Review: Under the Bar

Under the Bar – Twelve lessons of life from the world of powerlifting – Dave Tate (published by EliteFTS)

[this is the draft of a review tentatively solicited by Interesting Times Magazine, for their forthcoming 5th issue]

Dave Tate isn’t your average powerlifting mule. Yes, he’s a seriously strong motherfucker, but he’s also got a pretty sharp head on his shoulders. Seriously, look at the author photo – the dude looks like a big, angry, sawed-off Conehead. You get that strong by spending a lot of time picking up heavy shit. Along the way, Tate has also picked up an approach to things other than lifting, using the same approach.

The jacket text summarizes Tate’s thesis: “Everything that you need to succeed is usually right in front of your face. You just have to know when to recognize it.”

I have no idea if the words “Dave Tate” and “thesis” have ever appeared in the same sentence before. He doesn’t come across like an academic (though he does discuss his collegiate academic career, spanning his stints at both Bowling Green State University, and the University of Toledo). Unsurprisingly, he comes across like a guy who spends a lot of time in the gym and in an office with shitty fluorescent lighting, and doesn’t have time for euphemisms, corporate jargon, or bullshit. He treats the subject like a bar loaded with plates – it’s something to be looked at, assessed, addressed, and put down.

Tate frames each chapter around a core tenet, and kicks each one off with a handful of quotes from people you’ve probably heard of. It’s certainly not a bad trick, though he could do with a bit less repetition (believe me, I think Vince Lombardi was a smart man, too, but he said a more smart things than are repeated here). As far as being a self-help guide, you could do a lot worse. There’s nothing groundbreaking in what he says – honesty, integrity, hard work, the desire to keep learning, and good decision-making never go out of style. There’s no cheerleading or hand-holding going on here. In comparison to more traditional leadership and professional development books, there’s a lot of overlap, which isn’t that surprising. There’s a reason that 5×5’s, squats, and deadlifts are still essentially universal training constants – the basics for success don’t change a hell of a lot, either. In Under the Bar, they’re just laid out in Tate’s plain-spoken, blue-collar Ohio manner.

If you’re casting about for focus in your life outside of the gym, Tate provides some straight talk, like an uncle who doesn’t have to bullshit around to say what is on his mind. He gives examples of how he’s applied lifting philosophy to business, and, with minimal mental gymnastics, it’s serving him fairly well. Maybe it’ll do the same for you. Between what he says and what people who probably wear suits (instead of the ubiquitous black hooded sweatshirt Tate is famous for sporting), I have to say I prefer his delivery, since it doesn’t fuck around. You get the feeling that he’s just putting this out there, and doesn’t really give a shit if it changes your life or not.  Basically, what he’s saying is, “This is what I did, and what I thought, and here’s how it worked for me. I’ve got a good family life and run my own business, and am doing pretty okay here.”

This book is a chilly March afternoon, with the kind of stiff breeze that means you’d better drink your fucking beer as you stand on your back porch before your hand goes numb, not sipping some fancy scotch in a highball glass some clubby back room with a big fire and the ghost of cigar smoke.  In short, Under the Bar is a far, far better book than 5/3/1, primarily because it has a lot fewer pictures of Jim Wendler in it.


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