Saying Goodbye — Memories of the S4 Compound

TAGS: elitefts offices, warehouse, Memories of the S4 Compound, S5 Compound, new gym, S4 Compound, training facility, dave tate, Elitefts Info Pages

After nearly 20 years in business, elitefts has reached an important moment in company history: we have officially designed, constructed, and moved into our own facility, complete with a new office space, a new warehouse, and—that's right—a new training facility. For you, this means many things. It means better customer service, more high-quality content, improved access to our experts, and an overall better experience as both a reader and a customer. For us, it means that the future looks bright, with greater capacity for serving the strength community than ever before.

It also means the loss of a place that has meant many things to many people: our gym, where we have hosted countless events, welcomed lifters, athletes, and coaches from all over the world, where PR after PR has been set and broken, and many lessons have been both taught and learned, will be no more. The S4 Compound is now a thing of the past.


RECENT: Closing in on Our 20th Year in Business


As we say goodbye to the S4 Compound and look forward to an even better future, we want to take a moment to remember the S4 and everything that it has meant to us. Anyone who has set foot in the compound knows that there is no other place on earth like it. As we leave the S4 Compound and christen the S5 Compound, join us in giving a proper farewell to a place we have called home for many years.


Dave Tate

I was asked to write a story or memory from our S4 gym, as we are less than a week away from moving into our new S5 location.

I’m no different than anyone who has trained there for years or only for a weekend. My memories are no more or no less than another, as all of our gyms from S1 to S4 were built to help educate and make others stronger by passing on the knowledge and wisdom of those who walk in the same shoes or travel the same path.

The platforms and mats have moved from gym to gym. On them have stood many of the strongest athletes that have ever walked the planet. Inside the walls of S4, hundreds if not thousands have been shown how to lift, a dozen local gym lifters became elite powerlifters, special needs individuals were shown to be special abilities, and close to $200,000 was raised and donated to charity in order to help wishes come true. Dreams, PRs, empowerment, education, and dreams were formed, executed, and achieved within those four walls. As we like to say: prepare, perform, prevail.

In business, there are cost analyses associated with everything. If not kept in check, it can be the difference between success and failure. As I’ve always said, “What was the ROI on it?” What value does it add or does it take away? Our gyms have always been private, for staff, team, and friends. On paper, they have and always will operate at a loss. But is it a loss?

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had to make hard decisions, have had to deal with serious health issues for myself and loved ones, death, loss, frustration, and being kicked so hard by adversity that I was completely lost. There were other times when I hated work, wasn’t inspired, injured so badly I couldn’t train, or just didn’t want to write anything or know what to. Just lost.

Like many who read this, the gym is therapy and a way to deal with stress. For me, it’s been much more, because the memories that come to my mind first are not related to training at all.

It’s walking in a half-lit gym as my father was dying and after he passed. It's the time I spent alone when my wife had less than a one-percent chance of survival after a saddled embolism. It’s screaming at the top of my lungs when I was struggling with my son's autism. It’s sitting alone at the table as my mother fought for her life. It’s the number of times I was so weak from my own surgical issues that all I was able to do was walk in the gym and grab a bar as my way of knowing it’s always there, regardless of the weight on it. This is only a fraction of the examples I could write.

When visitors enter our gym and see the pictures on the wall, they see our team, from past to present. I see the faces I looked at while walking those floors at my darkest times, without them knowing they helped get me through it all.

When visitors see the giant table and think “that’s badass,” I see where I sat sweating, bleeding, and crying, alone in the dark. There’s no value that can be placed on this.

CJ Murphy

If I had to pick my favorite moment there, it would have to be the interview I did about five years ago. I was pulled from the compound and told I had to go to the elitefts production studio for an interview. Okay, cool, I thought. They make some awesome videos and have team of artists who create content, so this must be a sweet studio. I was escorted to the bowels of the building and was not sure if I was going to a production studio or to an episode of the Saw movies.

I gimped my way down to a dank basement where they had a table, an elitefts logo painted on the wall, and some cameras. Yep. State of the art.

