by Louie Simmons T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
• If you want to reach Elite status, you need to combine Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, and explosiveness.
• You have to be fast to be strong.
• It does no good to be strong in the wrong exercises or put effort into the wrong muscle groups.
• There’s no better squat for powerlifting training than a wide-stance box squat.
Louie Simmons’ gym, Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio, is regarded as the most hardcore gym on Earth. It’s a place where you must give 100 percent every day or risk the wrath of Simmons, a man who, at 65, still hits 10 workouts a week using poundages that would terrify the typical gym guy.
Louie’s list of World Record holders is staggering. As a team, Westside Barbell has broken over 100 World Records, holds three of the top 5 totals, and four of the top 10.
They have the greatest male and female lifters in the world in Dave Hoff and Laura Phelps Sweatt, and a 700-pound raw bencher in Nick Winters. Over 20 members of the Westside team have deadlifted 800 pounds.
Over the years Louie has branched out from powerlifting, working with NFL teams, two Olympic gold sprinters, rugby teams, and recently, MMA fighter Matt Brown, winner of five straight fights in the UFC.
When Louie Simmons talks, you’d better be listening.
I know some people say, “Louie is only successful because he hand-picks the strongest lifters in the world!”
To that I say, “Bull****.” Everyone takes shots at Westside. The fact we always kick their asses might have something to do with it.
I took Chuck Vogelpohl to his first meet. He later broke World Records at three weight classes. I started Kenny Patterson at 14. He became the youngest World bench press holder with 720 pounds at 20 years old.
Dave Hoff came to Westside as a 15 year-old high school football player. At 16 and 170 pounds, he was squatting 800, benching 500, and deadlifting 600. At 19 he was the first teenager to squat 1000 and total 2400.
Dave was the youngest person ever to total 2400, 2500, 2600, 2700, 2800, and 2900. He has more 2900 totals than anyone on the planet. And remember, he showed up as a high school football player.
On the other hand, when I got AJ Roberts he already had a 2400 total. In three years it was 2855, and his best was 2930. I can go on…
Look, this is nothing I’m doing. It’s the system. It’s sports science.
As long a gym isn’t doing what we’re doing, I know they have no chance to beat us. We’re just smarter, in that we’re smart enough to open up a physics book and speak to people overseas that know what they’re doing.
But that’s how we are. If I want to learn something, I don’t call the guy with 25-inch arms; I call the guy with a 190 IQ.
In 1982, when I broke my lower back for the second time, I knew I had to change what I was doing. So while I lay in the hospital bed, I read all the books I could from the Soviet Union (they were miles ahead of us). I read hundreds of books and it changed my life.
I started applying everything I could, which means I started applying science to weights.
The Westside Difference
In most gyms, the strongest guy leads the way, and everyone else tries to follow his program. What happens is, he makes progress and everyone else gets overtrained. At Westside, we use a particular weight and particular bar speed, and we control the volume by how strong you are.
So let’s say you squat 400 pounds. You’d train at 50-60 percent for speed strength with a bar speed of 0.8 meters per second. The percentage doesn’t change, whether you squat 300 or 500 or 1,200 pounds.
That’s how we don’t overtrain – everything is governed by your maximum strength. It doesn’t matter what your age is, whether you’re natural, even your gender. I have girls that squat 450 at 123 pounds and 132 pounds, and girls that squat 590 at 148 pounds.
It’s all based on you. I only ask you to train to your absolute strength. That’s why it works for everybody. That’s why pro teams seek me out; the system keeps them from overtraining.
Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, and Explosiveness
These are the three abilities that make up the Westside Method.
Explosiveness is maximum velocity, but you don’t develop that by lifting – you develop it by jumping. Westside has the box jumping record at 63.5 inches.
Dynamic Effort or speed strength is intermediate velocity. For us, that’s moving the bar at 0.7 to 0.9 meters per second (mps), with bands attached to limit bar deceleration. This builds mechanical power.
On speed-strength day you train with high volume and moderate intensity. On a speed-strength day for squat, you’d use 50-60 percent of your 1RM for 10 sets of 2 reps. So, an 800-pound squatter would lift a total of 9,600 pounds (480 lb x 2 reps x 10 sets).
Max Effort work is slow strength. On Max Effort day we work high intensity but low volume, basically 50 percent of the volume of speed day.
Max Effort is what everyone seems to focus on, however, to get the most of your potential you need to employ both days. (The classic Westside template has two Dynamic days and two Max Effort days, one of each for both the upper and lower body.) The Max Effort day should be spaced 72 hours from the corresponding Dynamic Effort day.
What’s Holding Back Most Lifters?
Number one is speed work.
All sports, including powerlifting, require speed. As weights get heavier, they get slower due to gravity. So weights are not heavy or light – they’re slow and fast.
