Putting Our Equipment to the Test at Monster Garage Gym
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then footage of a powerlifting training session is worth ten-fold. With that in mind, it is one thing to read about elitefts equipment online, and it is another thing to see this equipment in action, and it is something altogether different to see it put to the test on the backs and in the hands of competitive powerlifters today.
To that end, here is a front-row view of elitefts equipment being put to the test at one of the most serious powerlifting gyms in the U.S.: Monster Garage Gym.
I was born in Ohio. For the vast majority of my life, I have lived in Illinois, the land of Lincoln, Coan, and Frantz.
I am an assistant principal and have worked in the field of education for over two and a half decades. I have master’s degrees in psychology and educational administration and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in philosophy.
With regard to my background within the world of powerlifting and weights, I am one of the owners and co-founders of Monster Garage Gym, located in Waukegan, Illinois.
Although I began lifting in grade school like many reading this, I consider an individual’s birth as a powerlifter as the time immediately following one’s first successful powerlifting competition. So, my birth in this great sport was following my first powerlifting meet in 1989. Subsequent to that first meet and over the next two and a half decades, I competed, on an average, four times per year, so some 80 meets, including some single-lift meets to hone my competition skills and for the sheer love of competing.
Through powerlifting, I have been able to travel and meet so many amazing people. Along the way, I was fortunate to win the WPC Worlds twice, the North American Powerlifting Championship, as well as a number of APF National meets. During those years through today, I have found that whether competing internationally as far away as Cape Town, South Africa, or as close as your local backyard meet, the powerlifting community is comprised of some of the most caring and giving people on the planet.
Two of my primary life pillars outside of family are as follows: I love training with weights, and I find great satisfaction working with people, especially the underdog. With that as the backdrop, I chose to pursue the field of education to help bring the best out of young people to help guide and mentor them through the difficult times in their adolescent lives and to help them to grow mentally and emotionally during that four-year duration of time they are in high school. Ever since I was a little boy in grade school through the present, I have always loved lifting weights and have enjoyed all aspects of training and competing.
I met powerlifting legend Ernie Frantz in the 1990s and trained at the legendary Frantz Gym during that time. Back when I trained at Frantz Gym, I watched Ernie Frantz train, and I watched him train and help others. I watched him do some amazing things in his gym to transform lifters physically, strength-wise and physique-wise, but also emotionally and mentally. I saw how Ernie was reaching people through weights and how that aligned with what I was doing in schools.
At that time I was training at Frantz Gym, I was also working as a dean of students and spending a lot of time with kids who were involved with gangs and were fairly rough around the edges. As I worked with these amazingly resilient kids who were dealing with some amazingly difficult situations, I was also learning so much about myself, life, weights, and the journey of powerlifting and life through Ernie’s mentoring.
I had always wanted to own a gym and via Frantz Gym and Ernie Frantz, I saw what a gym with the right vision and mission could accomplish. The desire to have my own gym transformed from a vision to a mission, ultimately reaching fruition when I opened Monster Garage Gym.
In owning the gym, I have managed to merge these two life pillars: helping young people and training. Through the weights and through the journey that is the acquisition of strength and power, muscle and self-actualization, victory, setbacks, and learning and growth, I have the opportunity to try to help shape and bring the best out of others through the vehicle that is the world of weights.
I have always wanted to own a gym. And I am sure like most who love weights, every association with the gym was one of complete satisfaction and joy. I love everything about training with weights in a good gym. In hindsight, what I did not realize is that this experience I was able to have would change for those coming up decades later. I say that as those mom-and pop-gyms — those family-owned, bodybuilder-owned, strongman-owned, powerlifter-owned gyms — I grew up with and was fortunate to train during my youth were becoming fewer and farther between as corporate fitness facilities started to pop up in each town, thus putting a lot of those family-owned gyms out of business.
In my opinion, there is a world of difference between a real gym, a place with weights owned by someone who values training and values the gym’s members and that is built for the like-minded, versus the cold, sterile feeling of a stark corporate gym that exists for mere profit, and that difference is stark.
I wrote an article detailing this frame of reference, as I think gym owners — owners of real gyms — are cut from the same cloth. And that is a desire to become better and to also have their lifters experience the same, all through the journey that is the world of weights.
If you don’t count the years we lifted at my home gym under the moniker of Monster Garage Gym, my first LLC that’s now a corporation, began 10 years ago this summer with the first gym, a tiny warehouse that was some 800 to 1,000 square feet in total. To this day, some of those same lifters that trained in the first building still train at Monster Garage Gym but now in its fourth and much larger location.
