I should have hit “record” before I dialed the phone. And I should have hung up before I hit “STOP.”
I first encountered Dave Tate over fifteen years ago on the Supertraining Forum, and I’ve read or watched something from him every week since. But I still wasn’t prepared for the depths we reached in this conversation.
Eleven minutes into the call, I had to say, “Stop, Dave. I have to start recording this stuff!” and we started over. But he didn’t miss a beat, and I was laughing within 30 seconds–“I was probably looking for porn” is how he answered the first question.
But don’t think this is a “powerlifter in the locker room” inside-joke episode. This is a show about big ideas, not big lifts. It’s not Dave’s autobiography, not a step-by-step guide to using accommodating resistance, and not a sales pitch for EliteFTS.com products (though it could be.) It’s a view of the field through the eyes of the guy pulling the plow.
Paul Chek was responsible for the “core” craze of the late ’90s and early 00’s. He wrote some decent articles on midline stabilization (not his phrase) but most of his recommendations involved using toys like BOSU balls and swiss balls to the exclusion of barbells. It’s great background reading, but his “draw the belly in to stabilize the spine” never gained traction among powerlifters. It also contradicted the “ship’s mast model” of spinal stabilization, which he quoted often. In those days, it was believed the only way to capitalize in fitness was to sell products, and Chek certainly created a niche for balance boards and Theraband.
Tate uses the story to make the point that most REAL experts agree 95% of the time, and disagree only 5%. But the impression in online conversation is sometimes the inverse. Of course, you’ll always have wannabe experts who make a living disagreeing with others, but these are false prophets. True in business and powerlifting also.
Tate talks about his first strides as a Personal Trainer at a boutique gym in Columbus. He asked the owners to pay him LESS than the going rate of $11 per hour, but pay him a bonus if he took their PT revenue from $3500 to $50,000 in six months. He did it in three. Then he asked for a 70% stake in the PT he did himself, and a percentage of all the PT he sold for others.
Interestingly, he followed this comment with: “That would leave the club with only about 10% to keep.” This is very close to the 4/9 model I teach to mentoring clients now. ” “I knew 70% was really pushing the boundaries. Today I don’t think anyone’s going to get that. It’s just not feasible to the business owner to give out that much.”
Yet many CrossFit gyms DO pay their trainers 70% to do personal training, because they see the service as an “add-on” or think it will motivate their coaches to sell more. Tate and I agree this is the wrong strategy.
Dave pointed out that people can only object to a service for one of four reason: Price, Time, Commitment or Spouse. He said, “It’s not money. I knew that, more than likely, these people just weren’t being asked.” Take that to heart.
Dave and I also had similar experience with our first Personal Training clients, where we learned the hard way that OUR reality wasn’t THEIR reality. In his case, he had a client nearly collapse under 95lbs in the squat rack. In my case, a client walked into the boutique PT studio where I was working, saw the chains hanging from the rack, and immediately left. My explanations about accommodating resistance were worthless to her; she didn’t want to make the logical leap, she just wanted to sweat before she hit the tanning machine.
Tate’s first “big” article was “The Periodization Bible,” Parts One and Two, on T-Nation. At the time, I was following a linear periodization cycle for powerlifting from Tudor Bompa (effective, but very boring.) When I saw a clear layout of the Conjugate Model, I could barely make myself finish the linear mesocycle before jumping.
Today, EliteFTS is a media powerhouse (here’s Dave’s own blog on the site,) and it’s all part of Tate’s “Live, Learn and Pass On” philosophy. He knows the value of content marketing for gyms, but says it’s MORE important to track the effect of the content you’re producing. The example I usually give is exercise tips: your future clients don’t really care about the finer points of the thruster. They care about losing weight, or easing back pain. Make your content address what THEY want to know.
Tate says he can predict when a new gym owner will succeed. He’d like to tell them all, “You’re going to work way more–and get paid way less–than you ever have in your life. You have to be in it for the love of it.” His “Passion Trumps Everything” slogan even adorns shirts in the EliteFTS store.
A great point: “You can mop your floors all day, and work really hard at that, but that’s not going to make you successful. You have to get passionate about the things that will make you successful at business.”
A takeaway homework assignment: write down 15 people who have said or done something that changed the course of your life in a positive way. If you can’t create that list, write a list of 15 people you can’t stand instead. What values have they shared that have stuck with you? What do those 15 people have in common? Now how can you take those lessons from “me” to “we”?
One of the worst statements about mentoring I’ve ever read was, “If he can help my business, it doesn’t matter if I like him as a person.” This is false. Ideas are important, but models are more important. The world changes. Being able to say, “What would Dave Tate do in this situation?” trumps any formula or script. Especially in a world where many experts sell their consulting services without actually achieving success themselves. We’re starting to see this in the CrossFit niche, but it’s been around for years–Tate refers to it as “the guy trying to make a million dollars selling ebooks on ‘How To Make A Million Dollars Selling eBooks.” It’s true that every coach should be able to take their clients beyond their own success when possible. But it’s also true that every coach should have in-the-trenches experience. I wrote a post on this topic a few weeks ago. Tate believes in on-on-one mentoring more than the “Mastermind” model.
The biggest problem facing most gyms, according to Tate: they’re all the same. They SAY they’re different, but most aren’t. He echoes Peter Thiel (“Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future“) when he says, “The client has to see the difference, not just the owner.”
After I hit “stop,” Dave and I talked a bit more about writing and publishing. He asked what I’d published, and then told me about his adventures in e-books.
When you publish anything worth reading, you’ll eventually be copied. Mel Siff, our original connection, was dealing with plagiarism when he died. I’m fighting through it now. But Tate’s been there and found a solution: he embeds hidden links in everything he publishes. When a blogger copies him verbatim, the links lead back to EliteFTS. It’s a very simple trick, but suitably clever enough for people who have nothing of their own to say.
Dave also spoke a bit about “the top ten percent” of clients and gym owners (who are MY clients.) He said, “The reason they’re the top ten percent is they’re always looking for something else. So they’ll never stay with any one mentor forever. But that’s okay, because they’ll always come back if you’re the best.” It was profound, and it rings true for clients in my gym and consulting clients who OWN gyms.
The most remarkable thing about Tate–and most of the big players in any field–is how generous he is with his time. He didn’t have to take the interview, but gave me an hour and forty minutes anyway. Through the interview, you can hear emails striking his inbox over and over, and he didn’t get distracted at all. He’s focused on growing the industry.
Some other links you need to use today (it’s Cyber Monday, coincidentally, and Dave’s giving away a free toboggan to orders on the EliteFTS site):
Recorded November 19, 2015.