They sat Stevie P and me down and asked us questions and we ripped off answers. Harry Selkow was the topic of many. All of the sudden, I felt something rustling around my legs, and I thought for sure I was a goner in this filthy Ohio basement. Harry’s head pops up between Stevie P and me, and he jumps in the interview. Right between me and Steve.

I just about shit my pants laughing.

Ben Pollack

For a long time, I had frustratingly small triceps and, as a result, an awful bench press. Then I trained at the S4 Compound at elitefts and everything changed. That weekend, Mario D’Amico and Bryan Doberdruk taught me to use the SS Yoke Bar to perform JM presses. I had trained with JM presses before, but they felt uncomfortable, and I had a tendency to put too much emphasis on the shoulders and not enough on the triceps. The SS Yoke Bar made it easy to stay in the groove and get a massive triceps pump while moving heavy weight. I started out with 135. Three months later, I was using 315 for reps, my arms had grown half an inch, and my bench press had shot up by 20 pounds after refusing to budge for years. Obviously, I was pretty fucking psyched.

JP Carroll

I could go the romantic route and mention how the first time I met Sheena was at the S4, or how Dave talked shit to me, fired me up, and wrapped me for an 800x3 squat set, bringing things full circle in some meathead poetic way.

This morning I took my daughter Angelina to the S4 where she squatted for the first time in her 13 years of life. I warmed her up with the bar, then 10 pounds at a time, until she had 125 pounds on her back and smoked it. Last week she pulled 135 with less than perfect but decent technique — she's a natural.

She has explained to me she has used what I do for a meet to plan for her future. She eluded that hard work, dedication, and willingness to sacrifice things at times have shown her that you have to plan, execute, and be willing to fail, as long as you know you'll always come back.

So my favorite moment at the S4 is this. I've taught her a valuable life lesson: hard work pays off. I love her and a can breathe a sigh of relief knowing she knows that sometimes you have to put your head down and cut the world off if you want something. That happened in the corner of the compound by the GHRs and dumbbells.

Sheri Whetham

Magic happens at the S4 Compound, and there is no question that when you create the right environment and you have the right people, great things happen.

The most memorable time for me in my mind and heart is the Clint Darden Seminar on August 19, 2015. Ken and I were invited by the man Clint Darden himself to help coach his seminar. I have to tell you this was an honor and privilege to be included in such a monumental seminar. When Clint Darden walked through the compound door you could sense the silence. Most of the team had never met him before. There was a special aura about him that felt like you have known him all your life.

There were 24 participants at the seminar. Men, women, strongmen, powerlifters — you name it, we had a bit of every skill imaginable in that room. The day was fun, educational, and an experience I will never forget. I made so many new friends that day and to this day over two years later we still stay in touch with a lot of them. Meeting Clint Darden and his wife Nefi was an unforgettable experience and I will cherish that opportunity forever.

Matt Goodwin

It was speed bench night for myself, Steve Colescott, and my 66-year-old dad Alan Goodwin in the S4 Compound. We were midway through our sets when Dave Tate walked through the door. I noticed Dave kind of lurking around our bench and asked if he had any advice. He took a minute, came over, and started pushing on our legs during our reps to make sure we were activating our leg drive. He then fired back that I was old, Steve was in a 20-year slump, and rigor mortis had set in for my dad. Then he walked away.

Christian Anto

My most memorable experience at the compound was November 2 (my birthday) in London, Ohio, four years ago in 2013 when I made my first pilgrimage to attend one of the legendary Learn to Train seminars (LTT6). A large crew from NBS Fitness piled into a rental van and made the 12-hour drive. This would be a day that set the tone for the next three years of my powerlifting journey. I was able to see Casey Williams battle it out with Brandon Smitley to be a part of the team.

Roughly a year later I would be back to help run The Powerlifting Experience, a huge hit following the LTT seminars. It was the first time I was able to pass on to attendees.

Andy Hingsbergen

One of my favorite memories at the S4 Compound was watching Dave struggle to deadlift a weight, only to rip it for 12 reps a day later. Before Dave's second hip replacement, he was on a mission to beat all his previous PRs or destroy himself in the process. I mean, he was already getting the hip replacement, so no big deal if he made the hip worse. I remember he set up a deadlift off blocks and it was only about 275 bar weight, but all the chains took it to about 600 at the top. He was wearing single-ply and multi-ply briefs, compression pants, and had duct tape everywhere around his hip and legs.

He limped over to the bar, tossed his cane aside, strapped in, and struggled to pull it for two. I remember it being a really emotional moment for him because, in his mind, chains don't matter, and his hip was so beat up that even 275 from blocks was unbearably painful. He collapsed and laid on the ground for about 10 minutes before picking himself up and going home.

Well, 24 hours later, I was back in the gym after work. I remember Ted and a couple others being there (they can back me up on this) and Dave walked in wearing his custom series sweatpants and an elitefts polo (Dave's fashion choice is excellent). No briefs and no compression pants — he simply wound duct tape around his adductor a few times, walked over to the bar he left loaded from the day before, and proceeded to rip it off the ground for 12 reps. I picked my jaw up off the floor while Ted just cracked up. Dave's eyes were completely blown. He just tossed his wrist straps off, grabbed his cane, and walked back to his car and drove away. It was unreal.

David Allen

I have so many great memories from the S4 Compound. Some of my favorite times were sitting around the table after a LTT and listening to Dave and Bob Youngs tell Westside stories and bust each other's balls. But if I’m going to pick a specific memory that sticks out in my mind, it would be when Casey Williams and Brandon Smitley were brought onto the team. I believe that was my first LTT as a team member, so it was my first time to experience getting to train at the UGSS with the team and coach the attendees at the LTT.

Brandon and Casey were both attendees in the same group and they both were putting up some really awesome numbers that day. At the end of the day, on deadlifts, Dave made an announcement that he was going to award to whoever between them had a better total or maybe hit their third deadlift (I can’t remember the specifics) a spot on the team. Casey ended up winning and Brandon, understandably, was very emotional. Then Dave made the announcement that they would both be joining the team and the place went nuts. That was such a cool moment to experience.

These are the first memories I have from the S4 Compound. Since then, I have been blessed to be watched for the following three years and in 2016 be requested to be a part of the team. This company has had a hand in developing me from the beginning and still does to this day, every time I return to those four walls. The S4 Compound will be a memory that will never be forgotten because it was the beginning of my powerlifting journey.

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Joe Sullivan

I signed up for the first Powerlifting Experience at the S4 Compound in 2015. The day was a typical one at S4: both raw and geared lifters alike training together and learning from members of the team. They all tore my inefficiencies apart and drove me to learn even more to become better.

Those were not the highlights of the day, nor even close to them. At the end of the day, when I was sufficiently star-struck and spent, a person that you might not expect did something that I'll never forget. Traci Tate, Dave's wife, approached me and embraced me in a hug, not unlike my own mother's. She smiled and told me she could see true passion in me and believed I was going to do very good things in the sport of powerlifting.

I had an inkling I was meant for something greater, but this short exchange made me believe it with all my heart. I know I'm here to live, learn, and pass on as my predecessors have done before me, and will guide more new athletes towards the path, showing that desire will get you nowhere, but having passion and fire will trump everything.

Sheena Leedham

In 2012 I used to travel three-and-a-half hours from Pennsylvania to train every weekend at the S4 compound. As a columnist at that time, it was an excellent opportunity to meet team members and get coached. One squat day, after the weekend crew began to filter out, Dave and I were finishing up — I was doing accessory work to build my pathetic hamstrings and quadriceps. Dave couldn’t help but point out my horrible form on everything. Who knew you could suck at leg pressing? I’ll never forget when he had me push out my stomach and pretend I had a beer gut. He was instilling the need to get air, stay tight, and breathe properly. After 20 minutes of non-stop coaching and drop sets, Dave began to collect his gym bag and car keys to leave. I took this as my cue to also get my things and go home. Reaching for my keys, Dave fired back, “You’re not going anywhere. You have calves next.” Dave quickly showed me where the lights were and how to lock up, then left. For him to give me his undivided time during training and then trust me to continue to train and lock up remains a top memory I'll never forget — passion and trust in motion.