My first business partner was Phil Daniels of the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time, Phil was an NFL defensive end for the Redskins, and we trained together prior to owning Monster Garage Gym together. Phil is an amazing person and a great friend.
As I mentioned earlier, the history began in a home garage and subsequently moved as it grew into four different buildings, each larger than the last, but all with the same vision, mission, ambition, atmosphere, and intensity while still maintaining the focus that no one lifter is any less or any more than the other, and that our collective power comes from our diversity — be that black, white, brown, gay, straight, transgender, rich, poor, geared, raw, pro, or amateur. We accept all and embrace all.
But the moment you see yourself as better than a newer or not-as-strong lifter, the minute your negativity begins to impact the gym, the minute your own personal drama spills onto the gym floor, at that instant, you can go find yourself another gym. There is no tolerance for prima donnas or drama queens here. Fortunately, having to remove someone from the team has been a rarity.
With those negative souls all gym owners encounter, I always maintain, far be it for me to be the one who stands in front of another person’s self-destructive behavior or their inability to see anything except for the bad in the world or the stumblings of others. As the owner of the gym I say they can continue to wallow in their own misery, just not at the expense of another’s training program and meet prep.
To be clear, this is not to say that everyone who trains at the gym has to get along. Trust me, there are some folks at the gym who work my nerves, but once inside the walls of the gym, we put our energy into our training, and into one another’s training, for a rising tide raises all boats.
As the owner, it is not my place to decide who is a good person, who is wasting their life, who is squandering their precious time in the gym on that ridiculous phone, or who could have built an entire business during the time they have lost on social media. That is their business. But it is my place to step in when someone is preventing others from reaching the goals they are striving for, and that is the bottom line.
Over the years, the names and faces constantly change in a gym as the membership steadily increases; the squat, bench, deadlift, and total numbers climb and climb on the record boards; and the place gets more equipment and sometimes moves locations.
Regardless of how many years pass, the Monster Garage Gym mantra of “Become a part of something bigger than you” is omnipresent. The original mission: “To create a lifting environment that will bring the best out of each lifter. To provide the best powerlifting, strongman and weight training equipment for the lifter. To provide superior coaching and technique assessment. To work symbiotically as a team to get members to exceed their own lifting and competitive goals, all the while training as a supportive family unit” remains unchanged.
And much of that vision, as I mentioned in an earlier question, is based on the values I absorbed from Ernie Frantz and Frantz Gym.
Monster Garage Gym is not nor has it ever been about one person or about one lifter. It is about this place where people come to become the best and strongest version of themselves.
Our members range in lifting prowess from the all-time record-holders to the person just discovering the world of powerlifting. But they all are in under this roof to attain their goals. Some want to learn the basics, some want to be the best that has ever been, and everything in the middle.
As far as what they do professionally, their careers are as eclectic as their personalities. From chemists to military personnel, to lawyers to psychologists, to carpenters, to engineers, to construction workers, you name it. But as unique as their professions are, collectively, they are cut from the same cloth, and that is that type of individual who is striving to be more. It is just the degree of that more and their level of drive that is tiered, as is typically the case in all walks of life
I don’t know if I really have specific wants or expectations. Admittedly, it is tough for people to come to the gym as they see the highlight videos, and although the videos inspire many, they are intimidating so some newer lifters or those who are bigger fish in their smaller pond gym. Those lifters often self select themselves out, feeling they have to be at a certain level of strength to join, but that is not the case.
I can never tell from who comes in to see the gym, who will come back to join, or who will leave and head to the nearest corporate cookie-cutter gym, or who will have found their lifting fortress of solitude for life.
What I love to see is that lifter who, regardless of natural ability or lack thereof, becomes great due to plain old work ethic. And that work ethic is enhanced and supplemented by the atmosphere created by those striving for their goals, those willing to help with technique and lifting knowledge, and the best equipment being manufactured today.
What I expect once someone is a member is for them to adhere to our one rule, and that is the golden rule. Basically, help others and don’t think for one moment you are more important than someone else. Everyone has struggles you are unaware of, demons you are unaware of, and goals and aspirations you are unaware of.
What I don’t so much want or expect, but hope for, is that over time, those who train at Monster Garage Gym will get the very most out of this journey that is this great sport of powerlifting
There are several things that comprise that list. In no particular order, the knowledge base for one. We have an inordinately large number of powerlifters with decades of successful training and competition knowledge under their belts. It is more than rare for this number of world-caliber powerlifters to train all under one roof.
This serves our new lifters because you are constantly being mentored either directly or indirectly to what the best do and how they train. This serves our most elite powerlifters as well because they are all ravenous for bigger numbers and the collective feeding frenzy that comes with great lifters training together helps the best get even better.