Everyone should know that the amount of force you produce in a lift is determined by multiplying the rate of acceleration by the amount of weight lifted. And since you only have so long to complete a maximum rep – 2 seconds, maybe 3 if you’re very endurance minded – you have to be fast to be strong. If not, you fail.
Think of speed strength as a transmission in a car. If you take the first gear out of a Mack truck, how fast will it take off? Not very fast. Speed training is that important first gear.
Another reason you need to work speed is technique. You don’t perfect technique using heavy loads; you perfect technique with light weights over multiple sets.
I just read some coach arguing that you need to “learn how to grind.” Unfortunately, this guy has to grind with 150-200 pounds less than what my guys use because we’re that much stronger.
The Role of Assistance Work
In terms of rep volume, the bench, squat, and deadlift make up 20% of our training at Westside. The reason is, if you go for volume in the Big 3, the weakest link gives out first, like the lower back, or you tear a pec.
Eighty percent of the work volume is placed where we need with assistance exercises to support the bench, squat, and deadlift. It does no good to be strong in the wrong exercises or put effort into the wrong muscle groups.
For assistance work, we train certain single-joint lifts with high volume. So for a 1000-pound squatter who does 12,000 pounds of squats in a workout, his reverse hypers alone would be 45,000 pounds! And then there’s inverse curls, ab work, upper pec work, etc.
How a Novice Should Train
Lots of volume on small exercises. Lots of dumbbell work, rowing, lat work, abdominal work, and low back work. This keeps you from getting injured.
They need GPP, so dragging a sled, pushing the Prowler, and using the wheelbarrow and strongman yoke. The reason is recovery – you have to recover for the next workout to make progress. That’s the key.
So a novice should do one extra workout a week for upper body and one extra workout for the lower body, targeting whatever’s needed. So if you have no triceps, in this workout you’re going to train tris. If you have no glutes, you’ll do reverse hypers or walk in the belt squat. You pick the muscle that you need and that’s what you train.
Be sure to also use a variety of movements. If you use just one exercise you’ll eventually master it and won’t improve. You must switch up the exercises to avoid the law of accommodation.
To adapt to training is never to adapt. If you don’t feel a movement switch it the next workout. So it’s instinctive, but with a purpose.
There’s no better squat for powerlifting training than a wide-stance box squat.
Ten guys here have squatted 1200 pounds. Seven of them are box squatters. The first 800 pound squatter – Pat Casey in 1970 – was a box squatter from the original Westside Barbell in Culver City.
The Role of Powerlifting Gear
High reward requires high risk and at powerlifting meets you need to wear gear. I didn’t make the rules, I have to follow them.
My guys bench in a bench press shirt once a month, and we only perform regular squats at meets. Other than that it’s all box squats. And we almost never pull a deadlift off the floor, usually from pins until we go to the meet.
Training for the NFL Combine
I quit doing it. It’s too easy. I can shave 3-10ths of a second off someone’s time in two months of training. It’s child’s play. I need to be challenged.
The key to making someone run faster is jumping. If you can jump higher you can run faster. It’s straight up that simple. Jumping is explosive power.
Training MMA Fighters
We do lots of sled pull work with UFC fighter Matt Brown – extra weight on the shoulders, up to a half-mile, sometimes farther. This builds incredible strength in the glutes and hips, which is where punching power originates. It also builds cardiovascular and muscular endurance at the same time.
The only barbell lifts he does are basically Zercher squats or sumo deadlifts. Sometimes we’ll do straddle-leg good mornings (one leg out in front) which simulates single and double-leg takedowns.
I have Matt carry a barrel – wrestlers have to get their hips to the opponent, and the only way to carry a 55 gallon barrel is to jam the hips up into it.
Matt will also carry a 100-pound med ball in a wrestler’s clinch for interval training. So he’ll go 100 feet down, 100 feet back, perform a series of jumps, and then repeat.
But one of the best exercises is the belt squat. Matt uses 365 pounds strapped around his waist and he’ll walk with it on for five minute rounds – forward, backward, and to the side.
This builds lateral power and has made him incredibly strong. In his last fight he broke his opponent’s nose, jaw, and cheekbone – and we don’t do anything for arms other than one-arm dumbbell pressing.
Is Westside is the Right Training For You?
If you want to get strong, the system is foolproof and works for anyone.
First we’ll teach you perfect form, then we’ll work on your weaknesses so you don’t get hurt. This allows you to bring out your strengths. You’ll reach your top potential while many others don’t, as they’ll get injured or get frustrated and quit.
No gym in the world has two 2,700 pound totals. We have four. And next weekend, we’ll have five. I can guarantee it. Well, almost guarantee it. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure.