What is Westside Barbell?
A website about strength wouldn’t be complete without a discussion on Westside Barbell and the methods employed by powerlifting guru, and gym founder, Louie Simmons.
Regardless if you agree with the methods of this hardcore gym in Columbus Ohio, the fact is that Louie Simmons and his lifters, get big results. Many of the lifters at Westside compete in gear and when you see their numbers you will be astonished. 1,000 lb. squats are the norm.
There are many stories about Westside Barbell floating around on the interwebs. Bands, chains, box squats, reverse hypers, dynamic effort. There are plenty of books and articles available to become familiar with the programs, exercises and methods they adhere to.
I worked with a westside template for about 4 months and I am far from an expert but I wanted to share with you my experience and some tips for you if you want to try out this kind of training.
Read all that you can from Dave Tate, Jim Wendler and Louie Simmons. Get familiar with the ideas and terms that are used by Westside. Much of the ideas I read about were new to me and I had to study up on everything and write out some plans myself before it started making sense.
Also feel free to email these guys or call them. Most guys in the strength world are more than willing to offer some guidance and answer questions or concerns.
Is Westside for you? Let’s take a closer look at the system and the methods.
The main aspects of Westside Training are:
Max Effort, dynamic effort, Repetition effort.
Max Effort Method
Max Effort training is used twice a week, one day for upper body and one for lower body.
Max Effort is intended to increase physical and mental strength. Some advanced westside templates have more than 5 Max effort exercises for both upper and lower body days. From what I read it was better for me (not elite lifter) to start with 3 for each upper, and lower body, and work each one for 3 weeks then switch and continue this for as long as progress can be made.
If you are not familiar with Max effort and rarely go for 1 or 3 rep maxes, then start slow and be careful. Westside is an advanced system and max effort work is very taxing on the muscles, joints and can wear you down. If you are doing a squat variation and working up to a top set, you are supposed to go until you hit the most you can for that particular day. It may not be the most you’ve ever lifted but it should be the most you can that day.
Again, if you are new to maxing out, don’t overdo it right away, especially if you are doing exercises that are new to you. You may be better off starting with a 3 or 5 rep max, and one that isn’t going to leave you writhing on the floor either. Make it challenging but give yourself room to lift more in the following two weeks. Westside training for beginners utilizes a three week wave for Max Effort exercises. Advanced guys do a different Max Effort exercise every week or two.
The Dynamic Effort Method
Dynamic Effort is also used twice a week, one day devoted to upper body and one to lower body. Some westside templates use repetition method in place of upper body dynamic work for a change every few months. I used this variation and found it more beneficial than the dynamic upper body work.
Dynamic Effort day is all about speed. Moving the weight as fast as possible from start to finish of the repetition. Lower percentages are used, from 50-70% and the sets follow a low rep structure with minimal rest between sets. For lower body box squats are used for 8 sets of 2 reps. For upper body, bench is used for 9 sets of 3 reps, making sure to move the weight as explosively as possible through the whole range of motion.
The repetition method is also known as assistance work or bodybuilding style of training, and is important to bring up lagging muscle groups. While squats, deadlifts, and presses are compound lifts that work more than one muscle group at once, you need to do other lifts to bring up areas that may be lacking.
For lower body you focus primarily on hamstrings, lower
back and glutes. Quads don’t get much attention in traditional Westside training templates.
For upper body you focus on triceps, upper back, lats and delts. Pick exercises that work these areas, stick with an exercise for 3 weeks and then change it out for a different one. If you choose dips for assistance to bench, do them for three weeks trying to increase weight or reps each week and then change to close-grip bench pressing. There is also a great emphasis placed on tricep work. This is especially true for geared lifters.
Westside barbell training places great importance on waves. Changing percentages for 3 week waves for dynamic box squats, bench and for assistance work and changing Max Effort lifts.
Westside in your Garage
There is no substitute for a good coach but you can learn and adapt and evolve on your own with dedication, some brains, taking notes, pictures, and videos. Learn from the guys who have done it for decades. Have an open mind but you also have to learn when to filter out the bullshit. More information doesn’t always equal bigger lifts and more muscle.
The westside barbell training method will make you stronger physically as well as mentally. It will also bring out any weaknesses you have. There’s one story I read about an intermediate lifter going to Westside Barbell in Ohio, and instead of going right ot he squat rack with the other guys, he was instructed to do sled dragging, reverse hypers and repetitive work to bring up the abs, low back, legs and upper back. By the time he was under the bar to squat, pull and press, he was ready where it mattered most. It’s common that these areas need more work in most every lifter, and it would be wise to make them as strong as possible even before you start with a westside training template.
Whats different about Westside?
Louie Simmons. He is the leader, the coach and mastermind who has broken many records himself in many different weight classes and ages. Louie Simmons is one of only 5 lifters in history to total Elite in 5 different weight classes and the only person over 50 years old to squat 920 lbs, bench press 600 lbs., and deadlift 722 lbs. He also invented one of the most effective machines for the lower back/posterior chain; the reverse hyperextenstion machine.
Much of the westside training is used by geared powerlifters but the methods are for raw lifters too. Anyone who wants to get strong using the westside system, which is based on much Russian strength training and physics, can benefit from it.
I started out with Westside after over a year on 531, Jim Wendler’s strength training program for raw strength. If you aren’t familiar here is an article on it: 531
I made some consistent progress with 531 on the Big 4. I joined a different gym which had different kinds of barbells (Safety Squat Bar, Swiss Bar, Fat Bar) along with chains and boxes for squatting. I wanted to use all these specialty bars and when I read up on Westside I found they used all these different bars as part of the ‘conjugate method’.
So I wrote out my plan which looked like this: 4 days training, two Max effort days, 1 dynamic lower body day and one repetition or dynamic upper body day, switching every few weeks. I was relatively new to Max Effort training and totally new to dynamic effort training.
It’s suggested to keep the Max Effort lifts to 3 unless you are an advanced lifter. If you have to ask if you are advanced, you probably aren’t.
For upper body Max effort I chose Decline Bench, Fat Bar Bench, Close Grip Bench
For lower body Max effort I chose SSB Squat, Trap Bar Deadlift, Squat
Dynamic Effort – use 50-60% of your 1rm and do sets of 8x3 for bench, and 8x2 for squats. For the repetition effort it’s advised you do db work for the bench, sometimes on a stability ball to work smaller muscles of shoulders, triceps and pecs.
What I learned is, the 1rm is not as important as I thought it was. You are more prone to injury and it’s not necessary to improve strength. You can get stronger with 3 and 5 and 8 rep maxes and they are safer and won’t burn you out as quick and wear your joints down as much. Louie does talk about working up to a max for that day, the best you can do on that particular day, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a 1 rep max. The Max Effort method is meant to prepare powerlifters for the grinding reps performed at a meet.
Louie writes often about you have to be fast and explosive to be strong. He advocates sled dragging, jumps, throws and using the dynamic method to explode through a full range of motion. I found sled dragging and sprints to be most useful. It’s a great way to add strength, conditioning and a powerful recovery method as well.
If you are thinking of trying the westside barbell method, I hope this article gave you a good idea of how to proceed. Read all you can from Louie Simmons and Dave Tate and from the Westside barbell website to get familiar with the concepts employed by the “strongest gym in the world”.