For all lifters, they know that be it new lifter pressing 225 on elitefts Bench Press 1 or the world-class lifter pressing 925 on elitefts Bench Press 6, if you are going for a PR you get the same attention and support from the team as no one member’s PR is more or less important than another’s, just as no one family member is more important or less important than the other.
Atmosphere is another separating factor. If I could bottle what it feels like on a day when the gym is roaring, I would sell that and have this interview from my three-story beach home in Jamaica.
At the Frantz Gym and some of the other amazing powerlifting gyms in the U.S., there is something powerful and palpable in the air when the like-minded collectively strive to be their best and bring out the best in others. It is something that can’t be manufactured, and there is no formula to create it. It occurs organically when those who train together, trust one another, push one another, and believe in one another work to become strong(er).
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” is an absolute truth.
We brought Rich Auxer on board a couple years back. Rich is a powerlifter who has decades of powerlifting experience and is a tremendous deadlifter. He recently retired from the Army Special Forces. Rich would never ever tell anyone, but he was awarded the Bronze Star for combat valor. When asked about combat, Rich is the kind of guy who talks about everyone but himself.
The late Walter Payton once said, “When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.” Because Rich won’t, that is why I tell his story, as it deserves to be heard as Rich’s service to our country is worthy of our respect and pride.
In addition to his legacy of service to country, these days, Rich is in charge of daily operations at Monster Garage Gym, he drives the ship from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays until the 5 p.m. crew comes in to run it. Rich is a great business partner, as his vision for the gym is lockstep with mine and that of my wife Dawn, who is a powerlifter and co-owner of the gym.
Rich has helped carry a good chunk of the load that comes with running a gym and that makes things better for our lifters. To the layperson, they think you buy some equipment, rent a space, and presto! It is a gym. That is hardly the case. There is a ton of behind-the-scenes work, and Rich has been a huge help with that. Having seen as much intensity in battle as he has, he brings calm to our decision-making when things are getting heated, as he has a bigger perspective than most.
We are working hard on growing our strongman team and strongman equipment. We are well known for our powerlifters, but we also have nationally ranked strongman athletes at Monster Garage Gym as well. What we are also doing to improve is striving to be better not just as a gym but also to be better people.
Toward that end, we have been hosting nonprofit events. We have held powerlifting competitions to raise money for A Safe Place, a local women’s shelter; Underdog Dog Rescue, a nearby dog rescue; the Military Muscle Foundation; as well as helping run, spot, judge, and load at the annual powerlifting meet hosted at the local Naval base.
We have run technique seminars at the gym for military lifters at those annual meets for no charge. Also, with regard to the military, all of our gym members who are in the military, police, or fire department have a discount as we appreciate their service.
We are also working with one of our powerlifters and strongman athletes who resides in Florida on a Monster Garage Gym Florida. We are in the process of working out all the legal aspects that come with an endeavor like that. The person with whom we are working is cut from the same moral and ethical cloth, and he, too, believes in bringing the best out of every lifter.
In addition to these larger aspects, we are constantly chipping away at the stone, be it a new piece of elitefts equipment or our lifters, or our new Patreon page, which we created for those who are looking to learn more about powerlifting.
I knew of elitefts as I had purchased equipment from them years back, and I knew of Dave Tate, as he is approximately my vintage.
I received a call some time back somewhere around 2012 from some personnel at elitefts asking if I would be interested in being a columnist (back in 2007, I had an article posted in elitefts). In the past, I had articles published in Monster Muscle, PowerMag, and Powerlifting USA. Writing those articles was great, but this was an invitation to write a column each and every month. I said, “Thank you for the call and interest. I will think this over as with a full-time job in a school system, a family, my training, competing, and Monster Garage Gym responsibilities, I would need to see if I had the time to do this.”
I needed to weigh this opportunity because if I was going to do this, I was going to put my all into it, and that requires time and commitment.
So, I began to write an article to see how long that process takes, as well as taking the time to vet elitefts and Dave. I knew the high quality of their equipment because I owned a bit of it, but I didn’t know all there was to know about the company and what it stood for.
In the process of drafting an article, I realized that it takes every bit of that month to put together an article worthy of not only your name but worthy to be posted along the side of the other elitefts columnists and the name elitefts. I also realized that Dave Tate’s elitefts was just that: Dave Tate’s. Dave puts his everything into elitefts, but more than that, it is a business based on his values, his vision, and his mission.
The more I vetted elitefts, the more I realized how much work went into elitefts as an entity, what it stands for, what it believes in, what its mission is, what its core values are, where it has been and where it is going. The more I looked into elitefts, the more similarities I found between elitefts and Monster Garage Gym, and that was the selling point for me philosophically and morally.
