of these two categories, but if you do, then you'll need to totally change your attitude if you want to lift big weights.
Category A. The "Put on Some Weight" guys: I have a hard time relating to these twerps, who want to get super strong, but refuse to gain weight. These guys have little or no muscular development, are around six-foot-one and weigh 135 soaking wet. You can see their collar bones sticking out from a mile away, and their elbows can be used as weapons.
I have no idea what their problem is. They have no muscle to begin with and are terrified of losing their abs. To add muscle, you have to take in a few more calories than you burn off. Yes, you can gain muscle and lose fat, but the people who do this already have some muscle to begin with: a fat-loss "engine."
If you fall into this category, please understand that when I tell you to gain weight I'm not saying to increase your bodyfat to 20%. All I'm saying is that if you're looking to add size and gain strength, 10-14% is going to be a lot better for you than 4%.
This guy needs to lay off the cardio and put on some weight.
Category B: The "Get In Shape" guys: You can spot these oafs a mile away. They show up wearing high top Chucks, a shirt that says Go Heavy or Go Home, a shaved head and goatee, and what I call proportionate fat.
Hey, I'm all for filling out your weight class, but it's a huge mistake to fill out four weight classes over the muscle you hold on your frame. Certainly not at the expense of your conditioning and recovery.
Seriously, folks, you can weigh whatever you damn well please, but if you can't walk 100 yards without stopping to catch your breath, then you really need to get your fat ass into shape.
If you're in this poor of shape your body won't be as efficient at processing nutrients, thus impeding recovery and gains.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying you need to be a marathon runner, and only need to be in the condition your sport requires, but I've seen a shitload of lifters who are in such bad shape, I have no idea how they even make it through a squat session let alone a meet. If you happen to be one of these guys, you might want to think about getting a sled, or maybe walking every now and then.
Of course, if given the choice, I'd always take a guy from group B over group A. It's much easier to teach a guy who already has some underlying muscle to eat clean, than to try to convince some bean pole that it's okay if his abs disappear for a while.
Don't get too comfortable, because Dave ain't done with you yet. The final four of Dave Tate's Nine Great Secrets of Training Success will be revealed soon.
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