By Ozzy – Contributor to MuscleTalk
Long have the members of Westside been a dominating force in the world of powerlifting.
Producing athletes of enormous stature who themselves continually produce phenomenal totals in the big three lifts. With 27 members boasting 2000 lb + totals, who is to slate their methods?
Westside Barbell Club is headed up by Louie Simmons, the only over 50 lifter to squat 920 lbs and total over 2100 lbs. Involved in strength training for over 27 years, he is the founder of Westside Barbell and strength coach for numerous American football teams.
What is Westside Barbell Training?
Westside Barbell Training is a highly productive system of training that incorporates techniques that help to build power and speed and accelerate your lifting capabilities in a very short space of time. Based around two forms of lifting, maximum effort and dynamic effort, the workouts are intense and high volume, but with adequate rest and nutrition, highly rewarding.
How does it work?
Westside incorporates maximum effort days for both squat/deadlift and bench. Squat and deadlift are coupled together as they both have very similar movements and the same muscle groups are worked in the lift. For maximum effort squat/deadlift day a variety of exercises focusing on developing the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back) are used. The maximum effort itself will be an exercise or variation of deadlifts, squats or good mornings.
These three lifts or their variations are trained in very low reps and fairly high set volume. Working through the sets warming up from triples you will eventually work to a 90% of your max single rep. By training with heavy loads you will develop excellent strength and allow the body to adapt to the feel of heavy training. It is the same kind of principle that applies to running; if you wanted to become a sprinter, you wouldn’t run laps around a track. By training specifically to your goal you condition your body for this purpose.
For the bench press the same theory is applied with focus on developing the triceps over the pectorals.
Training a lift week in, week out, however, is not only taxing on the muscles but also on your neuro pathways. It is for this reason that a maximum effort lift is not trained for more than 3 consecutive weeks for beginners and moving up in experience the lift will be change on a weekly basis. This helps to continue gains and avoid over training.
The max effort lifts and some variations on them:
- Sumo deadlifts
- Rack pulls (from varying heights in the rack)
- Deep deadlifts (performed the same as conventional deadlifts but your are raised on a platform)
- Deep squat (wide stance to bring posterior chain into play)
- Low box squat
- High box squat
- Bent knee, rounded back GMs
- Straight knee, rounded back GMs
- Bent knee, arched back GMs
- Straight knee, arched back GMs
- Good morning squats
- Seated good mornings, rounded back
- Seated good mornings, arched back
- Flat bench
- Incline bench
- Decline bench
- Board press (varying number of boards)
- Floor press
- JM press
- JM floor press
These are some of the main exercises that are used for the maximum effort day. Variation can be added to these with the use of chains and bands (discussed later in this article). By rotating exercises yet still training heavily with triples and singles you will develop absolute power. The bench press is given its own day and coupled with assistance exercises, and the squat/deadlift day is also separate and coupled with assistance exercises.
The dynamic effort is the second part of the week. Again separate days are assigned to bench and squat/deadlift. The principles behind the dynamic effort days are to use a percentage of your maximum lift and do high sets and low repetitions. The dynamic effort is the same as a speed-training day in relative terms. Using the lightweight and speed you can help to develop strength through sticking points on your lifts.
The 2 main exercises used for dynamic effort are box squats and speed bench press. These do not change however; it is the percentages of your maximum lift and the volume of sets that determine your work out.
Box squats are used to help develop power through the bottom of the squat and dead. This is one of the most common sticking points and the use of variable height boxes enables the athlete to gradually increase their power through the lift. Box squats are done in sets of two repetitions anywhere between 8-12 sets. The percentages of your maximum effort should decide your set volume. Using 45% for 12 sets of 2 reps and up to 65% for 8 sets of 2 reps. A mid point could be 10 sets at 55% of your one rep max (1RM). Resting time between sets is limited to 45-60 seconds to keep the speed up.
Speed bench works on a very similar ratio only the sets are comprised of 3 reps compared to the doubles for box squats. Again working using 45% to 65% for either 10 or 8 sets respectively. As with box squats, resting time is limited to between 45-60 seconds.
Both speed squat and bench days are followed by assistance lifts.
An Example Westside Barbell Workout:
Day 1 – Max Effort (ME) squat/deadlift
- Squat/deadlift/good morning – Using one of these exercises or a variation of them for no more than 3 consecutive weeks work up from a warm up in sets of 3 until 3 repetitions are no longer possible and switch to a single rep working up to 4 single repetitions of between 90-100% of your max.
- Lower back work – Choose from glute-ham raises, reverse hyper-extensions, half deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts (SLDLs), hyper-extensions or cable pulls – 4 x 8-10 (weighted if need be to stay within rep range)
- Abs – Any form of rectus abdominus work – 4 x 8-12
- Lat work – Any form of upper back work such as wide grip chins, pull downs, barbell rows, cable rows – 4 x 8-10
Day 2 – Max Effort (ME) Bench press
- Bench Press – any of the above mentioned variations working from a triple to a single.
- Tricep work – Any form of core strength tricep work such as close grip bench, JM presses, Tate presses, lying dumbbell extensions – 4 x 5-10
- Cable pushdowns – A variety of cable attachments may be used (flat bar, V bar, rope) – 4 x 8-12
- Shoulder work – choice of either lateral or front raises – 4 x 10-12
- Lat work – as above – 4 x 8-10
- Biceps – Pick any bicep exercise of your choice – 3 x 8-10
Day 3 – Dynamic Effort (DE) Squat
- Box squat – 8-12 doubles with 45-65% of 1RM
- Lower back work – as Day 1
- Side bends (or variation of external oblique training) – 4 x 8-12
- Neck work
Day 4 – Dynamic Effort (DE) Bench press
- Speed bench – 8-10 triples with 45-46% 1 RM
- Tricep work – as Day 2
- Pushdowns – as Day 2
- Lat work – as Day 1
- Biceps – as Day 2
This is a high volume routine, but with adequate rest and nutrition this training is plausible for all trainers. However you may wish to drop the number of sets on assistance exercises to 2-3 sets rather than the stated 4. Listening to your body and the way it feels should enable you to decide this.
Bands and Chains
These are extremely useful training aids that can help to develop speed, strength and absolute power.
Bands help you to develop fast starts and power in your lockouts. They enforce a great amount of eccentric (negative motion) overload and cause you to develop a fast bench so as to ‘outrun’ the bands. They are available in three different weight ranges so that all levels can benefit from them. You can also use multiple sets of bands to further increase the overload. A word of caution on these; they are known to cause excessive DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
Chains act to add strength and acceleration to your lifts. A chain is attached to either end of the bar and whilst at the bottom of the lift the weight of the chain will remain on the floor. As you extend threw the lift the weight of the chain is gradually added to the bar adding resistance threw different stages of the lift. This is great for lifters who wish to develop strength in the top range of a lift like the lock out portion or to develop absolute strength. The chains are 5/8 inch-link chains measuring 5 feet and are attached to the bar using ¼ inch-link chains with hooks around the bar sleeve.
It is important to note that the technique for bench press and squats varies immensely in Westside as it would with bodybuilding. It is worthwhile spending some time researching the form for these exercises if you wish to be successful with this form of training.
Personally I have been using this training method for over a year now and have made the best gains I have in a long time. All of my lifts increase on a regular basis. This form of training can be simplified, have the volume reduced, exercises swapped, reps and sets schemes varied all to suit your needs. I regularly utilise training methods, such as 5×5 after a dynamic effort exercise (speed bench for example). It is also good to train areas which Westside doesn’t specifically advocate (calves or quads) and just generally keep your interest in the method with some variation. It is however key to maintain the dynamic and maximum effort principles in order for you to make continual progress.
This is but a brief look at Westside Barbell Training. The article archives on this are extensive but are well worth the read. For more information check out:
- Westside Training videos – available from www.westside-barbell.com