My Training Stories #2

Westside Barbell

In late 2001, Joe Willliams, Julia Ladewski, and myself attended an Elite Fitness training seminar hosted by Dave Tate.  Day 1 covered the Westside Method, while Day 2 was focused on the squat.

As we were covering Day 1, Dave decided to use me as an example.  Here’s how it went:

Dave (to me):  What’s your best squat?

Me: 380

Dave:  380?  Seriously?  Ok, well we’ll round up – let’s just call it 400….

Are you serious? I had worked hard for a year straight to get it up to 380, and now Dave was basically clowning on me and felt forced to “round up” to make my number more palatable.

Ego?  CRUSHED.

(Please note: I think the world of Dave, and this is how he communicates – honest and direct.  I respect the hell out of that).

The next two days gave me great insight as to what I needed to fix, however, and one month later I hit a new PR of 407 pounds at 181.  Not great, but I don’t know many people that wouldn’t be happy with a 27 pound meet PR.

About two weeks after the meet, Big Joe, Matt Wenning and myself talked to Dave and Louie and decided to go over to Westside for a two-day training session.  Here’s how I remember it, although some of the finer details may be a bit off as it was almost 8 years ago now!

Friday AM

We show up early Friday morning for breakfast.  Big Lou and some other guys literally twice my size were snarfing down breakfast and coffee like it was their job.

Was I intimidated?  I don’t even think there’s an appropriate word here.  After all, I’d read basically every article Dave and Lou had ever written, and here I was hanging out with them and their entire crew!

All I could think of at this time was, “These guys are huge!!! ” Blankenship was the “smallest” of these guys and I believe he was weighing about 250 at the time.

So we head to Westside, and it’s dynamic squat day.  Before we’re set to work in, I see Chuck Volgelpohl for the first time in my life.  If you’ve never seen Chuck, he may be the thickest human being on Earth.  On this particular day I say him squat 635 pounds plus two blues, a green and a purple band to a parallel box.

So we start training, and let me be frank here, my squat sucks – but my box squat sucks even worse.  10 sets of 2 with 225 and the purple bands damn near killed me.

Then, Dave decides we need to get some work in on machines we don’t have at Ball State – you know, like reverse hypers, glute hams, etc.

On the first rep of the first set of glute-hams, I’m pretty sure my hamstrings are going to explode.  You know the feeling – the first time you do a glute-ham is like none-other, and you quickly realize that the leg curl machine is pretty much useless.

Somehow, I struggle through 3-4 sets of glute-hams and another 3-4 sets of reverse hypers.  I can’t tell you how we even made it out of the gym, much less back to our hotel.  We crashed for a few hours before we were supposed to head back and watch the evening crew squat.

Friday PM

We show back up around 4 pm, and Lou starts chatting us up.

Lou: “What are you guys doing this afternoon?”

Us:  “Watching these guys train and picking up some tips.”

Lou:  “F*ck that!  You can’t just stand around all afternoon.  Let’s see who has the biggest pull.”

Are you serious?

I could hardly walk, my entire back side felt like it had gotten beaten with a sledgehammer, and he wanted us to pull?

Yes.  Yes he did.

So we start pulling.

135.

225.

315.

365.

405.

Big Joe steps up to pull 455, and I’m pretty sure this is where he missed.  Next thing I know, Louie has this crazy look in his eyes and he’s in my face screaming;

“HE MISSED IT!  HE MISSED IT!  NOW YOU HAVE TO GO AND TAKE IT!”

Needless to say, I’d never felt a rush of adrenaline like this ever before.  I’d played competitive athletics my entire life, but being surround my massive, screaming men and (relatively) heavy weights, well, there was only one thing I could do.

I pulled that sucker and locked it out.  It was a grinder for sure, but I finished the lift.

We finished our evening session off with sled drags around the parking lot, Mexican food, and the best fried ice-cream I’ve ever tasted.  Somewhere in there Matt Smith tried to rip my tricep off the bone with a portable EMS machine, but that’s a story for a different day.

Saturday AM

The next day I come into the gym, and I’m pretty much incapacitated.  It was speed bench day, and again, my first time working with bands.  I somehow get paired up with Karen Sizemore, who at the time was benching in the 400’s.

AWESOME.

I had missed 250 or so in my previous meet, so needless to say I wasn’t looking forward to this.

On every rep of every set, I’ve got Dave and/or Lou screaming cues at the top of their lungs:

“CHEST OUT!”

“TUCK, TUCK, TUCK!”

“STAY TIGHT!”

I have no clue what weight I used, or how badly Sizemore beat up on me, but afterwards we followed it up with another “new” exercise, the JM Press.

I had read about it numerous times, but like any mythical creature, you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for.  Dave showed me the finer points, and I swear on all that is holy we did these for 30 minutes straight.

At this point, with every step I take I’m in sheer, agonizing pain.  To make matters worse, the upper body DOMS is setting in faster than even I could’ve imagined, and even the simplest movements involving my shoulders and arms are a struggle.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t train for 4-5 days after this weekend.  In fact, seeing as how it was Christmas break, any extra movement whatsoever was strictly out of the question.

However, I did learn a few very key lessons over the course of this training weekend:

  • If you’re serious about getting better, you must be coached.  At Westside, every rep of every set was coached.
  • You probably have no idea what real intensity feels like.   There’s a reason the best are the best; they are willing to train at a higher level than everyone else, consistently.
  • If you want to be great, surround yourself with other great people.

I hope you enjoyed this little story.  Have a great week!

Stay strong

MR

3 Comments

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  1. You better hope Bill doesn’t read this. He will not be happy when he sees that is says “tricep” and not “triceps”

  2. Awesome post Mike! I love it. I always wondered what it would be like to train there, and I know that you and Eric are both great powerlifters and on top of that just super smart guys. It’s nice to see what you could take away from the training experience. Great post and great job on locking otu that deadlift. Sounds intense!

  3. Mike,
    Thanks for sharing this story…………..very insightful.
    “You know the feeling – the first time you do a glute-ham is like none-other, and you quickly realize that the leg curl machine is pretty much useless.”
    But at risk of incurring your wrath (since you’ve likely been asked this a thousand times before), do you see leg curls as having a place for any goal at all? For this question, assume that the person is already doing things like GHR’s, slideboard leg curls, Swiss Ball SHELC, etc. (not to mention hitting deadlifts hard, using reverse hypers, and all of the other productive stuff lifters should be using at one time or another) and is considering these as something to add on for brief periods of time rather than as a way to avoid doing the “hard stuff”.
    Not that a top coach using any given exercise is proof of its value, but Charles Poliquin has leg curl machines in his facility, and I am assuming he doesn’t have them there simply for the sake of increasing his expenses or having something worthless sitting around the facility. Furthermore, you’re one of those coaches who rarely singles anything out as totally worthless, merely as a tool that may have broad or limited application depending upon the context. As such, I figured you’d be one of the go-to guys for answering this question.

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