A few months later within these walls, I began working for elitefts, training Dave's wonderful son Blaine, and met my future husband eight months ago.

Mike Szudarek

The most memorable experience I had at the S4 Compound was in February 2012, squatting with training partners, team members, and others alongside Chuck Vogelpohl. This was one of our last heavy training sessions prior to the XPC Pro/Elite International Coalition meet at the 2012 Arnold Classic. Chuck had recently broken his foot and literally walked in on crutches and a boot on his leg. Less than two hours later he had worked up to just over 1000 on the squat. What stood out the most, however, was the amount of unsolicited help and attention he provided nearly everyone. From loading, spotting, and coaching, he treated every attempt—from almost every lifter—as if it was the most important lift of the day. That experience always stood out as a shining example of what powerlifting should be.

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Bryan Doberdruk

Matt Goodwin invited me to squat with Mario D'Amico and Joe Schillero in prep for the 2015 XPC Finals at the S4 Compound. One squat day quickly became the worst squat day of my life. We had four really heavy sets of two. Afterward, Dave told us we were bi**hes, had no heart, and he wouldn't give us any rest between sets or quit talking sh*t to us.

Eight more sets of two and eight additional sets of one later, I remember a few things:

  • Mario looking for a trash can to puke in
  • Mario getting stapled to the box
  • Dave yelling at us to "just leave him, maybe he'll f***ing learn something"
  • Dave telling me that a rep I grinded out was "the worst f***ing squat he's ever seen but at least I had the balls to do it" (I'm an optimist, and that was the nicest thing he'd ever said, so I took that as a compliment)
  • Dave making Mario and Joe do all their accessory work in full gear because they'd waste too much time getting their suits off

Two and a half years later, I keep coming back for more.

Yessica Martinez

At one of the UGSS events, Brandon made a comment that I could “possibly” fit into his briefs. I accepted the challenge and shimmied my way into them. I started with 225 on the bar and worked my way up. At the time I had never squatted more than 300 raw. Dave chimed in and started coaching me through it. Then Julia, then Joe Schillero, and slowly almost the whole team was coaching and watching. My first attempt at 420 didn’t go as smoothly and I racked it. Dave gave me a pep talk and told me to try again. I don’t remember what he said exactly but we all know that when we get the pep talk, we’ll die under the iron trying before we fail.

I ended up squatting 420 pounds my first time in gear. The camera got a glimpse of Casey’s reaction and that’s how all that started. I remember that moment specifically because, well, I did something I’ve never done, and the support and encouragement was felt in that room.

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Jason Colley

It was different this time. This time I was part of the team. I was equal. Maybe not in terms of accomplishments on the platform, but equal in terms of being able to share knowledge to people who place an importance on training. It was a hot summer day in June. I remember that the first time I was there it was cold; it was October for my birthday. But this time the air was hot and thick and immediately I knew I was in for a ride.

I pulled up to the infamous door that leads into the S4 Compound. Immediately my eyes peered across the room, spotting multiple people I’ve only seen online. The handshakes were hard and meaningful; the greetings were full of truth and camaraderie. Training for that day was intense, hot, and sweaty. Every attachment, machine, chain, and band was at my disposal. The music was loud and the yelling was intense but focused. Screams of passion filled the air as the plates piled on. The video cameras filmed as the intensity kept rising. We trained as if it was going to be the last time we would ever train on earth. I’ll never forget that June, Ohio, summer day.

Nate Harvey

I’ve only been to the S4 Compound three times so far. However, I’ve been a huge follower of elitefts since 2000. I remember my first visit walking around the gym and looking at all the pictures on the wall and remembering seeing most of them on the website years ago. It was really cool to think back on all I had learned in my early to mid-twenties and the eventual contacts and friends I made from the website. I’m pretty sure I did this for a couple hours but honestly, could have done it all day.

It is not an exaggeration to say I would have never gotten a Division I coaching job if it weren’t for elitefts. There are maybe 150 head jobs in the county and probably 20,000 new aspiring strength coaches graduating every year. Elitefts is one of the top five reasons I was able to achieve this goal. My time as a coach prepared me for my current role with elitefts. It's pretty cool to think about how things work out when you work at them. I got myself on the varsity bus, now I've got to get in the starting lineup!

Brandon Smitley

Without a doubt, my favorite memory was competing against Casey Williams at the LTT7 Seminar for a chance at being sponsored by elitefts. That day was probably my proudest moment in my powerlifting career. I remember when I emailed Mark Watts and asked him if I could join the Nasty Group so that I could take some heavy singles and work towards a PR. Little did I know that Dave would end up making this a competition between me and Casey to earn a spot on the team. Luckily, Dave was kind enough to offer me a spot as well in front of the whole group and team. Then Murph de-pantsed me at the bar while singing our fight songs, which I totally botched. I've managed to create some of the best relationships I've ever had thanks to elitefts and will always be appreciative of the opportunity given to me.

JL Holdsworth

My top-10 S4 memories include:

  • Taking the white rack out of S4 to be my first rack at The Spot Athletics, where it still lives on.
  • All the amazing Underground Strength Sessions. So many big lifts, laughs and great times.
  • Pissing on the stones outside. Sorry all you strongman if you ever lifted one — they were always the place to pee.
  • Batgirl choking out Steve Pulcinella. By far the most legendary UGGS ever. The stories from this one could fill a book.
  • Coaching all the Learn to Train Seminars.
  • Calling Verity a fluffer in front of the whole Learn to Train Seminar. For as much as I gave at the LTTS, I always got back tenfold and made some amazing friends — Verity and Brad at the top of that list.
  • Weekend training, or “the church of iron” as we called it, with Brian. This was one of the happiest times in my adult life. Truly amazing times.
  • My first experience with Spike, in which I drank three and felt like I was going to die.
  • My long table talks with Dave about business, life, and everything else in between.
  • Signing the bench, and putting statements next to people’s names.

Casey Williams

During one of the UGGS events, Goggins and Ano were training “with” each other. I say “with,” because they were using the same platform but it was almost like a baseball game with a top and bottom half to the inning.

Ano had a huge pull (maybe 745) and Steve congratulated him and walked away from the platform. It looked like he was done training at the time. Well, about 20 minutes later I saw he had the bar loaded with 755. I talked some shit and told him he was an idiot for taking another pull (he was due for a hip replacement a couple months down the road). Well, grumpy Steve pulled it smooth and steady as he always does, and at the top held it for what felt like 20 seconds. Someone caught a picture of Steve, and his head was turned all the way to the side looking at me. He didn’t have to say a word. I could see it in his eyes: "Told you I’d pull it, bitch.”

Steve Diel

My favorite S4 memory occurred during the first Learn to Train Seminar (LTTS) at which I helped coach. Over a hundred lifters from all over the country descended upon the unmarked facility for a day of lifting and learning. I was stationed at a bench with Jeremy Frey, who is a coach by trade and one of the most knowledgeable lifters I’ve met.

There was not a particular occurrence that sticks out in my mind. It was more than that. I was stepping back throughout the day, peering over the room, and inspired by what was happening all around. Societal classes were irrelevant. No one was any better or worse than another. The coaches were not present for financial gain. The attendees were not present for likes. There was a purity of that day where all were present to teach and to learn, with a common goal of getting better in whatever segment of the strength world they pursued. Egos were non-existent. For that day, conflict was suspended. Friendships were formed. PR’s were achieved. In short, the best of why I choose to compete in strength sports was on display and I was grateful to be a part of it.

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