I’m going to be honest: I’m nervous. I’ve got five minutes before the interview, and I’m pacing around my kitchen with a beer in my hand.
It’s 1 P.M. in the afternoon. Way too early for alcohol.
Still, to get Dave Tate and Jim Wendler on the phone at the same time is, in itself, a small miracle. And that’s what’s making me nervous. Interviewing just one of these guys takes all my mental energy. I have to be on the ball. I have to be ready for anything.
Crazy stories. Training tips. Rants about porn, deadlifts, bodybuilding, life.
My goal with this first attempt at Tag Team, I remind myself, is to fade into the background. Tate and Wendler have known each other for a long time.
I am, for better or worse, a houseplant.
I’ll ask questions when I can fit one in, but mostly I’ll just sit up straight like a good boy and listen.
My God, what am I getting myself into?
The First 5 Minutes of the Call
Jim Wendler: Where are you, Dave?
Dave Tate: I’m in the weight room. Where the hell are you?
JW: I’m in your office sitting in your chair. And I’m naked.
DT: I get booted out of my office so you can just sit there and…oh fuck! Dude, there’s a bat in here. It about took my head off.
JW: It’s not like you have a small head, Dave.
Why do you have a bat in your gym?
JW: Because Dave’s Batman, dude. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he is. Instead of a utility belt he’s got a dip belt with a foam roller and some Blue Heat muscle liniment.
DT: Yeah, right. Well, that’s a good way to start the interview. Here’s a story for you, Nate. When we had our gym in the old place, the belt squat was over in the corner. But there wasn’t enough room between the belt squat and wall for anyone to walk past. You had to bend over to put on weights. One day we noticed a dead bird stuck in the corner. We left that fucker there for over a year. Nobody wanted to try and reach it to throw it away. When we moved to the other gym, I had to take putty knife to scrape it off the floor.
Hardcore Lifters and the Rest of Us
What makes a lifter “hardcore”?
JW: I’m certainly not one of them. Dave, do you remember seeing a hardcore lifter that one time?
DT: No fucking lifter is hardcore. Hardcore is taking shrapnel in the ass fighting for your country. We’re lifting weights. You know what I’m saying? Everyone that walks around the gym trying to look badass, they’re just fucking wannabes. You ever walk through the mall and see guys wearing that Tap-Out gear? You think they actually fight people? Hell no. Years ago guys would wear Gold’s Gym shirts to make it look like they lifted. Meanwhile the truly “hardcore” guy doesn’t need to promote it.
JW: Yeah, they don’t need validity from any outside source. To me, hardcore is a single mom with two jobs supporting her family. Lifting weights helps build and refine character but that’s generally 30 years down the road.
DT: Maybe we should go the other route and define what softcore is.
JW: It’s Cinemax, man. They don’t show bush or anything.
DT: There. I like that. Softcore is someone who’s not willing to take it all the way.
JW: Hardcore is engaging in an activity that you love and don’t care what anyone else thinks. If you’re hardcore, you’ll never question why a guy wants to do something.
Take the Prowler. I have no reason to push it other than I love it. I love being out of breath and feeling like shit. And Dave busts my balls about it all the time because he hates doing it. But he doesn’t question why I do it. It’s just the way it is.
It’s like a shitty band that tours 10 months out of the year. No other band is going to come up to them and ask them why they do it. Even if they have no money and smell like shit, they’re doing what they want to do.
DT: “Hardcore” is like integrity. It’s not defined; it’s demonstrated.
JW: You know when everyone was bitching and moaning about Chuck Liddell painting his toenails? That’s hardcore. He doesn’t care what you think and he can still fucking kill you.
Training Partners and the Prowler
Do you guys ever train together?
DT: I’m not doing Jim’s stupid shit! We made a pact years ago after we finished powerlifting that we weren’t training together. Sure, we’re in the gym at the same time, but that’s it. There’s no way in hell you’re going to get Jim to do a body-part split. And there’s no way I’m going to push the Prowler in 90 degree heat. That’s like playing with death.
JW: Dave doesn’t even lift in my part of the weight room. He’s not allowed on the rubber. It’s clearly divided in half between machines and free weights. He’s over there using straps for pull-downs, for chrissakes.
DT: I use machines to try and get a pump and he uses some sort of long, cylindrical piece of metal.
JW: That’s a barbell, Dave.
DT: Yeah, whatever. Having two different training styles centered around the same philosophy works great when we’re helping our athletes, though. We have lifters out here who compete and we have to get them better. We don’t care what methods they use as long as they get strong. If I’m desperately failing with someone and they’re just not getting results from what I’m telling them, I’ll have them listen to Jim.
Usually they get twice as strong, and I feel like a moron for having them do stupid shit.
Too Busy to Train?
So, Jim, what’s your workout program look like?
JW: I do 5/3/1. I start with the basic stretching and foam roll bullshit, and do a couple mobility movements. Then I lift and do conditioning. It’s basic and vanilla, but I’ve learned over the years that the fewer variables you have in your program, the easier it is to see what’s wrong. I can make one little change and get back on course.
DT: He’s being modest. There’s an important point here that needs to be stressed: he’s doing his own program. How many coaches are doing programs they’ve put out there? And how many coaches are making gains from that program? Jim’s breaking PR’s every week and things are always moving forward. That’s very important.
JW: I just think that if you’re sitting around all day writing ad copy for your new training program, you have a large window of time to train. And why wouldn’t you want to test your own program and constantly tweak it? I know for a fact that Dave would die if he couldn’t train.
I hear people say, “I’m too busy to train.” Dude, behind my family, training is my second priority in life.
DT: If you’re not healthy or taking care of yourself, how do you expect to take care of other people or the other shit that matters?
Training is an investment in your mental health. I’d like to say it’s for your physical health, but the way most of us train, we’re getting fucked up half the time. And when we’re healthy, we’re rehabbing to go get fucked up again.
The bottom line is, training is an investment, not a liability. Won’t one hour of training positively affect the rest of your day?
JW: You’d be surprised how much extra time and energy you’d have if you got rid of all the little bullshit and put more time into positive stuff like training.
For instance, a friend of mine who sucks at the deadlift asked me what he could do to get better. When I asked him what he was currently doing he said “nothing.” So I told him to do 315 pounds for 5 sets of 10 reps once per week.
“That’s not going to help me,” he said.
Well, it won’t be perfect, but it’s a whole hell of a lot better than what he’s doing right now.
Blast and Dust vs. Moderation
Jim, have you ever dieted like Dave?
JW: God no. I don’t have the discipline for that. I’m honest with myself. Dave has the whole blast and dust thing. I just coast along.
DT: I’ve been trying to learn moderation from Jim but I can’t do that. He’s where I need to be as far as diet and training, but I don’t work that way.
JW: But that’s your make-up, man. That’s the way it has to be. When it’s time for a competition there’s no room for moderation. It’s all blast. The ironic thing is that compared to Dave, I’m moderation. Compared to the rest of the world, I’m fucking insane.
After being at Westside for so long, you’d see someone who’s 5’10” and weighs 250 pounds and you’re like, God, that guy’s tiny.
DT: Shit, back at Westside, a guy would come in and we’d ask him how much he benched. If he said 450, we’d have to ask if he was hurt. To us, if you weren’t benching at least 500 pounds you sucked.
Ten years ago, I wrote an article on how to bench 600 pounds for T NATION. Now I look back and I’m like, fuck, it should have been how to bench 315. It’s just how I thought at the time. Now I think it’s hilarious. I wonder how many people who read that actually tried to bench 600 pounds!
JW: That’s just the way Dave is. My friend told me a story about attending one of Dave’s first seminars. He was grilling him about the bench press, asking him all sorts of complicated questions. Finally, my friend put Dave on the spot and said, “Seriously, if you were me, what would you do?”
