Tate Talks Hypertrophy - Part 2

An Interview with Dave Tate


In Part I Dave talked about the differences between powerlifter and bodybuilder hypertrophy, exercise selection, and why powerlifters have the biggest calves on the planet without even training them directly!

Today, Dave discusses something called "the breakthrough factor," how he'd approach bodybuilding today, and a very intriguing training idea: the private warehouse gym. Let's get to it!

T-Nation: Dave, let's talk about something that affects everyone, regardless of their goals. You call it the "breakthrough factor." What is that?

Tate: People need to understand the autoregulatory process or what's sometimes called cybernetic periodization. Basically, they need to understand how to train themselves. When that happens and they finally figure it out, they no longer need to use someone else's program. That's the breakthrough factor.

They can look at the program and try to understand the method behind it and what can be used from it, but they're not going to look at the program and say, "Oh wow, that's just what I've been looking for!" The people who are doing that, they suck! They haven't figured out how to autoregulate their training.

T-Nation: Give us an example please.

Tate: Let's say two lifters are using the exact same workout. We'll use a max effort day with board presses listed first. The beginner, the guy who hasn't made the breakthrough, will do the workout as listed.

Compare that to the guy who's made the breakthrough. He may be thinking, "I don't even feel like doing fucking board presses. Board presses suck!" But he does a set and sure enough it's just not clicking. It doesn't feel right. If he keeps following the program he might be looking at actually hurting himself.

He decides that he's going to do close-grip incline presses. He hasn't done them in a long time and he really wants to knock them out. So when he hits the close-grip inclines, he's going to hit them with focus and concentration. He's going to get more out of that movement because it's what his body is actually telling him to do.

Later he may decide to do two sets where the program calls for four. Or maybe the program calls for extensions. The guy who hasn't made the breakthrough will follow the program, even if extensions are hurting his elbows. The smart lifter says, "My elbows are killing me. Fuck it, I'm just going to do some pushdowns."

T-Nation: Some people would call this "instinctive" training. 

Tate: I call it being audible-ready. You know what your template is and you know what your goal is. Let's say this lifter has a meet in twelve weeks. Every decision he makes in the weightroom has to reflect what's going to happen in twelve weeks.

If he's in the gym and the workout is just not hitting it, there's no sense in him to push 100% on something that's not going to be there. It's going to work negatively against what's going to happen in that twelve weak period of time. He needs to back it down, maybe change the exercises to less demanding ones.

This automatically happens for those that have broken through. If you talk to anyone who's been training for a number of years, they'll tell you exactly the same thing. Let's say he's a bodybuilder and he's going to train chest, shoulders, and triceps. Ask him what he's going to do for his next workout. The reply? "No fucking idea. I'll tell you when I go in." He can't tell you what he's going to do for his second exercise because he can't know yet.

Let's say a bodybuilder's program says three sets of eight. He reaches eight and it feels good, so he racks it. What the fuck? He's there to break the muscle down. Did he have two more in him? Then he should do them, no matter what the "program" says. I'm not saying you need to train to failure, but you left two reps on the table when the goal is to break the muscle down. In my mind, you just wasted a set.

Watch the old Westside tapes; watch Ronnie Coleman's tape or Jay Cutler's tape. Count the repetitions they do for their sets. Then explain to me why one set is thirteen, one set is eight, and one set is sixteen reps. That's not because it's programmed; it's because they're maximizing the set so they don't waste their fucking time.

That's what auto-regulation is all about. Only when a person breaks through will he understand what I'm talking about.

T-Nation: Doesn't a person have to at least start out as a "program follower?" And how many years does this take to develop, this ability to break through?

Tate: They may need to go through the process of trying a lot of different programs initially. How long does it take? It depends. You can take a lifter and put him in a group of five elite, experienced lifters, and it'll take maybe six months. If someone is training by himself, it's going to take him a little longer.

They do need to understand what they're trying to accomplish and look into the future to see where they need to be. If I wanted to learn how to be a homebuilder, I'd first work for those who build homes and always look at what they were doing. I'd ask "why?" while also asking "why not?"

I'd learn what they're doing in preparation for the time that I'd go off to build my own betterhouse. "Better" because I'd be looking for the flaws and see how they could be addressed. The problem is, most people are just content building for someone else. This is why we have so many Yodas selling training programs. (By "Yoda" I mean a training guru that can only lift things with his mind.)

Anyway, this breakthrough doesn't need to take as long as people think. You have to be goal oriented. Nobody has a clue what the fuck they're even training for. A powerlifter does because he's got a meet and he knows what his lifts are, and he knows what he wants his lifts to be.

I talk to the average muscle magazine reader and ask him what his goals are. "Well, I wanna get bigger," he says. What the fuck does that mean? You want to gain twenty pounds or what? What are your indicators? And the guy can't really tell me.

You know what? If you want to get bigger and you want to maintain a certain degree of leanness, why not take your fucking body fat, measure your body parts, weigh yourself, and then check these indicators every three or four weeks? If you have those indicators and some goals – an inch on your arms, 10% body fat at 240, whatever – and at the end of the time period nothing changed, well, guess what? It didn't fucking work; change what you're doing!

Let's say you make changes and go through another month. Now you're starting to make progress. Let's say your arms and chest increased but some other things didn't. Very cool. Fix the shit that's broke; keep the other stuff that's working the same.

With that constant monitoring of where you're going, you don't need a "program." You just need a program that's going to generate ideas.

When you get those defined goals and the indicators to support them, you're set. But not many people do that. They sit there and they don't truly know what they want. So they flip through a magazine and they end up falling for a lot of Yoda bullshit.

I'm not a big fan of programs, if you haven't figured that out. I'd rather try to get the person through that breakthrough factor because once he does then he'll never need to rely on a program again.

T-Nation: You've talked about how you dabbled in bodybuilding back in college. If you were going to do it again, what would you do differently based on everything you've learned in the powerlifting world? In other words, if you knew then what you know now, what would change in your bodybuilding training?

Tate: Wow, this would be a huge answer and probably best kept for a future article. For now I'll list some bullet points for everyone to think about:

• I'd dump body part training until the last eight weeks.

• I'd base all movement selection on CNS demands.

• I'd use the ME and DE methods in the off-season.

• In-season I'd up the ME reps and drop the DE for more intense RE work.

• I'd do no more than four sets per movement on first exercises (the heavies with more warm-ups) and no more than two sets on all movements afterwards.

• I'd cycle total volume in three week waves.

• I'd cycle RE work for two to four weeks.

• I'd cycle ME work for three weeks with reps at or over three.

• I'd cycle DE work for five weeks.

• I'd not be as strict on my diet in the off-season as I was before.

• I'd establish mass building movements in the off-season and base all training around them.

Example: I believe training should be programmed and based around movements. I'd pick five movements that have been great mass builders in the past for me such as squats, incline presses, rows, cleans, and rack pulls. Then I'd structure all my training days and supplemental movements with the main goal of building the main movements.

I'd also establish a rep base for each of the above main movements to use as my goal. Case in point, I've had great luck building mass with ten reps on the squat, six reps on the rows, triples on the pin pull and so on. My training would be designed to push these rep maxes as high as I can.

So, if ten rep squats have always built great mass for me and I can do 500 for ten reps, it would be my goal to get this up to 600 for ten. This won't and can't be achieved with just squats. You have to have movements that develop and build the squat.

T-Nation: Gotcha. Let's switch topics here and talk about training at home, especially the most essential piece of equipment for the garage gym: the rack.

Tate: Setting up gyms is what we at EliteFTS do. We set up everything from garage gyms to university weight rooms.

I grew up in small private gyms and I've always trained in hardcore places. A commercial gym when I'm traveling is good for a break, but I'm not going to get what I want. That's not going to provide me with the environment that I love and that I want to train hard in.

I think a home gym is affordable to everybody. The one thing people need to keep in mind when setting up a gym, whatever the budget, is quality rules. You do not want to buy a piece of shit rack that you're going to have to replace. Most racks out there are shit. You can buy a rack for 150 bucks if you want, but it's a 150 dollar piece of shit.

When dealing with a business, you have service, price, and quality. Those are the only three things that a company can compete on. Nobody can offer all three. So if somebody offers the lowest prices, then their quality has to take a dump and their service is going to suck.

On the flipside, if you have a company that has high quality, which is what EliteFTS is, you're not going to be able to compete with the lowest price around. You can't build the shit for what some places are selling it for because it's junk. So with a home gym, quality reins supreme.

The second thing you should look at is function of the equipment. The power rack that we sell has been manipulated and changed to accommodate our needs. For example, most power racks I've trained in over the years, you can't squat wide in them because the damn base is in the way. So we brought the base up and created what's called a sumo base.

The other problem is that the pin-hole spacings in most racks are about four inches. When you're a manufacturer of a product, you're paying per hole to get them drilled. Ours go every inch through the bench range, then every two inches up to the top. The reason for that is so you can do pin pulls and pin presses, and you can do them in the range where your weakness is.

T-Nation: What about hooks and safety catches? I know you've put a lot of thought into that.

Tate: Yes, you also want to be able to get a bar out of the rack comfortably. Most benches that you deal with, they're either too high or too low. And God forbid you try to squat in a rack in a commercial gym. You're either going to do a leg press to get it out or you're going to have to get on your tiptoes to get it out.

Which brings up the next thing, which is the J-hook. The J-hook on most racks is so deep that when you go to take a bar out of the rack to bench it, you have to lift it up and over. When you bench press you essentially want to pull the bar out of the rack. So the J-hook has to be deep enough to hold the bar but not so deep that you can't pull the bar over it.

When you pull the bar out, you're activating your lats and you're keeping the body tight. When you have to lift it out, your shoulders have to come off the bench and you've just lost your whole upper back tightness.

Same thing with the squat. When you take the bar out you should essentially arch the bar out. It keeps your back in a good position and it keeps your chest up. When you have to squat the bar out of the rack, usually your chest is down and you're in a rounded-over back position from the very beginning.

T-Nation: And if you're going for a max effort, then you've just used up some of your energy to unrack the bar, correct?

Tate: Right. And these are all small things, but they make the biggest difference when it comes to training.

The last component of a rack is the safety pin. On a lot of cheap racks, they use this one inch pipe. If you do miss a weight or you're trying to do pin pulls or something, then that pipe bends. On the other side of that coin, some companies will build those support I-beams so strong that they'll never bend, but what will bend is your bar. You pay $450 for a good squat bar. You dump it one time and there goes your bar!

What we use is a rod and a pipe. What happens is, the pipe flexes around the rod. So now when a force hits that pipe it's dispersed throughout the whole pipe. Pipe never bends, bar never bends. Simple shit, but it takes lifters to come up with this stuff.

So, for the home gym, the power rack is the number one thing to buy. We offer a wide variety of power racks at EliteFTS, from standard to jacked-up collegiate racks.

T-Nation: I hear a lot of people on our forum talking about moving to the home gym option. Why are so many hardcore lifters dumping commercial gyms? 

Tate: The number one reason people put gyms in their house is they're sick of the bullshit. They're sick of going in there and having to listen to Celine Dion. They're sick of watching people ride their stupid Life Cycles while watching TV.

Every time they step into their gym it's some new bullshit, like they've got Christmas decorations up. They just want to go in, bust their ass, and train hard. You can't put a price on that. With a home gym, all you have to do is find some training partners.

You'd be surprised at the number of gyms we set up that start out with two guys who just say, "You know what? Screw this shit." They go out and they find a small, 800 square foot warehouse that's maybe $300 bucks a month. They start putting in a couple of pieces of equipment, some racks and some bars.

Word gets out and the next thing you know they have ten or fifteen guys in there. Each guy is dumping in enough money to help cover the rent. It gets to the point where that $20 from each person exceeds the rent, so every few months they spend the surplus on a new piece of equipment. They buy a glute ham raise from us or a reverse hyper.

Those are where the best training centers in the world are. They don't advertise because they don't want people to come in there. They want to be able to pick who they let in there and give a key to.

It just takes one guy to say, okay, let's do this. I'd say that over the period of a year we set up thirty of those types of gyms. Everybody is just getting sick of their gyms. There could be a hardcore warehouse gym just a few blocks from where you are.

T-Nation: Sounds like the ideal training environment! Thanks for the interview, Dave!

For more info and products from Dave Tate, visit Elite Fitness Systems at www.eliteFTS.com.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram