Dave Spitz Olympic Weightlifting

Dave Spitz
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Kelly: [0:03:15] On this episode of The Ready State Podcast, we are thrilled to bring you Dave Spitz of California Strength. Dave happens to also be the CEO and founder of Cal Strength. He holds recognition as one of the few USA Weightlifting senior international coaches in the country. Cal Strength has dominated the United States Olympic weightlifting landscape, producing numerous national team titles, American records, even earning medal recognition on the international stage, as well as the Olympics. Dave says his life’s work is to bring the US back to relevance in weightlifting. But secretly I know it’s about getting me back to my 300-pound power clean after my knee surgery. Dave is a great friend of mine and in my inner circle of coaches that I call all the time when I have big ideas and bad ideas. Please enjoy our conversation.

Juliet: [0:04:00] Dave, welcome to The Ready State Podcast.

David Spitz: [0:04:03] Thank you. Did we do it right that time?

Kelly: [0:04:06] As always, my friend, great to see you. Can’t wait to hear what you’ve got going on. You and I have been friends for a minute. We’ve interacted as coaches and friends and fathers for over a decade. Will you just tell a little bit, tell everyone who’s not familiar with the Dave Spitz story, which is Lifetime epic that shows on Sundays, what are you doing now and what is your day job currently?

David Spitz: [0:04:29] My day job currently consists of running a business. So both brick and mortar and an online business. We have two facilities that specialize in sports performance and have a special bias towards Olympic weightlifting. And then we’ve recently partnered with a new entity called The Club, which is down here in Los Gatos. And their mandate is to basically pull in every sort of cool studio experience from like cycling to Pilates to hot yoga to ordinary yoga to the CrossFit box to kind of the traditional bodybuilding gym, tie it all together in this country club environment. And it is so fun. So we actually have three business going on right now. And I’m supposed to be running those, working online, and then also coaching athletes.

Juliet: [0:05:24] So you are in what I think is a new space that has a lot of cool features in it like a café. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? And that you’re in a soundproof box among many other cool things going on there.

David Spitz: [0:05:37] You have to lean into your success a little bit and it was important to build a café that served beer, wine, and hard kombucha. Those things become essential as I get older. I’m 45. So yeah, the café was really important. And we have this beautiful pool deck and a bar outside as well. So when you guys come down, we can chill in the pool, the hot tub, the sauna, the cold plunge, you name it.

Juliet: [0:06:03] So I just want to say we have spent quite a bit of time in Germany because that’s where Kelly grew up. And we have trained at this one gym in Garmisch in particular and got to know the owner a little bit. And he basically said in Germany no gym can survive, nobody will become a member of a gym unless there’s a bar and café physically attached to it. And he was like no, no, no, it’s not enough that there’s a bar right next door to the gym. It literally needs to be in the gym because that’s part of the culture. You work out and then you go socialize and have a beer or a glass of wine or a cappuccino or something like that. It’s so integral to their gym culture that he’s like oh, no, no, every gym has to have a café.

David Spitz: [0:06:42] Yeah. I don’t know how we ever lived without one. You come in in the morning, get your coffee, and then eat your breakfast burrito, and then you get your day going. And then at the end of the day after you get out of the hot yoga studio, you just cruise over to the bar and sit around and talk to other members. Yeah. It’s a huge driver of the social culture here.

Kelly: [0:07:03] You have done such a good job for so long. If people go back to the old school Cal Strength days, it has been for a minute where so many of us vicariously wanted to be in your gym, live in your gym just through the visible, tangible expressions of your gym culture. Changing out of that grittiness because it certainly could be conceived as gritty… I mean you facility, the second facility, last facility that I was in, was beautiful. But have you found that you’ve lost any of that culture or does this facility, does it make the culture tighter because you already have this ethos about who you are and what’s going on and people expect to have a little bit more polished experience now?

David Spitz: [0:07:47] Yeah, I think that the grittiness is not what drives the success. So it’s the expectations, it’s the commitment to intelligently designed, well-executed programming. It’s a commitment to understanding movement and being able to articulate movement. And then just making sure that you lead from the front. And so what I’ve found is the more I give to my athletes, the better they do. They don’t have to have this austere lifestyle in order to be successful. And I think that that was also the case for coaches a long time ago, was unless you were willing to die for your beliefs in whatever it was, Olympic lifting or CrossFit coaching, whatever it was, you almost had to be poor. And I don’t think it’s the case anymore.

Kelly: [0:08:35] I want to say I appreciate that very much. I just ran into you in real life not too very long ago at The Arnold Sports Festival. And I’m just going to put loosely sports. There definitely were some sports going on and they were definitely some strange activities that involved-

Juliet: [0:08:50] Sport like events.

Kelly: [0:08:50] Chainmail and slapping. Part of physical culture. I get it.

David Spitz: [0:08:55] And that was just in the warmup room of the weightlifting.

Kelly: [0:08:57] It’s true. Will you describe what you were doing there, what happened to USAW and sort of where we are? I know you on many levels from a sports performance coach, people can come train with you, I know that you run an NFL combine prep school, academy, for superstars going to the NFL and other sports. And I also know you as an Olympic lifting coach. Tell us what you were doing at The Arnold and sort of set that stage for us because I think that’s really interesting.

David Spitz: [0:09;26] Yeah. So I flew in hot into Columbus to coach two athletes—three athletes, sorry—that were in the rogue session of The Arnold, which is one of the invited sessions.

Kelly: [0:09:37] Which was right across from our booth, by the way. It was so fun to be… I could sit and do my job-

David Spitz: [0:09:43] It was epic watching you with the camera film all the sessions. It was great. My commitment to the Olympic lifts is unwavering. It’s changed a little bit over the years in terms of going from educator and motivational, inspirational type personality to okay, we’ve experienced what it’s like to take an athlete from zero to the Olympics. And I was fortunate enough to coach Wes Kitts to an eighth-place finish at the Olympics this last year. It was the coolest, most difficult, most intense experience that I’ve ever had as a coach. And so like you were saying, I flew in from the combine in Indianapolis where we had athletes participating in the 40-yard dash and the bench press and the vertical leap and the broad and a couple of lateral drills in their on-field position work. An event where you have an opportunity to quantify athletic ability for these guys that are making decisions on where to draft these players. So flying in from that to the Olympic lifts and being thrust into the rogue session at The Arnold, it was like surreal. I mean you’re going from a very organized, structured, professional environment, to like you said, Russian slot fighting, chainmail jump rope, and Olympic lifting in front of like 1,000 people on this stage where clocks were malfunctioning and we couldn’t hear an announcer. And it was just like this whole three-ring circus. It was still a lot of fun. I think the athlete that I feel most confident in right now taking Wes’s place for the next quad is a kid named Nathan Damron, who’s the number one ranked weightlifter in the country today. So it was awesome to see him thrive in that environment and make all six lifts and rise to that occasion and be appreciated on that scale. It was really cool.

Kelly: [0:11:33] I want to dive into this a little more, but one of the things that I was able to do was walk around the corner and look between the curtains that separated the stage from the prep area. So I could watch Dave watch his athletes.

Juliet: [0:11:46] That’s so meta.

Kelly: [0:11:46] And I could move my head on the other side, watch the lift and watch Dave’s reaction to the lift. And it was so great because I got to be a fan and a fanboy and then I’d be like, coach, what’s coach doing, watch the coach, how’s he interpreting it. If I could absolutely split screen my life so many times in so many situations, that was really great. I have a video I should put up of watching you watch your lifter. It was fantastic.

Juliet: [0:12:09] I’ve got like 40 follow-up questions about Olympics and lifting and a bunch of other things. But I do want to go back in time because I would love if you could tell us, sort of a two-part question. I know you yourself have a pretty rich athletic background including playing a sport in college. So I was hoping you could tell us about that. And then number two, I also know before you became a performance coach, entrepreneur, prolific weightlifting coach, Olympic coach, and the 47 other titles you currently have, that you actually had a totally different profession as well. So tell us a little bit about those two things before we get back into present day awesomeness.

Kelly: [0:12:43] And I’m glad you did that because I want people to understand you sort of, in terms of coaching success right now, you’re very much at the top of the pile in terms of what a coach is able to do and the impact a coach like you can have across multiple sports. So just I’m going to put you in my kind of tier one coaches. You didn’t just end up and set out to be here, as Juliet said.

David Spitz: [0:13:03] Well, yep, that’s true. I was an athlete in college. I was a track and field athlete. I threw the shotput and the hammer and the discus. And it was a lifelong dream to access the Olympics. So from a young age, I remember vividly the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Being on vacation in Hawaii with my family and being glued to the television set, not wanting to pull myself away. And so ever since then, I’ve just been like whatever I can do to access this Olympic movement is what I had to do. And so that took me to USC. I threw. And then at the end of my college career, I felt like there was a lot of chicken on the bone. I didn’t really accomplish what I set out to. I had made the world junior team but the senior teams completely escaped me. And I kind of lost sight of that dream. And I graduated. Didn’t come close to making the Olympic Games in 2000. And I said, screw it, I’m going to go and get to work. This is a life that is Dave Spitz, is just that I get ping ponged around and I’m very reactive. This is not all well-planned out like some people just think this is. This is-

Kelly: [0:14:10] No, looking backwards, it’s like you’re a genius, I’m going to learn some management skills so I can run this lifting empire in the future.

David Spitz: [0:14:15] Yeah. I’m going to write a book, just the art of being reactive.

Kelly: [0:14:19] Reactive training. I think it already exists.

David Spitz: [0:14:22] Yeah. So I started an oil and gas company out of college with a couple of buddies that were older. One of my friends whose dad was big into energy and had done some big privatization projects in Kazakhstan and then came back and wanted to start a redevelopment company in the LA basin. Basically, going into old, mature field that were conventionally drilled in the 50s and 60s and recompleting them and doing some different things to extract more from the ground than what was currently being produced. And 100 times out of 100, this is a failure. I have no idea how we made this successful. But somehow, some way, we were the morons that stumbled on a well that was grossly undervalued and we made money. And then we continued to parlay investment after investment until we listed our company on the Toronto Stock Exchange. And we all had this unbelievable liquidity event. And so that led me to finance. And so I started in wealth management, trying to figure out how to manage my own concentrated stock positions and my friends. And then so years went by. And then 2004 rolled around, the Games were in Athens, and I was like, holy smokes, I’ve got all this money, I’ve got Rolex, I’ve got my Porsche, I’ve got my house. Everything I thought I really wanted I had lined up and slayed. And then I was still wanting, I was still unfulfilled. And then the Olympics just came roaring back into my soul. It was like oh my gosh, I have to do this; I forgot this is what I was all about. This is when I was happiness and most driven, when I was thinking about being a part of the Olympic movement.

Kelly: [0:16:03] By the way, I’ve never heard anyone use liquidity event and Olympics or Olympic athlete or Olympic experience in the same sentence ever in the history of the world. So congratulations on being a pioneer there.

David Spitz: [0:16:15] Yeah, let me make it and then go back and do the really hard stuff. So I did what any rational person would. I picked up a barbell and I called a coach and I was like, you know, I was a good thrower, but I think I could be a great weightlifter. This is the irrational optimism that is Dave Spitz, right? There’s no… In what world could I reasonably be 28 years old, pick up a barbell and somehow access the Olympics? But it didn’t stop me.

Kelly: [0:16:41] No, the 1920s. That could happen in the 1920s.

David Spitz: [0:16:44] Yeah. Maybe. Yeah. Then I started training and I got a little better and a little better. And I met this guy named Alex Krychev and he was a silver medalist in the Olympics in the 1972 Games. And his coach, his name was Ivan Abadjiev. And so this Bulgarian system of training that we still hear so much about today, Ivan Abadjiev was the architect of that. So this principle of super specialization, super high-intensity training, take 20 guys and train them in this capacity and maybe one or two of them rise to the top and become champions. And so we went over to Bulgaria and I started training with Abadjiev in Bulgaria. And then I decided that it would be prudent to start a nonprofit. So I started a 501(c)(3), I funded it, and I brought Abadjiev over to America. I included with that package a couple of Bulgarian athletes because this is what normal people do. 

Juliet: [0:17:40] Can I just interrupt you to say this is actually a really bonkers story because it’s like usually the Olympic experience is like I am making $5,000 a year, I have to live at home with my parents or work at Home Depot. And meanwhile, you’ve had this liquidity event, you have money to burn, you’re just like, “I’m just going to start a 501(c)(3) to bring my coach over.” This is crazy. It’s amazing.

Kelly: [0:18:01] I want to say that maybe Olympic lifting in the United States wasn’t very progressive at that time or well developed?

David Spitz: [0:18:07] It was dead. Nobody was an Olympic weightlifter. Nobody knew anything about it. So here I am, I rent this house, we turned a four-car garage into a training hall. I have these guys with me, I’m feeding them, clothing them, and it’s very difficult to have Bulgarians. I don’t know if you’ve ever had any as-

Juliet: [0:18:25] As like a pet? You know what-

Kelly: [0:18:26] Just so everyone understands, if you’ve ever done a Bulgarian split squat and you hate that movement, just magnify them.

David Spitz: [0:18:30] Just magnify it. The toilet’s always clogged.

Juliet: [0:18:36] Kelly really is obsessed with getting a racoon as a pet, but maybe he needs a Bulgarian.

Kelly: [0:18:39] Same level of difficulty.

David Spitz: [0:18:41] You can probably start with a Bulgarian and move to a racoon. Both of them are going to dig through the trash and make a huge mess. Sorry to all you Bulgarians out there. I am just kidding of course. Anyway, we went through this whole experiment of trying to export the Bulgarian style of training. And we brought over some American athletes too to kind of suffer with me. So like Donny Shankle and Max Aita and James Moser, a couple of these older guys. And we failed miserably. It was like the worst money I’ve ever spent in so many respects. But I walked away with one really valuable lesson being learned and that is that success is situational. And I should have known from the onset that you could never take Abadjiev out of Bulgaria, take a man out of his culture and his epoch of time where he was successful, plug him into the United States current day, and expect for his methods to have anything but abysmal failure, right? So he didn’t have the motivational structure that was required to train like that. He didn’t have the breadth of athletes. He didn’t have the access to the drugs. He didn’t have all of these things that ultimately made Bulgaria such a unique power. And so we all eventually got hurt or didn’t progress and so I had to go back to the drawing board. So after failing to make the 2008 Games, there was one bright spot in that whole experience and that was I learned the difference between regret and disappointment. So while I regretted deeply the first Olympic experience, trying to get there in track and field and kind of just not doing what I was supposed to do to make that thing happen, with Olympic weightlifting, I did everything I could do. I invested all this money. I did all these unnatural acts to make this thing happen. And so at the end of the day, I was very disappointed in the outcome. But regret lingers; disappointment fades. And so I didn’t regret the journey at all. In fact, I wanted to continue to get into it and to help other athletes learn these lessons and maybe build a system where American athletes could actually have success. And so that was the rise of California Strength.

Juliet: [0:20:56] One of the things I want to ask you about is the timeline of this, right, because you decide you want to go into Olympic weightlifting in 2004 Athens. And so I’m assuming you’re training between 2004 and 2008. And interestingly, that’s sort of when CrossFit really started to rise. And again, you will do a way better job of explaining this than I will, but that’s when normal people started Olympic style weightlifting. And I’m saying style because what I do isn’t really Olympic weightlifting, but maybe like sort of like it.

Kelly: [0:21:22] That’s not true at all.

Juliet: [0:21:23] But anyway, I wonder as you were training with the Bulgarians and doing this thing, are you at that time also becoming aware of this phenomenon of people all of a sudden becoming USA Weightlifting certified and all of a sudden all of these coaches taking all of this interest in weightlifting? Are you watching this happen in parallel with your own training?

David Spitz: [0:21:41] A hundred percent. So well, I think I was done training. By 2008, the Olympics had come and gone. I didn’t qualify; 2009 I walked away from all of my day jobs at my finance companies and I worked to build Cal Strength full time. And right about that time, that 2008, 2009, is where you started hearing the word CrossFit used a lot more. And oddly enough, we decided that we would film some stuff and throw it on YouTube just to see if anybody was interested and to maybe use it as a motivation structure to help our athletes make big attempts when there’s an empty gym. Sometimes it’s difficult to get your juices flowing for an attempt, but if you are filming it and threatening to put it on the internet, it tends to have a good stimulus effect. And so we were doing that and all of a sudden, people started watching it and asking, “Hey, how do you do this stuff?” And so we started doing educational videos. And I think that’s close to the time where we started I think a dialogue, Kel. It was wild. And so the rise of CrossFit, the rise of us putting stuff on the internet, and the completion of my journey kind of all created this nexus of opportunity. And Cal Strength was born out of it.

Kelly: [0:22:54] It was so fun for me to be around early Glenn Pendlay and you and Donny Shankle and Jon North and that crew. Just being exposed to that crew and if you watch what’s happening in a test tube, if there’s a crazy reaction happening, there was something very special and magical in that early phase. We weren’t as professional. And you were so far out there as you say, I want to bring it back. At The Arnold this year, there were 1,800 Olympic lifters, people that were competing. There were so many Olympic lifters, more than any other sport, dwarfed all the other sports, had to move to the Cow Palace. Entire different thing. Can you talk about that rise a little bit and what you’ve seen in terms of the professionalism and just even the access because both my girls speak Olympically?

David Spitz: [0:23:44] It is wild. I mean for the longest time, it was like, “Oh, you’re a weightlifter? How much do you bench?” That was always the follow-up question. And so to see this overgrow and to see the Olympic lifts be used as tools across so many other domains from fitness to sports performance, I never, ever expected this, not in my lifetime. And it was one of the early mandates I had for Cal Strength, is, hey, we need to get the word out. You want to improve your mobility, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, force production, force absorption principles, all these things that we talk about as athletes, we can accomplish a lot with these lifts if we’re taught properly. And now we get to this point and the Olympic lifts have grown so big and are so ubiquitous in all these forms of training that now you’re starting to see people actually build kind of a narrative to speak out against them. You can actually demonize the Olympic lifts to create a dialogue for yourself to espouse your training principles. How far we’ve come, it’s just unbelievable.

Juliet: [0:24:51] The internet is amazing, isn’t it?

Kelly: [0:24:53] Do you think that…. Here we go. Watch this first drama I’m going to unleash on the internet. Is the trap bar the slant board of the barbell?

David Spitz: [0:25:06] It could be. It very well could be. 

Kelly: [0:25:09] All the time everyone’s like, “You can’t really use Olympic lifting to develop power.” I’m like, are you sure? Are you sure about that, right? The efficiency, the coordination. I’m just kidding, everyone. I love my trap bar just as much as my regular barbell. But –

Juliet: [0:25:22] Do we own a trap bar?

Kelly: [0:25:23] Yeah. We have two in our side yard.

Juliet: [0:25:25] Despite my owning a gym for almost 20 years and being involved in this space, sometimes I’m like what’s a trap bar?

Kelly: [0:25:31] You know that bar I like to pull really heavy on because it makes me look good? That’s the bar.

Juliet: [0:25:34] Oh that deadlifting thing?

Kelly: [0:25:36] Yeah. Yeah.

Juliet: [0:25:36] Oh, okay.

David Spitz: [0:25:37] Yeah, it’s got the neutral grips. You stand in the middle of it. It’s very comfortable. It’s like the La-Z-Boy recliner.

Juliet: [0:25:43] Well, it is because you can roll it up on those little stilts and then put the weights on and off, which I mean honestly for me, I’ve always told Kelly, look, if I could just have a weight sherpa, I would be way more into weightlifting because it’s like I don’t want to put my weight on and off all the time. And that does help. So I get it. I know what the trap bar is.

Kelly: [0:26:00] Something that has been fun is to watch your coaches and athletes go off and become, just continue to propagate the love. That’s been great. One of the things that we’ve seen is… And the longer I coach and am around coaches, I believe that speed is actually a safety mechanism, that when we ask athletes to move quickly, their bodies either protect them to be able to get into good positions or they don’t. And sometimes when we ask athletes to just grind under heavy loads and low impulse, they can get away with anything. But you can’t get away with anything when you’re moving quickly. What I’m leading to is we’ve seen is people become very confused about shouldn’t my children be Olympic lifting. And Caroline was in an Olympic lifting club before water polo. And the coach was like, “Is it okay if she snatches?” And I was like, “She’s here to snatch.” Be clear. If she’s not snatching regularly or at least muscle snatching every day, I’m going to burn this place down. But some of the people around really didn’t understand what we get when we ask in terms of the coordination and efficiency out of the Olympic lifting, not even just the loads.

David Spitz: [0:27:06] Yeah. A hundred percent right. I mean my kids are now six, eight, and ten, and they’ve been Olympic lifting all since they could walk. They’ve been fooling around with dowels or with aluminum bars. I mean like we’ve always said, with kids, I think the misconception is Olympic lifting means you’re lifting heavy. And that is for us obviously not the case. We know that we use resistance that challenges positions and that’s always been the guiding principle when working with the kids. And I think one of the earliest principles of neuroscience as it pertains to movement is the faster a movement is, the less precise it becomes. And so if we can create a roadmap for success to get these kids to move quickly through these complex positions, boy, does it give them a great mastery of their body in a very short amount of time. You see the coordination overlap into all these other disciplines too. It’s remarkable.

Kelly: [0:27:58] People have probably heard of the functional movement screen and probably the most salient piece of that is the overhead squat, with the PVC pipe, which we won’t even say that that’s an overhead squat because you can origami yourself down while your heels are elevated and do weird things. But that’s one of those things where if you can’t perform an overhead squat, you’re going to have a really difficult time Olympic lifting, you know what I mean? We’re using the entrée into this skill as an assessment for people and yet it’s like saying you don’t know how to hold a pen, it’s going to be very difficult to write an essay, right?

David Spitz: [0:28:31] Yeah. And that’s one of the interesting things too, not just coaching kids, but like you said, you spouted off the 1,800 weightlifters. We in the United States are teaching athletes of all ages and abilities to perform these movements. And so what I’ve always admired about CrossFit is that it introduced these movements to these people who traditionally would have no business doing them, no real need to do them. And so it sends you on this journey of self-exploration and experimentation, where it’s like, oh, I can’t do an overhead squat, my ankles are rough, there’s no dorsiflexion, how do I create mobility in my ankles? Oh, my hips. How do I create mobility in my hips? Oh, my thoracic stability? How do I do a 360-degree core brace?  And so it gives you these opportunities to have these really cool self-experimentation plays just in an effort to create the movements properly.

Juliet: [0:29:22] So I just wanted to go back and talk more about the Tokyo Olympics. And it’s sort of like a 10-part question. But what was that experience like? Obviously, it was the weird Olympics because of COVID. Did coaching a successful athlete at the Olympics scratch a little bit of that lifelong itch to go to the Olympics? Because I know Kelly actually, it’s one of his dreams to go as a coach to the Olympics. Did that sort of-

Kelly: [0:29:49] COVID shut me down. No personal coaches. I’ve got a grudge.

Juliet: [0:29:51] Yeah. But did that sort of fill that lifelong since childhood desire to be involved in the Olympics in some way?

David Spitz: [0:29:58] Oh, no question. I mean just you’re a part of the movement, you feel like you’re a part of the movement. And with a sport like weightlifting, you’re in the fire with your athlete every single day. And you’re not only participating in the event, you are actively making calls and you are actively guiding the entire flow of the competition. And so it absolutely did. I never expected in my wildest dreams for the Olympics to be that emotionally charged, that rewarding, that satisfying, that just absolutely difficult. I mean it was almost inexplicable for somebody that hasn’t been a part of it. So Kelly, your desire to do that is… All I can tell you is it’s worth it. Whatever you have to do, get to that point because it is absolutely worth it, despite all of those things.

Kelly: [0:30:51] I can massage.

Juliet: [0:30:53] Kelly’s like I can lift heavy things.

Kelly: [0:30:54] I can get coffee. I can hold clipboards. Someone’s going to… I had I think four different sports at Tokyo and I just got shut out. I couldn’t go. So bummed.

David Spitz: [0:31:04] Well, we’ll go to Paris together, how about that?

Kelly: [0:31:05] Done.

Juliet: [0:31:06] Oh, we are ready; definitely want to go to Paris.

David Spitz: [0:31:08] Let’s go to Paris.

Kelly: [0:31:10] Done.

Juliet: [0:31:11] Done. Check.

Kelly: [0:31:11] One of the things that you have the view on, you’ve got this view as athlete, as innovator, coach, as business person, trying to help people get stronger through the barbell WOD, which is a great barbell strength centric program for people to add into whatever they’re doing. One of my favorite programs on the planet. And you also have this very high-end piece where you’re putting your money where your mouth is. Where are the big holes in athletic development right now and are those compounded by the environment, or is it coaching, or is the internet getting too confusing, or are kids not being exposed early enough? What are you seeing from the top of the mountain because you’ve had such varying experiences? What are your feelings about the current state of athletic development?

David Spitz: [0:32:02] That’s such a great question and the answer is a couple of the things that you’ve touched on. I think early exposure to a systematic progression. So my kids all have an athletic life plan. I don’t ever care if they actually participate in a sport at a high level but they’re going to be athletes because whether-

Kelly: [0:32:22] An athletic life plan.

David Spitz: [0:32:24] They have an athletic life plan. And so from nine months old, this spreadsheet has been built. I know when and what we’re going to try and put these kids through. And all things start and stop in the pool. So at nine months old, they’re swimming and by four they’re on the swim team. It starts 18 months in gymnastics and they’re developing that basic core strength and kinesthetic awareness, understanding how to absorb force properly, balance, all that good stuff. At about two years, they start with their soccer, so everything bilaterally symmetrical all the way up until I feel like we’ve created a base of athleticism that’s sufficient to start being asymmetrical in some of their patterning. So things like baseball or lacrosse. And so just having a roadmap to success and starting them early, not being afraid to actually expose kids to the breadth of these bilaterally symmetrical sports at a young age and hold them accountable for their performance. So with my kids, we talk about, it sounds harsh but really, it’s brought us all so much closer, we talk about you either win or you learn. So if you didn’t pop your time today in your freestyle, why? What can we take from that objective truth that is stamped on the scoreboard? What can we talk about in terms of your sleep that night or what you ate before your race or what you did in practice this week or your mental state? And so it gives you an opportunity to talk through a lot of these teachable moments. But above and beyond that, I think that early specialization is also a huge problem. So everybody still wants to come to us and want sport specific training for their 11, 12, 13-year-old, which is like, okay, so now you’re in year-round soccer, you’re in year-round baseball, and now you want sport specificity in your training. Creating a base of athleticism is what we need to be talking about here so it will give you the opportunity, you grow your base, you have the opportunity to compete at higher and higher levels because you’re going to be fast enough, durable enough, strong enough, all of the things that we know to be true.

Kelly: [0:34:31] Do you just put them a different color magnet, like this is the soccer magnet front squat and now you’re doing the baseball front squat and this is the swimming front squat?

David Spitz: [0:34:40] It’s unbelievable. As you get older and more proficient, there is room for arm care and there is room for some sport specificity at the end of your workout with respect to your accessory list. And there is some customization in terms of the seasonality of your sport. But ultimately, what most of these young people, and this is where I see the holes—that was your initial question, where do I see the holes of athletic development—it’s from the nine-month-old to the 10-year-old where I see huge opportunities to have really productive conversations and to really drive the concept of athleticism in these kids. And then irrespective of what you do, whether you’re a mountain climber, or a kayaker, or a volleyball player, or a surfer, or a football player, you have the tools to go and become the best version of that thing.

Juliet: [0:35:29] Where do you think the whole sport specific training miss came about because it still is very pervasive. People talk to us like, “Oh, I need to get my kid into strength training because they’re going to play in college. Where can I get sport specific volleyball training?” People have asked us that question like a thousand times and we spend our entire conversation trying to demystify that and just say, “Hey, your kid needs to lift a weight.”

Kelly: [0:35:51] And one of the places is the kids are starting to look at colleges, colleges are starting to ask questions like, “What is your front squat? How much can you push press?” And parents are like, “What’s a push press?” They don’t even have that basic language. And I’m like oh, it’s no problem. And the next three months your senior is going to have to go out and learn all of this movement language. Good luck.

David Spitz: [0:36:11] Yeah. The sport specific, I think it comes from two places. Number one, the parents’ desire to not screw up this athlete and this trajectory that they’re on. And then the other, you have some more nefarious actors that are actually profiting from, oh, you have to be doing this sport specific program. You don’t want to go and snatch if you are a pitcher because… So there’s probably those two forces at work.

Juliet: [0:36:36] I want to just ask one more question about the Olympics and then connect to our own watching of our kids play sports. But what was it like for you as an athlete who has competed at a very high level to then be like in a chair or I don’t know if you were watching on Zoom or how it was working for the Tokyo Olympics, but how did that feel for you to sit there and not be the one doing it and coaching it? And I would say sometimes we feel that watching our kids. We’re both so competitive that we’re dying on the inside as spectators.

Kelly: [0:37:08] I would crush those 13-year-old girls in the pool. If I dropped my body in right now, it would just destroy them.

Juliet: [0:37:13] No, you would just sink to the bottom and then that would be the end.

Kelly: [0:37:15] For the first 10 seconds I would crush them.

Juliet: [0:37:17] Yeah. We need to give you a little floaty ring and then you can crush them.

Kelly: [0:37:20] Also true. There’s a Dead Kennedy’s song called Crushed Little Kids. There you go.

David Spitz: [0:37:22] I get so passionate about being there with them. I’m so connected to the athlete with every lift. I think there’s a big difference between the team sport environment and being an individual sport participant in the Olympics. I mean those two things… This is where you see a lot of those collapses. I mean it was hard to watch Mikaela Shiffrin in the Olympics. It was very difficult to watch Simone Biles. These ultra-mega superstars essentially just collapse under the weight of the pressure that is the Olympic Games. And I can tell you it’s emotional, you’re getting text messages five, six, ten times a day in the weeks leading up to it. And a lot of them are very encouraging. But some of them are just so heartfelt and so thoughtful and so meaning… I know that Wes and I were both reduced to tears multiple times leading into that day. And so the outpouring of the love, the support, it’s amazing, but it’s also a source of pressure. And then I would say the one thing that I don’t think either of us were prepared for is the come off. When you get back from the Olympic Games, it is literally like… I mean they talk about astronaut reentry syndrome. This is like I’ve just been through the most authentic, amazing, deeply moving experience I could possibly be a part of, and then you’re just thrust back into normal life and it’s like, okay, the Olympics are over. You’re like, wait, I need to download some of this to somebody. I’m so depressed, I don’t even know what to do with myself. And so nobody really prepared me for that. And that was very real. But I am 100 percent committed, like I said, to getting back there with at least Nathan, if not Wesley again, if he wants to make another run. We have another young lady, Maddison Pannell, that I think has a ton of potential to either access 2024 or 2028.

