A throwback article from around 2009 of what is was like to train with Spud "Back in the Day"
Training With Spud
By Dale Steifel
I moved from Greenville to Columbia to go to school at the University of South Carolina almost three years ago. I considered myself a hardcore powerlifter and at the seasoned age of 19 I thought I knew what I was doing. When I came to Spud’s gym the most I had done in a meet was 650 on the squat, 385 on the bench, and a 605 deadlift. I did my research to find the right gym for me and was excited to learn about Spud’s gym with what seemed like an army of strong training partners. I was excited and nervous the first time I walked in the door to the gym. I met Spud at the front desk and introduced myself, but didn’t really talk to him since I was in awe of his greatness (he was the first top powerlifter I had ever met).
I started training a few days here and there getting acquainted with the gym and trying to figure out just where I would be in the pecking order…everybody does this when they go to a new gym, but won’t admit it. At the time there were two crews that worked out on separate monolifts. The crew I was in was what I called the kiddy pool. The strong crew consisted of Spud, Karl Tillman, and Barry Sturdivant. These guys were amazing to me because I had never been around big weights like they lifted. Of course I acted like it was no big deal because everyone else did, but I was scared shitless when someone asked me to spot Spud squatting a grand. It was just another warm up for him, but that night was the first night I really got to talk to Spud about his training and tried like hell to get in his good graces so I could learn from him. This is around the time I started earning nicknames. Spud kept calling me the spy, because he said I was a spy sent from another gym to learn all his secrets. Karl either called me the new guy or Dellbert (because for almost the first year I was there he thought my name was Dell). Now my nickname with the crew is “the Protégé” because I am a little spud in training.
I quickly found out that what ever spud said was golden, and any advice he gave I followed it to the letter. It was amazing how fast I got stronger training with the always-competitive kiddy pool training crew and the teaching of Spud and the rest of the guys. It didn’t take long before everyone started pushing me to do a meet. I think they wanted to see what I was made of when it came meet time. Anyone can train great and hit big numbers in the gym, but freak out when it comes meet day and bomb. This was not the case with my first meet after training with my new training partners. I did a local meet in Rock Hill, SC where I squatted 804, benched 506 and pulled in the middle sixes. I feel like that was the day I got accepted into Spud’s strong group. After the meet I went from top dog in the kiddy pool to the weakest guy in my new crew.
One major thing that throws people off when they come to train with us is the intensity level of spud and the rest of the guys. It all depends on what night it is, but most nights it is a fun time where spud is cracking on everybody. People try to come back on him but the man has a smart-ass answer for any joke. Spud has his moments of angry intensity before a big lift, but it overall is a relaxed training atmosphere. When spud was 300 pounds it was funny to watch him nod off to sleep in-between sets. Seriously, he would get done squatting a thousand pounds, take 3 or 4 steps to his chair (that may collapse at any moment) sit down and nod off to sleep for a minute. He would carry his “fat chair” around the gym with him so he could sit down when he trained his clients. I can’t say that I was much better last training cycle when I gained up to 320 lbs. I never went to sleep during a workout, but I did use the fat chair. The newly slim spud would look at me and say, “I remember those days” as he watched me eat my patented cookie, brownie peanut butter sandwich that had over 1,000 calories in it.
The funny part of training with Spud is that I have not seen him lift in a meet yet. He has been to several meets since I have been training with him, but normally I am running the gym while he goes to meets (I work for Spud at South Carolina Barbell). It is really odd that the only competition I have seen him in was in his short-lived (thank God) body building days after his squat accident. After his Quad tear / shoulder nerve explosion Spud lost over a hundred pounds to help speed the rehab process and just to improve his health. Spud went from 305 lbs of can’t tie my shoelaces without passing out, to 195lbs of spray tan and posing briefs in one year. Those were fun times to be had by all with a carbohydrate starved shriveling fat guy doing 2-3 hours of cardio per day. He wasn’t too hard to deal with until the last 2-3 months before his bodybuilding show. Then, he was like most bodybuilders are that have been dieting and doing endless cardio for months on end…an angry two year old. That would quickly pass with the first doughnut after the bodybuilding show. Doughnuts and pizza can fix anything after a year of dieting! Throughout the whole ordeal Spud still trained with the crew but made a few bodybuilder friendly modifications. The funny thing is that now that he is back solely to powerlifting he can pretty much out lift everyone in the gym, even though he is 75 lbs lighter than he was.
It is fun chasing Spuds numbers even though it will take a while to get there. That still doesn’t prevent everyone from pitting me against him on training days. Keith Ferrara (the “Angry Troll” as we call him) constantly says that Spud will throw me out of the gym when I beat his numbers. I think I am safe for a while considering Spuds total is in the 2500’s and mine in the low 21’s. Nonetheless, it is fun to see what lengths the troll will go to trying to get a reaction from one of us. Spud takes his antagonistic banter in stride in true Yoda form says that he wouldn’t be a good coach if his protégé did not surpass the teacher. Teaching is one thing that Spud does that has been critical to everyone in our group’s success.
It has been great to learn from one of the best powerlifters in the sport. Spud has taught me a lot that would have taken me years to learn on my own. He says that I get the benefit of learning from all his mistakes so I don’t have to make them on my own. He stresses that one of his biggest mistakes was over training just for the sake of doing more work. He told me it is important to understand why you are doing an exercise and keep the focus on achieving that purpose. Spud is always learning new training methods and different ways to incorporate exercises in training cycles. That is the benefit training with a smart powerlifter. Spud has a relaxed sort of mellow approach to teaching and correcting form problems. He can sit back and watch us lift and every once in a while interject what someone did wrong and how to fix the problem. Spud hardly ever gets animated when he is correcting someone’s form. There was this one time that one of the cops that trains with us kept making the same mistake while squatting. He asked Spud to watch his form on a close to max squat. He got under the bar and it was ugly from the get go, before the dude even got half way up Spud said “I am going to punch you in the *&$%*#@ face!” I knew Spud was half serious, but mainly frustrated…it is always funny to see him get riled up. He knows who needs a smack in the head and who to put the breaks on their intensity. Everyone is different in their approach, but Spud always seems to know how to motivate.
I have also learned from Spud how to self motivate, but that doesn’t stop him from adding a little extra motivation. Spud knows how and loves to push people’s buttons. He loves to make little remarks like, “just get what you can”, or “you can go to a lighter weight if you need to” after he finishes a hard set of whatever we may be doing. To me those are more motivating than someone yelling at me and smacking me because mentally it forces me to rise to the challenge of training with someone stronger than me. Spud gets great pleasure in making sly little digs at me because he gets to be a smart ass and motivate me at the same time. It is the same with everyone in our crew. Everyone is a smart ass on there favorite night to train for instance the people with big benches talk smack on bench night and keep quiet on squat night. I just keep quiet and am amused watching it all play out with spud always getting the last word.
The past few months of training has been sort of half ass with Spud just coming off the bodybuilding show, and me just doing as little as possible during my hellish school semester. Now our attention has turned to preparing for a meet. Spud hasn’t let the cat out yet on what meet he wants to do, but I am planning on competing at the Junior Nationals in Baton Rouge. I finally made the commitment to compete on a higher level. I have done plenty of small local meets with good success, but nothing on a national level. I am excited to start our training, because I developed the squat and dead cycle. I added a few new things and made the cycle percentage based, which I have never really used in the past. I got the Spud stamp of approval on the program and he is going to do the cycle too. We may need to change a few of the weights as I was pretty optimistic in picking my weights each workout, but I would rather over achieve than fall short of my goals. My goals for Junior Nationals are a 950 squat, 675 bench, and 705 dead for a 2330 total. These are hopefully going to be my third attempts if things go as planned, but we will see how the cycle progresses. I haven’t ever been on the exact same training cycle with Spud so it should be fun as we are both competitive with each other.
Training with Spud has done wonders for my development as a powerlifter and my internal drive to accomplish. Not only is Spud a renowned powerlifter, but he also owns and operates three businesses. He owns South Carolina Barbell where we all train with all the normal people, the Spud Inc Strap Line, and a newly acquired Nutrition Warehouse. Spud’s drive to be successful in business is comparable to his competitiveness on the powerlifting platform, and has shown me what it takes to achieve your goals. Spud always talks about willpower; he said that you can accomplish anything you want if you commit your will to do what it takes to get there. I have no magic total that I am striving for, because I am still finding my potential and I feel that long-term goals can limit you if you underestimate your potential. Instead I plan to keep learning and growing through listening to people that have been where I want to be, and I am lucky to have a training partner in Spud that is just that.