Dave just looked him in the eye and said, “I’d probably just fucking quit.”
My friend told me about that at the airport and I had to sit down to catch my breath.
DT: Speaking of airports, Jim, do you remember what I told you about flying?
JW: What’s that?
DT: So, Jim and I were getting ready to fly to the SWIS Symposium in Canada and I was talking to him on the phone before we met up for our connecting flight. I told him that the coolest thing about flying is being the strongest motherfucker on the plane. Your odds are nearly 100 percent.
When we met for our connecting flight, Jim walks off the plane shaking his head. He’s like, “Remember when you talked about being the strongest guy on the plane? Well, I just had fucking Ed Coan on my plane.”
JW: I remember that flight. That’s when we purposefully got all bloated up for the conference.
The Bloat Walk
You did what?
JW: Most guys want to look all shredded before they go speak in front of a bunch of people. Dave and I decided to bloat up as much as possible. We were stocked to the gills with salt and fat, and were completely out of shape. Anyway, we do the conference and we have to walk downtown to get something to eat. We’re with Martin Rooney and his crew—they’re like insane athletes—and I’m so out of shape I can barely walk.
DT: Those little fuckers were 20 feet ahead of us. They wouldn’t slow down.
JW: I was so glad when my shoelaces came untied. It gave me an excuse to stop. And that’s when Dave taught me the “bloat walk.”
DT: We only had to go three blocks, but you have to keep in mind that’s a fucking marathon for us. So Jim’s bent over tying his shoe and catching his breath and I just laid into him.
“Dude, listen. First off, you’re walking all fucked up. You gotta take your pants and push your beltline down to the top of your dick so you can push your stomach into your pants. Now, when you start walking, flare your toes and don’t look up. Only focus on the first 10 yards in front of you. Whenever you take a step, you gotta make sure you kick your heels, and take all the pressure off your toes.”
Now Martin, who’s a respected coach and former physical therapist, is only a few feet ahead of us and obviously hears the conversation. He looks back with his mouth wide open and says, “Dave, do you realize that what you just told him is the exact opposite of how we teach our athletes to run and walk?”
Sure, I fucked up Jim’s gait, but he made it to the restaurant in style and pain free.
24 Months to a Better Body
If you could make every T-Nation reader do one thing, what would it be?
DT: Take boatloads of testosterone. OK, I’m kidding. Please let them know I’m kidding. Honestly, though, I’d say everyone should be more consistent.
JW: Consistent and patient.
Every program is 8 weeks to this, 12 weeks to that. When you look at it, though, Dave’s been training for 30 years. When he sees an 8-week program, it’s a very small bit of his overall training life. Yet all these guys want everything to happen in those eight weeks.
Does anyone want to hear “24 months to a better body?” Hell no. But it’s the truth. And, really, two years isn’t that long at all.
DT: I don’t have a single training block that’s less than 16 weeks long. That one block may be hypertrophy, or fat loss, or whatever. But hell, if it’s fat loss, I better already be close to 10 percent body fat or I’m going to have to add a few more weeks to the back end.
JW: It’s funny. Most guys expect coaches like us—guys who’ve devoted their bodies and minds to training—to whittle down our experience to nothing and produce a program.
It’s a disservice to the art form and to the lifestyle we’ve chosen.
Dave’s son just picked up a guitar. He’s not going to become a virtuoso in eight weeks. He needs to learn the chord structure first, and that takes time. It’s the same thing with lifting weights. Most of us are trying to reverse bad habits. What’s that old adage? “Whatever it takes you to get out of shape, it’ll take you to get in shape?” That sounds about right.
DT: And does anyone ever really reach a point where they’re strong enough? Does any guy look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I’m totally perfect?” If you answer yes, you’re a lying motherfucker.
It doesn’t work that way. It’s the process that’s important. It’s taken me thirty years and I’m still not satisfied.
But I’ll tell you what. I enjoy every last minute of it all.
Dave Tate and Jim Wendler hang out at EliteFTS.com.