Kelly: [0:39:23] Really fun to watch her lift in person. It was very fun to watch her lift.

Juliet: [0:39:27] So I read that your life’s work is bringing relevance to US weightlifting. Do you feel that you have already achieved your life’s work because it seems like there’s relevance to US weightlifting? Can you speak to that?

David Spitz: [0:39:40] I think that’s such a great question. It’s one of those questions I was like from the outside looking in, of course USA weightlifting is now relevant. We have all these athletes participating in the sport. It’s grown by orders of magnitude. We have all of these modalities that are using the Olympic list to achieve their goals. But being at the Olympics, I had always said that if we could just get an American athlete, especially not to take away from the other weight categories, but in a prestige weight class like a heavyweight, which is what Wes was 109 kilos, you’re going up against the really strong, all the Europeans, some of the Middle Eastern countries.

Kelly: [0:40:22 inaudible] is the best weightlifter in the world in that class.

David Spitz: [0:40:25] Yeah. You’re fighting against the best of the best. And I always said if we go there and finish 10th, you know what, that’s enough. We might get a medal in the mail one day, which we see they’re still popping people from 2012 and 2014. People are still, there’s potential-

Juliet: [0:40:] Medal in the mail. That’s like a hashtag. Medal in the mail.

David Spitz: [0:40:43] Yeah. Exactly. But once I got there and we finished eighth and I realized the asymmetry of the competition, it’s almost inhumane to make an athlete like Wes do the type of training that I forced him to do for five years, right, since it’s a quad plus one. So imagine running a marathon and sprinting the last mile like who hoo, first marathon, I’m sprinting now, crossing the finish line and then being asked, guess what, six more miles, there’s six more, got to continue. So body breaking down, heart and soul breaking down, COVID all around you. I mean very difficult stuff. But to get there and then see the asymmetry of the competition, to see the weightlifters that actually on the medal stand and the different game that they were playing relative to what we were playing was very disheartening. So when I say relevance, yes, we’re relevant, but are we still completely, we’re so far from obtaining a medal in a prestige class where other countries actually care. It was very disheartening.

Kelly: [0:41:50] I want to say that maybe you can reframe the goal of being relevant in that coaches like you and Travis Mash who I love very much, Chet Vaughn, the other coaches I really like and respect so much, you have put Olympic lifting squarely into the language of athletic training, where people, we’re going to play a quick game of true and false. Can I Olympic lift with a barbell? True. Can I Olympic lift with a dumbbell? True. Can I use Olympic style Olympic lifting with a sandbag where I can get the push press? So I can choose some of those pieces. So that piece of the lexicon of being the front squad and safety and feeling like that, not feeling like everything has to be a split squat or everything has to be trap bar, you can put a barbell into their hands. You already have changed foundationally training in the United States. I think we have a long road to go but I think one of the back pieces that you guys aren’t appreciating is the vacuum you’re creating by moving forward on this high level, you’re pulling along all these people along amateur in their garage, which is really important.

David Spitz: [0:42:55] Yeah, well, I mean I think it’s definitely standing on the shoulders of giants. There’s a lot of people that came before me that certainly contributed to where we are today. I mean you guys included. I mean it’s amazing to me to look at all of the different resources we’ve been able to leverage throughout the last decade and I mean there’s no way that Wes would have done what he did without some of your help. So it’s just awesome to have this community of people that are in the fight with us.

Kelly: [0:43:26] It is a long game. I mean you and I share coaching DNA with Jim Schmitz. I mean that’s all you need to know. People don’t realize what a small community this is. Something I want to just circle back to is here you are, we were just talking with Stu McMillan of ALTIS Track and Field, who is one of the most accomplished Olympic coaches, sprint coaches on the planet. He really has had to grow as a coach to be the leader of the organization and still coach because if you actually pull Stu completely out, some of the DNA gets lost and some of the secret sauce gets lost. You are still coaching athletes even though you’re the CEO of this gigantic organization. How do you balance that?

David Spitz: [0:43:06] It’s very difficult and I think the athletes do sometimes suffer. They don’t have a day to day I watch every lift type relationship with me. They know that they have to be accountable to do a lot of this work unsupervised or leverage their teammates. And so they know I’ll bring the ecosystem to bear. They know I’ll bring all the recovery and regeneration and all of the different therapies and all of the different resources from nutrition to supplementation, all the things you need to be successful. But definitely there is a part of me that wish I could devote more time. But between being on the field with my guys and coaching sprints for the 40, that’s an amazingly important aspect of what we do, being there in the gym coaching the Olympic lifts. I feel like if I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be happy. So I’ve got to still stay at least in touch for the time being with that day-to-day coaching. I’m not ready to give that up yet. But it is difficult. 

Kelly: [0:45:05] Stu and I talk a lot about personally how do we continue to empower athletes to own a lot of their own experience, be responsible with training. Because I’ve been coached by Dave Spitz. When Dave Spitz is there, I can turn my brain off and don’t have to think. And that’s really nice. But when Dave Spitz is not there, I have to do a lot more self-reflection and a lot more of the homework. Do you feel like that makes… I mean I can understand you can lose the source and that can be detrimental, but do you feel like this potentially is an opportunity for athletes to be more in their program process? And I use the example of Nic Gill of the All Blacks who’s an old friend of ours and has said that towards the end of the week, there’s very little coaching going on. The athletes understand the plan and the coaches are there for a resource, not just sort of the patriarchal model dripping down and the athlete is a robot.

David Spitz: [0:45:58] Yeah. I think there’s a lot to say about that. And this is something that I have done with my athletes. We have a technical model that each athlete understands and we spend a lot of time up front working through that technical model with that specific athlete. And so as they kind of get pushed outside that model because that’s what training does, right, you’re sore and you’re not creating the same shapes to put you off the bottom or in the squat. Your tension is assigned differently in your accumulation phase versus a realization phase. But they are always observing themselves to make sure that when they’re outside that technical model, they have some resources to be able to put themselves back in, number one. And if they can’t, then they bring me in. But we have this understanding, this phase framework, for what’s expected. And so they’re keeping themselves accountable for quality movement even more so than I am. And then when they have a problem that they can’t solve, that’s when they say, “All right, here’s what I’m feeling, here’s what I’ve tried, what can I do to adjust this?” So definitely enhance accountability and I think that my weightlifters look better today technically than they ever have. And I think a lot of that speaks to the accountability function of the training now.

Juliet: [0:47:16] I would like to myth bust the idea and concept that people who own gyms get to exercise all the time. So I’m going to start the question there. But what I want to know is you have three kids, you’re running this business, you’re growing a business, you’re trying to stay connected to athletes directly, but really, you probably have to spend a lot of time behind your computer actually making this thing go and keeping a roof-

Kelly: [0:47:39] Be a coach, they said. See the world, they said.

Juliet: [0:47:41] Over everyone’s head and managing employees and all the things that go with that. So how do you fit exercising or eating a vegetable or whatever practices that you do to stay somewhat healthy into this mix because, again, contrary to belief-

Kelly: [0:47:56] Hashtag asking for a friend.

Juliet: [0:47:58] Contrary to popular belief, having a whole gym right at your fingertips does not always mean that it makes it easier.

David Spitz: [0:48:04] Yes. I think that is such a powerful question. And it’s one of those for the longest time I didn’t have an answer for. I was like screw it, I have no time, so it’s okay to be fat, it’s okay to eat what I want and drink four nights a week. And you know what, I have kids and I have a business so it’s fine. At some point, my blood pressure was high, my gut was just growing so big I had the proverbial dicky do where my gut was poking out farther than my dicky do, and that was a big problem. And I mean my face was just like epically huge. I don’t know how my wife put up with it for as long as she did. And so-

Kelly: [0:48:41] Oh, she was contractually obliged to stay married to you. I don’t know if you know that.

David Spitz: [0:48:44] Yeah, I’m like, what is the matter with you, you’re a sadist. But anyway, I decided, you know what, I am such a rule follower, spreadsheet guy, I’m a finance guy. So I always want to write programs and then follow the program. And because of the lifestyle that we all lead, I finally realized I needed to divorce myself from that notion where I had to do everything on this list or otherwise, I was failing. And so I came up with this very simple tagline. You know what, Dave, just never do nothing. So you don’t always have to do everything; you just never do nothing. So if I write a conditioning workout and I get through two rounds instead of the four that I write, and I feel like I’ve got a decent workout, I pat myself on the back, I say, great job, you did it. And you kind of create these what now from that book Atomic Habits, you create these habits out of this strategy of keeping yourself accountable to just avoiding doing nothing at all costs. So it’s very easy to do.

Kelly: [0:49:47] It’s easy to do. It’s easy.

Juliet: [0:49:50] It’s easy to do.

Kelly: [0:49:52] And I’ve just trademarked never do nothing, by the way.

Juliet: [0:49:55] Yeah, it’s too late.

Kelly: [0:49:56] Obviously, it’s mine now.

Juliet: [0:49:56] Well, we didn’t call it never do nothing but when our kids were really little Kelly developed… We’ve talked about it before, but this workout called the 10, 10, 10 at 10. Kelly’s going to explain what it is because I always get some of the movements wrong. But I mean that was basically our never do nothing plan with little kids.

Kelly: [0:50:12] It was like 10 calisthenics, 10 pullups, 10 pushups, 10 whatever you want to do for 10 minutes at 10 p.m.

Juliet: [0:50:19] And that’s definitely part of the never do nothing plan. 

Kelly: [0:50:20] And 10:11, you were like, wow, I’m elite. This is what elite looks like.

Juliet: [0:50:23] Yeah, because we knew, we were like we’re not going to get in like multiple hours of really structured, amazing training. We’ve got little kids and we’re trying to grow a business and we’re just like we literally sometimes would have 10 minutes. But still, we would try to never do nothing.

David Spitz: [0:50:38] And that’s fine. Now we know the only thing you really have to do is get your 10,000 steps in a day, right? So if you get your, I say it’s 15,000, but if you get your at least 10,000 steps in a day and you stand for 12 hours a day and you lift heavy things a handful of times a week and actually overcome some resistance and then you just avoid processed food and maybe eat a reasonable amount of protein, fruits, and vegetables, you’re going to be fine. It can be very simple. So just lowering the bar I think is the first step for most of us super competitive people who have all of these other things going on. And then I always believe it’s better to have a plan.

Kelly: [0:51:18] Where does the keto CBD come into there? I don’t understand. How do I… There’s some hack in there. Where’s the red lights I tape to my body? That’s so reasonable what you just said. As an athlete, coach, don’t listen to Dave as super coach. Think of him as CEO and that is literally the recipe for living to 100 and actually being able to serve your family and your friends again.

Juliet: [0:51:42] Not to be a shameless self-promoter, but we’re actually writing a book right now called Built to Move and basically everything you listed in that list is a chapter in our book.  

Kelly: [0:51:52] And now Never Do Nothing is going to be its own chapter. Just your face, Never Do Nothing. I love it. We cut you off. You were about to say something else.

David Spitz: [0:51:58] No, I mean you know what, I was 256 pounds and really grossly unhealthy for no reason other than I couldn’t figure out how to structure a workout that I couldn’t accomplish. And so I still believe that it’s always better to have a plan and then to only do part of it than to not have a plan at all. So if I have a great week now it’s like I’m addicted, I really enjoy the feeling of working out, I really enjoy the feeling of being back in the gym, the music, the camaraderie. There was something that was lost over the years where I just didn’t have that desire to work out because I didn’t enjoy it. But just swapping just a little bit of discipline for motivation. So be disciplined, screw your motivation. And if it’s just a little bit of discipline up front, that’s great. And then it begets better and better habits over time. And I feel great. I’ve weaned myself off all my blood pressure. And what gets measured gets managed. The more you focus on what you eat and learn about what you eat, the better you’re going to be and do a little self-experimenting. It’s been fun. Reclaiming my fitness has been… I have a new program called the Ripped and Ready Program that we are kicking butt with because it’s what I do to stay in shape now at 45.

Kelly: [0:53:15] I love it. I’m on the jacked and tan plan where 50 percent of my score comes from the tan. So I don’t have to be that jacked; I just have to be really tan. And then I can get like a 70 percent.

David Spitz: [0:53:25] Well, like we talked about, you were getting too jacked, remember? You were getting too big. How do we lean you out and keep you light?

Juliet: [0:53:31] We were trying to make a mountain biker so we spent 15 years just CrossFitting and having these huge-

Kelly: [0:53:37] But I’m like, I love to deadlift. I’m like, why am I deadlifting?