Of course, little did I know that prior to vetting elitefts, elitefts had vetted me. elitefts vets all their columnists and coaches, as you are representing them as well as creating content to share with athletes. So the more I read up on elitefts and Dave, the more respect and belief in them I gained.
Also with regard to writing for elitefts, I think it is one thing to get to write educational content for powerlifters and strength athletes, but it is a solely different thing to do so for a company steeped in this particular belief system of “Live, Learn and Pass On,” and do so from amongst a team of columnists comprised of such great powerlifters and strength athletes.
The bottom line is my choice to write for elitefts has everything to do with the quality of the company, the authenticity of its vision and mission, the superiority of its products and its customer focus.
Each time in the past that I had ordered from elitefts, I was impressed with their staff behind the scenes: folks like Ronda in customer service and Matt in sales. If Dave is the machine that is elitefts, people like Ronda and Matt are the mechanics behind the scenes who keep the machine running at full speed.
A couple pieces of advice. First, do your homework before you spend any money. As someone with a ton (literally) of elitefts equipment now, I could tell you why elitefts is the way to go, but you need to personally compare apples to apples. Once you do that, you will see for yourself why elitefts is the way to go, and that is important, as it will give you the information to make a great purchase as well as the peace of mind required when making a significant investment for your gym business or home gym.
What I will share with you from years and years of experience training with elitefts equipment is this: At Monster Garage Gym, we have some of the strongest powerlifters competing today using our elitefts equipment. With a number of guys on the team who have squatted over 1,000 pounds, benched over 800 pounds, a couple in the 900s, and have pulled over 800 pounds, our elitefts equipment has never failed, never broken, and never compromised the safety of the lifters nor the spotters. Never, not one single time.
I don’t know what price you can put on peace of mind, but when 845 pounds on a bench bar comes crashing down toward a bencher after the bar comes out of his hands and the loaded bar hits the face-saver metal safeties rather than cutting the lifter’s head clean off, well, you have never been more glad you own the best and safest equipment made today. I will take elitefts’ heavily reinforced welds over other companies’ easy-to-be-mailed bolts, nuts, and screws any day.Same goes for bars. Your gym might not have 1,000-pound squatters (yet), but the 500-pounds squatters deserve a bar that has great knurling, is balanced, won’t whip them around when doing reps and will last a lifetime of lifting and training.
In the video that accompanies this interview, you will see virtually every piece of elitefts equipment and bar being used. We have not once had buyer’s remorse, as there is no doubt in my mind and with my 30 years under the powerlifting bar that elitefts is the best-made equipment for powerlifting, period.
Keep being the beacon! It used to be that in order to put training material out there, you had to have an expertise and enough experience and success to fill a book that costs money to publish, and that book was published only after being highly vetted by the publishing firm.
Today, you can hardly get away from information as the vetting to get it seen and the expertise and success to create it are no longer requisite. The reason is that most online voices are the same volume, be they an expert like Ed Coan or the snake oil salesperson. Unfortunately to that end, everyone with an opinion has a blog, IG page, etc., regardless of the lack of knowledge, experience, and success.
Keep being the beacon because elitefts is a source of truth for those involved in power, muscle, strength, and performance. elitefts has vetted, proven, authentic, quality, and diverse information on all things strength, power, muscle, and performance. And its content is free.
In other words, the information from elitefts comes to the athlete from an experienced lifter at no cost, unlike the snake oil rhetoric coming from a $70-per-session trainer who has never competed but who has passed a test stating they are certified. There is a big difference between having vast experience and having a social media following. Said another way, it is quality content over clickbait.
My other advice is to continue to keep the caliber of columnists and coaches high. Behind the scenes, just like on the platform, the elitefts columnists are competitors, so don’t think for one second that each columnist isn’t trying to write the best column and blow the others on the team away with their content. The elitefts columnists and elitefts coaches all support one another, speak with one another, advise one another, and some train with one another.
At the end of the day, each columnist and each coach wants to put out something so valuable on elitefts.com so their peers on the team take note. The team that writes and coaches for elitefts are amazing, but at the end of each month, we want to see who put out the best stuff.
In 2018, I was fortunate to land on the Top-5 Columnist list for the year. That is something I worked very hard for, as I have a deep respect for team elitefts and for the responsibility we have to put out great content. elitefts is the beacon, and my feedback for elitefts is to continue to be just that, regardless of how clickbait-y the online world gets around it. Clickbait is everywhere, and that is why we need Dave Tate and elitefts to continue to be what they are and who they are.