David Spitz: [0:53:39] Two hundred and forty pounds trying to mountain bike and kayak. Oh, geez. 

Kelly: [0:53:44] I’m the biggest kayaker in the-

Juliet: [0:53:47] We watch all these Red Bull mountain biker races and Kelly and I are like, oh man, we’re stuck in the wrong body for this sport we love. But we make it work.

Kelly: [0:53:56] We’re on the plan. We’re on the plan.

David Spitz: [0:53:57] That’s all of us. Round pegs, square hole, go. 

Kelly: [0:53:58] One of the things that I want to just call out here is you’re saying being in the gym, the excitement, you almost as a coach have to go out and create a separate unit, exercise unit that’s your own squad of training because you can’t jump on your kids because they’re too good and you want to coach. You almost have to have… Part of your daily plan is people are going to show up and work out with you.

David Spitz: [0:54:22] It’s crazy. Once you start doing it, everybody wants to do what you’re doing.  Like oh, can I work out with you today? Really?  You want to do this old man workout?

Kelly: [0:54:31] Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen your abs lately, but your athletes must be jealous by how strong you are and how ripped you are because they’re like, hey, why am I on this junk Olympic program that got me to the Olympics when I could be on the Ripped and Ready Program.

David Spitz: [0:54:41] Yeah, I’ll always be ugly though.

Juliet: [0:54:44] Anyway, so Dave, tell us what you are living for, looking forward to in the next six months here. What are excited you about?

David Spitz: [0:54:52] I’m super excited about this whole new facility that we’re building in Los Gatos alongside this beautiful club we have another Cal Strength which is about 1,000 feet from here. I think that with the combine moving from Indianapolis to potentially SoFi Stadium in LA, we are going to experience a huge influx in athletes and opportunities. I’m super excited about the Olympic lifting journeys. So starting at the World Championships this year, we’ll be able to accumulate points for the Olympics. So moving our next Olympian into pole position to represent this country. And I am super excited to continue to watch my kids develop and grow. I think I mentioned my oldest daughter, I’ve never seen her more ecstatic about a sport than water polo. She gets out in the pool, the smile on her face is so infectious. Super fired up to watch her progress at water polo. My other two have their sports. But coming back from the Olympics and being able to talk to these female water polo players, I was just so impressed with everything that they were in terms of humility, personality, just kindness. You could just feel their positive interactions with every other athlete. And when I got home, I called Kelly, and I was like, hey, this is what I experienced, because I knew that Gabby was doing water polo. And I think we both concluded that the buy in is so freaking high for that sport in particular that it weeds out the crappy girls. There’s no mean girls in the pool. There’s only teamwork and this is hard.

Juliet: [0:56:28] I think it also weeds out the crazy parenting that is so common now in youth sports too because-

Kelly: [0:56:33] No parent can play water polo.

Juliet: [0:56:34] None of us can play it. And I’m probably like 70 water polo games in watching and I do now understand the sport slightly better and I think sometimes I understand, oh, okay, some kid swam over another kid. There are some things I’m starting to understand but I will never understand what the refs are seeing and what’s going on underneath the water. And I think that also actually does help the parents. We all sit there on the edge and are like, well, we couldn’t do that. We couldn’t even begin to do what they’re doing. So it sort of saves us from our worse instincts of trying to coach our kids and-

Kelly: [0:57:03] I have one quick overlap story. You called me, we were texting at the Olympics and you were saying, “I just met Maddie Musselman who is MVP and she’s one of the kindest, most incredible, fiercest competitor athletes, women, I’ve ever met.” You were just kind of gob smacked by how amazing… So Caroline goes to an Olympic development program at Colorado Springs over the break. It’s just this fun camp. And we call her that night and she was like, “Man, there was this girl in the pool, I couldn’t stop her. She was skipping up to the corners. She was so fast. She was so tough.” And then later on, she was like, “That girl, I think her name is Maddie Musselman.

Juliet: [0:57:40] But Caroline had no idea. Maddie Musselman is shooting on you. She’s a goalie. Maddie Musselman is shooting on her, MVP of the gold medal Olympic team, and Caroline had at the time, while she was being shot on by her, had no idea. Her little 13-year-old mind was like, wow, I mean this girl’s really good. I’ve never experienced this before. And she actually did block one of her shots. And she took a photo of her forearm which we still have because her forearm just looks like totally red.

Kelly: [0:58:05] I was like, well, kid now you know what the top of the… I mean that’s as hard as it gets. So welcome to the game.

David Spitz: [0:58:11] I love her more now that she didn’t even take it easy on a 13-year-old. She was firing balls.

Juliet: [0:58:17] Yeah, just firing them at Caroline, just firing them at the goalie. And Caroline’s like, “Wow, this coach is really impressive.” So anyway, we were excited to tell you that story.

Kelly: [0:58:26] Dave, where can people find about your programming if they’re barbell curious?

Juliet: [0:58:30] Yeah. How can all the middle-aged people that we know become ripped and ready too?

David Spitz: [0:58:36] Yeah. Well, I mean the California Strength website is the best resource. Californiastrength.com. And you can find all of the programs there and you can also follow on Instagram @cal_strength and we’re easy to find. We’re not hiding.

Juliet: [0:58:49] What about on TikTok? Are you on TikTok?

David Spitz: [0:58:50] Oh yeah. California Strength on TikTok. There’s a Cal Strength on TikTok.

Juliet: [0:59:53] Okay, just making sure.

David Spitz: [0:58:55] Yep, yep, yep.

Kelly: [0:58:56] You know it. We will be down hanging out.

Juliet: [0:58:58] Field trip.

Kelly: [0:58:59] I haven’t power cleaned more than 275 on this fake knee. I think I can power clean 300 on it.

Juliet: [0:59:03] Do you really need to?

Kelly: [0:59:04] Yes. Yes, I do. 

Juliet: [0:59:06] Thank you so much for being here. So fun to talk to you.

Kelly: [0:59:08] Thanks, Dave. 

David Spitz: [0:59:09] Thank you guys. I love and adore you guys both and think that you guys are pioneers in the war on mediocrity and I am just a humble servant. So I appreciate everything you guys do and always have and am grateful for your friendship and that’s it.

Juliet: [0:59:26] Ditto.

Kelly: [0:59:16] We’ll see you soon.

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